A boy across the street from Brian Vike’s house was tilting a new-looking telescope at the moon last Tuesday.
Chances are, he saw what any budding stargazer would expect to see—eye-popping views of the massive lava basins and colossal impact craters that scar the lunar surface.
But if Vike’s young neighbour ever spots something strange in the Houston sky, something he can’t explain, he won’t have to go far to make a UFO report.
“Just what I need,” said Vike, laughing.
Brian Vike is one of the best-known UFO watchers in Canada. Google “red orange light” or “large circular UFO” and his Vike Factor blog pops up in the top results. The site lists 1,712 sightings reports for last year alone.
“Most people, I really do believe, are genuine,” Vike said. “Their seeing something doesn’t mean it’s extraterrestrial or anything like that. But they are seeing something, and what is it?”
In one report dated New Year’s Day, a man from Duncan, B.C. told Vike that his girlfriend had repeatedly told him about the pairs of “strange orbs” she had seen glowing red and orange in the sky.
“I thought she was off her rocker until last night when I seen this myself,” he wrote to Vike. “We watched in awe trying to figure out what they could possibly be. An airplane or a helicopter always has beacon lights—these did not!”
Vike said he is scrambling to catch up on more than 300 such reports, all of which came in between Dec. 24 and Jan. 3.
“It’s amazing stuff, but most of it’s explainable,” Vike said. A lot of the glowing “orbs” turn out to be Chinese paper lanterns—thin paper lanterns that can float up hundreds of feet in the air on the heat of a tiny candle.
In fact, Vike said that lantern “sightings” have become a bit of a nuisance since more and more people in Western countries have started lighting them for weddings and holidays. Some people get a little upset to hear that their UFO sighting might be nothing more than a hot paper bag.
“You don’t want to tell too many people that because they’ll start cursing at you,” said Vike, laughing.
Standing six feet tall and wearing a plain black baseball cap, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting upset with Vike. He has a friendly, funny manner that would make him a shoe-in for one of the Lone Gunmen—the squad of amateur conspiracy busters who used to make cameos on The X-Files TV show.
But before he flies off into science fiction, Vike has to check off a list of real-world possibilities for every new UFO report. That’s the idea, he said—to try and help people discover what they saw.
Vike often starts with websites like Heavens Above, which posts real-time tracking data for satellites, the International Space Station, space shuttle flights and visible meteor passes.
On New Year’s Eve, for example, Vike got a string of UFO sightings from across Arizona, New Mexico and southern Colorado that seemed to follow in the wake of a brightly burning meteor.
Vike also tries to follow launch times at big air bases like the Vandenberg air force base in northern California.
“They’ll send up a lot of rockets, space satellites, and military hardware,” Vike said. “A lot of people are interested in that alone.”
Many people who stumble on Vike’s website report things they saw years ago. From 1993, Vike noticed a wave of sightings are most likely from people who saw F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighters flying low over North America to fight in the first Gulf War.
“I had a whole whack of reports of triangles coming in along their flight path,” he said.
Military jets, northern lights, space junk and comets—those are all sightings that even alien hopefuls aren’t likely to be disappointed in.
But Vike said it’s easy to be caught off guard by much more Earthly things.
Vike said he once a V-shaped something fly over Houston. He got pretty excited before he heard wings and realized it was a flock of geese.
“At night time, you get town or city lights and they’re low enough that the lights hit their bellies and you get that big V-shape,” he said, laughing.
Still, other reports don’t lend themselves to easy explanation.
This January, a crew from the Canadian Discovery Channel will speak with Vike on camera about a “missing time” case.
Two Kelowna women told Vike that on July 31, 2003, they were walking a dog along a lake and saw three strange lights in the sky. The lights came together in a triangle shape, they said, before dropping and hovering over the highway.
“They claim that they had missing time, and the next morning bruising, bleeding noses,” he said. “And they’ve been very sick since.”
What is really interesting about the Kelowna case, Vike said, is that it is one of many strange reports that followed the terrible number of forest fires in the Okanogan that year.
Despite slowing down a bit, and shutting down a larger website that was getting some 2.5 million hits a month, Vike is still in high demand for his UFO expertise. For years, he has fielded calls from the likes of CBC and BBC radio, the Discovery Channel and others.
“I just spent more time on this than anything else,” he said. “I think that’s why it kept moving along.”
Fifty years ago, Vike said he was just like the boy across the street, armed with a 50 mm Sears telescope from his parents and a boundless curiousity.
“Yep—I always look in the sky,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to see.”