He appeared as if a hologram at first — then solid — suddenly there and clear as you or I, at the edge of the forest behind Trish Bishop’s home in Kissimmee.

It was a Thursday in March 2013, the glow of the afternoon tucking in for the day behind the trees. He stood tall, at least 6-foot-3, perhaps 220 pounds and certainly muscular, wearing a formfitting tan colored uniform, boots and gloves. He lingered by the crape myrtle tree in the middle of the backyard.

When he turned around, it was his face, she remembers, that stopped her.

Bulging eyes jutting so far out of the sockets that Bishop wondered whether he could close them. Skin white as chalk. And a jaw so large, it dispelled any notions the government worker had of the visitor being human.

“If you compare a human jawbone to his, we would be a chihuahua to a pit bull,” Bishop said.

Courtesy of Trish Bishop
Trish Bishop’s Photoshopped image of what the alien she says she witnessed looked like.
Trish Bishop’s Photoshopped image of what the alien she says she witnessed looked like. (Courtesy of Trish Bishop)

Paralyzed with fear, she watched as what she believed to be an alien appeared to climb invisible steps, stopping often to snatch glances at her from where she sat on her back porch, fumbling with her phone to appear as though she couldn’t see him.

Her finger was pressed on the number “9” to dial for help.

When he was about 10 feet off the ground, he turned his back to her and pulled himself up — “into a UFO?” she thought — and was gone.

Bishop sat stunned. “I’ve got a freaking alien in my backyard,” she thought.

It would be four years before she told anyone her story, before she’d discover the Mutual Unidentified Flying Objects Network, a nationwide organization 50 years old, and file her report under case number 84886 with the local Florida chapter.

But she worried: Who would believe her?

Rich Pope / Orlando Sentinel
Trish Bishop shows the spot in the backyard of her Kissimmee home on February 1, 2019, where she claims to of witnessed an alien and UFO hovering 10 feet above the ground in March 2013.
Trish Bishop shows the spot in the backyard of her Kissimmee home on February 1, 2019, where she claims to of witnessed an alien and UFO hovering 10 feet above the ground in March 2013. (Rich Pope / Orlando Sentinel)

These days, more people than you’d think.

Across restaurants and meeting rooms in the United States, MUFON groups still gather every month to discuss cases like Bishop’s with the enthusiasm that once gripped the nation during the Cold War, when UFO sightings still made a splash on the front page.

The Space Coast group, made up of some former NASA employees and engineers, has 118 members, the largest in the state. Across the U.S. they number 3,500, with additional offices in 42 countries.

For many years, they were alone entertaining UFO theories. No more.

In the past two years, scientists, politicians and professionals have increasingly been willing to touch the taboo subject and perhaps lend a little credence to those who still believe.

In December 2017, the New York Times uncovered that the U.S. had gone so far as to fund a secret, $22 million, five-year project to study UFO claims.

Since then, respected researchers, from the chairman of Harvard University’s astronomy department to at least one scientist at NASA, have come out with theories, albeit controversial ones, that suggest closer study of the role extraterrestrials may play in certain phenomena.

Rich Pope / Orlando Sentinel
Jeff McMakin gives a presentation about alien crop circles during The Mutual UFO Network monthly meeting at Memaws BBQ in Palm Bay on February 20, 2019.
Jeff McMakin gives a presentation about alien crop circles during The Mutual UFO Network monthly meeting at Memaws BBQ in Palm Bay on February 20, 2019. (Rich Pope / Orlando Sentinel)

What’s changed, said Robert Powell, an executive board member on the non-profit Scientific Coalition for Ufology, is our understanding of the universe. As scientists have discovered more Earth-like exoplanets and begun to delve into the options for interstellar travel — one idea includes using a laser-propelled, microchip-shaped probe — the conversation has been shifting.

“We still think of ourselves, as a species, as the center of everything,” Powell said. “Once you …at least start to discuss interstellar travel, you have to admit that, if there is intelligent life out there, then they have to be able to travel interstellar, too.”

Science weighs in

The challenge with UFO and alien sightings has always been the lack of evidence. Bishop said she was too scared to take a photo of her alien. Little to no consequential evidence exists in other cases.

Psychology can explain some of it. Common explanations include a person projecting their unconscious desires onto something, or a predisposition to believe in conspiracy theories informing what a person thinks they saw, said Alvin Wang, a psychology professor at the University of Central Florida.

People who believe they witnessed something may seek out others who reaffirm that belief, like “being in an echo chamber,” Wang said.

“People tend to hold on to that particularly if it fits in with their worldview and their belief system that there are other beings that inhabit the universe,” Wang said. “And they get …confirmation support, when they are members of UFO believers community.”

Rich Pope / Orlando Sentinel
UCF Psychology Professor, Alvin Wang, at his on-campus office on February 19, 2019.
UCF Psychology Professor, Alvin Wang, at his on-campus office on February 19, 2019. (Rich Pope / Orlando Sentinel)

But Bishop stands by what she said she saw. She works a government security job with three area contractors and said she has no reason to lie.

And she’s on the hunt for ET now. After reporting her case in 2017, she bought three hunting trackers on eBay and set them up in her backyard. They’re motion activated, and sometimes they’ll go off in the night and capture 6,000 images — but there’s nothing in the frame. She once caught a Tic Tac-shaped blur in the sky she believes to be a UFO.

“I just think it’s a belief thing until you actually see them,” Bishop said. “You always gotta wonder.”

Some people, like Kathleen Marden, have been wondering all their lives.

It was September 1961 when the then 13-year-old got the call: Her aunt, Betty Hill, and her uncle, Barney Hill, said they’d seen a UFO on their drive through the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Betty’s dress was torn and Barney’s shoes were scuffed. There were two hours they couldn’t account for and Barney was sure he’d seen eight to 11 figures dressed in black shiny uniforms that were “somehow not human,” said Marden, who now lives outside Orlando.

It wasn’t until the Hills were put through a hypnosis session by Boston psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Simon that their stories of being taken into a UFO and physically examined were revealed.

“They were interested in the skin, in the skeletal structure, in the joints,” said Marden, MUFON’s director of experiencer research. “They examined their hands, they took their shoes off, they examined their feet, they did tests on them that appear to be testing their nervous systems, as well.”

Rich Pope / Orlando Sentinel
Kathleen Marden, holds a picture of her aunt, Betty Hill, and her uncle, Barney Hill, at her home on February 4, 2019. The Hill’s account of their alleged alien abduction gained national attention when it was made public in 1965.
Kathleen Marden, holds a picture of her aunt, Betty Hill, and her uncle, Barney Hill, at her home on February 4, 2019. The Hill’s account of their alleged alien abduction gained national attention when it was made public in 1965. (Rich Pope / Orlando Sentinel)

He, along with colleague Shmuel Bialy, wrote in a publication in Astrophysical Journal Letters that a thin interstellar object seen passing through our solar system called Oumuamua “is a lightsail, flowing in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment.”

This handout photo released by the European Southern Observatory on November 20, 2017 shows an artist’s impression of the first interstellar asteroid: Oumuamua. (M. KORNMESSER / AFP/Getty Images)

At NASA Ames Research Center in California, scientist Silvano Colombano has gone on record suggesting the space agency look at all explanations in its approach to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, known as SETI. Historically, NASA has not weighed in on the issue much, most recently opening a Center for Life Detection Science that is more about finding biosignatures than analyzing alleged UFO sightings.

This content was originally published here.