Maine is known for many things – lobster, blueberries, scenic vacations. But UFO sightings?

According to a group of UFO enthusiasts, the Pine Tree State ranks near the top nationally for sightings of glowing orbs, mystery craft and other phenomena in the skies. Data from the National UFO Reporting Center puts Maine fourth for sightings per capita, behind only Washington, Montana and Vermont.

Indeed, reports of nearly 700 sightings in the past 60 years are rife with tales of the mysterious and the unexplainable.

In July 2012 near Greene, it was a diamond-shaped craft darting through the sky.

There were the three “fire-orange” lights circling a fourth light, reported in August 1995 above Brunswick.

Others are more cryptic, like spooky, unfinished haiku: “Silent and unknown,” reads the entirety of one report from 2005 in Oakland.

Before anyone retreats to their bunker to don a tinfoil hat, it’s best to recognize that the data is far from scientific.

First, there is the methodology. People who report sightings to the Mutual UFO Network are a self-selecting group. And there undoubtedly are “sightings” that go unreported, making the compilation incomplete. Maybe Mainers are just more likely to talk about their close encounters.

Few reports are included from the years from the 1950s to the 1980s. But as technology advanced and camcorders, videotape and then digital photography became ubiquitous, the number of sightings mushroomed.

Then there are the national comparisons. Some states have fewer reports on record than others, especially during particular time periods in the past 60 years. Population figures used to calculate sightings per capita are from only 2013, while the data covers decades upon decades.

And most of the nearly 700 individual reports from Maine are remarkably similar: Lights hovering in the sky. Lights zooming around the horizon. Lights pulsing. There are spinning lights, and there are multicolored lights.

Raymond Fowler of Kennebunk, a noted ufologist – yes, someone who studies unidentified flying objects and related phenomena – said many of the reports of lights in the sky are unreliable.

“About 80 percent (or) about 90 percent are explainable as man-made objects and misinterpretations of natural phenomenon,” said Fowler, 80, who wrote the manual on investigating unexplainable sightings. “Just because you have UFO sightings doesn’t mean you have something unidentified.”

Fowler said he’s spent his ufology career looking for the hardest evidence that can be corroborated by many people. In the most compelling cases, the alleged unidentified craft leave markings, indentations in the earth, or other residual evidence of a presence.

“I don’t put much value in raw data unless someone investigates it thoroughly,” he said. About 10 percent are legitimately worthy of investigation, Fowler estimated.

So what are people seeing?

In an office in Altadena, Calif., a group of UFO naysayers waits for such questions about what’s going on in the night sky. Dial its number during business hours, wait barely two rings and a voice answers: “Hello, skeptic.”

“Do you have an Air Force base near you?” asks Pat Linse, a member of the Skeptics Society.

Linse says that the power of suggestion should not be underestimated, and that a news report or rumors can trigger a flurry of sightings.

Even pilots, especially those unaccustomed to high G-forces, don’t recognize that what they’re seeing are the early signs of a blackout – not alien spacecraft. Then there are cases of errant lens flares, windshield glare, and blurry or pixelated photos that depict nothing in particular.

Some sightings are entirely natural or explainable. Meteors, space junk, satellites, planets and other known bodies give the impression of something spooky, but really say more about the ignorance of the viewer, Linse said.

“People think that stuff appears out of nowhere, and they’ve never been in the academic world,” she said. “They’re probably really seeing something, but I think it’s a matter of interpretation.”

So, maybe Maine isn’t getting more UFO visits than any other place. On the other hand, this is Vacationland.

Matt Byrne can be reached at 791-6303 or at:

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