Close Encounters of the Scientific Kind

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Is the truth still out there? The "X-Files" may have backed away from claiming that aliens patrol our night skies, but now a panel of distinguished academics is urging the scientific community to reexamine the evidence on extra-terrestrials. "Certainly there are objects that are unidentified, although whether they're alien space ships is another matter," says TIME correspondent Michael Lemonick. "The proposition that an unexplained phenomenon should be explained is imminently reasonable to scientists."

The Washington Post reports that the panel, headed by Stanford physicist Dr. Peter Sturrock and funded by Laurance S. Rockefeller, reviewed 50 years of UFO incidents and urged scientists to overcome the fear of ridicule and research the phenomenon. While the panel's report, to be published Monday, emphasizes that it has found no convincing evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence, it recommends the study of significant physical evidence such as burns, radiation, radar images and the recurring appearance of strange lights. Skeptical? Well, you may want to remember that before the study of meteorites began in earnest, scientists dismissed the idea of rocks falling from the sky as folkloric foolishness.