Justin Duran is a skeptic. He says so.
He doesn’t believe in ghosts or aliens or extraterresterials. “But after last night … ,” he said, his voice trailing off on the phone.
His skepticism began to waiver, he said, at about 12:40 a.m. Wednesday when the 26-year-old Santa Fean stepped out of his car near the Super 8 motel on Cerrillos Road and looked up into the night sky. He saw three transparent, neon green orbs moving in concert and hovering in the distance toward the Santa Fe Place mall. “They looked like balls of energy. It was spectacular,” Duran said. “At first I thought it was a plane.”
But the spheres had no blinking lights and no skeletal structure, Duran said. “I got a sense, though, that it was one structure because of the way they moved together,” he said.
The orbs moved toward him and stopped for a second. “All of a sudden, it did the most ridiculous acrobats I’ve ever seen, as if it was dancing in the sky,” Duran said.
The triangle of orbs stood on an axis, then flipped and came down a few thousand feet before shooting 10,000 feet or more up in the air, Duran guessed. “It was just bizarre.”
Then the orbs shot off to the eastern horizon, came halfway back and finally shot off, out of sight. “I’m talking milliseconds, nothing man-made could be that fast,” he said. “I doubt anything could withstand those g-forces. I was in disbelief.”
The whole event took about half a minute, Duran estimated.
Still not willing to call it a UFO, Duran sought answers. He called the North American Aerospace Defense Command and woke up the on-duty officer at 1:30 a.m.
The sleepy officer, who’s name he couldn’t recall, checked satellite data and told him she saw nothing that had entered the atmosphere over Santa Fe matching the description he gave.
NORAD spokesman Lt. Marco Chouinard confirmed Duran had called the office and that data showed no satellite debris, rockets or other known object entering the atmosphere above Santa Fe. He said the facility receives calls “from time to time” about unidentified objects people have seen whizzing through space.
Duran certainly would not be the first person in Santa Fe to see an odd, unidentified shape frolicking in the night sky. New Mexicans have reported hundreds of sightings over the past 30 years — triangles of lights like Duran saw, blue light formations, pulsating spheres, fireballs and orbs of different colors, according to the National UFO Reporting Center.
Reported UFO sightings in New Mexico
Visualization by: Dan Schwartz/The New Mexican
The most recent reported sighting in Santa Fe was March 16, when someone reported a triangle of three glowing red lights flying low over N.M. 599 near the junction with U.S. 285. In late April, a woman in Alto, N.M., reported “a large triangle in the western sky, which exhibited three white lights in each of the corners of the triangle, and a blinking red light in the center of the ventral surface. The object appeared to be trailed by a cluster of blinking white lights, and military aircraft appeared to the witness to be in proximity to the objects,” according to the National UFO Reporting Center.
The center collects reports of UFO sightings from around the world. New Mexico has had more than 1,000 sightings dating back to 1944.
The center includes explanations of what people have seen when those details are available. Sometimes the light turns out to be from a planet. Sometimes spheres are weather balloons or high-altitude research balloons launched by NASA scientists. Some could be the many types of drones now taking to the sky, guided by private citizens, businesses and the military. Sometimes there is no ready answer, but a lot of guesses.
Chouinard said what Duran saw Wednesday could have been night flights by the military to test some new aircraft.
Eldorado astronomer Thomas Ashcraft, who tracks fireballs and other meteoric events for Sandia National Laboratories’ Sky Sentinel program, said the timing of Duran’s sighting was too early for a meteor shower. He would have suggested Duran saw a trio of spy satellites, but the movement of the objects probably ruled that out.
He said around the world, people send up candle-lit Chinese lanterns around this time of year.
“A lot of hoaxers send those up all the time,” Ashcraft said.
Duran called the local newspaper, curious if anyone else had seen the green orbs. He sounded hopeful. He doesn’t want to be the only witness to an event sure to raise eyebrows and prompt skeptics. He was quick to assure a listener that he’s never had visions or heard talking voices, and he doesn’t have mental health issues.
Duran can’t stop wondering what he saw.
“It was pretty amazing but also frightening,” he said. “Man, I really did see something strange.”
Contact Staci Matlock at 505-986-3055 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @StaciMatlock.