By Rob StroudPARIS -- Phillip Dean has researched sightings of unidentified flying objects ever since he glimpsed a long, luminescent object in the night sky south of his Paris hometown in 1960.
Dean has gathered reports of UFO sightings from throughout the country and is now sharing them with the general public. He recently published a UFO Sightings of Illinois booklet that includes sightings in Coles, Clark, Cumberland and Edgar counties.
Most of the sightings are recounted through newspaper articles, such as a United Press International article titled "Mattoon UFO" that was published on July 14, 1969, in the Paris Beacon News. This story includes eyewitness reports of a "bobbling star-like object" in the sky northwest of Mattoon.
Other sightings are recorded by Dean through personal interviews or through letters written to him, many of which are anonymous. These include a letter about a 1963 sighting of a flashing flying disc near Marshall and a recent sighting of a fast-moving object that glowed with white light above Charleston.
Dean said he hopes his mail-order booklet will get the the attention of others who have seen flying objects that they cannot easily explain. He said the reports of UFO sightings in various Illinois communities should be of interest to people who live in or near these areas.
"It's a good way to meet people who know a lot about the subject," Dean said. "When people are interested in something that happened in their area they are more likely to get in contact with you."
Dean, who describes himself as a laborer with a thirst for knowledge, ultimately hopes to publish booklets about sightings in other states.
Besides his 1960 sighting, Dean said he also saw a bright flying object that was emanating flames above Paris. Dean said he has been interested in such phenomena ever since, even making room in his current booklet for an article on The Mad Gasser of Mattoon.
In regard to UFOs, Dean said he has no doubt they exist. He said among the billions of planets there is bound to be intelligent life in the universe that can travel through space.
"We are just like a speck of sand here on Earth compared to that," Dean said of the universe.
James Conwell, a physics professor at Eastern Illinois University, said the odds are that there is other life in the universe. After all, he said there are an estimated 100 billion stars per galaxy and an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the universe.
"I think it's probably almost impossible not to have other life in the universe," Conwell said.
However, Conwell said the question of whether or not there is intelligent life out there that could travel across the universe is almost a sociological question. He speculated any alien race would have to survive the development of nuclear energy or other dangerous technologies before it could ever progress to the level of interstellar travel.