Wednesday, September 21, 2005

MUFON's Sam Maranto "The Real McCoy"

Sky patrol

By Rose Panieri

      By day, Sam Maranto sells insurance.

Sam Maranto Sml     At night and every spare moment of his existence, Maranto, of Orland Park, pursues his real love — UFOs. As regional director of the Mutual UFO Network, Maranto is responsible for coordinating and corroborating sightings of unidentified flying objects throughout Will, Cook, Kendall, LaSalle and Kankakee counties.

     His task is to follow up on calls from UFO witnesses in the five-county region by meeting the witness and reviewing evidence.

     If his gut tells him a sighting is staying under UFO status, he'll sort through thousands of files in the MUFON master database to make comparisons with data accumulated from all corners of the globe.

     Midnight will find Maranto at his computer, frowning in concentration and tapping away, until he is satisfied with his conclusions. Only then will he look up from his task, grab the nearest phone and call a colleague with the news.

     Maranto takes his work seriously, and though he'll laugh with you, he doesn't appreciate jokes about little green men and aluminum hats. He's a cynical man — one of his favorite expressions is, "Not every weird light in the sky is a UFO."

     If you're skeptical about UFOs, he'd like nothing more than sit down and have a cup of coffee with you. While you chat, he'll let you know that he respects you for not believing that every odd play of light in the sky is a UFO. He'll confide that most bugaboos that appear on the horizon are actually planes, weather balloons, swamp gas and the like. You'll both chuckle at the gullibility of the masses.

     Though not as glamorous or upscale as the alien hunters in the movie "Men in Black," Maranto seems more convincing than either Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones, mainly because he's the Real McCoy. No, Maranto's work isn't always glamorous or particularly perilous, but Maranto finds it vastly rewarding.

     "I have no children, and in my work with ufology (the study of extraterrestrial science) I'd like to believe I have a calling," Maranto said. "I just want to play a role in fostering a greater understanding of our universe. If I can achieve that, I'll have fulfilled my purpose."

     Maranto's heart skips a beat every time the phone rings. And why not? That next call, might just be the one. And when he gets a call, Maranto hotfoots it right over to the scene. He wants to be there when it happens.

     "I prefer working on truly unusual cases, especially mass sightings, because there are so many witnesses," Maranto said. "I have learned so much that has blown the lid off of the conventional wisdom we're taught when children; it's an incredible calling, really."

     In the majority of cases, Maranto's adrenaline is pumped up for nothing. He speeds to the scene only to find the "UFO" is actually a bouquet of liberated Mylar balloons twisting, turning and reflecting the lights of the city — poetic perhaps, but certainly not a myth come to life.

     Ah, but once in a while — and more often than you might imagine — Maranto happens on what he thinks is the real thing — an object that defies explanation.

     "There are approximately 70,000 reported UFO sightings every year, and that's something like 192 per day," Maranto said. "Even if only a handful are authentic, there is still a substantial case for the existence of UFOs."

     Some call the study of UFOs a pseudo-science.

     "My only response (to the idea of UFOs) is that there is no credible evidence," said James Hopkins, an astronomy professor at Joliet Junior College. "If one crashed made of a metal never before discovered on this planet it would be convincing. I believe in what I can prove."

     While acknowledging that there is no "absolute" evidence of UFOs, Maranto finds the "prove it" attitude frustrating.

     "Just because we do not have the capacity to understand it doesn't mean it doesn't exist," Maranto countered. "If it doesn't conform to some rational standard — if you can't kill it and stick in formaldehyde — it doesn't exist."

The study of UFOs, like other fields dealing with the unseen and unknown, are wide open to ridicule.

     "Before the invention of the microscope and subsequent discovery of disease-causing bacteria, the concept of 'invisible' creatures that make people ill was laughable," Maranto said. "People used to believe the world was flat and anyone who disagreed was considered a simpleton."

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