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ET

ET

Extraterrestriala hypothetical, imagined or alleged being from outer space.

The concept of visiting extraterrestrials has grown and developed since the mid-nineteenth century. As early as June 1864, a French newspaper reported the discovery of a mummified humanoid body inside a hollow, egg-shaped structure by two American geologists. According to contemporary newspaper accounts an "air vessel belonging originally to some other planet" crashed on a riverbank in rural Nebraska in 1884.

These reports generated little attention in their time, but between November 1896 and May 1897 a wave of sightings of mysterious "airships" swept the United States and stirred widespread controversy. Most who proposed explanations favored delusions, misidentifications, hoaxes, or secret inventors; yet a small but vocal minority of theorists wondered if Martians were touring the Earth. A number of outlandish hoaxes played in this notion. A California man claimed that beautiful, naked space people, weighing less than an ounce each, had tried to abduct him into a waiting airship. In Kansas a rancher told a tongue-in-cheek tale in which alien creatures in an airship lassoed and stole a calf from his corral. A Dallas newspaper alleged that an airship collided with a windmill in a tiny north Texas village, killing its Martian pilot, who was then buried in the local cemetery.

Another "airship" wave, occurring in 1909 in New Zealand, inspired a letter to the editor of the Otago Daily Times arguing that "atomic-powered spaceships" from Mars were responsible for the reports. The first book to make a case for extraterrestrial visitation was Charles Fort 's The Book of the Damned (1919). Fort (1874-1932), a talented writer with a keen sense of satire, had spent years in the New York Public Library collecting printed accounts of a wide range of human and natural oddities. Among them were worldwide reports of strange flying objects in the atmosphere. Fort was the first to become aware of what would be called in later decades the "UFO phenomenon." Previous to this, sightings seemed no more than isolated curiosities. In Damned and two subsequent books, Fort demonstrated that there was a pattern in such observations. He lampooned attempts to explain them conventionally and in the process argued, that beings from other worlds had Earth under observation. He also anticipated UFO-age speculation in linking extraterrestrials to ancient civilizations and to mysterious disappearances.

A year before his death, the Fortean Society was created to carry on Fort's studies of unexplained physical (as opposed to psychic) phenomena (sometimes known as "Fortean" phenomena), including aerial anomalies. Many Forteans were also interested in science fiction. In the mid-1940s two Ziff-Davis pulp fiction books, Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures, These books, edited by Ray Palmer, carried sensational, "true" articles and stories on the theme of ancient and current visitation from space.

A Boise, Idaho, private pilot's sighting of nine fast-moving discs over Mount Rainier, Washington, on the afternoon of June 24, 1947, brought "flying saucers" into popular consciousness. Overwhelmingly, Americans thought the saucers were American or Soviet weapons or natural phenomena. In 1948 a top secret "estimate of the situation" prepared by personnel at Project Sign, the U.S. Air Force's first UFO-investigative project, argued that the objects were probably of interplanetary origin. The Air Force Chief of Staff rejected that conclusion, however, and Project Sign was reorganized into Project Grudge, which sought to debunk UFO sightings.

The first seriously argued case for UFOs-as-spacecraft appeared in the January 1950 issue of a widely read men's magazine True. The article, "The Flying Saucers Are Real," contended that peaceable ETs were conducting surveillance of the Earth, probably for the purpose of eventual contact. Donald E. Keyhoe, the author, was a retired Marine Corps major heretofore known as an aviation journalist, but the True piece led to a paperback book of the same title, then a career for Keyhoe as the leading public advocate of UFOs as extraterrestrials. From 1957-1969, Keyhoe directed the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), which investigated UFO reports, criticized the Air Force's handling of them, and sought to make UFOs respectable.

In the 1950s, the terms UFOs and spacecraft became virtually synonymous in popular culture. UFO groups formed around the world, and books on the subject sometimes appeared on best-seller lists. Along with more conservative proponents of ET visitation, there were the "contactees" and their followers. Contactees claimed to have met physically, or communicated psychically, with angelic beings in saucers. The contactees believed the space people came to bring moral reforms and technological advances to the human race, which was viewed as primitive, warlike, and even dangerous by their more spiritually developed brothers and sisters in the cosmos.

Though rejecting contactee stories, conservative ufologists were receptive to other sorts of UFO-occupant reports, later called "close encounters of the third kind," or CE3s. In these cases the beings, typically described as humanoid and hardly angelic, had little to say and were encountered only briefly; moreover, the witnesses tended to fit the social and psychological profiles of witnesses to less exotic UFO events. Contactees, on the other hand, struck ufologists as fringe personalities whose esoteric interests long predated their supposed interactions with space people.

In the 1960s another kind of ostensible ET encounter rose to prominencethe abduction. In abduction cases witnesses reported being taken against their will into UFOs, meeting their humanoid crews, and usually being subjected to a physical examination. Most, though not all, of these incidents were recovered through hypnosis, after witnesses described a period of amnesia during a sighting. Over the years the phenomenon seemed to grow more complex. Witnesses related extended encounters, sometimes involving journeys to other worlds. Others claimed instances of sexual intercourse with human-like aliens. Some female abductees said they had experienced mysteriously terminated pregnancies, then later, while on board a spacecraft, been shown babies or children with both human and alien featurestheir own hybrid offspring.

In a number of abduction cases, stories took on the form of earlier contactee tales. While many abductees described their captors as cold and uncaring, others were certain of their benign intentions for the Earth and its inhabitants. Harvard psychiatrist John E. Mack became a leading advocate of this interpretation, whereas Budd Hopkins and David M. Jacobs argued that the abducting aliens do not have humanity's best interests in mind. Jacobs has stated that the aliens were creating hybrids to supplant the human race.

These sorts of issues have been controversial even within ufology, where many suspect the abductions to be a question of psychology, not of exobiology. Still, abductions and the aliens associated with them have become a staple of popular culture.

Sources:

Clark, Jerome. The UFO Encyclopedia, Second Edition: The Phenomenon from the Beginning. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1998.

Curran, Douglas. In Advance of the Landing: Folk Concepts of Outer Space. New York: Abbeville Press, 1985.

Fort, Charles. The Books of Charles Fort. New York: Henry Holt, 1941.

Hopkins, Budd. Intruders: The Incredible Visitations at Copley Woods. New York: Random House, 1987.

Hynek, J. Allen. The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry. Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1972.

Jacobs, David M. The Threat. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Keyhoe, Donald E. The Flying Saucers Are Real. New York: Fawcett Publications, 1950.

Lewis, James R., ed. The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

Mack, John E. Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994.

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ET

ET a creature from outer space, stranded on earth, who is befriended by Californian children in Spielberg's film (1982) of that name; the letters stand for extra-terrestrial.

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ET

ET • abbr. ∎  Eastern time. ∎  extraterrestrial.

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ET

ET adj. see endotracheal.

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ET

ET See endothelin.

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