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      Something's out there: Myrtle Beach is a hot spot for UFO sightings

      You may have never seen an unidentified flying object over Myrtle Beach, but if you live in this area, chances are you know someone who has.

      The Grand Strand has long had more than its share of UFO sightings.

      The creators of Myrtle Beach's newest attraction, "Encounters: UFO Experience", claim there's a good reason, besides this area's 14 million tourists, why they decided to locate it at Broadway at the Beach.

      "Myrtle Beach is a hot spot for sightings," said Brian Bouquet of Intergalactic Brands.

      It's true. A quick check of web sites like the Mutual UFO Network or the National UFO Reporting Center shows one report after another of sightings in Myrtle Beach, Cherry Grove, Little River and so on.

      Bill Barrett, who works a night shift at a Myrtle Beach ocean-front hotel, says he's seen many unexplained lights in the sky, often grouped together.

      "The geometry is perfect, they're perfectly spaced, perfectly level on the horizon and they're probably about a mile-and-a-half to two miles off the beach," said Barrett.

      Of the half-dozen sightings Barrett has witnessed over the years, the one that intrigues him the most - and seems the hardest to explain - was the giant orange oval object he saw last November.

      It seemed to him to be dripping a lava-like fluid.

      "When that happened, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I mean, explain that to me, what could that possibly be?"

      One UFO expert says Myrtle Beach doesn't necessarily get more UFOs than other places. He says the same kinds of sightings are happening all over the world, but people on the Grand Strand seem to do a better job of reporting them.

      "The willingness to report, investigate, treat fairly. They've done a good job of that here," said UFOlogist Stanton Friedman, who lectured on flying saucers for the grand opening of the UFO exhibit.

      What are those objects seen in the sky? Where did they come from and how do they operate?

      Friedman says he can't answer those questions, but he says from all over the world, there are reports of flying objects that defy explanation. Too many reports to dismiss.

      "They're manufactured and they're not from here. That means they're from someplace else," he said.

      But Coastal Carolina University astronomy professor Dr. Louis Rubbo says there's a simple, very earthly explanation for most of the sightings of lights in the sky over Myrtle Beach: fighter jets from Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, doing night-time exercises over the ocean.

      "We're not used to seeing planes flying in formation especially at night and using non commercial lights on them," Rubbo said.

      Rubbo says our visual perspective from the shoreline makes it appear that the planes are doing very quick, un-earthly maneuvers.

      He scoffs at the notion that the UFOs seen over Myrtle Beach, or anywhere for that matter, are spacecraft from another planet.

      He says the biggest problem is distance. Rubbo says the closest habitable planets are in the range of 10 to 100 light years away.

      In space, light travels at a speed of 186 thousand miles per second, or about 5.9 trillion miles per year. That's the equivalent of one light-year.

      So a planet that's 10 light-years away would be about 59 trillion miles from Earth. A spacecraft traveling at the speed of light, which the laws of physics says is impossible, would need a decade of travel just to get here.

      And that's the closest habitable planet.

      "The distances between stars is so immense that traveling between them is very difficult, and the probability of an alien life form making that trip is pretty small," Rubbo said.

      But if Rubbo has an answer for lights in the sky, that doesn't explain everything, according to the South Carolina director of Mufon, the Mutual UFO Network.

      Cheryl Ann Gilmore says one night last year, a tourist reported seeing not just lights, but an unexplained object floating over her Myrtle Beach hotel.

      "She noticed that when this object passed over the street light, that it reflected up on the bottom on what she thought was just an orange light, but it was a craft and she was amazed. She said it was almost 3 stories tall," Gilmore said.

      Gilmore says it's frustrating that there are no easy answers and anyone who claims to have it all figured out isn't worth listening to.

      If pressed for an explanation about UFOs over Myrtle Beach, Gilmore has her own thoughts.

      "Possibility they might be from another planet, possibly they might be time travelers, they might be from another dimension. Some of them might be our military doing exercises out over the ocean," Gilmore said.

      So the debate goes on, over what those UFOs are and why Myrtle Beach sees more of them than most other places.

      Fiedman says one thing is certain: "They've collected a lot of good cases here and there will be more."