Early one August evening in 1954, a Brazilian plane was tracked by an unidentified object of “strong luminosity” that didn’t appear on radar. Two decades later, a river community in the northern Amazon jungle was repeatedly visited by glowing orbs that beamed lights down onto the inhabitants. In 1986, more than 20 unidentified aerial phenomena lit up the skies over Brazil’s most populous states, sending the Brazilian air force out in pursuit.

The stories are not the ravings of a UFO buff. They are official assessments by Brazilian pilots and military officers — who often struggled to put into words what they’d seen — and can be found in Brazil’s remarkable historical archive of reported UFO visitations.

Even more extraordinary? It’s all public record.

There are no security clearances. No heavily redacted documents. Anyone can access the files — the military reports, the videos and audio recordings, the grainy unverified photographs — and thousands of people have.

“It’s comparatively easy to get this information here,” said Rodolpho Santos, a historian at the Federal Institute of Minas Gerais. “And the variety of records is good and considerable.”

Brazil and the United States are two countries of continental proportions, frequent UFO sightings and active communities of extraterrestrial enthusiasts. But how each has responded to the most fundamental of human questions — are we alone? — has been sharply different. In the United States, the matter of unidentified aerial phenomena has often been treated as a closely guarded government secret. Meanwhile, in Brazil and much of South America, there has been a more relaxed attitude toward the inexplicable, the public’s right to know and the limits of scientific explanation.

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