By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Jeb Bladine: A great time to find 1,284 more planets

The timing couldn’t be more appropriate for this week’s announcement that the Kepler telescope mission has discovered 1,284 more exoplanets. As that news was sinking in, McMinnville was gearing up for its annual UFO Festival.

Let the weirdness begin.

It started 17 years ago as Alien Days, and now has grown into the nation’s second largest UFO festival. The event, even around the world. If you take a look around at the Saturday parade, you might think there are visitors here from far beyond any world we know.

This week’s Kepler statistics more than doubled the number of planets confirmed by the science project, which launched in 2009 and will be charting the galaxies for another 18 months. At the press conference, NASA Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz said this:

“Kepler is the first telescope for detecting small rocky planets in the habitable zone of their stars. Thanks to Kepler, we know exoplanets are common, most stars in our galaxy have planetary systems and they are potentially habitable planets. Knowing this is the first step to addressing whether we are alone in the universe.”

There is no shortage of people who believe that beings from other planets have been visiting our little corner of the universe for eons.

Speakers at this year’s UFO Festival will highlight the 1997 Phoenix Lights case. Along the way, people will be thinking about the Roswell flying discs in 1947, the Barney and Betty Hill abduction in 1961, and of course, our local flying saucer photographs from 1950. I’ve seen survey reports that half of all Americans believe in UFOs and other alien indicators, and 5 percent say they have witnessed something that validated those beliefs.

Meanwhile, there is another reason for many festival-goers: Fun.

Yes, UFO stories are fun. Festivals are fun. And the annual UFO Festival in McMinnville, sponsored for 17 years by McMenamins and nurtured by the McMinnville Downtown Association, is fun.

The fun goes from with today’s Landing Party to tonight’s music and dancing on Third Street, from the 5K UFO Abduction Dash Run to the Alien Pet Costume Contest. It culminates in the ever-colorful UFO Costume Parade on Saturday afternoon.

There’s more than a little whimsy in the air this week, as befits any gathering of fun-seekers. But behind it all there exists a bit of wonder as we think about all those planets being found by the Kepler telescope.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at or 503-687-1223.

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