Peak U.K. UFO sightings coincided with The X-Files

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Jul 4, 2015, 1:40 PM EDT

You might say they really wanted to believe.

Recently released documents by the National Archives show that UFO sightings in the United Kingdom spiked in 1996: 609 that year, up from 117 the year before.

David Clarke, a UFO historian and consultant to the National Archives, said it was probably no coincidence that the sci-fi TV show The X Files was popular in Britain at the time and that the alien-invasion movie Independence Day came out the same year, the Associated Press reported:

"It's evident there is some connection between newspaper stories, TV programs and films about alien visitors, and the numbers of UFO sightings," Clarke said.

"Aside from 1996, one of the busiest years for UFO sightings reported to the MoD [Ministry of Defense] over the past half century was 1978—the year Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released."

The National Archives on Monday released more than 4,000 pages online documenting 800 alleged encounters during the 1980s and 1990s. Over the past three years the Ministry of Defense has been gradually releasing previously secret UFO papers after facing Freedom of Information demands.

Britain's defense ministry has charted UFO sightings since the 1950s, when a Flying Saucer Working Party was established. More files are due to be released by the archives through 2010.