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Abductions by strange unearthly beings have been reported throughout history. But it was the 1961 experience of Barney and Betty Hill that first connected the experience with invaders from another world.

The couple had been driving along a country road in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

They seemed to have the road to themselves, they said, except for a strange light that appeared to be following them down the winding road.

At first, they didn’t know what had happened to them – they reported a chunk of “missing time”. Their clothes were inexplicably dirty and torn and both of their watches had stopped working.

Later, memories recovered by hypnosis revealed a strange tale of being taken up into a disc-shaped craft as wide, Betty said, “as her house was long” where aliens examined them before erasing their memories.

Sceptics have have identified numerous flaws in the Hills’ stories, and noted that their story shares some telling details with the 1953 film Invaders from Mars and an episode of the Outer limits broadcast after the abduction, but before the hypnotic regression that uncovered many of its most sensational details.

But under hypnosis, Betty and Barney told remarkably similar stories, suggesting that something strange happened – whether an abduction or something else – to them on that fateful September night 60 years ago this year.

The visitors, recalled Betty, were baffled by her husband's dentures and didn't appear to be familiar with the idea.

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Since then thousands have claimed that while sleeping – or sometimes while driving in a remote area – they have been taken up into spacecraft and experimented on. Some say they have been given important messages about the future of mankind.

Barney’s description of the aliens; short and grey-skinned with large eyes, has over time become the most popular conception of extraterrestrial visitors – although other abductees have reported “robot-like beings” or “hairy dwarves” and in one memorable case beautiful humanoid women with “cherry-red pubic hair”.

Betty claimed to have been shown a star map revealing that the visitors had come from a distant binary star system known as Zeta Reticuli.

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As yet no planets have been definitively observed orbiting the two Sun-like stars in the Zeta Reticuli system, although a disc of material, possibly an asteroid belt, appears to have formed around one of them.

It was only in March 1963, nearly two years after the incident, that the Hills first publicly discussed their encounter with travellers from that twin star system just over 39 light-years from Earth .

Boston-based hypnotist Benjamin Simon first interviewed the couple in early 1964.

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Under hypnosis, Barney recalled the aliens communicating with him by some form of telepathy.

"Oh, those eyes. They're there in my brain,” he said.

He later told Simon: "I was told to close my eyes because I saw two eyes coming close to mine, and I felt like the eyes had pushed into my eyes.

"All I see are these eyes…. I'm not even afraid that they're not connected to a body. They're just there. They're just up close to me, pressing against my eyes."

He described having a “cup” placed over his genitals and a sperm sample being taken. He also recalled an anal probe and said the aliens scraped his skin in a procedure that might now be described as a DNA sample.

The aliens inserted a long needle into Betty’s navel, telling her it was a pregnancy test.

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The couple’s experiences set the tone for thousands of similar reports.

In 1975, US TV network NBC broadcast a TV movie based on Betty and Barneys experience called The UFO Incident. In the following two years reports of alien abductions soared by some 2,500%.

The Hills avoided publicity, for the most part, after their experience became public knowledge.

Barney Hill died of a cerebral haemorrhage on February 25, 1969, aged just 46. Betty Hill lived on until the ripe old age of 85, becoming quite a celebrity among the UFO community.

Explanations for the phenomenon range from flashbacks to childhood tonsil surgery to lucid dreaming.

Michael Raduga, a researcher with the Phase Research Centre in Moscow, says "abductions are real">

He believes that the people that experience them, "they just don't know how to explain it."

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