Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait and the Library Fairy

I’m becoming convinced there is such a thing as the library fairy. Let me explain. For a writer, the library fairy points him or her to the information needed to complete a work. For example, a number of years ago I was researching a novel about the battle at Khe Sanh. I happened to be in a Sam Goodies and was walking along the wall where there were video tapes and spotted a documentary about Khe Sahn. Now I would be able to describe the base and surrounding area accurately because I had see it. I normally don’t go into Sam Goodies but on this one day, did.

Such was the case recently with a couple of columns inspired by Phil Plait and his Bad Astronomy. He suggested he didn’t believe UFOs were alien ships because amateur astronomers didn’t report them... meaning alien ships as opposed to UFOs.

The J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies has a DVD that contains the entire printed run of the NICAP U.F.O. Investigator. I just received my copies of the disk and to check it out, opened it randomly to January 1958. On page one was an announcement that Dr. James C. Bartlett was joining the organization as a consultant in astronomy, convinced that some UFOs were alien because he had seem them himself.

The August-September issue (which carried the whole story of Bartlett) told me that he was a Baltimore-based astronomer and was a frequent contributor to astronomical journals. In fact, according to NICAP, prior to his own sightings he had been a complete skeptic and ridiculed others who "believed in the reality of UFOs," which I take to mean alien spacecraft.

Bartlett told NICAP that he had been observing a transit of Fomalhaut when he saw four large lights with an unaided eye. Then, through 7-power binoculars, he saw the lights as they moved slowly.

"They came from the noses of two enormous craft which more than filled the binoculars."

He said there was a cabin in the nose and ports on the sides of the craft which he believed to be either cylindrical or cigar shaped. He could hear sounds from the objects that he thought were about 3000 feet in altitude. Unnecessarily, he said that neither was an airliner or a dirigible.

Bartlett said that he didn’t say anything to anyone about the sighting at the time because he thought they might be some kind of experimental craft. He said that he believed this because they were traveling "unmolested" which to him suggested that someone knew what they were and where they were. If not a US secret, then, he believed, they would have been intercepted.

More important than this sighting, though the description certainly suggests something that is not of terrestrial manufacture and is something more substantial than a fuzzy light in the distance, is Bartlett’s sighting of August 5, 1952. During a daytime observation of Venus he watched a two disks as they passed overhead flying to the south and then turned east. Moments later he saw two more but this time he saw a dome on top of each.

Of course the conversion of one astronomer from skeptic to believer (a really bad term for those who accept the possibility that some UFOs are of extraterrestrial origin) does not prove a point. Dr. H. Percy Wilkins, a noted English astronomer, made a daylight observation of an oval-shaped object.

Before we go on, I should note that this is from that same January 1958 issue of the NICAP U.F.O. Investigator that the library fairy seems to have directed me to. On page 12 are the details of his UFO sightings.

Wilkins said that he watched the oval over Mount Etna through binoculars in September 1957. He had an opportunity to get a good look at it and was unable to identify it in convention terms.

In 1954 Wilkins had a daylight sighing as he traveled over the United States. According to the U.F.O. Investigator, "[H]e saw three oval-shaped metallic-looking objects flying together above the clouds about two miles away." He wrote later, in his book, "They looked exactly like polished metal reflecting the sunlight," and said they were brass or gold in color and much brighter than the clouds. Until this experience he says he "had been extremely skeptical of flying saucer reports."

In fact, back in 1955, Wilkins, in his book, Mysteries of Space and Time (not to be confused with the similarly titled book by Brad Steiger of Mysteries of Time and Space) wrote that he knew that most UFO reports were of conventional objects, but that "...a residuum remains which cannot be thus explained." That is a more verbose way of saying that most UFOs are misidentified natural or manmade objects and he wrote this more than fifty years before the similarly profound statement by Plait.

I imagine that the best way to discredit Dr. Wilkins would be to point at a December 1953 interview on the BBC in which he was supposed to have confirmed a bridge over the Mare Crisium on the moon. In follow-up questions some time after that interview aired, Wilkins said that he "had not considered the bridge other than a natural object." He wasn’t suggesting that it was something created by an extraterrestrial race.

Here are sightings by two astronomers that can’t be categorized as anything but flying saucers if the observations are accurate. True, Bartlett originally believed that the first objects he saw were secret government craft, but doesn’t that strengthen his sighting? I mean, he’s talking about a structured object on which he observed details that wouldn’t be common on natural phenomena and he assumed, incorrectly, that it belonged to us. After further review, he determined that it was not a secret craft (and I will point out that no secret craft such as he described has been revealed in the more than fifty years since his sighting), so he reported the sighting.

Wilkins talks of oval-shaped objects seen in the daytime and through binoculars. Given those two details, it is difficult to imagine what they could be, other than examples of flying saucers...

Oh, yes, I forgot... eyewitnesses don’t count because they could be wrong, they could be deluded, or they could be lying. I can think of no motive for either of these men to lie about seeing flying saucers because such admissions could harm their... or I suppose I should say, could have harmed, their careers.

And I know that someone out there will point out that these men are what the Air Force would call repeaters, meaning they saw flying saucers on more than one occasion and are therefore, unreliable. That strikes me the same as saying that a person hit more than once by lightning must be lying because lightning striking humans is rare and no one would be unlucky enough to be hit more than once... except, of course, those people with outdoor s jobs or play too much golf or who are just flat unlucky.

There are, of course, two points here. One is that astronomers do see alien spacecraft, and describe them in terms that leads to only two conclusions. They have actually seen an alien spacecraft or they are lying (overlooking, I suppose delusion and hallucination).

I will note here that Dick Hall, who edited The UFO Evidence which was printed by NICAP in 1964, reported on a number of sightings by astronomers, both professional and amateur, including Seymour L. Hess, Walter N. Webb, W. Gordon Graham, Frank Halstead, Jacques Chapuis, and the Observatory staff on Majorca (A triangular-shaped object they reported to NASA).

Second, the library fairy provided these two examples when I was not actively looking for them. I just wanted to get a feel for the U.F.O Investigator (and selected NICAP documents) DVD had on it.

For those interested, that DVD can be purchased from the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies at 2457 West Peterson Avenue, Chicago Illinois 60659 for $40.00 and that includes shipping, postage and even foreign sales.

There is a companion DVD that contains thirty years of the International UFO Reporter along with the Center Investigators Quarterly for $100.00 dollars.

For those wishing more information visit the CUFOS Website at:

1 comment:

cda said...

You are right regarding H.Percy Wilkins and his UFO sighting of June 1954. I did not know about the later one.

However, Wilkins regarded it as something having a terrestrial origin, see his own account from the source you give. A slight problem with Wilkins (an amateur astronomer and an expert on the moon) is that towards the end of his life (he died in 1960) he did veer a bit towards supporting Adamski, or at least he said he would not dismiss Adamski out of hand. Another point: H.P.Wilkins was no relation to Harold T.Wilkins, who wrote 2 UFO books and several articles. The two were sometimes confused in the 1950s, mainly because they both lived in the same town and had the same first initial. In fact they both died in the same year as well!