Friday, April 23, 2010

The Meteorite Men and UFOs

Since the last couple of postings has created an acrimonious debate, let’s move onto something a little tamer for the moment. I have been watching Meteorite Men on Discovery Science and was surprised by the number of meteor falls that have been captured on video tape. And I was surprised at how, as the meteor broke up, it began to look like something else.

Let me take a step back here and provide a little history. On March 3, 1968, there was a series of UFO reports in the Midwest. These were of a cigar-shaped craft with lighted windows (first two illustrations from March 3). Skeptics, including Philip Klass, identified the UFO as the reentry of one of the Zond 4 booster rockets. The spacecraft had been placed in orbit the night before so we were dealing with a spacecraft or rather part of one but not with an extraterrestrial one.

Klass suggested in his book, UFOs Explained, that this was also the solution for the Chiles – Whitted sighting of July 24, 1948. Chiles and Whitted were the pilot and co-pilot of an airliner and they reported they had seen what they thought, at first, was some kind of jet aircraft but then described a cigar-shaped object with lighted windows (second two illustrations supplied by Chiles Whitted). Originally it had been suggested they had seen a meteor but that explanation was rejected, especially when one of them reported that their aircraft had been rocked by the passing of the UFO. It was a short sighting but one that baffled the Air Force investigators originally. Later, or maybe eventually, it was identified as a "Fireball". That is, an extremely bright meteor.

Along with many others, I wasn’t happy with these explanations, offered by Klass and the Air force, but now we have a compilation of meteor falls on video tape. I confess that looking at some of these, it does appear that they resemble some kind of craft with lighted windows, especially as they begin to break up. Given the coincident of the Zond 4 reentry with the drawings and descriptions of the Chiles – Whitted sighting, it seems that these cases can be marked as solved, as Klass and the Air Force has suggested.

Yet, there seem to be other cases that fit into this as well but do not have these simple solutions. Two that spring to mind immediately are the Kecksburg case of December 9, 1965 and the Washington case of November 25, 1979. In fact, Jim Clarkson, who has been investigating the Washington case almost since the day it happened, has a number of descriptions that match, generally, those given in the Zond 4 and the Chiles – Whitted case.

Clarkson also seems to have found a military connection and does report that military and police authorities searched an area near Westport and the Elk River Bridge looking for something. Some witnesses have reported roadblocks by the military, a larger than normal military presence in the area after the events, and some unusual activities. He has spent years assembling his data.

Stan Gordon has done the same with the Kecksburg case. There are no reports of anything like a cigar-shaped craft with windows. There are reports that the military responded, reports of the military establishing some sort of a forward command post and that something was found in the woods near Kecksburg only to be hauled away by military authorities. The connection to a meteor was drawn by several skeptics including Robert Young who though that pictures of the smoke trail published in astronomy magazines shortly after the event solved the case.

There is one other fact that impacts both those cases and it was something that was demonstrated as the bolide, that is, an extremely bright meteor flashed over the Midwest last week. Within hours there were meteorite hunters all over the place looking for fragments. On the news the next day were reports from one man who had found a small piece of the meteorite and an expert from Chicago who was talking about the radar return and the strewn field.

Let me elaborate. In the old days of radar, it was said that radar could not detect the meteor but could see the ionized trail left behind. Today’s weather radar that is all over the place with interlocking patterns still might be only able to see the ionized trail, but it does see them. That gave the meteorite hunters a direction of flight (as if the eyewitnesses didn’t) and a possible location of impact.

The strewn field is an area that contains the pieces of the meteor as it broke up in flight. Think of it as a debris field left as an aircraft crashed. The strewn field could be very long but would be relatively narrow and it could hold thousands of pieces of the meteor.

Knowing all this, I contacted Stan Gordon, the long time investigator and local expert on the Kecksburg crash. I asked him if he had been contacted by any meteorite hunters. His response was that not about this, but he had been contacted about other events around Pennsylvania.

I put the same questions to Jim Clarkson about the Washington crash. He told me, " I never heard of anyone searching the area for meteor fragments."

But I took this one step further. I sent an email to the Meteorite Men. It took them a week to get back to me, but considering the number of emails they received, I was surprised by the speed of their reply. They told me that they knew of no meteor falls on either December 9, 1965 or November 25, 1979 (Photographs of meteor falls seen in the last four illustrations).

Does this rule out the meteor answer for both those cases? I would say, "Not really." However, a meteor, or bolide of sufficient size to cause the stir these two events did would seem to be listed in someone’s database and the Meteorite Men would seem to be the experts on this. Which is to say that they should know, but something might have slipped through.

Where does all this leave us? I believe, based on the evidence, that the March 3, 1968 UFO sighting has been explained by the reentry of the Zond 4 booster.

I believe, based on the illustrations supplied of the Zond 4 and the descriptions given by Chiles and Whitted, that they probably saw a meteor as it approached them and then broke up. Given that this was 1948 and extremely early in the morning, there simply weren’t any other witnesses awake to see the object, though there were some ground reports. The illustrations made by them seem to match those drawn to reflect the Zond 4.

With both Kecksburg and Elk River Bridge in Washington, I’m not sure. With Kecksburg there are no eyewitness drawings to match the Zond 4 and there apparently have been no one hunting the meteorites. Had this been such an event, I would expect it to be overrun by meteorite hunters. And yes, I know the closest road to the impact site is known as Meteor Road.

With the Washington case, the drawings and illustrations provided by Jim Clarkson seem to be reminiscent of the Zond 4, but do not match with the same degree that those of Chiles and Whitted do. And, there have been no meteorite hunters in the area that Clarkson knows about. He also said that the possible impact area is being returned by the state to it’s natural condition which means swamps and rough, tangled brush.

This means that I believe the solutions to Kecksburg and Washington have not been found... or rather the evidence for something other than a meteor remains high. In both cases, it was reported that the object changed course and there have not been the meteorite hunters in the area that you would expect.

But it also means that we might be getting closer to an overall solution as we learn more about meteors, we gather more videos of them falling, and we search these areas for those fragments that we would expect.


Tim Printy said...

The reason nobody went to Kecksburg is because those who looked at the data for the fireball knew it did not go there. They went to the actual direction the fireball went, which was in SW Ontario. This is discussed in the RASC Journal of 1967. It is called "The Fireball of December 9, 1965 part 1".

Additionally, not all fireballs break up and take on the appearance similar to Zond IV. It also happened in the evening and not at night. This removes the dark background and shows the meteor fragments as individual points of light. To get the "airship effect" you need a night time sky.

Tim Printy said...
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Tim Printy said...
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cda said...

The Chiles-Whitted case has an odd history. For example it is given in Lt Colonel Tacker's skeptical 1960 book (with backing from the USAF) as unexplained, rather surprisingly. Yet Hynek, Menzel and Hartmann evidently persuaded the AF that it belonged in the 'explained' category. Having started (in 1948) as a large unidentified wingless aircraft, it ended up as a bright meteor. According to Menzel a number of bright meteors were seen that night by amateur astronomers and at least one other airliner.

There was also the 'airship effect' in the great fireball of Feb 1913 (given in the Condon Report) which persuaded Hartmann on the Chiles-Whitted case.

In chapter 1 of Tacker's book, above, are described the Pacific sightings of July 11, 1959. The meteor/fireball explanation for those is quite convincing.

I'll leave Kecksburg and Washington to those who have studied them.

Frank Stalter said...

If I had to put $1 on what happened in Kecksburg, I'd say something Soviet built fell out of the sky.

Lance said...

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for pointing out this interesting phenomena--I don't believe that I have seen photos like this before that demonstrate the basic illusion.

Also many thanks to Tim for pointing out that there was indeed a famous meteor that night.

I wonder if Tim knows about one for the other night Kevin mentioned?


David Rudiak said...

Tim Printy wrote:
The reason nobody went to Kecksburg is because those who looked at the data for the fireball knew it did not go there. They went to the actual direction the fireball went, which was in SW Ontario. This is discussed in the RASC Journal of 1967. It is called "The Fireball of December 9, 1965 part 1".

Since the JRASC trajectory analysis didn't appear for over another year, I seriously doubt it had anything to do with which direction meteor chasers chased back at the time of Kecksburg (unless we want to invoke another skeptic time travel theory).

I have also never seen any statements that anybody ever recovered actual meteorites from this alleged meteor bolide, though there should have been plenty of them.

There are serious problems with the JRASC trajectory, as I have pointed out in detail on my website, particularly the assumptions of 100% perfect determination of directions from two photos used as a triangulation base. A proper scientific analysis should have had error analysis, and there were numerous sources of potential error, never discussed.

Because the triangulation baseline was so narrow, it turns out that only a very small error of +/- 0.6 degrees in determining directions on two triangulation photos would completely change the trajectory towards Kecksburg and also result in a much shallower angle of descent.

There is actually considerable evidence of something that did continue to pass towards the SE, including reports of debris (but no meteorites found) raining down in Ohio and starting grass fires, a weather spotter in Columbus reported seeing the fireball due east of his position (i.e., exactly in the direction of Kecksburg), numerous reports of sonic booms in western Pennsylvania being phoned into the state police, the fireball being reported at the Pittsburg airport 3-4 minutes AFTER it supposedly crashed to earth near Detroit, eyewitness reports of the fireball moving slowly SE of Pittsburgh and maneuvering, before being seen to crash into the woods near Kecksburg and sending up a plume of bluish smoke. This report of the object crashing into the woods is what brought the police and military to Kecksburg to begin with.

I also recently found a report in a Uniontown PA newspaper (Uniontown is about 45 miles SSE of Pittsburgh and 25 miles SW of Kecksburg) of the fireball being seen above a mountain that was just S to SE of town, descending below the ridgeline seemingly towards suburbs to the east of Uniontown, i.e., the fireball was seen probably northish of town, roughly in the direction of Pittsburgh, and moving in an easterly direction when it disappeared from sight.

But Detroit and the endpoint of the JRASC fireball was over 200 miles from Uniontown directly towards the NW (not north), and according to the JRASC article the fireball was headed to the NE and descending at a very steep angle, supposedly impacting not far away (less than 3 degrees from where it supposedly exploded and disappeared from sight), i.e. still in the NW direction.

Even if a descending “meteor” fireball could be seen at this distance, which is itself dubious (given hazy weather and mountainous, wooded terrain that covers much of western Pennsylvania), a witness, regardless of perspective, will not perceive such a fireball with such an alleged trajectory that never gets beyond the NW direction as descending toward some eastern suburb of Uniontown.

Thus the alleged JRASC trajectory is totally incompatible with this sighting report. The mass of evidence indicates something continued on into western Pennsylvania. The eyewitness reports tell us the object came down near Kecksburg, and the military was definitely very interested in what it was.

David Rudiak said...

(part 2)
In 2005 a NASA spokesman suddenly admitted that NASA had examined fragments from the Kecksburg object and that it was allegedly from a "Russian satellite". But their own orbital mechanics and space debris expert, Nicholas Johnson, had already ruled out this possibility two years before when Leslie Kean asked him to look into it. No known Russian or U.S. space object could have accounted for either the widely seen fireball or an object coming to Earth at Kecksburg. Orbital mechanics made it impossible.

Unknown said...

Have you read Leonard Stringfield's compiled or edited collected works in German?

His widow sent me copies of what she had -- German work contains a few status reports not apparently that easily accessible in English.