Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Hill/Fish Star Map Revisited

For those who remember, Barney and Betty Hill reported that they had been abducted by alien creatures in 1961. Under hypnotic regression, Betty remembered a star map the alien leader had shown her, but because she didn’t know where the sun was on the map, he didn’t provide any additional information. Marjorie Fish, a very bright woman, set out to find the home world of the aliens, and eventually settled on Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli, a double star system some 37 light years from Earth.

The problem for us in today’s world is that Fish made a number of assumptions that are no longer valid, a few that might never have been valid, and she used the newest star catalog available at the time which are no longer accurate. Or, in other worlds, we need to revisit this star map using what we know today.

First, let me point out that NASA has announced that they have found the most Earth-like planet yet. It is the fifth planet circling Kepler – 186 (and is designated as Kepler – 186f), is about ten percent larger than Earth, is cooler than Earth, has a higher level of Carbon Dioxide and orbits its sun in 130 days. For those keeping score at home, Kepler -186 is some five hundred (okay 490, but what’s ten light years, more or less at that distance?) light years from Earth.

Now, why is this important?

Because Kepler – 186 is a red dwarf. According to Fish, she left the red dwarf’s out of her system because, she said:

If they go to one star of a given type, it shows interest in that type star – so they should go to other stars of that type if they are in the same volume of space. An exception to this might be the closest stars to the base star, which they might investigate out of curiosity in the early stages of stellar travel. For example, they would not be likely to bypass five red dwarfs to stop at the sixth, if all six were approximately equal in size, spectra, singleness or multiplicity, etc. Or, if they go to one close G [star type] double, they would probably go to other close G doubles.

This was point seven in her analysis for the alien thought processes and why they would visit certain star systems. She added to this when she wrote:

Concerning point 7, I had ruled out the red dwarfs fairly early because there were so many of them and there were only 12 lined points on the Hill map. If one used red dwarfs in logical consecutive order, all the lines were used up before the sun was reached… If they were interested in red dwarfs, there should have been lines going to Gliese 65 (Luyten 76208) which lies near Tau Ceti and about the same distance from Epsilon Eridani as Tau Ceti, and Gliese 866 (Luyten 789-6) which is closer to Tau Ceti than the sun.

Well, you get the point. Fish, logically rejected the red dwarf stars, but the problem is that we knew almost nothing about them. She assumed that one would be the same as the next and if they traveled to one, they should travel to the next. Her real problem was there were so many of them that if she included them, then all the lines were used… meaning that on the star map, the travel routes (lines of communication in the military world) were accounted for before she reached the sun.

So, I now say that some red dwarfs might include Earth-line planets, while others might not, so a spacefaring race, might find that interesting. They may well bypass five red dwarfs and be interested in the sixth because of the planetary system of that sixth star. We simply don’t know.

In fact, Fish argued a “logic” of what the aliens would do, based, I suppose on what she thought humans would do, but we can’t really make such assumptions. We don’t know what might appeal to an alien race, nor do we know what might tempt them to visit a star system, even if that system circles a red dwarf.

We now know that some red dwarfs are more interesting than others. That alone should tell us that we need to reevaluate Fish’s logic and her identification of Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli as the home world of the aliens who abducted the Hills.

In fact, we don’t even know if the sun was on that map. The alien leader might have just pulled up one to show her the complications of travel through three dimensional spaces. It would also seem that he would be able to produce a three dimensional map that would have been more representative of interstellar flight than the two dimensional map he had or rather what Hill reports... and if it had been three dimensional but Hill represented in two dimensions, what sort of errors might that have produced?

Or, to put a point on it, now is the time, using our updated knowledge of the galaxy around us, our discovery of other planets in other star systems, and what I see as a flaw in the logic, it is time to revisit this. Given our personal computing power, it would seem that such a task would be much simpler than the one that faced by Marjorie Fish. Maybe a reevaluation of the Fish/Hill star map will yield new information and while it might not, we should, at the very least, look.  


Al12 said...


the hill star map could also be revealing 20 Leo Minoris, a binary star system which includes an old red dwarf star for an companion.

Certain that i read that somewhere too.

KRandle said...

Al 12 -

Actually, there are several other interpretations. Betty Hill thought that it might have represented an area in Pegasus with Hoan and Baham as the base stars. Charles Atterberg had a different interpretation and one fellow suggested the map showed the positions of the planets in the solar system at the time of the visitation. About the only think unique about the Fish interpretation is how it has become so widely accepted.

Frank Stalter said...

Kepler has sort of filled an important niche in exoplanet hunting. It's targeting a very narrow bit of galactic space, a tiny fraction of one percent, steadily aiming straight down a well populated arm of the galaxy. That should give us some very good numbers to extrapolate over the whole galaxy when all the data gets sussed out, but who knows what direction any visiting ET might be coming from? Assume it's reasonably close by galactic standards . . . . 5000 lys or so? Hahahaha!

Terry the Censor said...

> Under hypnotic regression, Betty remembered a star map

Actually, the map was in Betty's 1961 dreams, right from the beginning. Because Fuller hid Betty's dream notes in an appendix at the back of the book, this fact is easily forgotten. (Interrupted Journey, p 300 in the first printing, pp 302-3 in the PDF commonly found online.)

But it is true that she did not draw the map until 1964, after Dr. Simon gave her a post-hypnotic suggestion to do so.

> Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli, a double star system some 37 light years from Earth.

Before anyone corrects Kevin, let me clarify: Kevin is right that, in 1974, Fish wrote Zetas 1 and 2 were 36.6 light years away. Recent estimates give 39.5 light years (a figure I have heard in a lot of documentaries. Friedman often gives it as 39.3 LY).

> In fact, we don’t even know if the sun was on that map.

It is clearly implied that our sun is on the map. Betty relates under hypnosis:

So I asked him where was his home port, and he said, "Where were you on the map?" I looked and laughed and said, "I don't know." So he said, "If you don't know where you are, then there isn't any point of my telling where I am from." And he put the map-the map rolled up, and he put it back in the space in the wall and closed it. I felt very stupid because I did not know where the earth was on the map. I asked him would he open up the map again and show me where the earth was, and he again laughed. (Interrupted Journey, p 175 in the first printing, p 174 in the PDF commonly found online. The implication is also in the dream version of this scene.)

> it is time to revisit this

Agreed. The Hill case is of cultural significance. Even if one does not believe they were taken by aliens, how often do we find falsifiable claims in a myth? Scientists should jump on it. It would be a legitimate scientific project to use computer modelling to try to find a match for Betty's map. If that seems too daunting a project, at the very least, a peer-reviewed journal should be open to publishing an academic re-appraisal of Fish's work. At present, we have only the 1970s articles in Astronomy magazine and Brett Holman's piece in the November 2008 Fortean Times.

A certain “scientific ufologist” should be pushing for this to happen, rather than hiding from the implication of HIPPARCHOS, as he has done since 2008.

Miserere said...

Something I've always found puzzling is that a species capable of fast interstellar travel in 3-dimensional space (or maybe even 4-dimensional space-time) would still use 2-dimensional paper maps.

Anthony Mugan said...

I agree that this would be a useful study. The better data from Hipparchos and other sources moves a number if the stars involved in Fish's interpretation very significantly, and brings others into positions close to those vacated.

I did take a tentative look at this a while ago. I wouldn't want to draw any firm conclusions as it needs doing to an academically rigorous standard, but I would suggest that it may well be a rewarding project for someone.

Couple of further comments on the concept of habitability and, secondly ( and on a separate comment) on statistical issues around such a study.

We need to be careful in avoiding over interpreting terms such as 'habitable zone' for exoplanets which is crudely defined on the basis of potentially liquid water on the surface. There are many variables that can effect that including geology, atmospheric composition, cloud cover, axial tilt and stability etc that it needs a huge health warning.
In terms of red dwarves these are often prone to extreme flare activity. Their habitable zone is closer to the star than for G class stars such as the sun. This leads to what appears to be dangerously high levels of radiation near the surface if such worlds ( possibilities of sub-surface life noted etc.). As planets get closer in , which is required for smaller stars if the planet is to be in the HZ, you get to a point where it can become tidally locked.

Overall I do feel it is correct to open the scope beyond G class stars. There are so many factors involved in habitability, not to mention the strategic or commercial utility of a given planet or system, that I don't think we can second guess what a pattern "should" look like.

There was much debate around the statistical interpretation of the Hill-Fish data at the time. Some further thoughts on a methodology to follow.

Lance said...

Hi Terry,

I'm not sure that I agree that the search for a suitable candidate for Hill's star map qualifies as confirming or disconfirming.

A few dots on paper (with wildly unknown and dubious precision) could by luck match some configuration of the billions of stars in the sky.

This would mean nothing IMHO.

Am I missing something?



Terry the Censor said...

Lance, I agree with you, somewhat.

Given a near-infinite number of stars, without being limited by scale or perspective, a pattern could be found. That's just probability. But it wouldn't be meaningless, necessarily. There is one constraint: our sun is supposed to be on the map. If the only match included stars several thousand light years out, talk of nuclear rockets (Friedman) and the standard nuts-and-bolts saucers would effectively be eliminated. What would be left is some cosmic hocus pocus that doesn't match the rest of the Hill tale or its aliens.

But if you want a scientific study closer to the ground, how about this? Show people a random assortment of dots and lines; two and a half years later, see if they can accurately reproduce the map; hypnotise them and try again. I predict we would get zero drawings that were 100% accurate. Rather, we'd see a range of versimilitude.

Frank John Reid wrote this on Michael Swords' blog four years ago:

What's long struck me about the Hill case is that NOBODY--not those incarnations of pure reason, the Skeptics, not ufologists, not Dr. Simon or any later-interested psychiatrist/psychologist, not any casual kibitzers of the media, not children in the street--ever seems to have suggested that Betty Hill try drawing that map again, with or without hypnotic reassurance she could do it. Instead, everyone (including the staff and consultants of Astronomy magazine) acted as if it were a photographic reproduction instead of a quite possibly variable "impression" of the original (whether a real map or a hypnotic conflation).

KRandle said...

Terry -

I didn't mention the dream aspect because it was not relevant to my argument here... but nearly the whole story of the abduction surfaced in dreams.

I didn't mention that Betty said, "And I laughed and saked Twilight Zone recently on TV." (page 141 in the Hardback).

And I didn't mention that she originally described the aliens by saying, "...their noses were larger (longer) than the average size although I have seen people with noses like theirs - like Jimmy Durante's."

I was merely suggesting that it is time to reevalute this rather poor bit of evidence.

All -

I did note that the map was a two dimensional representatino of a three dimentional universe and wondered if that might confound the representation... and also wondered how they would navigate in three dimensional space using a two dimensional map.

The real point here was to suggest that we look at this again and maybe release the idea that some alien visitors are from the Zeta Reticuli system...

Wade said...

I'm not much of a believer in alien abductions with a few exceptions that I do wonder about (too much potential for hanky panky with memories under hypnosis). But just for the sake of argument, if in this case the map was a strong image from Betty Hill's dreams then the "presentation" of the data might have been handled in the dream as a 2D paper map. If it were a dream remembrance of an abduction then it wouldn't necessarily match the way something actually happened. The information might have been processed into something that Ms Hill could more easily handle in the dream state. Just a thought.

Terry the Censor said...

KR: "I didn't mention the dream aspect because it was not relevant to my argument here... "

Then why bring up hypnosis? It was not relevant to your argument either.

Just saying...

KRandle said...

Terry -

Because the post hypnotic suggestion sort of explains how the map was drawn... Seemed that this particular context was needed to provide structure for the post...

albert said...

If the 'aliens' had taken Betty outside, pointed at the night sky, and said, "we're from there", I'd say that would be pretty conclusive.

Can one assume that the 'star map' was Earth-centric (i.e. as seen from Earth)?

If so, then the Sun wouldn't need to be shown. If not, then the Sun needs to be on the map.

If the Sun is shown on the map, what orients that 2D slice of space? There are 3 ways to orient it in 3D space, and six ways to view it.

I think this may be an exercise in futility...

I gotta go...

David Rudiak said...

In most of the Betty Hill accounts I've read, Betty said she was shown a 3D map on a pull-down screen (not a 2D piece of paper) which to her looked almost like looking out of a window. (Apparently there was a difference in her recalls from dreams early on and later hypnotic regression.)

Regarding the Marjorie Fish version of the Hill map:
1. Fish assumed the Sun was on the star map, certainly not an outrageous assumption given that the story was that the head alien was showing her where they came from, which would make no possible sense to her without our Sun as a reference point in there somewhere.

2. Fish assumed (like many astronomers of her time) that many types of stars would not lead to the evolution of intelligent life, being too large to survive long enough, not likely to support a stable solar system, like many multiple star system, too small, like red dwarfs, to support planets in the habitable zone (they would become tidally locked like Mercury and Venus in our solar system), and variable stars. This left yellow dwarfs like our own Sun as the most likely candidates.

3. The Hill map also had lines of differing density and frequency between various stars supposedly reflecting the frequency of travel along trade routes (solid & multiple lines) and less-frequently-traveled exploratory ones (dotted lines). With this and the previous winnowing process, Fish assumed the other frequently visited stars were again sun-like, and relatively close to the Sun, i.e. part of the local neighborhood of stars.

4. Fish used the 1969 Gliese catalog of nearby stars. There are about 1000 stars within about 55 light years of us that Fish looked at. Only 46 of these match the yellow star criteria. You could double the distance, but with these assumptions still need to deal with fewer than a few hundred stars like our Sun.

5. The Fish map was unique for the local neighborhood (and with the knowledge of her time) in that the matching star pattern of 16 stars has all the sun-like stars along the so-called trade/exploratory lying in a near plane, which from an energy and time standpoint would be optimal for exploration. The probability of this happening by chance was extremely small, which was argued by the "pro-Fish" debaters like statistician Dr. David Saunders in a Sky and Telescope debate.

6. Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli, the home base of aliens in the Fish map, were an extremely unusual double star system in that both were yellow stars like the Sun and of nearly equal size. (In fact, they are currently the only known such example of this.) Further, they weren't close-circling double stars that might forbid a stable solar system, but far enough apart that each could conceivably support independent stable solar systems. But unlike all other sun-like stars in our neighborhood, they weren't light years apart, but separated by only about .06 light years. They are also at least a billion years older than our Sun. Thus one could easily imagine a much older civilization arising around one and with such a close identical star system at hand, having that as a spur to develop interstellar travel. (Stan Friedman likes to use this argument.)

So, in summary, the arguments in favor of the map were based on sound science of the time (including potential falsification), not arbitrary, and also based on statistical probabilities.

All that being said, when newer data came out in the 1990s from the Hipparcos mapping of the nearest 100,000 stars, newer, better data on 6 of Fish's candidate stars showed they failed her own assumptions and literally fell off the map. Eventually Fish herself decided her match was probably a statistical fluke.

Still no harm in revisiting the star map and having another go at it. Maybe something better can be found.

Anthony Mugan said...

Ok, let's see... Suspect this may take a few installments.

The Hill map is a 2D representation of what was percieved as 3D information. Errors in 3D are projected on to a 2D surface including a element of perspective for which their is a standard mathematical transformation available.
An assumption is that the errors in the Z dimensions would not be significantly different to the errors in the X and Y dimensions.

Various groups looked at the Hill-Fish map statistically including Saunders and a group from Ohio under the direction if Hyneck who were favourable towards it. Sagan and Soter argued that multiple possible perspectives invalidated an apparent correlation. This seemed like a reasonable point, although only presented qualitatively. I began to consider a way of analysing this data which would be perspective independent.

Step one was to look at updated astronomical data. This was from the sol station site and mainly Hipparcos data. The main changes are in distance estimates. The twelve stars connected by lines had actually not changed too drastically. The largest changes are in the group of three unconnected stars. It was immediately apparent that two of these stars has obvious alternative candidates. The third star had quite variable distance estimates between catalogues and this needs a specialist to consider further.

This data gave rise to the possibility of an interesting test using just the twelve connected stars ( once it became clear this would be a highly statistically conservative approach). Models that show a spurious correlation due to noise in the data tend to trend back to non-significance as data improves and vice versa. Fish had tentativly found her match with the 1969 Gliese catalogue with the apparent match improving with the 1972 catalogue.

How would the latest data move the correlation of the 12 connected stars compared to 1972 data? To do this I had to think of a way of solving the problem of multiple possible viewpoints as highlighted by Sagan and Soter...

To be continued

Anthony Mugan said...

In terms of methodology.

The Hill-Fish map can be viewed as a set of X and Y co-ordinates that are a transformation of 3D information.
The co-ordinates can be transformed into a distance with a suitable transformation for perspective on the Y axis.

Then imagine a sphere of space centred on the Sun (an assumption but one inherent in the Hill map. The furthest of the candidate stars is at a distance that is the radius of this sphere.

In 1972 the data suggested 46 stars of the spectral types considered by Fish to be within this sphere (r = 53 light years off memory). There are now thought to be 130 stars of the same types within the relevant sphere which now has a radius of 63 ly (again from memory). Let's call this volume V1

The actual locations of the stars (1972 version and current data) can also be plotted on the same X-Y co-ordinates. There will be a difference in location between the Hill image and the actual co-ordinates. The Euclidean distance between the Hill data point and the actual co-ordinate can be seen as the radius of a sphere of space with the Hill point at the centre and the actual star on the surface of the sphere.

We therefore end up with a set of (in practice overlapping) spheres within the overall volume. These add up to a total volume, V2 which is a subset of the overall large sphere V1

If we generate 12 random points within v1 there is a certain probability that all twelve will be sufficiently close to the 46 (1972 model) or 130 stars (2011 data) to generate a total error volume (v3) that is equal to or less than V2. i.e. what is the chance that 12 random points would be this close to ANY of the stars in the overall volume of space under consideration. The calculation is therefore perspective independent.

As one of the stars must be the sun the first step is to calculate the p value for one of 12 trials to land in the error volume associated with the sun (off memory this ended up around 0.55, or a 55% chance). Then you have 11 more trials and calculate the error volume of that distribution (v3).
Repeat (hopefully by a computer!) lets say 1000 times. The proportion of runs that have V3 >=v2 gives the p value.

I didn't go through with the full version discussed above. A more simplistic approach to the final step suggests that the 1972 model was significant by around the same amount found by Saunders (no surprise there) and the new data improves the level of significance.

That did surprise me...

As I said at the start - treat with extreme caution and this needs doing by a specialist

Don Maor said...

Hello Anthony Mugan:

I tried to follow your exercise and I believe that the improvenement in significance might be related to the fact that the new input of 130 stars@63.3 ly radius is about 1.7 times denser in solar type stars per unit volume, that the density of the 1972 input of 46 stars @ 53 ly radius.

Don Maor said...

Sorry, it is improvement.

Anthony Mugan said...

Hi Don
It's the other way around in terms of the effect on the p value (which determines the significance).
If you keep the average error in position between the Hill point and the relevant star's position the same then increasing the density of stars makes it more likely that a random set of points would end up with as good a fit ( or better) as the Hill map.
To be significant you need to have no more than a 5% chance that it could occurr as a fluke alignment. The 2011 data is harder to get to that threshold as you will more 'near misses' by chance. If the average error in the distances between the Hill points and the actual stars had remained the same the p-value would have gone down.

In practice the new data considerably improved the average fit for the 12 stars connected by lines, more than offsetting the greater density of stars. For the three unconnected stars the distances changed a lot. For two there are very good replacements and perhaps for the third also but as there were different distances given for that star I decided to exclude all three. Statistically it's a bit like trying to roll 12 sixes in a row or 15. It's a bit easier to do 12 so that is a conservative approach until the best data to use for all three unconnected stars is clearer.

Doing all this from the phone so don't want to quote exact figures from memory. Happy to share my rough work if anyone would like it. Rather than building a 3D star map I used a simpler method which simply looked at the total volumes involved and used a non- replacement approach deducting an average error volume after each trial to work out the overall p value. Should be equivalent mathematically but the above method is belt and braces if very laborious.