We will probably never know how many UFO papers have been submitted to Science magazine. However we know that at least two "anti" UFO papers were submitted because they were published (Markowitz, 1967, ref. 29 and Warren, 1970, ref. 43; see below). I know that at least one "pro" paper that was submitted because I submitted it when I was young and hopeful (a.k.a. foolish). It was quickly returned (a.k.a. given the boot). This is the first full publication anywhere. Did it deserve the boot? What do you think?

Note: to place this paper in historical context recall that UFOs/flying saucers were first reported in the late 1940's; that the Air Force responded with several known research projects, the last and longest being Project Blue Book; that the sighting report rate went up and down over the following years with 1952, 1957 and the middle 1960's being the most notable for sighting number; that sightings in the midwest in 1966 caused such a political stir that the Air Force was directed to support an independent study which was done at the University of Colorado under Dr. Edward Condon; that the sighting rate diminished after 1966 while the "Condon study" was underway; that in late 1968 the Condon report was published with Condon's summary saying there seemed to be no evidence of anything truly unusual (i.e., "flying saucers" or extraterrestrials); that the Air Force, in response to the recommendation of Dr. Condon, closed Project Blue Book; that the press and scientific community acted as if the Condon report had explained flying saucer reports and had laid the subject to rest; that from 1969 to the late summer of 1973 flying saucer reports continued at a low rate, under the radar of most news organizations; that in late August, 1973, one of the largest sighting flaps ever began with police reports from the southeastern states ("We're baaaack!); that over the next two months there were so many reports they attracted major press interest (key reports: Hickson-Parker abduction, MS; Coyne/Helicopter case, OH); and that, by 1973, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, formerly the Project Blue Book astronomy consultant and originally a skeptic, had changed his mind about the subject and founded the Center for UFO Studies. It was in this historical context of "See, flying saucers haven't gone away after all," that I submitted the following paper to one of the most respected science journals on the planet. Further note: the following web presentation follows the pagination of the original version.


Naval Surface Weapons Center (NSWC)

White Oak, Silver Spring, Md. 20910

December 16, 1974

The Editor

Science Magazine

1515 Massachusetts Avenue

Washington, D. C. 20005

Dear Sir:

I am submitting the enclosed article for publication in "Science." The title of the article is "Why Would a Scientist Decide to Study UFO's?" The intent of this paper is to show how a scientist could conclude that UFO pheno­mena are worth studying. The following people should be competent referees for this paper: Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Northwestern University, Ill. (astronomer); Dr. Frank B. Salisbury, State University of Utah (biologist); Dr. Thornton Page, (astrophysicist), Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D. C., and Dr. Peter Sturrock (astrophysicist), Institute for Plasma Research, Stanford University. The following people have reviewed this paper in either the present form or in an earlier version: John B. Carlson, astronomer (University of Maryland); Abra­ham Hirschman, physical scientist (NSWC); Richard Hall, psychologist; Dr. Ron­ald Kligman, physicist (NSWC); Dr. Robert Cawley, physical scientist (NSWC); Jack Acuff, biologist (head of NICAP); Ted Bloecher, actor and journalist; Dr. Charles E. Bell, physicist (NSWC); Isabel Davis, journalist; Paul Willis, jour­nalist and editor; Dr. Richard E. Jensen, physicist (NSWC); Dr. John A. White, physicist (The American University.)

Over the past two years there has been a "flood" of UFO information despite the conclusion of the Condon report that "science will not be advanced thereby." This flood has included articles and books by several noted scientists (J. Allen Hynek, Peter A. Sturrock, Frank B. Salisbury, Raymond E. Fowler), publications in the AlAA journal by the AIAA UFO subcommittee, and the publication of the AAAS debate edited by Carl Sagan and Thornton Page. One result of the "flap" of 1973 has been a renewed public interest and a "rumored" change of attitude by the military. Other results of the flap have been the decisions on the part of several film makers and TV networks to present documentary films. The NBC documentary presented on December 15, 1974 is a case in point. Other documen­taries are under production by Saddler Productions, Alan Lansburgh (January release), and the Canadian Broadcasting Company (a seven hour documentary series). Documentaries are being planned by ABC and Universal Motion Pictures (Jack Webb directing). Some of these films include Air Force films and interviews with scientists who have come out in favor of UFO studies. It may come as a surprise to scientists and laymen alike that there are reputable scientists who favor such studies. For those scientists and laymen who have "traditionally" treated UFO phenomena as the "realm of nuts," this paper may provide an insight as to how a scientist (or layman) could reach the conclusion that UFO phenomena are worthy of study. It should be of particular interest to physical scientists, astronomers, psychologists, and others who are unaware that there are good UFO cases because of the prevailing establishment/science attitude that has prevented the publica­tions of such reports in reputable scientific journals.



Bruce S. Maccabee,Physicist      BSM:jm

Note to Referees: The major observer (referred to in the paper) has agreed to allow himself to be interviewed by the referees. His name and position are not for publication, but they will be sup­plied upon request.


______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




Bruce S. Maccabee*


There is an “invisible college” of scientists who

Believe UFO phenomena are scientifically significant



*Dr. Maccabee is a physicist employed at the

Naval Surface Weapons Center

(formerly the Naval Ordnance Laboratory),

White Oak, Maryland

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


                                           Bruce S. Maccabee

                                       Page 2


The scientific community generally is of the (optimistic?) opinion that there are no terrestrial occurrences or manifestations of transient macroscopic (e.g., visible to the naked eye) physical phenomena which cannot be understood in terms of modern scientific knowledge (an echo of the not too distant past1). Thus, reports of apparently unexplainable transient phenomena are often ignored as being nonsense, or at least “non-science.” (By “unexplainable transient phenomena I do not mean such things as ball 1ightning,2,3,4 tornadoes,5,6 unusual atmospheric optical effects,7 or other such phenomena. Although these phenomena may not have been totally exp1ained in terms of modern physical theory, they are nevertheless believed to be merely complicated manifestations of well-known simpler physical phenomena such as those which are "understood" in terms of non-linear electromagnetic theory, turbulent flow theory, etc.) This general opinion on the part of the scientific community may arise because of the lack of publication in reputable scientific journals of reports of phenomena which "defy" explanation. (NOTE: Journal reports of unusual phenomena were relatively commonplace before and just after the turn of the century.4,8 The fact that relatively recent reports have been made is well documented,4,8-28 but not in scientific journals.47 ) The reluctance of journals to publish reports of unusual phenomena is partly a result of the modern attitude that only certain types of phenomena are "worthy" of study. To be worthy of scientific study, a physical phenomenon must satisfy one or more of the following criteria: (1) it must be sufficiently recurrent to insure many accurate, well-documented reports and considerable anecdotal and/or laboratory data; (2) it can be made to occur under


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 3

laboratory conditions; and (3) the general scientific community must agree to its existence as a "real" physical phenomenon as apart from a manifestation of the psychology and/or physiology of the person(s) reporting the phenomenon. Specifically with regard to a report of an unusual phenomenon, scientists require, in addition to the above criteria, that the report itself contain no descriptive material which suggest that the phenomenon was inconsistent with the "laws of nature" as they are presently understood.27,29,30 Should a report contain such a description, it is typical to attribute the phenomenon therein described to a manifestation of the psychologyl7,27,3l and/or physiologyl7,32 of the person(s) making the report. This last criterion is used to remove from consideration reports which obviously would not meet the third criterion above. It is reasonable to use this criterion in the evaluation of reports of unusual phenomena (unless evidence to the contrary should become overwhelming) because there is presently no generally agreed upon evidence that the laws of physics, at least for the macroscopic world, are either incorrect or incomplete. In spite of the aforementioned general opinion of the scientific community, there is a growing international "invisible college”22,33 of scientists who have concluded that a certain class of unusual transient phenomena, notably that referred to as "unidentified flying objects (UFOs)," is worthy of study. The existence of this college is not doubted,34 but, in view of the dirth of information on UFO phenomena in reputable scientific journals, one wonders how such a college could come into existence. The answer to this question, and to the question posed in the title of this paper, is that individual scientists have been impressed by the truly puzzling nature of particular reports of such phenomena. This answer is easy to state, but it may have no practical meaning to a reader who is unfamiliar with well-


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 4

documented UFO reports. Specifically, the reader may believe that there are no truly puzzling reports, i.e., reports that "stand up" under intensive investigation, but rather only reports that can be explained, with varying degrees of complexity, in terms of known phenomena. For this reason, I am presenting a summary and analysis of a previously unpublished report which has been subjected to an intensive investigation lasting over a year and which, I believe, has not been explained satisfactorily in terms of known phenomena. I am also including discussions of possible explanations of the report to illustrate the sort of forensic analysis which is applied to UFO reports. The analysis consists of a series of representative arguments and counter-arguments which attempt to explain the report in terms of "well known" physical, physiological, and/or psychological phenomena. The reader will be left to decide for himself whether or not the report describes a new phenomena. However, regardless of the decision, it should become apparent to the reader that a well-documented report such as this might convince a scientist that UFO phenomena should be investigated even though they do not satisfy the previously listed "criteria of scientific worthiness."


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 5

The report to be presented is an "ideal UFO report”25,27,35 because (a) there was more than one reliable witness, (b) the object was observed for a rather long period of time, (c) the major observer36 made observations that were accurate to within the limits of the observational techniques employed, and (d) there was little or no emotion displayed by the witnesses during the interview. The content of the report was sufficiently "strange”22 that I found myself wondering, as had Northwestern University astronomer J. Allen Hynek22 during interviews with other UFO witnesses,why these apparently sane, steady, responsible people were telling me about their experience and thereby opening themselves to the possibility of "merciless ridicule" and loss of their social and economic status.


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 6

Summary of the Report

During a personal interview in May of 1973 and during several subsequent

telephone interviews in 1974, the major observer, who wishes to remain anonymous

because of his elective position in county government, revealed that on a Friday

evening in April 1970, before the start of daylight savings time, he had observed

an apparently motionless object in the sky. He observed the object repeatedly

during and after his trip home from work for a period of time starting about 6:00 p.m.

and lasting an estimated two hours.

He first saw the object "directly" ahead of him as he drove along a straight

stretch of Route 11 just south of Woodstock, Virginia (Point A on Figure l).

The evening was "brilliantly clear ••. like you have in the spring of the year without

a cloud in the sky." The sun was "way low in the west" and the object appeared

"due south of me as a speck through my windshield -- a black spot that didn't be-

long up in this perfectly clear sky." He continued to watch it at every opportunity

during his roughly twenty minute drive. At first he thought it was a plane, but

then decided that it was remaining too fixed in position to be a plane. After

traveling about 11 km. (7 miles), he came to another straight stretch in the road

where the object appeared to be directly ahead of him (Point B on Figure 1). He

then stopped (Point C on Figure 1) and watched it for a couple of minutes while

trying to determine where it was with respect to his home, since an apparent increase

in angular size suggested he was getting closer to it. At about 6:20 p.m. he arrived

home in Mt. Jackson, Virginia (Point D on Figures 1 and 3), where he stood in his

driveway and sighted the object using one of the local power lines and a local





Bruce S. Maccabee Page 7

telephone pole for altitude, azimuth, and angular size reference. He watched the

object for about four or five minutes to see if it was moving with respect to the

fixed reference points, "and it wasn't moving." He then went into the house to

get his binoculars (7x 50) and his wife and children. For "maybe five minutes" they

took turns watching the object through the binoculars before going back into the

house. He returned to the same position in his driveway several times "until it

got so dark we couldn't see it." He stated that throughout the time of careful

observation using the power lines and pole as references, a period of time that may

have been as long as one and one-half hours, "it didn't move one iota." The object

was gone when he looked for it the next morning.

During the interview the major observer made a sketch of the object as seen

through the binoculars, and I made elevation angle measurements. Subsequent to

the interview the major observer supplied several county maps showing his sighting

lines, and a plat of his property that showed the right-of-way of the power line

and the position of the telephone pole. He also supplied information about the

height and diameter of the local power line which he had used as reference. Also

subsequent to the interview, I obtained the appropriate U.S. Geological Survey

maps,37 weather records,38 and pertinent information on balloons and helicopters.

The following sections of this paper present the detailed information contained

in the report and the analysis of this information based on the supplementary

material which was obtained.

Date and Atmospheric Conditions

According to the major observer, the object was seen on a clear Friday evening

in the latter part of April but before the start of daylight savings time (Sunday,





Bruce S. Maccabee Page 8

April 26, 1970). A search of the weather records for Staunton, Virginia, the

closest weather station (about 90 km. (56 miles) south of Mt. Jackson in the

Shenandoah Valley) revealed that the evening of Friday, April 17, 1970 was the

latest Friday in April that fits the description. The following weather characteris-

tics are listed for Staunton, Virginia on that date in the time period from 6:00 p.m.

to 8:00 p.m.: scattered clouds (less than 20% cloud cover) at 4.6 km. (2.9 miles) at 6:00

p.m. to clear sky at 8:00 p.m. ; wind 2.5 m/sec. (5.6 mph) at 2100 (south-

southwest); surface visibility 19 km. (12 miles). It is reasonable to assume that

these were also the basic characteristics of the weather near Mt. Jackson and that   

it would be possible for the sky to be perfectly clear near Mt. Jackson while, at the

same time, be slightly cloudy but clearing near Staunton.8 The major observer

did not remember specifically whether or not there was a wind, but he did remember

that the power lines were not swaying noticeably. This suggests that at least the

component of the wind velocity perpendicular to the power lines was small, perhaps

less than 2.5 m/sec. Local sunset was about 6:45 p.m., and twilight lasted until

shortly after 8:00 p.m.

Geographical, Geological, and Demographica1 Features

Figure 1 illustrates the geographical location of the sighting. Route 11 is

just west of the north fork of the Shenandoah River. The U.S. Geological Survey maps37

show a chain of mountains 3 to 5 km. (1.9-3 miles) east of Route 11 with heights in

the range of 600 to 900 m. (2,000-3,000 ft.) above sea level. Short Mountain, which

is about 820 m. (2700 ft.) high lies in this chain. Another chain, with heights in

the range 600 to 900 m. above sea level, lies 13 to 16 km. (8-10 miles) west of Route

11. The valley floor varies in height from 240 to 290 m. (790-950 ft.) along the



Bruce S. Maccabee Page 9

section of Route 11 from Woodstock to Mt. Jackson and is about 270 m. (890 ft.)

high at Point D on Figure 1. When there are no leaves on the trees, it is possible

to see the south end of Short Mountain from most of Route 11 between Points A and D.

Only within the city limits of Edinburg is there a sizeable stretch of road from

which it is not visible. At Point A the direction of the road is such that the

south end of the mountain appears "dead ahead"; at Point B the south end appears

slightly to the left of directly ahead.

The population of Mt. Jackson is about 680, that of Edinburg is about 770, that

of Woodstock is about 2,340, and that of New Market, which lies 11 km. (7 miles)

south of Mt. Jackson, is about 720 (1970 Census).

Location of the Object

With the assumption that the observer was seeing the same object at each time

of observation, it is possible to use his sighting directions along the road to

estimate the location (or locations if the object was moving) of the object during

the entire period. Since the sky was clear and the south end of Short Mountain

was clearly visible from most of Route 11, and since the observer reported no other

objects, it seems reasonable to accept this assumption.

The observations from Points A and B were made from a moving car, so they may

be accurate to only within several degrees. Since the road at Point A is straight

and points directly toward the south end of Short Mountain (see Figure 2) for a

distance of about 300 m. (1,000 ft.), the observer's claim that the object was

directly ahead of him would imply an error in direction of probably less than ± 20

and certainly less than +/- 50  (the horizon directly ahead is "framed" by trees which

are about 100 apart). To allow for this largest expected error in sighting "directly



Bruce S. Maccabee Page 10

ahead," the sighting sector from Point A on Figure 1 is 10o wide. The road does

not line up perfectly with the south end of Short Mountain at Point B, so to allow

for ample margin of error, the sighting sector from that point is 20o wide. The

center lines of the sighting sectors are projections of the road direction as pre-

sented on the Geological Survey and County maps. The sighting sector from Point D

is too narrow (less than a degree) to be shown on the map. The sighting line from

Point D is a projection of the line made by the position of the observer and the

position of the telephone pole, as determined from the plat of his property (see also

Figure 3).

The evidence in support of the observer's belief that the object did not move

during his trip home is not conclusive. However, the fact that the sighting lines

from all three points intersect in a rather small region, plus the claim of the

observer that the object did not appear to move while he was watching it either

from Point C (outside his car) or from his home, suggest that the motion, if it

existed, was either continuous but very slow or intermittent.

Assuming that the object did indeed remain motionless, the sighting lines from

Points A and D localize its horizontal position to about 3.6 to 6.1 km. (12,000 to

20,000 ft.) southeast of Point D, over the side or top of Short Mountain (see Figure

4). Using this horizontal distance with the angle of elevation from Point D, it is

possible to determine the approximate height of the object. During the personal

interview, the elevation angle was measured with respect to the top of the telephone

pole and the power lines. The angle of elevation of the object was determined at

that time to lie in the range 16 +/- 2 degrees, while that of the top of the pole was

determined to be about 10 degrees. A more accurate measurement made by the major

observer about a year later gave 10 degrees as the elevation of the top of the pole


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 11

and an estimated 20o as the elevation of the object. Using 18 degrees as a reasonable

average of the two measurements of the angle of elevation of the object, its alti-

tude above sea level would have been in the range 1440 m. (4720 ft.) if 3.6 km.

distant over the west side of Short Mountain to 2250 m. (7380 ft.) if 6.1 km. dis-

tant over the east side. The most probable height is at the intersection of the

centerlines of the sighting sectors from Points A and D. This height is about

1860 m. (6100 ft.). The slant distance from the observers at Point D to the ob-

ject was in the range 3.8 km. (12,400 ft.) to 6.4 km. (21,000 ft.), with the most

probable distance being 5.1 km. (16800 ft.).

Size of the Object

In order to determine whether or not the object was moving, the major observer

"lined up" the object so that it extended by equal amounts on either side of the

top power line. He thus determined that the angular width of the object in the

direction perpendicular to the wire was from three to four times that of the wire.

Since the angular width of the wire [0.952 cm. diameter (0.375 inches); 7.62 m.

(25 ft.) above his head where it crossed his sighting line; slant angle 18o;

slant distance 24.66 m. (80.9 ft.)] was about 3.86 x 10-4 radians (79.6 seconds of arc),39

the angular extension of the object (excluding the white fog region) in the direction

perpendicular to the wire was in the range 1.16 to 1.54 milliradians. Since the

major axis (length) of the object was at an angle of about 35 degrees to the wire

(see Figure 5), the angular length of the object was in the range 1.4 to 1.9 milli-

radians. Thus, the object was about 5 m. to 7 m. (16-23 ft.) long if it was at a

horizontal distance of 3.6 km. and 9 m. to 12 m. (30-40 ft.) long if it was at a

distance of 6.1 km. The lower bounds on the width of the object are, from Figure 5,


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 12

0.8 m. to 1.2 m. (2.6-3.9 ft.) if it was 3.6 km. away and 1.5 m. to 2 m. (5-6.5 ft.)

if it was 6.1 km. away.

It should be pointed out that the observation of an object in the size range

that has been calculated at the distances reported by the major observer is within

the physiological capabilities of the normal human eye. The observer wears glasses

for reading and other close work, but claims to be able to see distant objects

quite well, a situation which is not unusual considering his age. (His optometrist

has stated that the major observer's vision is 20/20 in each eye.)40 The limiting

angular resolution of the normal eye with a four millimeter pupil is about 0.3

milliradians, which means that objects separated by that angular amount will be seen

as separate objects.41  However, against a uniform bright (blue) background, a dark

object which is of somewhat smaller angular size, perhaps as small as 1 x 10-4

radians, may be detectable as a "dot" (1. e., no structure). Thus, at

15 km. (49,000 ft.) the approximate distance from Point A to the intersection of

the sighting lines from Points A and D on Figure 1, a dark object perhaps as small

as 1.5 m. (5 ft.) in diameter could be just barely detected against the uniform

background of the sky. This size is commensurate with the smallest calculated

dimension of the object, so that the claim that the object was seen from Point A

is not inconsistent with the visual capability of the observer. However, the above

minimum size is based upon the detection of stationary objects by stationary ob-

servers who know where to look. To be detected from a moving car by an observer

who does not know where to look, an object might have to be about twice as large

as the minimum detectable size.


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 13

Description of the Object

When first seen, the object appeared as just a "black spot" against the clear

blue sky. When viewed with the naked eye from the observer's home, the object

still appeared dark against the sky, but it was now close enough to appear to have

a definite shape. Figure 5 contains reproductions of the major observer's sketches

of the object (May 1973 and September 1975) as seen through the seven power binocu-

lars. He described the object as follows: "From the main arch of the (upper) curve

to what I would say was the front or top part of it, it was dark. But from there

to the lower end it was definitely metallic ••• but it didn't reflect like a

star (sic); it wasn't flashy or shiny." The bottom part "looked a much lighter

shade (sic) than the fore (top) part. At the very bottom end it had a color like

the red color of a fire or a brilliant reflection ••• and then a white-like con-

trail." The contrail was "a definite white fog, just as you expect from a jet

it wasn't a perfectly straight contrail as far as it extended, but it appeared to

be a billowy contrail right off the bottom of it. But it didn't go any place...

it appeared to be fixed right at the bottom of this object." The observer reported

that he saw nothing else in the


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 14

sky near the object either with or without the binoculars. There was no audible

noise. As the evening went on, the object became indistinguishable from the

blackening background of the sky. There appeared to be no source of light asso-

ciated with the object.

Analysis of the Report

I shall now present a detailed analysis consisting of representative arguments

and counter-arguments in a series of attempts to explain the report in terms of

known phenomena. The arguments to be presented naturally refer specifically to

this report, but they are typical of arguments used in the analyses of all well

documented UFO reports (for example, see References 13, 19, and 20).

The basic characteristics of the object described in the report are (1) it

was dark against the bright blue sky, (2) it was apparently rather large, and

(3) it maintained a fixed position for an extended period of time. Dark objects

which are seen in the sky and which could exhibit these characteristics are

insects, birds, helicopters, and balloons. (Astronomical objects are ruled out

primarily because the object was reportedly dark against the sky, but also because

the sighting lines to the object are not parallel and because the object was seen

considerably before sunset.) However, various other characteristics of the object

make these identifications difficult, if not impossible, to accept. For example,

one might consider the possibility that the several observers at Point D misiden-

tified (a) a hovering bee, some other insect, or a hummingbird which was at close

range, (b) a helicopter that was hovering at a large distance (several kilometers),

or (c) a dark colored, large, freely-floating balloon. Explanation (a) is contra-

dicted by the major


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 15.

observer's claim of seeing the object at distances of up to 15 km, (9.3 miles) by the

duration of the sighting, and probably also by the time of the year (early spring).

Explanation (b) is not contradicted by either the distance over which the object was ob-

served or by the duration of the sighting, although one might wonder why a helicopter


would hover, motionless, over the side of a mountain in the middle of the Shenandoah

Valley for a period of about two hours. However, explanation (b) is contradicted by

the rather detailed description of the object by the observer, who would have recog­nized

a helicopter36 if it were close enough to subtend an angle of about 1.5 milli-

radians to the naked eye, especially if it were viewed through seven power binoculars.

Also, the overall shape and "tilt” of the object is difficult to reconcile with typi-

cal orientations of helicopters. Moreover, a helicopter would turn on its running

lights as evening came (if it were flying legally), yet no lights were reported in

the vicinity of, or associated with, the object. Explanation (c) is also improbable

for several reasons. One of these is the distance over which the object was report-

edly seen. To be visible over about 15 km., a balloon would have to be quite large,

like a weather balloon. However, I was assured in several conversations with weather

bureau personnel38 who are acquainted with weather balloon characteristics that it

would be virtually impossible for such a balloon to meet the combined requirements of being

dark colored and being large enough to be seen for 15 km. (Lally42 claims

typical weather balloons at low altitudes can be seen against a bright sky background

over distances of up to 7 km.) and being over the Shenandoah Valley at an alti-

tude as 1ow as two kilometers. Of course, a large, dark colored, locally-launched

balloon (not launched by the weather service, however, since there are no launch

sites in the Shenandoah Valley) could satisfy all of these requirements, but it would


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 16

still have to satisfy the requirement of perfect balance between the weight and

buoyancy of the balloon in order to remain at a fixed altitude. However, the main

reason to reject the freely-floating balloon explanation is the very probable existence of at least

a gentle breeze in the vicinity of Mt. Jackson since there was a 2.5 m/sec. wind

at Staunton. Of course, the reported shape and orientation of the object are also

inconsistent with expected shapes (spherical, conical[apex downard], or elliptical) and orien-

tation (rotationally symmetric about a vertical axis) of a stable, hovering balloon.

Since a straightforward identification of the object in a manner that is consistent

with the totality of the report is apparently not possible, one is left with the following choices:

(1) attempt to identify the object with some rare, but

"understood" physical phenomenon; (2) show that certain parts of the report can be

ignored, and that the remaining parts describe an object which can be identified;

(3) claim that the object was not real, and that the report is a fabrication; (4)

claim that, since the data are insufficient to establish the nature of the object,

the report is of marginal value and one must wait for better data before reaching

a conclusion; or (5) conclude that the report describes a truly new physical pheno-


An example of the type of explanation that would be consistent with the report

and the first choice above would be that the object was, in effect, a hoax (inten-

tional or unintentional) on the part of someone other than the observers. The

object might be an oddly-shaped balloon or kite (shaped so that when viewed from

Point D its shape would resemble that of the object shown in Figure 5 "anchored"

to Short Mountain so that it would not drift away. However, the possibility that

this could be a valid identification of the object seems extremely remote since the


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 17

side of Short Mountain is a forest (the region denoted by VIII on Figure 4) which

would make launches of large balloons or kites very difficult, to say the least.

Moreover, the apparent height of the object would have required tethering cable

lengths greater than a kilometer, depending upon how far downwind from the launch

point the balloon or kite became stationary. With particular regard to the kite

hypothesis, the kite would have to be unusually large (typical dimensions are less

than 3 m. (10 ft.)) and would have to be constructed in such a way that it would

not flutter in the wind. Moreover, it would have to be designed so that it could

appear with the upper end toward the northeast (the left in Figure 5) even though

the wind was from the southwest. (A typical kite tilts upward and into the wind

so that, if Figure 5 contained pictures of a kite, one would expect the upper end

to be tilted toward the right. I can think of no way in which a kite could have

its upper end downwind from its lower end.)

With regard to the tethered balloon hypothesis, it is difficult to imagine

how a balloon could take on the shape and tilt described in the report. In par-

ticular, a typical balloon made of flexible material would not come to a point at

its upper end; rather, it would be rounded so that it would have an overall "ice

cream cone" shape. Even if the drawing of the object showed a rounded upper end,

it would still be only marginally consistent with a balloon because of the apparent

tilt of the object. For the axis of an ice cream cone shaped balloon to be tilted

as shown would require a strong (and steady) wind because the gas in the balloon

would always be "trying" to make the cone axis vertical. Only a rigid "balloon"

could have the shape and orientation of the object shown in Figure 5. Of course,

even a rigid balloon, shaped like a long narrow football to match the shape in

Figure 5, would "try" to maintain a vertical axis if tethered at the (lower) end.


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 18

To make it tilt sufficiently, the tether would have to be attached near the middle

of the "balloon." Of course, the colorations of the "balloon" plus the addition

of a "white fog" would be necessary to match Figure 5, and one would have to have

a perfectly steady wind so that the "balloon" would not move or wobble.

The second choice offers the possibility of explaining the report by the

"divide and conquer" technique which has been used very successfully, although

perhaps not always in the best interests of science, to explain other reports of

unusual phenomena. To apply this technique, one could argue that the only signi-

ficant part of the report is the multiple witness sighting lasting for "maybe five

minutes." By giving zero weight to (i.e., ignoring) the statements of the major

observer's children, the number of observers can be reduced from four to two. With

regard to the object itself, one could argue that the report is correct only as to

(1) the general shape of the object, and (2) the absence of other objects in the

sky near the object. These arguments reduce the report to its "hard core," i.e.,

to the portion that is least likely to have been misreported because it contains

only the most obvious details and was made by the smallest number of (supposedly)

reliable observers. According to the "hard core" of the report then, a dark object

was seen in the southeast against the clear blue sky just before sunset. The ob-

ject was motionless for about five minutes. The two observers were not able to

identify it despite its rather large angular size and despite the aid of binoculars.

It is not possible, from the hard core of the report, to estimate the actual size

of the object since its distance is not known. Yet, despite the loss of the size

information and despite the loss of the information on the fine detail of the ob-

ject, it still seems unlikely that it can be identified as an insect, a bird, a

balloon, a kite, a helicopter, or some other known phenomenon.


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 19

The third choice is often used as an "ultimate resort" by those who are con­terrestrial

vinced that there are no unknown, macroscopic,physical phenomena left to discover.

They would argue that if the phenomenon described in the report cannot be explained

in terms of known phenomena, the report must be a fabrication, either intentional

or unintentional, on the part of the person(s) making the report. An intentional

fabrication would be a premeditated hoax (fraud); an unintentional fabrication

would be a manifestation of physiological and/or psychological phenomena. Reasons

for intentional fabrication could include the desire for monetary reward,

the de­sire for public notice, and, perhaps, "status inconsistency.43 Reasons for unin-

tentional fabrication include mental distress, and/or hallucination (psychological),

and incorrect sensory data (physiological). Since the report presented here was

confirmed in part by at least one other reliable observer, it seems highly unlikely

that it is an unintentional fabrication. Moreover, in view of the fact that the

observers neither expected nor received either compensation or publicity, and, in

fact, may have even placed their social and economic security in jeopardy, it seems

extremely unlikely that the report is an intentional fabrication.

The fourth choice, which is to adopt a "wait and see" attitude, is a legiti-

mate choice for a scientist who is only marginally familiar with the literature

on UFO phenomena. Whether this scientist eventually decides to accept an explana-

tion in terms of known phenomena, or whether he decides to accept an explanation

in terms of a new phenomenon would depend strongly upon his inner feelings toward

"semi-scientific" subjects and upon whatever further studies he might make.

The fifth choice is probably not a legitimate choice for a scientist to make

based on the information contained in only a single report such as this one.


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 20


The analysis of the previous report has been presented in detail to illustrate

the sort of reasoning and argumentation (forensic physics) which is applied to

well-documented UFO reports in order to determine whether or not they are indeed

"truly puzzling." A scientist who applies this sort of analysis to a report, and

who is unable to provide for himself a convincing explanation in terms of known

phenomena, may decide that at least one UFO report contains information on a new

phenomenon of some type, although he may not know how to categorize the phenomenon.

The report and analysis have also been presented in detail to give the reader a

feeling for what constitutes a puzzling report. (Basically, such a report should

contain sufficient detail about a particular phenomenon so that identification in

terms of known phenomena would seem possible.) However, whether or not the reader

believes that the report contained herein is puzzling, it should be apparent that

a report such as this, when supported by a detailed analysis, could convince a

scientist to look further into the UFO situation and even to investigate UFO reports.

Apparently, quite a few scientists over the last twenty-five years and parti-

cularly over the last ten years have independently concluded that UFO reports are

worthy of study (thus, the "invisible college"). However, very few agree on the

underlying nature of the phenomena. Typical UFO theories which have been advanced

are so bizarre as to be rejected by the majority of the scientific community. Un-

fortunately, the nearly universal rejection of the theories has some times led to

unwarranted rejections of reports of these phenomena and often to severe criticism,


even vilification, of those who have argued that the phenomena deserve public

scientific recognition.


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 21

Although some scientists have become convinced that UFO pheonomena should be

investigated, most take the attitude that there is little or nothing new to be

learned from such studies (it is not expected "that science will be advanced

thereby”)3 However, this attitude should not be allowed to either restrict

those scientists who are interested in conducting investigations of UFO phenomena

or prevent publications of the results of such investigations in well known scien-

tific journals (subject, of course, to standard review procedures). It is unlikely

that the formal publication of papers related to UFO phenomena will "harm," or,

in the words of astronomer Carl Sagan45 (used in another context), "shred the fabric of" science.46


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 22


1. L. W. Taylor, Physics, the Pioneer Science, Vol. 2 (Dover Publications, New

York, N.Y., 1959); Taylor points out that scientists tend to concentrate on

those areas which support the current doctrine and to defer the study of those

areas which present difficulty to that doctrine (page 764); Michelson is re-

ported to have said, in 1899, that "the more fundamental laws and facts of

physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly es-

tablished that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence

of new discoveries is exceedingly remote -- our future discoveries must be

looked for in the sixth place of decimals." It is ironic that Michelson and

Morley had completed, in 1887, their famous experiment to detect the "ether.”

The null result was explained  by the special theory of relativity, which is a "more

fundamental law."

2. W. Ley, On Earth and In the Sky, (Ace Books, New York, N.Y., 1967)

3. F. B. Mohr, Science 151, 634 (1966)

4. W. R. Corliss, Strange Phenomena, (Glen Arm, Md., 1974)

5. S. A. Colgate, Science 157, 1431 (1967)

6. B. Vonnegut and J. Weyer, Science 153, 1213 (1966)

7. M. G. J. Minnaert, JOSA 58, 297 (1968)

8. Lt. F. H. Schofield, U.S. Navy, Monthly Weather Review, March, 1904 (I am

indebted to Mr. Richard Hall for calling this reference to my attention.)

9. J. A. Hynek, JOSA 43, 311 (1953)

10. E. J. Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, (Ace Books, New York,

N.Y., 1956)


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 23

11. Project Blue Book Special Report #14, (Air Technical Intelligence Center,

Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, 1955)

12. The UFO Evidence, Richard Hall, Ed., (The National Investigations Committee

on Aerial Phenomena, Kensington, Md., 1964)

13. R. M. L. Baker, Jr., J. Astronautical Sciences XV, 31 (1968)

14. Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects; Hearings before the Committee on

Science and Astronautics of the U.S. House of Representatives, (Government

Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1968)

15. E. A. Seaman, Science 154, 1118 (1966)

16. F. B. Salisbury, Bioscience 136, 17 (1962)

17. E. U. Condon, Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, University

of Colorado Study under contract to the U.S. Air Force, (Bantam Books, Inc.,

New York, N.Y., 1968)

18. Statement by the UFO Subcommittee of the AIAA, Astronautics and Aeronautics,

8 (11), 49 (1970)

19. J. E. McDonald, Astronautics and Aeronautics, 9 (7), 66 (1971)

20. G. D. Thayer, Astronautics and Aeronautics, 9 (9), 60 (1971)

21. UFO's, A Scientific Debate, C. Sagan and T. Page, Ed., (Cornell University

Press, Ithaca, N.Y., 1972)

22. J. A. Hynek, The UFO Experience, (Henry Regnery Co., Chicago, Ill.,1972)

23. P. A. Sturrock, Astronautics and Aeronautics, 12 (5), 60 (1974)

24. H. D. Rutledge, Physics Today, Sept. 1974, pg. 12

25. R. E. Fowler, UFOs, Interplanetary Visitors, (Exposition Press, Jericho, N.Y.



Bruce S. Maccabee Page 24

26. R. Emenegger, UFO's Past Present and Future, (Ballantine Books, New York,

N.Y., 1974)

27. F. B. Salisbury, The Utah UFO Display, (Devin-Adain Co., Old Greenwich,

Conn., 1974)

28. R. J. Purdy, Astronomy 2 (12), 34 (1974)

29. W. Markowitz, Science 157, 1274 (1967)

30. R. J. Rosa, W. T. Powers, J. F. Vallee, T. R. P. Gibb, Jr., and P. C. Steffey,

Science 158, 1265 (1967)

31. M. Gardner, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, (Dover Publications,

New York, N.Y., 1957)

32. U. Liddell, JOSA 43, 314 (1953)

33. I. Ridpath, Nature 251, 369 (1974)

34. I have talked to a number of scientists who have privately admitted interest

in the UFO phenomenon. Sturrock (Reference 23) has apparently "located" a

sizeable portion of the "invisible college" in the vicinity of San Francisco,

California: the 222 members of the American Institute of Aeronautics and

Astronautics (AIAA) who, in response to a questionaire, assigned probabilities

in the range 0.1 to 1.0 to the validity of the statement "UFOs represent a

scientifically significant phenomenon."

35. F. P. Hughes, Science 156, 1311 (1967)

36. The major observer holds an elective office in Shenandoah County, Virginia.

He has requested that neither his name nor his position be published. At the

time of his sighting he was about 50 years old and in good health. He wears

glasses only for close work. He is a former private pilot, a former Army

serviceman, and a former member of the Civil Air Patrol. He is familiar with


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 25

military and civilian aircraft. At the time of the sighting, his wife was

about 45 years old and his two children were eight and nine.

37. Conicville, Virginia and Edinburg, Virginia, U.S. Geological Survey Maps,

7.5' series (U.S. Geological Survey, Washington, D. C., 1966)

38. Past weather records are kept at the office of the U.S. Weather Service,

Asheville, N.C. Information on balloons is available from the Atmospheric

Science Laboratory of the Weather Service, located in Silver Spring, Mary-


39.           To convert from radians to seconds, multiply by 2.06 X 105 sec./rad. For

easy comparison, note that 0.1 milliradians is about equal to 20 seconds

of arc.

40. W. R. Legge, M.D., private communication

41. L.M. Biberman, Ed., Perception of Displayed Information, (Plenum Press, New

York, 1973)

42. V. E. Lally in Reference 17, pg. 755

43. D. I. Warren, Science 170, 599 (1970)

44. E. U. Condon, Reference 17, pg. 1

45. Attributed to C. Sagan by R. Gillette, Science 183, 1060 (1974)

46. I thank Pete McCrery, Fanny Phillips, and John Carlson for making possible

my contact with the major witness; also Dr. Ronald Kligman for his help during

the interview; Julie Maccabee for useful comments on and preparation of this

paper; and the people who have critically reviewed this paper prior to its


47. Note added in proof: since this paper was written several letters


Bruce S. Maccabee Page 26

to the editor of Physics Today have appeared describing

unusual luminous phenomena in the sky ( Physics Today 27,13(1974),

      28, 9 (1975) and 29, 90 (1976) )                         --

48.                Note added in proof: as a check on the wind direction I obtained the weather report for Martinsburg, West Virginia which is

about 70 miles North-northeast of Mt. Jackson. The pertinent conditions at 6:00 p.m. were: clear, 15 mi. visibility;

wind from the South-southeast, speed 9 mph falling to

zero during the next hour. Thus whatever wind there 'may' have been in Mt. Jackson , it was probably generally out of the South.

Bruce S.Maccabee Page 27


Figure 1: General geography of the Woodstock-Mount Jackson area. Sighting posi­tions A, B, and C along Route 11 are illustrated. The sighting sectors from Points Band C are twenty degrees wide. The sighting sector from Point A is ten degrees wide. Point D is at the observer's home.

Figure 2: View from Point A on Figure 1. The nearby horizon is at position I, about 300 meters from the foreground. The ridgeline of Short Mountain is indicated by II. The centerline of the viewing direction is denoted by the vertical line III. The south end of Short Mountain, about 15,500 meters from the foreground, is denoted by IV. The boundaries of the ten degree wide sighting sector on Figure 1 are illustrated by the five de­gree angular widths on this tracing of a scaled photograph.

Figure 3: View of Point D on Figure 1. The telephone pole which was used as a

fixed reference is denoted by I. The position in the driveway at which the observers stood is denoted by II. Short Mountain is in the background.

Figure 4: Sighting line and approximate land contour in the direction of the object from Point D in Figure 1. The centerline of the viewing sector from

Point A on Figure 1 is denoted by III. The western boundary of the sight­ing sector as it intersects the sighting line from Point D is denoted by VI. The probable viewing error from Point A, ±2°, is denoted by V. The sighting line from Point D, at an angle of 180 above horizontal, is de­noted by IX. The region of dense forestation of Short Mountain is denoted by VIII. The land contour is from the Geological Survey map of the region.

Figure 5: The object as seen through binoculars. The drawings are tracings of those made by the major observer. Part A of the figure is the object as drawn in May 1973, and Part B is the object as drawn in September 1975. The areas on the drawings denoted by I were described as "dark, non-reflective, metallic;" the areas denoted by II were described as "metallic aluminum but only discernible through glasses,-small contrast," and "shiny, re­flective, silver;" the areas denoted by III were described as "reddish orange glow" and "fiery reddish orange;" and the areas denoted by IV

were described as "white like fog" and "white vapor, like a jet contrail." The approximate angular width of the upper power line as compared with

the angular width of the object is denoted by V. The direction northeast is to the left. The major observer had not seen his first sketch again before he made his second.




















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