Prosaic Explanations: The Failure Of UFO Skepticism
UFO in the Snake River Canyon
Klass is not the first
to offer prosaic explanations. Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who, in his
later years, became a strong proponent of UFO investigation (founder
of the Center for UFO Studies in 1973), began his "UFO career"
in 1948 as a strong skeptic/debunker. His explanations of a number
of UFO sightings helped to set the tone of governmental UFO investigation
in the early years.
One of his most unconvincing
explanations was that offered for the sighting by Mr. A. C. Urie
and his two sons on August 13, 1947. They lived in the Snake
River Canyon at Twin Falls, Idaho. According to the FBI investigative
report of this case, at about 1:00 p.m. Mr. Urie "sent his
boys to the (Salmon) river to get some rope from his boat. When
he thought they were overdue he went outside to his tool shed
to look for them. He noticed them about 300 feet away looking
in the sky and he glanced up to see what he called the flying
disc. This strange object was flying at high speed along the
canyon which is about 400 feet deep and 1,200 feet across at
that point. It was about seventy-five feet above the floor of
the canyon (and so more than 300 feet below the edge of the canyon)
and moving up and down as it flew. It seemed to be following
the contours of the hilly ground beneath it. Urie, who said he
was at about the same level as the UFO, so that he had a side
view, estimated it was about twenty feet long, ten feet wide
and ten feet high, with what appeared to be exhaust ports on
the sides. It was almost hat shaped with a flat bottom and a
dome on top (see FIGURE 1).
Its pale blue color
made Urie think that it would be very difficult to see against
the sky, although he had no trouble seeing it silhouetted against
the opposite wall of the canyon. On each side there was a tubular
shaped fiery glow, like some sort of exhaust. He said that when
it went over trees they didn,t sway back and forth, but rather
the treetops twisted around, which suggests that the air under
the object was being swirled into a vortex. He and his sons had
an excellent view of the object for a few seconds before it disappeared
over the trees about a mile away. He thought it was going 1,000
miles an hour.
Hynek offered the following
"prosaic explanation," which became part of the official
Air Force record on the sighting (see the files of Project Blue
Book): an atmospheric eddy. Why this explanation? The object
appeared pale bluish in color, like the sky, and the trees were
moving around as if a swirling wind went over them. Hynek explained
the blue color as a "reflection" of the blue sky in
the hypothetical atmospheric eddy. He offered no explanation
of how this eddy could appear to have the strange "hat"
shape, be traveling at about 1,000 miles per hour, how there
could be a fiery glow at one location on the side of the "eddy"
or why the eddy would appear as a solid rather than transparent
With a little thought
he could have realized that no atmospheric eddy could reflect
or bend light (as in a mirage) coming down from the sky enough
to redirect it toward the witnesses. An eddy is a density inhomogeneity
in the atmosphere which, in principle, might bend light by a
very small fraction of a degree. However, for Hynek's explanation
to work, the light would have to be bent five degrees or more,
far beyond anything the atmosphere could do. Hynek's explanation
is another failed prosaic explanation. Even Hynek realized this
and repudiated his explanation years later (see The Hynek
UFO Report, Dell Pub. co, NY, 1977).
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© copyright B. Maccabee, 2000. All rights reserved.