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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1999 > Apr > Apr 8

Re: Were Arnold UFOs Fireballs?

From: Bruce Maccabee <brumac@compuserve.com>
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1999 22:29:08 -0400
Fwd Date: Thu, 08 Apr 1999 15:53:41 -0400
Subject: Re: Were Arnold UFOs Fireballs?

>From: Brian Straight <brians@mdbs.com>
>To: <updates@globalserve.net>
>Subject: Were Arnold UFOs Fireballs?
>Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1999 09:46:58 -0500>

>Forwarded from the SETI maillist FYI


>Were Kenneth Arnold's UFOs Actually Meteor-Fireballs?

>From Skeptics' UFO Newsletter #46: July 1997


As usual the Klassic Explanation is a Crock! See below:\

Bruce Maccabee

In the Skeptics UFO Newsletter (SKUFON), #46 of July 1997 Philip
Klass has proposed, in conjunction with Keay Davidson, a new
explanation for the flying saucer sighting by Kenneth Arnold.

One wonders why it took 50 years for this explanation to be

Mr. Klass has been writing articles and books purporting to
explain UFO sightings for at least the last 30 years, yet he has
not previously "explained" the Arnold sighting. (His first book,
'UFOs Identified' was published in 1968.)

Also, one wonders why a new explanation is necessary because
there are several already. (Isn't that enough for one little
sighting?) The Air Force has officially called the Arnold
sighting a mirage (see the files of Project Blue Book).

In 1948 Dr. J. Allen Hynek argued that Arnold's report was not
self-consistent in terms of distance and size of the objects and
hence they were probably nearby aircraft, in spite of Arnold's
claim that he diligently searched for evidence of engines, wings
and vertical stabilizers and could find none of these on the

In 1953 Dr. Howard Menzel rejected Hynek's "explanation" and
substituted weather/atmosphere effects, including special types
of clouds and haze layers.

In 1977 Menzel (in 'The UFO Enigma: The Definitive Explanation
of the UFO Phenomenon'; written with Ernest Taves) proposed
water-drops on the window of the aircraft, in contradiction to
Arnold's claim that he looked at the objects through an open
window to rule out reflections.

According to Mr. Klass, writing in SKUFON, the new explanation
was published by Mr. Davidson in the San Francisco Examiner
after some research that was "sparked by a conversation" with
Mr. Klass.

The exact nature of this conversation was not reported, but one
may imagine Klass suggested that Davidson ought to check on the
possibility that Arnold saw meteors.

According to the SKUFON article, after some research Davidson
discovered that "the number of meteor falls reaches a peak
around 3:00 PM," in June in the Northern Hemisphere

Arnold's sighting occurred at 3:00 PM, June 24, 1947.

Thus, according to Klass' article, the large number of meteors
detected in June lends support to the meteor hypothesis.

Klass mentions Arnold's statement that the objects seemed bright
and shiny as if reflecting the sun.

By way of comparison and explanation Klass cites the 6:00 PM,
June, 5, 1969 pilot sighting, which he claims turned out to be
several meteors, in order to point out that meteors, when seen
in the daytime, can look as if they are shiny metal.

These pilots saw the bright objects seeming to come toward them
(i.e., they were looking along the trajectory of the objects)
and thought they were looking at shiny metallic objects. The
pilots thought the objects were close, when in fact they were
over a hundred miles away.

Klass also points out that pilots can make errors (as if we
didn't know that!) The implication is that if the 1969 pilots
could mistake daytime meteors for UFOS, then perhaps Arnold did,
also. However, the Arnold sighting was quite different from the
1969 sighting.

Arnold reported seeing repeated bright flashes at varying time
intervals from nine objects traveling one after another, along a
roughly horizontal trajectory at an altitude estimated by Arnold
to have been about 9,000 feet, and estimated by this author to
have been about 6,000 ft. Arnold viewed them from his small
plane while flying eastward at an altitude of about 9,200 ft.

He was looking to the east, across their flight path from a
distance of about 20 miles. He reported that they were flying in
an unusual "echelon" formation with the lead object highest and
the others lower in progression.

He compared the arrangement to the drooping and flapping tail of
a Chinese kite.

He determined that the flashes occurred as the objects tilted
steeply to the left and right as they flew along a southward

Arnold concluded that the flashes were a result of reflections
of light from the sun which was high in the sky to the west
(behind him).

The objects flew southward past Mt. Rainier and, when they
weren't tilted, he saw them as thin dark lines silhouetted
against the snow on the sides of Mt. Rainier.

When they were tilted but not aligned with the sun so as to make
a bright flash, he saw them as semi-circular at the front with
convex, somewhat pointed rear ends (one seemed to have a double
concave crescent shape at the rear).

By way of contrast, meteors which are traveling fast enough to
appear to glow do not dim to the point of being "not bright" and
then brighten again.

This is because, as Klass correctly points out, what causes the
light is the high velocity of the meteor passing through
atmosphere. The meteor is traveling so fast that it
"instantaneously" heats the air as it passes through.

(Note:Klass gives a meteor speed as 10,000 mph or 2.8 mi/sec.
However, this is lower than that of any body entering the earths
atmosphere from space. Free fall to the earth from a great
distance would produce a speed of about 7.4 mi/sec at the
earth's surface in the absence of atmosphere. Orbital speed,
which is lower than meteoric speed but still large enough to
cause a plasma in the upper atmosphere, is about 5 mi/sec.)

This heating is a very rapid process caused by the meteor
compressing the air ahead of it and raising the temperature
(kinetic energy of the air molecules) to the point where the air
becomes ionized (a plasma).

In returning to the un-ionized state (free electrons reuniting
with the atoms/molecules) the atoms/molecules give off light
which appears to envelop the meteor (one does not see the meteor
itself, but rather the envelop of heated air).

The natural tendency of a meteor is to slow down as it meets
with resistance while forcing itself at high speed through the

If it slows to a speed low enough so that it no longer creates a
plasma it will become dark (not giving off light) and will not
again appear bright since there is no way for it to regain its
lost speed.

At the high altitudes of meteors (50 miles and up) the
atmosphere is quite thin and easily heated to the plasma state
by the speed of the meteor. Furthermore the air resistance is
quite low, so the meteor can travel a great distance before
being slowed to "sub-plasma" speed.

However, as the altitude decreases the atmospheric density
increases and it takes ever more energy from the meteor to
maintain a glowing plasma.

It is doubtful that any meteor would be still glowing at an
altitude of 10,000 ft, but if it were, it would be quite large
and eventually slowed to the point of hitting the earth.

The suggestion that one.. or several... meteors could travel
many miles horizontally at a speed high enough to glow while at
an altitude below 10,000 ft is not supported by any known
physics of meteors.

Klass points out that Arnold estimated he saw the objects for 2
1/2 to 3 minutes.

This included about 1/2 minute of time before they passed Mt.
Rainier and another nearly 2 minutes after they passed Rainier.
This would be "extra long" for a meteor (most burn out in a
second or so; large meteors called fireballs can last many

Hence Klass argues that Arnold's time estimate was probably

He points out that "witnesses are notoriously unreliable in
estimating the time duration of unexpected events" and cites the
Mar. 3, 1968 reentry of the Zond Soviet space rocket as an
example in which witness errors resulted in sighting duration
estimates as low as 15 seconds and as high as 5 minutes.

There is an important difference between Klass' example of
witness error and the Arnold sighting: Arnold used a clock!

Klass acknowledges that Arnold used his dashboard clock to time
the passage of the objects between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams but
Klass does not mention the time duration reported by Arnold.

Instead, he writes as follows:

"SUN questions whether Arnold...who was focusing his attention
on the unusual obejcts while also occupied flying his
aircraft... would have taken his eyes off the objects to
carefully observe his cockpit clock." In other words, Klass
questions the accuracy of the witness' claims about his own

If the actions seem illogical to Klass, then the actions are
suspect and, of course, any data resulting from the actions are

So, why did Arnold do such an "illogical" thing as look at his
dashboard clock as the objects were disappearing?

Even though Klass used Arnold's letter to the Air Force as a
reference, he does not tell his readers that Arnold wrote that
he intentionally measured the speed:

"I had two definite points I could clock them by" (he was
referring to Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams)

He reported that he could see the objects were flying southward
so he looked at his dashboard clock as the first object passed
the south flank of Mt. Rainier.

He then watched the objects as they continued southward.

During this time the objects passed over a ridge that is about 5
miles long. According to Arnold "the first one was passing the
south crest of the ridge" as the last one "was entering the
northern crest."

Hence they covered a total distance of about 5 miles. By the
time they were passing Mt. Adams they were so far away he could
only see their flashes.

At this point there was _no_ reason to continue watching
_carefully_ because they were fading out in the distance.
Therefore he wasn't missing anything by taking his eyes off the
objects to look at the clock.

The second hand on his clock showed that 102 seconds had passed.

(Note: he was able to pay attention to the objects even though
flying the plane because, as he reported, the atmosphere was
calm and clear and there were no aircraft in his vicinity; the
closest aircraft was roughly 15 miles north and heading away
from him.)

The calculated speed based on Arnold's measured time between
Rainier and Adams is by itself sufficient to reject the meteor
explanation (is this why Klass did not report the calculated

The objects traveled about 47 miles in 102 seconds,
corresponding to a speed of about 1,700 mph, far below any
meteoric speed and certainly not enough to make the atmosphere

By way of comparison, if one were to hypothesize a meteor in a
level trajectory traveling at essentially orbital speed but at
an altitude of 7,000 ft, it would have required roughly 9 - 10
seconds to travel from Mt. Rainier to Mt. Adams.

Even at Klass' underestimated speed of 10,000 mph the flight
time between the peaks would be only about 17 seconds.

One would hope that Arnold, using his dashboard clock, could
tell the difference between 102 seconds and 10 (or 17) seconds.

To lend further support to his meteor hypothesis/explanation
Klass refers to a bright fireball seen and filmed on Aug. 10,
1972. The film lasted 26 seconds.

If the fireball had been seen from horizon to horizon it might
have been seen for about a minute (but no one saw it that long).
And, of course, this fireball was far above 10,000 ft high. It's
closest approach to the earth was about 50 miles.

Mr. Klass then points out that a "meteor train" would last
longer, sometimes many minutes.

A meteor train is a series of meteors passing over a particular
area. They cover a distance of tens or hundreds of miles and may
not all be seen at the same time.

Klass cites the famous February 1913 meteor shower, reported by
C. A. Chant of Canada, during which "many" (tens to thousands)
of meteors were reported by various observers over a many
hundred mile path.

From any one place meteors could be seen passing overhead for
many minutes ("perhaps 3.3 minutes").

This is very interesting, but irrelevant to the Arnold sighting
since all of his "meteors" were seen at the same time and
covered a distance of only 5 miles.

To further bolster his "very slow meteor" explanation, Mr. Klass
also cites the report by the crew of the U.S.S. Supply of three
"remarkable meteors."

According to the Monthly Weather Review for March, 1904, the
"meteors" were seen for "over two minutes."

However, that is not the whole story.

As reported below, the U.S.S. Supply sighting is not related to
the Arnold sighting except in one way: *they both remain



At 6:10 A.M. (local time) on Feb. 28, 1904, while steaming in an
east-northeast direction at a location about 400 miles west
southwest of San Francisco, several members of the crew of the
U.S.S Supply saw what they called "remarkable meteors."

Their sighting was reported in the March, 1904 issue of the
Monthly Weather Review by Lieut. Frank Schofield, U. S. Navy.
Schofield was not a witness, but he interviewed the witnesses
within minutes of the sighting.

According to the report in the Monthly Weather Review, 2:

The meteors appeared near the horizon and below the clouds,
traveling in a group from northwest by north (true) directly
toward the ship.

At first their angular motion was rapid and color a rather
bright red.

As they approached the ship they appeared to soar, passing above
the clouds at an elevation of about 45 degrees.

After rising above the clouds their angular motion became less
and less until it ceased, when they appeared to be moving
directly away from the earth at an elevation of about 75 degrees
and in the direction west-northwest (true).

It was noted that the color became less pronounced as the
meteors gained in angular elevation.

3. When sighted the largest meteor was in the lead followed by
second in size at a distance of less than twice the diameter of
the larger, and then by the third in size at a similar distance
from the second in size. They appeared to be traveling in
echelon, and so continued as long as in sight.

4. The largest had an apparent area of about six suns. It was
egg-shaped , the sharper end forward. This end was jagged in
outline. The after end was regular and full in outline.

5. The second and third meteors were round and showed no
imperfections in shape. The second meteor was estimated to be
twice the size of the sun in appearance and the third meteor
about the size of the sun.

6. When the meteors rose there was no change in relative
positions nor was there at any time any evidence of rotation or
tumbling of the larger meteor.

7. I estimated the clouds to be not over 1 mile high.

8. The near approach of these meteors to the surface and the
subsequent flight away from the surface appear to be most
remarkable, especially so as their actual size could not have
been great.

That they did come below the clouds and soar instead of
continuing their southeasterly course is also equally certain,
as the angular motion ceased and the color faded as they rose.

The clouds in passing between the meteors and the ship
completely obscured the former. Blue sky could be seen in the
intervals between the clouds.

9. The meteors were in sight over two minutes and were carefully
observed by three people, whose accounts agree as to details.

The officer of the deck, Acting Boatswain Frank Garvey,
U.S.Navy, sighted the meteors and watched them, until they

He sent a messenger to me who brought an unintelligible message.

When I arrived on the bridge the meteors had been obscured for
about one half a minute."

(Note: Lieut. Schofield later rose in the ranks to Rear Admiral
and was in charge of the U.S. Navy fleet in the 1930's.)

After reading and analyzing this report many years ago, I
decided to see if I could find the "original data," i.e., the
ship's log, The log is in the National Archives and therein I
found this report by Boatswain F. Garvey for the time around
6:10 AM:

"0400 - 0800 Cloudy to fair; light breeze from WSW; at 0600 wind
shifted to SW; steaming on course NE(1/4)E; executed morning
orders; steam 125 lbs; revolutions 64.6. At 6:10 three large
bodies appeared in the sky traveling from NW(1/2)W.

The largest one egg or pear shaped, with sharp point and ragged
edge to full body aft. In size it appeared to be six times the
size of the sun.

The next one was round and about twice the size of the sun. The
third one was round and about twice the size of the sun. They
were in echelon when first seen and were below the clouds and
travelling fast and rising to directly overhead.

They were dull red in color and were in sight about three
minutes. The largest body would cover all of them. When first
seen, were like an airship."

The log also contains important weather information: the sky was
90% covered with stratus clouds which were moving from the
north. Stratus clouds are sheet-like and typically are lower
than 6,500 ft. There was a light breeze and the sea was smooth.

Perhaps the most important information from the log is (a) the
duration is listed as about 3 minutes, which means the Schofield
did not provide a good estimate of the duration when he wrote
"over two minutes," and (b) there was 90% cloud cover, with
clouds coming from the north.

Fact (b) strongly implies that these "meteors" were, as
Schofield and Garvey both stated, initially seen under the
clouds. That would mean they were traveling at an altitude of a
mile or less.

Schofield's report is more detailed than the log report because
Schofield questioned the witnesses to get more details.

One of the important details is that the angular velocity of the
meteors as seen from the ship actually decreased after the
angular elevation of the sighting line went beyond 45 degrees.

Furthermore, the angular velocity went to zero as the angular
elevation reached 75 degrees and the "meteors" were observed to
get continually dimmer as if moving radially away from the
surface of the earth..

This strongly suggests that the path of the meteors curved
sharply _upward_ and they departed by moving radially away from
the ship which they had initially approached.

The seeming change in direction is one reason to reject the
meteor explanation for the sighting.

Another reason is the low altitude below the clouds. Any meteor
at such a low altitude would be too cool to glow and it would be
falling downward to earth, not traveling parallel to the

This is one reason to reject the meteor explanation for this

This sighting has been mentioned as evidence that meteors can be
seen for as much as 2 minutes from a single location on the
earth. However, as the following analysis shows, this could
happen only under optimum conditions of viewing.

Meteors (that don't reach the earth) burn up at 40-60 km
altitude while traveling at high speed along nearly _straight_
trajectories high above the earth, rather than curved paths
around the earth, at speeds considerably greater than the
orbital speed of earth satellites.

High speed meteors may start to glow at 100 km (60 mi) altitude.
If such a meteor were to travel along a straight path reaching a
minimum altitude of 50 km (30 mi) directly over an observer and
then continue along its path back out of the atmosphere, losing
its glow when it again reached an altitude of 100 km, then its
straight line path intersecting the upper atmosphere would be
about 1500 km (930 mi) long. (A meteor following a slightly
curved path around the earth would have about the same path
length in the atmosphere).

Using a typical meteoric speed of 20 k/sec (12 mi/sec) I get a
duration of 75 seconds.

The minimum meteor speed is for a meteor which slowly "catches
up" to the earth from "behind" and then accelerates as it falls
toward the earth, reaching about 12 km/sec (7.4 mi/sec) as it
enters the atmosphere.

If I use the minimum speed for a meteor I get 1500/12 = 125
seconds or a bit over two minutes.

To see the meteor for this long the observer would have to watch
it continually from "turn on" to "turn off" and effectively from
"horizon to horizon".

Such an event would be highly unlikely, although not impossible
(it would require an observer on a large flat plain or body of

This analysis provides yet another reason to reject the meteor
hypothesis for the Supply sighting. If the meteors were seen to
go from one horizon to overhead, but _not_ to the other horizon,
as reported by the Supply crew, then the maximum time of viewing
would be 1/2 of the value calculated above, i.e., the maximum
viewing time would be about 1 minute.

Hence the reported duration is more than twice what would be
expected for the slowest meteor.

This is yet another reason for rejecting the meteor explanation
for the U.S.S. Supply sighting.


A scientist who is attempting to understand and explain a novel
phenomenon should carefully study the first good report of that

Before claiming that he has explained the phenomenon he must
demonstrate that he can explain that first report.

Mr. Klass has claimed for years that all sightings can be
explained as misidentifications or hoaxes, with the hoaxes
making up only a few percent of the total.

Yet he has not, until now, suggested an explanation for the
first widely reported sighting.

Now that he has done his "duty" as a skeptic and proposed an
explanation he can join the ranks of the previous skeptics such
as Hynek (who subsequently "converted") and Menzel who failed to
explain this sighting.

It is interesting to note that the person who saw these objects
just as they were passing out of Arnold's field of view,
prospector Fred Johnson, saw them fly nearly over his head.

He was working on the side of Mt. Adams when he noticed them
traveling very rapidly, he thought about 1,000 ft above his
5,000 ft altitude (which would make them about 6,000 ft high,
consistent with the estimate based on Arnold's sighting).

He then looked at one of them with a telescope.

He said they were about 30 ft in diameter, "tapering sharply to
a point in the head and in an oval shape with a bright top

He could see "an object in the tail switching from side to side"
like a magnet (compass needle).

Furthermore, his compass wobbled back and forth as they passed

He heard no noise from the objects.

His last view of them was as they were "standing on edge banking
into a cloud."

Clearly he was not seeing meteors.

Fred Johnson's sighting holds a unique place in UFO history: it
is the _first_ unexplained sighting in the Air Force sighting

As for Kenneth Arnold's sighting, in spite of the Air Force
claim to have explained it, today, 50 years later, Kenneth
Arnold's sighting is still unexplained.

For a complete treatment of Kenneth Arnold's sighting see the
1997 MUFON Symposium Proceedings published by the Mutual UFO
Network or the January-June, 1995, issues of the International
UFO Reporter published by the Center for UFO Studies.

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