Report On Phoenix Light Arrays

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An impressive aspect of the bright lights in the sky was the seeming absence of motion. However, a careful comparison between initial and final positions of lights with several minute duration shows that there was motion. FIGURES 19-25 (below) provide examples of light motion recorded in the R and K videos.

Figure 19

Figure 20

Figure 21

Figure 22

FIGURE 19 from the R video shows the complete array of lights and some ground lights. (Note: some of the ground lights in the R video changed with time and were not always reliable indicators of direction.) Because the camera zoom magnification changed it is necessary to use the ground lights whenever possible to determine relative magnification factors. The compensation for magnification changes was accomplished by first "grabbing" video frames with a computer and then counting the pixels between the images of ground lights which appear identically in two frames of interest, say, in a frame near the beginning of the sighting and another frame near the end. This is quite easy to do with computer software (e.g. Win95) and frames stored as "bitmaps." For example, in FIGURE 19 one sees the spacings between ground lights (measured in "pixels"). After ground lights have been identified in two (or more) frames of interest, the spacing of the light images in frame B is divided by the spacing between the images of the same lights in frame A. The ratio of these spacings is the magnification (or "shrinkage") factor. Now consider a "UFO" light of interest in both frames of interest. Find the image of a stationary (ground) light that appears in both frames to use as a reference. Measure the the altitude (y) and horizontal position (x) of the "UFO" light with respect to the reference light (distances in pixels) in one of the frames, say frame A. Now multiply the x and y distances by the magnification (or shrinkage) factor found before and plot the resulting location in frame B. The method gives the position of a "UFO" light at the beginning of the sighting and also the position at the end of a sighting and one can easily see the distance traveled from the diagram constructed in this way. For example, in one case of the March 13 video obtained by R, the spacing of two ground lights is 214 pixels in frame A (FIGURE 19 and only 207 pixels in frame B(FIGURE 20). Applying this reduction ratio 207/214 = 0.967 to the height of light 9 above a convenient ground light (that appears in both figures) in frame A (112 pixels) yields a reduced height of 108 pixels in frame B. However, in frame B the actual height is 101 pixels. Since frame A was at the beginning of the sighting and frame B was later on, the light had dropped downward the equivalent of 7 pixels on the scale of frame B. The initial position of light 9, taking into account horizontal as well as vertical shift, is illustrated in FIGURE 20. The shift in light 4 is also illustrated.

Figure 23

Figure 24

Figure 25

Another illustration of light shift (drop and move to the left) is in FIGURE 21, where the motion of light 9 over part of its "lifetime" is illustrated. The total motion of light 9 over its whole "lifetime" is illustrated in FIGURE 22. FIGURES 23 - 24 - 25 provide similar illustrations from the K video. FIGURE 23 shows the array just after light 8 appeared. FIGURE 24 shows the array shortly after light 9 appeared and the small motion of light 8 during the roughly 10 seconds between these video frames.

The number of pixels of downward shift can be related to the decrease in angular altitude. The motion of light 8 during its duration of visibility in the K video (about 130 seconds) was determined (FIGURE 25). (Note: This is the longest duration light in the K video. Light 9 was visible for only about 80 seconds in this video). The angle calibration for this video frame was determined to be about 0.022 degrees per pixel. Light 8 dropped by about 13 pixels (0.29 degrees) and also moved to the left about 8 pixels (0.18 degrees). Projecting these angles over the distance to the lights (about 77 miles) yields (77 x 5280 x tan (angle)) about a 2,000 ft drop and about 1,300 ft of lateral motion. The speeds were about 15 ft/sec downward and 10 ft/sec to the left. These correspond to about 10 mph down and 7 mph to the left.

Applying the same technique to the R video, we find in FIGURE 19 that the array is about 365 pixels wide and this corresponds to about 3 degrees, or 0.0082 deg/pixel. The relative scale factor for comparison with an later frame, FIGURE 22, is 1.07, so the angle calibration in FIGURE 22 is 0.0082/1.07 = 0.0077 deg/pixel. Comparison of FIGURE 19 with FIGURE 22 showed that, on the scale of FIGURE 22, light 9 dropped by 22 pixels and moved to the left 4 pixels. These angles then are 0.17 and 0.031 degrees. These angles, projected out to the distance of light 9 (about 86 miles), correspond to 1,350 ft and 245 ft. The duration of light 9 was about 150 seconds (the longest lasting light in the R video). The speeds are about 6 mph downward and about 1 mph moving sideways. These speeds are considerably lower than the speeds for light 8 calculated from the K video. A slower lateral speed is expected for the R video than for the K video because of the sighting direction (the light is moving more in the direction of R), but not that much slower. Also the downward speeds would be expected to be about the same. Hence there is some discrepancy between these two analyses of the videos. On the other hand, the mere fact that the numbers are "in the same ballpark" is encouraging, considering all of the difficulties in calibration and analysis which went into producing these speed values.


As will be evident to the reader, a considerable effort has been expended to determine the basic characteristics of these lights. The care put into this effort was intentional, since it was realized early on that if these lights should turn out to be close to Phoenix and not explainable, it would be necessary to have the best analysis possible. However, even after the initial analyses indicated that the lights were far away, the attention to details in the analysis was continued as more and more characteristics of the lights were determined in order to be have sufficient evidence to support whatever the conclusion might be.

One major conclusion is that the lights have been found to be far away (much farther than previously thought). Another is that the lights did not remain stationary. The whole linear array of January 14 was observed to move to the left as the lights dropped slightly. Careful measurements on individual lights in the March 13 array shows motion downward and to the left. Furthermore, whereas the total sighting lasted many minutes (half an hour, etc.), the duration of any one light was the range of 4 to 5 minutes when it was seen for its "whole lifetime." The shorter duration lights in the K video of March 13 were probably blocked for part of their "natural" lifetimes" by the mountain tops near the 4512' peak, since the lights were determined to be slightly above the mountains when they appeared and then they moved downward.

The effect of the irregular ridgeline of the mountains on blocking the lights from the observers can be seen by comparing the order of disappearance of the lights in the K and R videos. In the K video the order of disappearance of lights numbered 1 - 9 (in order of appearance in the K video), with visibility times (seconds) is: 2(?, at least 16), 3(?, at least 72), 4(?, at least 74), 1(?, at least 108), 9(79), 6(115), 5(126), 7(112) and 8(130). (The question marks indicate that the camera was stopped for an unknown period of time so the actual duration was longer than the videotape duration.) In the R video the lights are all on at the beginning and they go off as follows: 1(39 seconds), 2(85), 3(88), 5( 95), 4(98), 7(105), 6(117), 8(130) and 9(151). Comparing these sets of numbers one may conclude that there was some blockage by mountains in both cases, but it was more severe for the K video. This is especially evident for light 9, the last to appear and the fifth to disappear in the K video but is the last to disappear in the R video. 9

All of the characteristics discussed above are consistent with flares dropped at high altitude over the Air Force range and viewed from long distances over mountain ranges. The extreme brightness of these particular flares is not to be discounted. They radiate nearly 2 million lumens of visible light, comparable to an airplane headlight pointed directly at the observer from many miles away. At a distance of 70 miles or so the difficulty of seeing smoke or a parachute supporting the flare would be comparable to the difficulty in seeing a large planet next to a bright star: the reflected radiation would be overwhelmed by the direct radiation from the light source. Only an extremely good optical system of high magnification and low light scatter would be able to separate the image of smoke or of a parachute from the extremely bright (and hence optically large) image of the flare itself.


The preceding analysis shows that, at the very least, the triangulation data suggest flares at high altitude and great distance. These cannot be ruled out as likely sources for the lights unless there are some very convincing data of some other sort not available to this author. In fact, the most parsominous explanation for these lights is that they were flares (as so stated for the March 13, 1997 lights by the Maryland National Guard). This analysis is therefore consistent with that of the Cognitech Corporation (Dr. Leonid Rudin) done for the Discovery Channel documentary (November, 1997). It is also consistent with the analysis of Dr. Paul Scowen, professor of astronomy at ASU, as reported by author Tony Ortega in the Phoenix "New Times" newspaper, March 5-11, 1998, which showed that the lights were farther away than the mountain peaks in the K video. In that newspaper article the author also reported that an "Arizona National Guard public information officer, Captain Eileen Benz, had determined that the flares had been dropped at 10 P.M. over the North Tac Range 30 miles southwest of Phoenix at an unusually high altitude of 15,000 ft." Except for the stated distance, which should be more like 60 miles (and up to 100 miles away) this statement is consistent with the analysis presented here.

Any future sightings of similar lights should be documented as thoroughly as possible in terms of duration, sighting direction and observation from as many different witness locations as possible. (Witnesses should call each other to obtain corroporation of sightings.) If possible, it would be advisable to obtain photographs and videos of Air Force illumination flares from both near (less than 5 miles) and far (over 60 miles) at the same time so that there is no possibility of misidentification. Results of these observations could be compared with the videos discussed here to confirm or deny the suggestion that the March 13 and Jan 14 (and other dates) lights were flares. Using the work presented here as background material it should be possible to determine quickly whether any future sightings are lights at great distance or other, possibly unidentifiable, lights. The witnesses will be convinced of the flare explanation only if documentation such as suggesed here is actually obtained during a series of known-to-be flare tests.

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© copyright B. Maccabee, 2000. All rights reserved.