Prosaic Explanations: The Failure Of UFO Skepticism

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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 object.

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.