Prosaic Explanations: The Failure Of UFO Skepticism

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The "First Sighting"

The June 24, 1947 sighting by private pilot Kenneth Arnold was not really the first recorded UFO sighting. However, it was the first sighting to be publicly reported and it attracted worldwide interest. It also attracted many more than its share of explanations. One of the scientists with an excessive urge to explain was Dr. Howard Menzel. In his first book, Flying Saucers (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass, 1953), Menzel offered a blanket explanation for sightings that occurred within the first five years of modern UFO sightings (1947-1952): misidentified atmospheric phenomena including the effects of the atmosphere on sunlight, unusual clouds caused by particular wind patterns, and mirage effects (light ray bending in the atmosphere). He suggested several different atmospheric and cloud effects to account for the Kenneth Arnold,s sighting. In later books (The World of Flying Saucers, Menzel and Boyd, Doubleday and Company, Garden City, NY, 1963; The UFO Enigma, The Definitive Explanation of the UFO Phenomenon, Menzel and Taves, Doubleday and Company, Garden City, NY, 1977) he offered other atmosphere-related explanations and one non-atmospheric explanation (water drops on the windshield of the airplane).

Mr. Arnold, a businessman and private pilot with over 4,000 hours of flying experience, had reported seeing nine semicircular, thin (compared to the length), shiny objects in a line flying southward past the western flank of Mt. Rainier and "swerved in and out" of the mountain peaks south of Rainier (see FIGURE 2). The objects were therefore a litle more than twenty miles east of him (he was about twenty miles west and ten miles south of Mt. Rainier and flying almost due east at beginning of the sighting). He timed their flight from Rainier, southward, to Mt. Adams, a distance of about fifty miles. They crossed this distance in 102 seconds. Hence, the direct interpretation of Arnold's sighting is that these objects were traveling at about 1,700 mph. (This was about four months before Chuck Yaeger exceeded the speed of sound, abou 700 mph, in a test aircraft, in October, 1947). In reporting the speed calculation, Arnold arbitrarily reduced the speed considerably to account for possible errors in his measurements. He publicly stated that the objects were traveling at about 1,200 mph. Arnold reported that he first noticed the objects as they repeatedly flashed or reflected the bright afternoon sunlight like a mirror (very bright flashes) when they were north of Mt. Rainier and last saw them (by their flashes) as they passed Mt. Adams. The total sighting duration was two and a half to three minutes.

Dr. Hynek was the first scientist to try to explain Arnold's sighting. Hynek used some details of the observation and an assumption about Arnold,s visual acuity to calculate an approximate size of the objects. He obtained a large size (two thousand feet long, one hundred feet thick). He could not accept this size as reasonable so he decided to ignore Arnold's claim that the objects went in and out of the mountain peaks south of Mt. Rainier. By ignoring this statement (essentially implying Arnold had made a mistake in the observation) Hynek was able to assume that the objects were much closer. Hynek decided that Arnold saw large airplanes and he then estimated that the distance was only about six miles. This shorter distance reduced the calculated speed to about 400 mph. Since this speed was within the capability of military aircraft Hynek identified the objects as "aircraft," thereby also ignoring Arnold's description of the objects. Recent analysis of the Arnold sighting shows that Hynek made an incorrect assumption about Arnold,s visual acuity. Had he made the correct assumption he would have obtained a much smaller size (under one hundred ft long and ten or so feet thick) and then, perhaps, would not have rejected Arnold,s distance estimate, in which case he would have had to accept the speed estimate. Had he accepted the speed estimate the history of the UFO subject might have been different.

Hynek's work was done secretly for the Air Force in 1948 under "Project Sign"(1948). (This was the first of three projects for UFO sighting analysis. The other two were Project Grudge [1949-1952] and Project Blue Book [1952-1969] ). About four years later Dr. Menzel tackled Arnold's sighting. In his first book, Flying Saucers, Menzel summarized the sighting and then criticized the Air Force for accepting Hynek's explanation and went on to propose a much more "obvious" solution. Menzel wrote, "(Arnold) clocked the speed at about 1,200 miles an hour, although this figure seems inconsistent with the length of time that he estimated them to be in view. From his previous statement they could scarcely have traveled more than 25 miles during the three minutes that he watched. This gives about 500 miles an hour, which is still a figure large enough to be startling." Note that Menzel did not tell the reader that Arnold had timed the flight of the objects between two points. Instead, Menzel invented a travel distance of twenty-five miles, and implied that this distance was covered in three minutes (180 seconds). Hence he was able to assign a much lower, although "startling," speed of 500 mph.

Menzel went on to "solve" the mystery of Arnold's sighting: "Although what Arnold saw has remained a mystery until this day (1953), I simply cannot understand why the simplest and most obvious explanation of all has been overlooked... the association of the saucers with the hogback (of the mountain range south of Mt. Rainier)... serves to fix their distance and approximate size and roughly confirms Arnold's estimate of the speed." (Note that Menzel, unlike Hynek, accepted Arnold's distance estimate). Menzel then went on to suggest that Arnold saw "billowing blasts of snow, ballooning up from the tops of the ridges" caused by highly turbulent air along the mountain range. According to Menzel, "These rapidly shifting, tilting clouds of snow would reflect the sun like a mirror...and the rocking surfaces would make the chain sweep along something like a wave, with only a momentary reflection from crest to crest."

This first explanation by a scientist with the reputation of Dr. Menzel may seem slightly convincing, but only until one realizes that (a) blowing clouds of snow cannot reflect light rays from the sun (60 deg elevation angle) into a horizontal direction toward Arnold's airplane and thereby create the very bright flashes that Arnold reported in the same way that a polished metal surface or mirror would, (b) there are no 1,200 mph or even 500 mph winds on the surface of the earth to transport clouds of snow fortunately!), (c) there are no winds that would carry clouds of snow all the way from Mt. Rainier to Mt. Adams (Arnold saw the objects pass Mt. Adams before they were lost to his view), (d) about 10 minutes before the sighting Arnold flew rather close to south flank of Mt. Rainer while heading westward in order to search for a downed marine transport plane, then, only a few minutes after the sighting he flew eastward along a path that took him a dozen miles south of Mt. Rainier; during each of these flights (west, then east) his plane would have been strongly buffeted (and perhaps destroyed!) by such high winds, but he reported, instead, very calm conditions. Furthermore, even if such amazing atmospheric phenomena had occurred, it is difficult to imagine how Arnold could have failed to realize that he was just seeing light reflected from snow blowing from the top of Mt. Rainier, especially since, only minutes later, he flew along a path south of Mt. Rainier as he continued his trip east to Yakima, Washington.

In case the first explanation wasn't sufficiently convincing, Menzel offered "another possibility": he suggested that perhaps there was a thin layer of fog, haze or dust just above or just below Arnold's altitude which was caused to move violently by air circulation and which reflected the sunlight. Menzel claimed that such layers can "reflect the sun in almost mirror fashion." Menzel offered no substantiation for this claim. Perhaps he was thinking in terms of a "forward reflection" from an atmospheric layer when the Sun is so low on the horizon (and nearly along the line of sight to the reflection) that the light rays make a "grazing angle" with the layer. If so, then that explanation as applied to the Arnold sighting makes no sense, since the Sun was at an elevation of 60 degrees and southwest of (behind) Arnold, who was looking east. Furthermore, layers form under stable conditions and violent air circulation would tend to break them up so there would be no "reflections" of sunlight. Again, one wonders how Arnold could have failed to notice that he was just seeing strange effects of the atmosphere.

Ten years after his first book, Dr. Menzel offered his third, fourth and fifth explanations in his second book, The World of Flying Saucers: mountain top mirages, "orographic clouds" and "wave clouds in motion." To support the third explanation, he presented a drawing made from a photograph of mountain top mirages taken by a photographer many years earlier, and proposed by the photographer as the explanation for Arnold's sighting. (This is the "official" Air Force explanation. It appears in the files of Projects Sign/Grudge/Blue Book along with Hynek's explanation. These files are available to be reviewed on microfilm at the National Archives.) The mirages appear as vague images above the tops of the mountains. (Actually the mirage is an inverted image of the top of the mountain.) These mirages can be seen under proper atmospheric conditions (requiring a stable atmosphere) when the line of sight from the observer to the mountain top is tilted by less than one half a degree above or below horizontal. Unintentionally (or intentionally?) Menzel failed to report in his book the following information in Arnold's report: as the objects traveled southward, he saw them silhouetted against the side of Mt. Rainier which is 14,400 feet high, much higher than the altitude of the saucers. Since mountain top mirages occur above the mountain peaks, these objects were far below any mirage of Mt. Rainier. Of course, mountain top mirages stay above the tops of the mountains, so the mirage theory cannot explain the lateral high speed movement of the objects reported by Arnold. Nor can a mirage explain the bright flashes of light from the objects.

Menzel's fourth explanation was that Arnold saw orographic clouds, which can assume circular shapes and often form in the lees (i.e., downwind of) mountain peaks. The clouds would, of course, be large but, as Menzel notes in his book, they "appear to stand more or less motionless." The lack of motion, as well as the lack of bright reflections, rules them out, so why did he even mention them? Also, Arnold would have realized they were just clouds as he flew past Mt. Rainier only minutes later.

Menzel's fifth explanation, wave clouds, is comparable to his first suggestion of "billowing blasts" of snow, except that this time he proposed clouds of water vapor instead of snow. In his second book, this explanation was supported by a photograph of such a cloud taken by a newspaper photographer. However, this explanation, too, fails to account for the very bright reflections reported by Arnold, for distinct semi-circular shapes, and for the high lateral speed. Again, Arnold surely would have recognized a cloud as he flew past Mt. Rainier.

In his third and last UFO book, The UFO Enigma, The Definitive Explanation of UFO Phenomenon, written in the early 1970's, (just before Menzel died), he again discussed Arnold's sighting and offered his sixth (and last) explanation: Arnold saw water drops on the window of his aircraft.

To support this explanation, Menzel appealed to his own sighting of "UFOs" that turned out to be water drops that had condensed on the outside of the window of an aircraft in which he was flying. They moved slowly backwards from the front of the window. They were so close to his eyes as he looked out the window that they were out of focus and he thought they were distant objects moving at a great speed until, after a few seconds, he refocused his eyes and discovered what they were. In comparing his "sighting" with Arnold's, Menzel writes: "I cannot, of course, say definitely that what Arnold saw were merely raindrops on the window of this plane. He would doubtless insist that there was no rain at the altitude at which he was flying. But many queer things happen at different levels in the earth's atmosphere."

Although no one would argue with Menzel's claim that "queer things" happen at different levels of the atmosphere, this fact is irrelevant. Had Menzel bothered to carefully read Arnold's letter to the Air Force, he would have seen Arnold's statement that he turned his plane sideways and viewed the objects through an open window (at his left) to be sure that he was getting no reflections from window glass. (Fortunately, Menzel did not propose water drops on Arnold's eyes!)

The "bottom line is that neither Hynek nor Menzel proposed reasonable explanations for Arnold,s sighting, but that didn't stop the Air Force from accepting one of the explanations (mirage).

In 1947, shortly after Arnold's sighting and during the massive wave of sightings that occurred between late June and the middle of July, numerous explanations for the sightings of Arnold and other withnesses were proposed. The first explanation was that proposed by Arnold himself, namely that saucers were some new secret aircraft of the United States Army Air Force (the Air Force was still part of the Army). However, very quickly (within days) after Arnold,s sighting the U.S. government publicly denied having any secret aircraft that could account for saucer sightings. This denial was also privately made to J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by General George Schulgen of the Army Air Force. (The denial is in the FBI,s file on flying discs, the "real X file. See The UFO-FBI Connection by Bruce Maccabee, Llewellyn Pub. , St. Paul, MN. 2000) On the other hand, the Air Force began to be worried over the possibility that the Soviet Union had developed flying saucers to threaten the United States, but this worry was not conveyed to the public.

Howard Blakeslee, the Associated Press Science Editor, wrote an article that suggested "quirks of eyesight" could explain the saucer mystery. He pointed out that anything looks round if it is too far away to see details. "This law covers small things seen nearby and large ones at great distances." He described his own sightings of "flying saucers" which were bright reflections from distant aircraft. "Planes at great distances tend to look round when light is reflected from their sides," he wrote. He rejected the daytime meteor hypothesis (see below) and the hypothesis that upper altitude ice crystals formed "little round clouds." According to Blakeslee, "Nothing published in science or atomic studies gives the slightest clue to flying saucers unless the objects are aircraft."

An article in the New York Times, July 8, 1947, suggested red corpuscles of blood in front of the retina, i.e., "motes in the eye," which are small particles which float in the fluid within each person's eyeball. Motes are only visible when they move to an area between the lens and the fovea and cause a shadow, a dark spot, on the retina. When they move out of this area they "disappear. These particles, when viewed against a bright sky, can appear to be dark objects far away and thus may be mistaken for large objects at a great distance. Of course, they move whenever the eye does and this can impart "unearthly speeds" to the apparently distant, large objects. (Note: one can be temporarily fooled by motes, but a simple test is to turn the eye and stare in another direction. If the "object" moves with the eye, then it was a mote.)

Dan Nelson, an attorney in Oklahoma City, published his explanation in the "Daily Oklahoman" newspaper, July 29, 1947. On July 30 the FBI contacted him to learn more about his solution to the mystery. (Yes, the FBI did investigate sightings in 1947, so, in a small sense the "X files are real!) According to Nelson all sightings from inside vehicles, including airplanes, that had windows were reflections of sunlight from shiny objects onto the windows. The light reflected from these shiny objects was then re-reflected toward the eye of the observer who was looking through a window and could thus see the reflection silhouetted against the background as if there were a shiny object "out there", far outside the vehicle. Naturally reflections such as this could do unnatural things such as pace a vehicle or suddenly accelerate, make fast turns and even suddenly disappear. According to Nelson, the vibration of a car, for example, would give the objects "an appearance of rotating" and "reflections (in the windows) caused them to appear flat or saucer shaped." Moreover, "...any number of objects might be seen according to the direction that the car is traveling and the number of bright objects being reflected onto the window. He further stated that these objects might be seen in an ordinary window in a house according to the lighting conditions..." Mr. Nelson told the FBI that he had not actually talked to saucer witnesses but "he believed that these reflections plus the excitement and hysteria caused by other reports has been the basis for most flying saucer reports." (Classic armchair theorist!!) Obviously Nelson's explanation could not apply to Arnold's sighting, but Nelson didn't know that since Arnold's full report was not published until many years later.

In recent years two people have proposed that Arnold saw birds. Martin Kottmeyer proposed that Arnold saw geese (Kottmeyer, private communication, 1993). This is based in part on Arnold,s description of how they flew and Arnold,s own statement that it made him think of geese in flight. More recently James Easton (Easton, 1997, 1999, internet communication) has amplified on Kottmeyer,s ornithological argument and has proposed even larger birds, pelicans. According to Easton,s sources pelicans can fly at high altitudes and at speeds up to 50 mph. Of course they would have been quite close to Arnold for him to see them (an eighty foot long object at twenty miles has the same apparent [angular] size as a four foot long object at one mile). Of course, these birds would not cause bright mirror-like reflections of the sun, visible over distances of many tens of miles but, as skeptics often do, they tried to convince people that Arnold incorrectly reported the bright "flashing" of these objects (perhaps assuming that Arnold got it wrong or simply lied about it). They also overlooked the implications of Arnold's claim that he turned his plane and rolled down his window to look at the objects with no intervening glass. Since he was sitting on the left side of the plane it is logical to assume, although Arnold did not explicitly say so, that he turned the plane to the right and rolled down the left hand window to look eastward toward the objects. At this time he would have been flying southward, roughly parallel to the flight path of the objects for a short time. Arnold stated in his lecture at the 1977 International UFO Congress in Chicago that his air speed was about 100 mph. Hence he would have, in a short time, realized that he was gaining on these objects. He would have realized that they were relatively slow compared to his speed and certainly he wouldn't have estimated the speed at anything like 1,700 miles per hour, or even 100 miles per hour. (Note that 1700 mph at 20 miles distance is equivalent in angular speed to 85 mph at 1 mile distance, which means that if the objects had been birds they would have had to be flying at about 85 mph to cross the same apparent distance, from Mt. Rainier to Mt. Adams, in the same measured time, 102 sec.) In other words, had they been birds, even if unrecognized by Arnold, he would have had no reason to think that he was seeing radically new aircraft with extreme flight capabilities, so his whole report would have to be a fabrication.

In June, 1997, just in time for the Fiftieth Anniversary of Arnold's sighting, San Francisco Examiner science writer Keay Davidson published yet another explanation: meteors. The details of the explanation are given in a small monthly publication by Philip Klass which he calls the Skeptics UFO Newsletter (SKUFON; issue #46 of July 1997). (One wonders why it took fifty years for this explanation to be proposed. Could it be that previous skeptics considered this to be just too "outrageous?") Mr. Klass has been writing articles and books purporting to explain UFO sightings over the last thirty years, yet he has not previously "explained" the Arnold sighting. (His first book, UFOs Identified, Random House, New York, was published in 1968.)

According to Mr. Klass, writing in SKUFON, the new explanation was published by Mr. Davidson 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 Klass, after some research Davidson discovered that "the number of meteor falls reaches a peak around 3:00 p.m." in June in the northern hemisphere. Arnold's sighting occurred at 3:00 p.m., June 24, 1947. Thus, according to Klass' article, the large number of meteors detected in June lends support to the meteor hypothesis. (The astute reader will note the careful, "lawyerly" use of words: "lends support to" which is not the same as "proves" or "is evidence for.")

Klass' SKUFON article mentions Arnold's statement that the objects seemed bright and shiny as if reflecting the sun. By way of comparison and explanation, Klass cites a 6:00 p.m., 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. Their altitude was under 10,000 feet (perhaps as low as 6,000 ft since, according to Arnold, they went behind a mountain peak south of Mt. Rainier). He realized that the flashes occurred as the objects tilted steeply to the left and right as they flew along a southward path. 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 (see FIGURE 3; one object, not shown in Figure 3, seemed to have a double concave crescent shape at the rear).

By way of contrast, meteors which are traveling fast enough to glow (or, actually, to cause the air around them to glow) do not dim to the point of being "not bright" and then brighten again, repeatedly. 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 earth,s 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 envelope 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 atmosphere. 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 higher), 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 feet, but if it were, it would be quite large and eventually would be slowed to the point of hitting the earth.

Klass points out that Arnold estimated he saw the objects for two and a half to three minutes. This includes about half to three quarters of a minute before they passed Mt. Rainier and another nearly two minutes after they passed Rainier. This would be "extra long" for a meteor. Most meteors burn out (at high altitude) in a second or so, although large meteors, called fireballs, can be seen from one location on the earth for many seconds up to a minute. Since meteor durations are limited to a minute or less, Klass argues that Arnold's time estimate was probably wrong. He points out that "witnesses are notoriously unreliable in estimating the time duration of unexpected events" and cites the March 3, 1968 reentry of the Zond Soviet space rocket as an example in which witness errors resulted in sighting duration estimates as low as fifteen seconds and as high as five 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 actions. If the actions seem illogical to Klass, then the actions are suspect and, of course, any data resulting from the actions are suspect. (Note: if Arnold had not looked at his clock but simply reported an estimated time the skeptics would probably raise the question, why didn,t he look at his clock?)

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 about twenty miles east-northeast of him and Mt. Adams about forty-seven miles south-southeast of him). He reported that he could see that the objects were flying southward so he looked at his dashboard clock as the first object passed the south flank of Mt. Rainier and noted the time. He then watched the objects as they continued southward. During this time the objects passed over a ridge that is about five 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, the line of nine objects covered a total distance of about five 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. As the last object appeared to pass to the west of Mt. Adams 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 fifteen 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 speed?). The objects traveled about fifty 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 glow.

By way of comparison, if one were to hypothesize a meteor in a level trajectory traveling at essentially orbital speed it would have required only about ten 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 seventeen seconds. One would hope that Arnold, using his dashboard clock, could tell the difference between 102 seconds and ten (or seventeen) seconds.

Aside from the difficulty in imagining that Arnold could mistake ten seconds for 102 seconds, the mere suggestion that a meteor, or nine such meteors, could travel at a meteoric speed at an altitude lower than 10,000 feet while glowing brightly is far outside the accepted meteor phenomenology. Meteors cool as they penetrate the lower atmosphere, or rather the speed decreases to the point that they are no longer ionizing the dense air. Hence the basic concept that Arnold saw bright meteors traveling past Mt. Rainier must be rejected.

Consider now the number of explanations that have been offered for the Arnold sighting: (1) secret, radically new US aircraft (Arnold and other witnesses), (2) secret Soviet aircraft (US Air Force Intelligence), (3) quirks of eyesight (Blakeslee), (4) motes in the eye (New York Times), (5) reflections in glass (Nelson), (6) ordinary American Air Force aircraft (Hynek), (7) blasts of snow (Menzel), (8) haze reflection (Menzel), (9) mirage (Menzel an Air Force), (10) orographic clouds (Menzel), (11) wave clouds in motion (Menzel), (12) water drops on the windshield (Menzel), (13) birds/geese/pelicans (recent skeptics), and (14) meteors (Klass/Davidson). With this dozen or so available explanations, surely the Arnold sighting has been explained.


The complete Arnold sighting and an in-depth discussion of the failed prosaic explanations are available from this author via email (

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