Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Chiles, Whitted, Turbulence and Ed Ruppelt

Yes, I thought we would revisit the Chiles-Whitted sighting just one more brief time. As I was working on something else, I happened to thumb through Ed Ruppelt’s book, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects when something about the Chiles-Whitted sighting caught my eye. These guys were airline pilots who suggested a cigar-shaped object had flashed by their aircraft. In the hours that followed they said that there had been no turbulence associated with the sighting but they also said that there had been turbulence. It was a case of taking the position which most closely matched your own belief structure because a solid case could be made from either position.

About the sighting (see pages 57 – 58 in his book), Ruppelt wrote, “Just as the UFO flashed by about 700 feet to the right, the DC-3 hit turbulent air. Whitted looked back just as the UFO pulled up in a steep climb.”
Does this change anything?

Not really. Ruppelt was working from the Blue Book file, and that information is in the file. There are also indications that someone there (Hynek?) thought that a bolide would explain the sighting and that the turbulence was nothing more than imagination, like the double row of brightly lighted windows.


I have to say that while I lean toward the bolide explanation, especially after the Zond IV reentry confusion in 1968, and having seen those compilations of meteor falls on YouTube, there is just enough here to make you wonder. There aren’t actually additional witnesses to that craft or that bolide and that leaves the door open however slightly. If you ask me, I would cautiously say that they saw a bolide that was bigger and brighter than other meteors they’d seen at night, but in the back of my mind there would still be a sliver of doubt.

28 comments:

cda said...

Many years ago, perhaps early 1950s?, I read an article on UFOs written by one Henry J.Taylor in READERS DIGEST. He had some 'inside knowledge' that UFOs were nothing to worry too much about. They were merely the tests of some early post-war super duper aircraft developed by the USAF.

One of the sightings he cited was the Chiled-Whitted affair. It was, he said, a genuine USAF craft of huge dimensions and was manned! He couldn't reveal everything, due to top secrecy etc, but he did assure readers that it was indeed an early USAF manned cylindrical experimental craft of massive dimensions.

You may know of this article in RD. Alas, Taylor did not reveal his sources (Surprise!)

delusion hunter said...

Wasn't Zond 4 Entry in 1968?

KRandle said...

delusion...

March 3, 1968 to be precise. I've just had 1964 on the brain lately.

Anthony Mugan said...

Hello all.
To be honest I'm not sure if the question of if they did or did not feel turbulence can be considered a definitive test. You can get turbulence (and often do) without the presence of a nearby aircraft.
It just isn't possible to be certain in this case if there was turbulence or not and the overall sighting report is actually a good fit for a bolide.

So probably a bolide...and regardless it isn't evidence for the ETH.

Larry said...

Anthony:

I agree that the presence of turbulence (assuming one accepts that it was there) is not "a definitive test", especially considering that Chiles and Whitted were flying about 1000 ft below a sparse cloud deck. Clouds, of course, are an indication of convective activity (i.e., updrafts), so it's always possible that any turbulence could have been due to flying into an updraft. However, the timing of the turbulence (occurring just as the object appeared to pass abeam the aircraft) seems suspicious.

Be that as it may, I am surprised that you uncritically accept without comment the notion that the report is a "good fit" for a bolide (meteor). In this day and age, quite a bit is known about the population of planetesimals that are the source of meteor reports (their size and velocity distributions, their composition, and the physics of hypervelocity atmospheric entry, for example). This has been discussed on this forum previously and the specifics of the Chiles Whitted encounter are a lousy fit for a boliode.

I have asked this question here before and received no answer: if someone thinks the pilots saw a bolide then please, what altitude and velocity was the meteor at when it passed abeam the aircraft?

I eagerly await your answer.

Brian Bell said...

I have seen bolides more than once in my lifetime, twice at night and once during the day.

The daytime observation was about 1972 while driving across the entire state of Iowa. About 3:00 pm an intensive white object fell directly in front of the vehicle yet seemed about 2-3 miles away. My father was witness and we both thought "airplane crash?" And then "meteor".

We still believed that within a few miles more we would see smoke as the object was extremely large and close. Turns out no smoke as the object clearly was in high atmosphere hundreds of miles away.

The night time sightings are likewise spectacular. One I saw was illuminated on the outside of the rock while concave elements glowed red hot all the while spinning like a giant falling boulder.

These things can be deceptive. It doesn't surprise me at all that the two pilots might have seen a bolide thinking it something else.

Larry said...

Brian:

I note that you do not describe either of your observed bolides as appearing to fly directly toward you and pass off to your side at your altitude at a distance on the order of hundreds of meters and then pull up to fly into the clouds.

I note that you had no problem determining that the bolides you saw were naturally occurring meteors.

I note that you also did not answer the question I posed: if what Chiles and Whitted saw was a naturally occurring meteor, what altitude and velocity was it at when it passed abeam them? It had to have had a specific velocity and position at its point of closest approach. The good thing about the bolide or meteor explanation is that it is falsifiable--but only if you dig into the scientific details of how bolides actually behave, and you do the math. If you (or anyone else) can't say what that velocity and position was, then maybe that's a strong hint that the bolide "explanation" was not derived from a systematic and scientific matching of the characteristics of bolides with the pilots' descriptions but was, instead just pulled out of the air (so to speak).

And finally I note that anyone who thinks that the two pilots saw a real, self-luminous object (whether it was a meteor, a "flying saucer", a secret aircraft, or whatever) has de facto already abandoned the hoax/hallucination explanation.

Brian Bell said...

@ Larry:

"If what Chiles and Whitted saw was a naturally occurring meteor, what altitude and velocity was it at when it passed abeam them? It had to have had a specific velocity and position at its point of closest approach."

Yes, of course it did, and given that neither the pilots nor the passenger could scientifically estimate them gives clear credence to the notion that in order for it to conclusively be a bolide (or meteor) someone there (or on the ground) had to be accurately measuring the object's trajectory, altitude, and speed using reliable instrumentation.

Fact is no one was. So NO, no one has the info you desire because no one collected it.

To demand that info in order to prove conclusively that the object was (or was not) a meteor is a bit surprising. You don't have any data either.

However we do know these objects often give off the colors the men reported, and that they quickly disappear from view. We also know that numerous night sky observers reported meteor showers that night, and afterwards given it is a known (annual) meteor shower event.

Problematic is that both men described something a bit different, and they only observed it for 10-15 seconds. The claim that it zoomed past, turned on its afterburners, and gained altitude is also problematic. Only one pilot reported that and to do so he had to very quickly turn his head (in that 15 second time frame) to look BEHIND his aircraft from a relatively small, side-facing cockpit window.

A flashing ball of light from an object above falling downward could appear as anything in the quick turn of one's head.

Anthony Mugan said...

Hello Larry

I'll come back to you in a couple of days...busy with work and I want to give your question reasonable consideration although I doubt it is possible to give a precise position without triangulation, but we'll see where I get to with it!

cda said...

Larry wrote:

"It had to have had a specific velocity and position at its point of closest approach."

Indeed it had, but why should this matter here? To determine these you would need to know how distant it was, and that is quite impossible. This was a fleeting observation, at night, by two pilots who were obviously over-excited by what they saw. There is no way they could have judged distance in the few seconds they had it in view.

I believe there was another sighting from the ground and one from another aircraft. It is a safe conclusion that the bolide was much farther away than the pilots estimated. The Condon committee (W.K. Hartmann) based their conclusion on the similarity of descriptions of both the Zond 4 re-entry and the Great Lakes fireball of Feb 1913. Both of these mentioned 'windows' as part of the object.

However, the Battelle Institute Report (Blue Book Special Report 14) still classed it as a 'Good Unknown' in their 1953 analysis, but with no mention of turbulence.

Anthony Mugan said...

Hello Larry

Like CDA I am also a bit puzzled as to why you are interested in determining the exact position and velocity of the object as this clearly can't be exactly determined in this case. What is needed to assess if there is anything about the evidence which strongly suggests it wasn't a misidentification - in this case of a bright meteor / fireball or possibly bolide depending on exactly how bright it really was.

It has been interesting re-reading through the documentation on this case and seeing how many errors creep in to various accounts compared to the original reports from the witnesses and also some of the dubious explanations put forward (mirage, a Delta Aquarid meteor) which don't exactly help.

In this case I suspect the simplest response is to refer you to Martin Shough's analysis at:

http://www.nicap.org/reports/480724montgomery_shough.pdf

and indeed the quite wide ranging documentation on the Nicap report page

http://www.nicap.org/480724chiles_dir.htm

The angle of approach and apparent behaviour is very consistent with a bright meteor, probably a Perseid (the date is early in the Perseid shower, but within it and the direction of approach spot on for this). As Shough notes the issue arises in how the observer interprets a bright light. If they assume they are dealing with something approximating an aircraft then the behaviour of a meteor /fireball on a near reciprocal heading can mimic a near head on approach followed by an illusion of a turn to one side and a climb. This is just a matter of geometry,

In terms of its position and velocity - again I think Shough pretty much covers it. It must have been high in the atmosphere over the eastern USA somewhere between North Carolina and Alabama, heading SW. The Persieds tend to have quite high velocities but clearly I'm not going to attempt to pin down an exact velocity at the point they saw it as deceleration in the atmosphere will have occurred but would need a lot more data to estimate.

I suppose the question back would be what evidence is there that would preclude the meteor / fireball interpretation?

Larry said...

Anthony asked:

"I suppose the question back would be what evidence is there that would preclude the meteor / fireball interpretation?"

The fact that it was reported in level flight in basically the same horizontal plane as the aircraft itself and the aircraft was flying 1000 feet beneath a sparse cloud deck with cloud bases at 6000 feet. One of the pilots (I forget which one) said he first noticed the light emerging from the base of a raincloud in the distance. If you're flying 1000 feet beneath a cloud deck (which, of course follows the curvature of the Earth) the curvature of the Earth would cause the cloud base to intersect your horizontal line of sight about 40 miles in the distance. The pilots could not have seen farther than that in the horizontal direction; that obviously sets the scale over which the encounter happened as a few tens of miles, not the hundreds of miles that would be characteristic of a meteor trajectory. (Note that the visual range might have been even less than this estimate because the air underneath a cloud deck often has a lot of scattering centers in the air column (dust and humidity) that can limit the effective visual range. We can check the weather observations at nearby airports to get an idea of what the visibility was from the ground.)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the pilots were consistent in describing the object as moving entirely in their horizontal plane from the time it first appeared until it began that "zoom climb" that one pilot described. (And, BTW, of course only one pilot described the terminal maneuver because the object had to pass on only one side of the aircraft. The pilot on that side could look a small distance behind him, whereas the pilot on the other side would have to look through the other pilot.)

So the object appeared emerging from the base of the clouds probably no more than about 40 miles ahead of the aircraft, flew on a reciprocal heading and passed off the right wing of the aircraft at an estimated distance of 700 feet. In other words, it was underneath the cloud deck at all times (until it began its terminal climb).

Any real meteor would have to have been above the cloud deck at all times (especially a Perseid) by something on the order of 75 miles. A meteor that was on a truly reciprocal course at that altitude would appear to fly over the top of the aircraft, not abeam the starboard wing. OK, but suppose that the object was far enough away in the horizontal plane at the time it passed abeam the right wing that it was still at an altitude consistent with the meteor explanation (say, 50 miles altitude)? In that case, it would have to have been about 625 miles away--way beyond the 40 mile visual range of the pilots.

This is why I'm asking people to think through where they thought the object was and which direction it was going--in order to reveal the consequences of those assumptions.

KRandle said...

Larry -

According to the documentation, "The night was clear with a bright moon and broken cloud coverage 4/10 at 6,000 ft." This suggests that the sky was clear enough for them to have seen the object, if it was high enough, at a great distance, much greater than they thought.

Larry said...

Kevin:

Yes, you're exactly right. If it was high enough and far away (at typical meteor altitudes) it could have been seen (intermittently) above the 4/10 cloud deck. It would have been seen moving behind the clouds, not in front of them. In front of the clouds is where the pilots reported it.

On what logical basis would you reject the testimony that they saw the object in front of the clouds?

Anthony Mugan said...

Hi Larry

As Kevin has already noted the original documentation suggests the sky was much clearer than that. In his statement Chiles states:


“…it was a clear moonlight night with the visibility excellent….After it passed it pulled up into some light broken clouds…”

http://www.nicap.org/docs/chiles/480724montgomery_docs2.pdf

Whitted doesn't comment on weather conditions in his original statement

In the case summary that Kevin also quotes from weather conditions are noted as ‘full moon, clear with broken cloud coverage of 4/10 at 6,000ft”

http://www.nicap.org/docs/chiles/480724montgomery_docs2.pdf

Martin Shough discusses the various weather reports in some detail in the reference I gave earlier and it looks as if the 4/10 cloud figure is from a nearby weather station but with others showing clearer conditions. The passenger on the plane is quoted as saying that the ground was clearly visible in the moonlight etc....

There is also the question of the description of the objects turn and climb. Notice how Chiles' original description is 'After it passed it pulled up into some light broken clouds"

In the BB case summary there is a comment under the heading ‘tactics’ that it ‘pulled up sharply with a tremendous burst of flame’. This is referenced however to the Atlanta Constitution newspaper article of the 25th July 1948!

http://www.nicap.org/docs/chiles/480724montgomery_docs2.pdf

Unfortunately Professor MacDonald does quote a cloud deck at 5000 ft and a 90 degree non-ballistic pull up amongst other alterations to the original statements.

http://www.nicap.org/docs/chiles/480724amcd.htm

It's amazing how a classic description of a bright meteor on a largely clear night turns into a UFO under a 5000ft cloud ceiling executing a sharp non-ballistic 90 degree pull up. I am also staggered that Project Sign were referencing newspaper articles as evidence (perhaps it was a more innocent age, but...).

It is a shame that SIGN didn't connect up the dots with a meteor report from another aircraft further to the NE, between Virginia and North Carolina timed at around 2.30 am that morning and with the meteor heading SW. Allowing for some error in timings on one or both sightings this is spot on to be the same meteor. It's also a great shame they took the estimates of size and distance literally as estimating such things for a light source at night is almost impossible unless you know what the light source is or it's actual brightness / size etc.

As you know I do think there are some cases that present a distinct puzzle and are very difficult to discount but this one should never have been an unknown and unfortunately highlights just how incredibly contaminated so much of the literature really is.

Larry said...

Part 1
Anthony:

Sure the UFO literature gets contaminated by people coming along after the sighting and adding “facts” that aren’t true and generally muddying the waters. So what? Ignore them. We need use only information that is not contaminated—the testimony of the primary witnesses, contemporaneous archived weather reports, and modern scientific knowledge about the characteristics of naturally occurring meteors. As far as the weather and visibility are concerned there are ample archived records in existence that show a very consistent picture all around the route of flight.

Using the NOAA database, I looked up the surface observations between 2:00 and 3:00 AM (local) for July 28, 1948 at Houston Hobby airport (Texas),Maxwell AFB, Alabama, and Hartsfield Airport , Georgia. Maxwell AFB was the closest location to Montgomery, AL and the closest airport to the Chiles-Whitted flight at the time of the observation. All airports reported skies clear. The term “clear” does not mean that there were no clouds visible in the sky. In aviation parlance this means that there were no completely opaque layers of clouds above the ground. All locations reported”scattered” clouds. This is entirely consistent with the report that 4/10 of the sky was covered with clouds. At the surface, visibility was reported very consistently as around 10 to 12 miles (that would be in the essentially horizontal direction, as determined by someone’s eyeball). Surface temperatures ranged from 78 F at Houston to 73 F at Atlanta. As a private pilot, if I had been creating a flight plan at that time and location, I would have looked at the spread between the ground temperature and the dew point along the route of flight; that gives you a pretty good way of estimating the cloud situation, even if you don’t have observations from the exact route of flight. The standard method of estimating the minimum cloud-forming altitude is to employ the so-called standard lapse rate for moist air, which is conventionally taken to be 2.7 degrees F for every 1000 feet of altitude gain. From Houston to Atlanta, the temperature spread of was a very consistent 4 degrees F. That means that if you went up about 1500 feet above the ground anywhere in that air mass you would expect the air to have cooled enough that you would start to get cloud droplet formation. In reality, you often have to supercool the air a few degrees below the theoretical minimum in order to get good solid clouds formed. So in this example, you would expect to see a cloud base forming somewhere in the 3+ thousand foot range.

I hope you realize that the fact that the passenger was able to see the ground below, and the Moon above, clearly, has essentially no bearing on what the horizontal visual range was. In this case, if a passenger had been looking down at the ground, he would have been looking through only a little bit less than 1 mile of atmosphere column with no clouds in it. That’s only about 1/10 the horizontal visual range reported from the ground, so no surprise that visibility was good. Similarly, if you are sitting below a cloud deck with 4/10 sky coverage looking straight up, you would have at least a 60% probability of not having your line of sight intersecting a cloud. Also, since you would be looking through the atmosphere at its thinnest spot, you would have no problem seeing a bright object like the Moon, or a meteor (if it happened to be between clouds). However, if you were sitting 1000 feet below a 4/10 cloud deck and looking horizontally (which is what the pilots were doing), you would have almost a 100% probability of having a cloud in your line of sight.

Larry said...

Part 2
I think you are misinterpreting Jim McDonald’s statement. The Shough report quotes McDonald as describing: “….A horizontally-moving fireball under a cloud-deck, at 5000 ft., exhibiting two rows of lights…” I interpret that as indicating that the fireball was at 5000 ft, NOT that the cloud deck was at 5000 ft. That puts the fireball at essentially the same altitude as the aircraft, which is what the pilots reported and is consistent with their behavior in banking left.

When you write: “It is a shame that SIGN didn't connect up the dots with a meteor report from another aircraft further to the NE, between Virginia and North Carolina timed at around 2.30 am that morning and with the meteor heading SW. Allowing for some error in timings on one or both sightings this is spot on to be the same meteor. It's also a great shame they took the estimates of size and distance literally as estimating such things for a light source at night is almost impossible unless you know what the light source is or it's actual brightness / size etc.”, there are at least 3 pieces of very suspicious reasoning evident in your statement. 1) By equating the meteor that was seen over the Eastern seaboard at 2:30 with the object that was seen by Chiles and Whitted at 2:45 you are essentially assuming the truth of the premise that you are trying to prove, namely that the latter object was a meteor. That is circular reasoning. 2) Your “allowing for some error in timings on one or both sightings” as a way of explaining two independent events as actually being the same event is a totally ad hoc (i.e., made up) supposition. In both cases, the events were primarily witnessed by aircrew while flying. A calibrated watch with a sweep second hand on the instrument panel is a required piece of equipment on most aircraft, and certainly on air transport aircraft carrying passengers. It is required for keeping track of time and distance, and is always checked and set before flight. There might be a random difference of 5 to 10 seconds between the watches of the several aircraft involved, but not 15 minutes. You are assuming the existence of such a difference in time keeping of exactly the right magnitude and sign in order to allow you to assume the two independent objects were one and the same meteor. More circular reasoning. 3) Your statement that “…. estimating such things [size and distance] for a light source at night is almost impossible unless you know what the light source is or it's actual brightness / size etc.” overlooks two important qualifiers. It is true that estimating the size and distance of a point light source against a featureless background (i.e., a clear night sky) is almost impossible. However, those are not the conditions that the pilots reported. As already stated, one pilot says he first noticed the object emerging from the base of a squall line in the distance; that clearly places the object against something other than a featureless background and in fact would’ve set a relative scale for the size and distance of the object. The object was tracked visually and continuously from the time it was first sighted until it passed abeam the starboard wing. At that point, both pilots described it as an extended object (not a point source) equivalent in size to other aircraft that they were familiar with. The necessary conditions to create the illusion that you need to support the meteor explanation did not exist. Someone seems to have made them up. If you are allowed to make up a sufficiently large number of “facts” you can explain anything as anything else. With all respect, I think your statement: “…. It's amazing how a classic description of a bright meteor on a largely clear night turns into a UFO under a 5000 ft cloud ceiling…” is exactly backward. I would say “It’s amazing how a classic description of an Unconventional Flying Object flying under the clouds can be turned into a meteor.”

cda said...

Larry:

There is no such thing as a "classic description of an unconventional flying object flying under the clouds" (or over the clouds, or in a clear sky either). How did you get the idea of a "classic description" anyway?

UFOs are described as having a multitude of shapes and sizes travelling at a multitude of different speeds and directions and emitting a multitude range of lights of differing brightness, colour, etc, throughout their long history.

There is no such thing as a "classic" UFO sighting and never has been.

Larry said...

CDA asked:

"How did you get the idea of a "classic description" anyway?"

Originally, from the US Air Force. Project Blue Book Special Report #14. They showed that about 6% of the reports they studied described "rocket", "torpedo", or "fuselage" shaped objects, along with the more common "disc", "sphere", etc shapes.

Anthony Mugan said...

Hi Larry
We'll probably just have to agree to cordially disagree but I think it might be worth discussing just one possible scenario.
it obviously isn't possible to precisely know the position and velocity or even exact bearing of the proposed meteor and it isn't possible to say exactly what the dimesions and positions of clouds in the area were. Just to give a few example figures to test basic possibilities...
If the meteor were first seen at around 100,000ft alritude (minus 5000 for the planes hight) and was at an (entirely arbitrarily chosen) 300km horizontal distance that would give an angle of elevation relative to the plane of 5.5 degrees.
The cloud type and vertical extent are not known. We know we had scattered cloud starting around 6000ft but how high did it go and what lines of sight could they have had?
Just as an example a cloud to 3000ft above the plane (so about 2000ft thick) would be at an angle of elevation of 5.5deg if it was just over 6 miles away (did all these in metric...hope I'm getting all my conversions right!).
So...is it possible that the had a clear line of sight of that distance...sounds possible to me if the cloud were along the line of scattered cumulus....

As it gets closer of course the angle of elevation tends to rise as the rate of descent is usually a lot less than its velocity in the upper atmosphere...

Tbc

Larry said...

Anthony, I agree (about cordially disagreeing, that is).

So let’s consider the scenario you suggest. I assume you are proposing the 100,000 ft altitude as the point where CW first saw their object as a means of examining the assumptions in Martin Shough’s article, since he proposes that particular altitude, as well. (The link to Martin Shough’s article you published didn’t work for me and it took a few days for me to find a copy of the article that I could read.)

First of all, if you assume the meteor was at an elevation angle of 5.5 deg above the horizontal, I hope you agree that it would definitely not have appeared at the base of a squall line, but would instead have appeared above one. So you have to assume that either the pilot was mistaken about the existenceof a squall line in his line of sight or that he was mistaken in placing the luminous object below it (instead of above it). I would call those ad hoc arguments.

Second, if you further assume the meteor was at a density altitude of 100,000 ft (18 miles) then the horizontal distance is not arbitrary, it is determined by the Earth’s curvature. I worked out the geometry and—from simple trigonometry—I calculate a horizontal distance of 377 miles, or about 607 km. That would put the location of the object when first seen by C-W just below the Virginia-Tennessee border. That’s actually fairly close to the lattitude of Blackstone, VA, which is where the other aircrew saw their bright meteor about 20 degrees above the horizontal 15 minutes earlier. If you extend the line of sight from the Blackstone aircrew to where it would intersect the line of sight of C-W (a bearing of about 230 degrees), that distance is about 200 miles. If you extend the Blackstone aircrew’s line of sight 200 miles at an elevation of 20 degrees above the horizontal, you discover that the object they were seeing would have been about 73 miles above the surface (a perfectly reasonable altitude for meteors). So which is it? Was the object at 18 miles altitude to satisfy the C-W sight line or at 73 miles to satisfy the Blackstone aircrew’s sight line?

Let’s look at some other implications of your assumed 100,000 ft altitude. Most estimates of the total duration of the C-W sighting range between 5 to 10 seconds. Covering the 607 km distance between the first appearance of the object until it was abeam the C-W aircraft implies a flight speed of about 121 km/sec.!!!

Let’s look at a real meteor that made it down into the atmosphere to about 18 miles altitude—the Chelyabinsk meteor of Feb 15, 2013. It entered the atmosphere at a speed of about 19 Km/sec and disintegrated at 97,000 ft altitude, releasing about half a megaton of energy. It blew out windows and flattened walls, causing numerous casualties. In order to fly no faster than the Chelyabinsk meteor, the C-W sighting would have to have lasted at least 32 seconds. And, if it had been a meteor, it would have ended in a half megaton explosion.

This is why I insist that people be explicit about where they claim the “meteor’ was and how fast it was moving. It allows one to either falsify or support various hypotheses.

Anthony Mugan said...

Hello again Larry

One of the other points you raised was around the extent to which the timings of the Chiles - Whitted case at 02:45 and the sighting of a bright meteor at around 02:30 further to the north east (with the meteor heading on a bearing consistent with the Chiles- Whitted report)could be taken as precise timings.

Martin Shough, in the reference I gave above, goes into some detail on this and there is quite a bit of ambiguity in the timings. Leaving aside the range of times quoted in the BB paperwork. It boils down to if the time of 02:45 was the time of the actual event or the time they reported it by radio. In their account there was an interval of time where they talked to the single passenger on the flight and sat for several minutes contemplating the event before reporting it by radio. This is then followed by mention that they decided not to land at their scheduled next stop due to weather conditions (presumably no passengers).
As Shough notes, if they had been on schedule they would already have been well into preparations for landing at 02:45 (and indeed some minutes earlier) all of which he takes as suggestive of the possibility that the actual event may well have occurred somewhat before 02:45.

I don't think it is possible to formally prove that what they saw was a fireball or that it was the same bright meteor / fireball as was reported at about 02:30 to the north east and heading south west. Overall though the description is very consistent with such an explanation, the weather conditions seem possible to allow such a sighting and the timings also seem within the limits of possibility for the two events to be related (there are other possible sightings too, but the timings become more problematic).

In other words it sounds like there is no need to go beyond the meteor explanation to have a satisfactory explanation and I don't think we need anything more than that.

As always more than happy to consider additional evidence that I haven't considered, but as I was saying, we may just have to cordially disagree on this one.

Larry said...

Anthony:

When you write: "....I don't think it is possible to formally prove that what they saw was a fireball ..." I agree.

Do you agree that it is an entirely different proposition to prove that they didn't see a fireball?

This difference (i.e., falsification) is, after all, the foundation for Karl Popper's observations regarding the scientific method.

Anthony Mugan said...

Hi Larry
Will give your analysis careful consideration and will come back to you.

Anthony Mugan said...

Hi Larry

Falsification is indeed the key to it…

In this case there are too many imprecisely known variables to be exact but I do feel that the meteor hypothesis is well within the limits of possibility. For example:
We’ve been discussing a height of 100,000ft or just over 30km (I’m going to switch to metric as I find that easier to work with). That, if I understand it correctly is a typical height many Perseids have burnt up by but this depends on a number of factors (size, composition, angle of incidence into the atmosphere being important ones). If I understand it correctly most meteors are visible in the ‘meteor zone’ above 80km up so the 30km figure is more applicable to the end of the visible track than the start.

We also have an estimate of the angle of elevation from the aircrew near Blackstone of 20 degrees, which might be right or out by some degrees – we don’t know.
We also don’t know the angle of incidence into the atmosphere – a shallow angle would give a longer track and vice versa (again if I understand it correctly).
We also don’t know if the two aircrew first saw it (in this hypothesis) at exactly the same moment of some seconds apart.
We also can’t precisely define the rate of deceleration as we don’t know enough about the meteor, although an initial velocity of 61km/sec is quoted in the literature as typical for Perseids and it may be reasonable to assume that it looses all its cosmic velocity by the end of it’s track (before falling under gravity if large enough to survive) – but again we don’t know for sure.

So the best we can do it plug in some basically plausible possibilities and see if the events fit within the envelope of possibility.

If the Blackstone - Greenboro aircrew saw it at the start of its visible track then an initial altitude of over 80km would be reasonable. At a 20 degree angle of elevation (and using 80km altitude above the plane as a round number) suggests it was roughly 220km to the south west of them, or a bit further if higher, at that point and heading SW.

The actual bearing is then of interest. An exact recipricol heading to the C-W plane would be 230 deg but as it passed to the right (east) it would have to have been somewhat more southerly than that. We can’t be precise but I’m going to guess around 210 degrees to 220 deg (any of these figures are of course open to errors).

The exact position of the Blackstone – Greenboro plane isn’t clear. I’m going to assume it was half way in between (again feel free to adjust). The distance to where C-W were is over 900km but a track at around 210 or 220 deg to a point east of them is rather shorter. I’m going to round it up to 700km to allow it to go a bit past C-W and to include a margin for error in positions and angles etc.

So to work the fireball hypothesis would have to allow for a 480km (or a bit less) track to where C-W saw it ‘disappear’. Not being able to work out the exact velocity at different times makes the next bit a rough estimate only but a duration of 15-20 seconds might not be unreasonable and there are many examples of longer visible tracks in the literature.

This suggests that C-W first saw it a few seconds after the Blackstone-Greenboro aircrew. When C-W first saw it it may well have still been well above the 30km altitude we were previously discussing and therefore potentially further away than the earlier figures we discussed but this is not possible to quantify precisely.
The above is just a possible example scenario – the reality may have been different by some margin on any and all of these parameters. The point though is that the meteor hypothesis seems possible and as it is more probable than the UFO hypothesis for any one given report with these characterisitics I think the best conclusion is probable meteor.

Anyway – I shall leave it at that.

Best wishes
Anthony

Larry said...

Anthony, so if I understand your model, you place the object 480 km directly in front of C-W (when they first saw it) at an altitude of 80 km. Is that correct?

If we assume the full 10 second duration for the C-W sighting then it was moving at a speed of about 48 km/sec. That is a reasonable speed--right in the middle of the range of observed meteor entry speeds (between 11 km/sec and 72 km/sec.)

However, that speed places a limit on how low the altitude of a meteor can be. The parameter that determines whether a meteor breakup occurs is the dynamic pressure on the nose of the bolide. A recent paper calculated that breakup can occur at about 5 MPa (about 725 psi). Dynamic pressure is equal to the atmospheric density times the velocity squared, divided by 2. We can solve for the air density that would create 5 MPa at a speed of 48 km/sec. Using the 1976 standard atmosphere, I calculate that the 5 MPa limit would occur at an altitude of 39 km. So let's leave a little margin and say that the meteor you propose would have to pass over C-W at about 40 km altitude.

If it were literally on a reciprocal heading, it would appear to C-W that it was descending on an approximate 5 degree slope as it moved toward them but would nevertheless pass almost directly overhead (such that they would have to look upward, not off to the right. I don't think they both could have missed that little detail.

But Martin Shough estimated that the object was between 11 and 35 degrees above the horizontal line of sight when it passed abeam the aircraft. If we move the object off to the right along the 35 degree elevation line, it reaches a safe altitude of 40 km about 80 kilometers off to the right. So that would require the object to not be on a true reciprocal heading, but to be veering off to the right at about a 9.5 degree angle. If we use the 11 degree slant angle, the object would have been veering off at a 23.5 degree angle.

So the scenario that is consistent with a meteor being 480 km directly ahead of C-W at an altitude of 80 km when they first saw it AND passing abeam them on the starboard at a realistic elevation angle AND maintaining an altitude that wouldn't cause the meteor to break up is: descending continuously on a 5 degree slope while simultaneously veering to the right somewhere between a 9.5 degree angle and a 23.5 degree angle. For the entire 480 km arc, the object would have been above the 4/10 cloud deck.

Anthony Mugan said...

Hi Larry
Need to flag an error in the figures I gave earlier as a possible scenario. Taking a straight line from C-W to the other plane as roughly 900km the track of the meteor on a bearing of 210 deg from a point 220km from the other plane would of course be rather longer - 625km if we just round things off. Doesn't really alter the basic point though.

Not sure about the other point you made - the Perseids tend to be fast (typically 61km/sec in space, but it would decelerate significantly as it goes into the atmosphere...anyway take all of the above a just rough possibilities.

Larry said...

Anthony:

It is a mistake to try to match the C-W sighting to one of the named meteor showers (such as the Perseids). All such named showers come from cometary sources. As such, the meteoroids that comprise the showers are typically sand-grain sized or smaller. I have tried to make this point before: there is a deterministic relationship between the size of a meteoroid and the depth to which it can penetrate into the atmosphere. Meteor showers all burn out above about 75 km, don't travel very far, and aren't very bright. There has never been a recorded case of a meteor shower making it to the ground, or even very close to the ground.

The meteor that was seen by the two air crews near Blackstone was certainly of asteroidal origin. may have been 10s of cm in diameter, and totally uncorrelated with any meteor shower.