Header UFO jpeg

Sherman UFO
This photograph was taken at 3.30 a.m. on August 2, 1965, thirteen miles east of Sherman, Texas, by Bob Campbell, a news photographer, with a 4x5 Speed Graphic camera (135 mm lens using Tri-X film), exposure time about two minutes. The object was at about 45º elevation in the northeastern sky, and its apparent diameter was about two degrees. The phenomenon was visible for an hour and a half. (The planet Venus was below the horizon at the time). Note that the object appears to be rotating.

Unidentified Flying Objects

* Mysterious things are haunting the skies of our planet. Strange luminous manifestations, probably not even material, appear rarely by day and by night. As yet, they don't even have a name. The labels that have been attached to them only demonstrate how unknown they are. They seem to be members of a family of phenomena, which range from furtive glows and lights near the ground to vast luminous bodies which spawn smaller unknowns.

* In past centuries they were called 'meteors', when a meteor was almost anything in the sky. Now they are Unidentified Flying Objects.

* The tag Unidentified Flying Object, or UFO, was attached to these phenomena in an honest attempt to avoid preconceived notions of what they might actually be, and for at least fifty years an identification has been sought. Or rather, an exciting identification has been sought. For most of these years the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) held sway - so much so that in some quarters it changed from a hypothesis into an established fact, and UFOs became synonymous with alien spacecraft.

* In the 1960s and '70s the increase in encounters with 'ufonauts' outside landed UFOs seemed to favour ETH, despite the fact that these reports seemed to increase in response to the popularity of this theory. There were numerous reports of UFOs in the 19th Century, but no reports of ufonauts - but in 1897, when a rash of UFOs over the United States were immediately interpreted as 'experimental airships', encounters with 'airship pilots' appeared.

* In fact it was the increasing number of ufonauts, and their increasingly bizarre and illogical behaviour, that led many ufologists to abandon 'simplistic' extraterrestrial theories. They began to search for a new hypothesis, providing it was equally 'exciting'. Paranormal and psychical UFO theories gained favour. These had the advantage of explaining every aspect of ufology, provided speculation was made exotic enough. They also enabled ufologists to concentrate on dramatic human-interest filled close encounters. The more traditional airborne UFOs were almost ignored. These were now dismissed as 'random' and 'meaningless', despite the fact that they were the original foundation of the whole UFO phenomenon. Soon many ufologists seemed to live in a fantasy world of conspiracy and abductions, where no story was too bizarre to be believed. But history should show that no-one has yet been abducted by aliens, and the UFOs which generated all this hoorah are a natural phenomenon as yet unknown.

Star Flight

* If UFOs are alien spacecraft, then they presumably come from distant stars, as the other planets of our solar system have been disappointments as the abode of life. Even if you grant these aliens sophisticated faster than light stardrives, interstellar travel must be a serious undertaking, not something done on a whim. There may be many star-travelling species, but in that case, what makes us so interesting? If star-travelling species are rare, where do all the UFOs filling our atmosphere come from? I believe that the existence of other intelligence in the universe is about as certain as anything can be without proof, but to consider that a rational species would travel light-years in order to buzz an airliner, indulge in pointless aerobatics, mutilate cattle, or abduct a stray human, and then do it over and over again makes no sense at all. But we should still be paying attention to UFOs, for as Raphael Holinshed might say, “there is a doctrine in them of no small importance.”

* The idea that UFOs might be some as yet unidentified natural phenomenon is usually treated with scorn by ufologists; in fact, many seem to believe that there are only a few aerial phenomena of natural origin, and that you may become familiar with all of them by glancing up at the sky occasionally. Despite our alleged modern enthusiasm for Mother Earth and her works, the notion is considered to be 'dismissive' of UFOs, although one would think that an as yet unclassified natural phenomenon would be of interest to somebody.

* The idea is 'unexciting', but that is no basis for judging its validity. It is unable to directly explain close encounters and abductions, but most other theories also have that difficulty. Even some scientists, who should know better, seem to consider that labelling UFOs as 'unknown natural phenomena' disposes of them - although no-one considers that labelling luminous spheres seen during thunderstorms 'ball lightning' removes any need for their study. In 1948, G. E. Valley, a scientific advisor to the U. S. Air Force, wrote, "The observations (of UFOs) may be due to some effect such as ball lightning. The writer has no suggestions on this…subject."
1 Nor, it seems, had anyone else. In fact, such statements as, "UFOs may be some ball lightning-like phenomenon" are usually taken as attempts to explain UFOs as ball lightning, which they obviously are not. In 1972, Arthur C. Clarke said, "...with the fantastic tricks natural forces can play, it would be very unwise to argue that even the most impressive UFO must be artificial." 2 Quite right - but isn't anyone interested in the fantastic tricks of natural forces?
In 1974, Duncan Lunan claimed, "…if ball lightning is real, there can be other kinds of 'plasmoid'…In general, so many Flying Saucer effects can be explained in terms of plasmoids that…it could be said that there were no unsolved aerial sightings." 3 But what this really means is "UFOs are some sort of unknown luminous natural phenomenon, and therefore don't need to be explained."

Unknown Natural Phenomena
* In 1968, Philip J. Klass wrote UFOs - Identified 4, and instantly became one of the most abused people in the ufological scene. His idea was "that UFOs are mysterious and exciting natural phenomena which might hold important lessons for science…phenomena in our atmosphere which have not yet been catalogued by science, let alone explained."5 He considered UFOs to be probably electrical in nature, related to (but not) ball lightning. Observers had been seeing genuine unidentified flying objects, but, for some reason, to suggest that UFOs might not be artificial was "explaining UFOs away", or "attacking UFOs as nonsense".

* These sentiments speak volumes. Why unknown natural phenomena should be 'nonsense' or need no further explanation is not stated. But airborne UFOs of any type are of little interest to many ufologists of the present age, obsessed as they are with conspiracies, crashed saucers, and abductions. The time has come to cut free of the aliens, the contactees and the psychic projections, and to return to the despised natural world in search of identification for some (possibly most) UFOs. This is not "explaining one unknown with another", although theories concerning ‘mind manipulation’ and 'psychic projections' do exactly this. In this case there is no explanation - yet. Some UFOs may be alien spaceships, and psychic projections may be possible, but here we are in search of an unknown work of nature.

Identified Flying Objects
* UFO evidence is testimonial, and its greatest problem is distinguishing the known from the unknown. 90% of UFO reports, if not more, turn out to be I(identified)FOs. A glance at most UFO books will reveal several meteors and sightings of the planet Venus, and high altitude balloons are a favourite subject for photography. Of 1,271 UFO reports studied by Allan Hendry,6 1,158 proved to be IFOs. It is not even unusual phenomena (meteors, parhelia, etc.) which are the most misinterpreted. The most popular IFOs at night are stars and planets. By day the IFOs are usually balloons or aircraft.

* What this does demonstrate is that UFOs are rare. If Hendry's 1,271 reports had occurred at a rate of one per year, then a 'genuine' UFO would have appeared once every 11 years.

* Another problem is what R.T. Gould called 'expectant attention'. Anything in the sky which the witness doesn't recognise becomes not only a UFO but a 'spaceship', and it is then observed on that presumption. Terror is therefore a frequent reaction. A man in his 40s said than his hair stood on end as he observed a UFO which turned out to be the moon, and some American police officers claimed they had "never seen anything like it all of our lives" while observing stars. (The stars were confirmed the next night when a UFO investigator accompanied the witnesses).

* ‘Expectant attention' was well demonstrated after S.A. Andrée made his attempt to fly to the North Pole by balloon in 1897. People in the Arctic regions were asked to keep a look out for the craft, and many reported seeing it. A 'balloon' was seen in Greenland, and a 'balloon with basket' in British Columbia, both in August. A Norwegian steamer, also in August, reported a 'big balloon' with 'drag ropes'. An object 'considered to have been Andrée's balloon' was seen in Siberia on September 14. On October 2, an engineer of Ustyug in Siberia observed a 'balloon' with an 'electric sheen' drifting over the town.
8 Whatever these objects were, they were not Andrée's balloon. That had landed on the ice 192 miles from Spitzbergen on July 14. There was even a 'close encounter' associated with Andrée. On September 8, 1898, Nature9 reported an Eskimo account of "strange men who descended from the clouds" on the shores of Hudson's Bay. Nature said, "It is hoped that the report has reference to Herr Andrée's safety."10

* The only solution to the IFO problem is to purge every report that might describe something familiar. IFOs can usually be identified, eventually. They do at least demonstrate that most witnesses, when reporting something in the sky, are actually seeing something in the sky – not hoaxing or hallucinating.

A giant plastic balloon lifting two men in an open gondola, 4 May 1961. At its maximum altitude, 21 miles, the balloon expanded
into a sphere.

* Identifying an UFO as a 'weather balloon' has become a cliché, but it is not often realised how deceptive balloons can be. Huge research balloons drifting in the stratosphere, made of transparent plastic and glittering fiercely in the sun, can travel thousands of miles and even circumnavigate the earth. They can speed along in jet streams (sometimes in directions opposite to ground winds) or hover for hours. Even when planes are sent up to investigate, they are unable to reach the balloon's altitude. On 7 January 1948, Captain Thomas Mantell, flying a P-51 Mustang fighter (without oxygen), died when he tried to reach a giant balloon drifting above Goodman Field, Kentucky. Wild stories continue to circulate about this incident, though there should have been no mystery. Two witnesses focused telescopes on the object, which was probably hovering at an altitude of about 60,000 feet, and “it was a balloon”.11

* There were a remarkable number of high altitude balloons about in the 1950s. Most were top secret at the time, as they were being used for photographic reconnaissance over the Soviet Union. In 1955 the U.S. Air Force began Project Genetrix, which involved the launching of 516 camera-carrying balloons from Western Europe. Their average altitude was 45,000 feet. The balloons' target was of course the Soviet Union, but they often went astray. In 1958 one of nine balloons launched from an aircraft carrier in the Bering Sea came down in central Poland.

* A popular sport in the 19th Century was the launching of model hot-air or fire balloons. The ones sent off at night often carried 'Bengal lights' as well as the candles which produced the hot air. They sometimes deceived unsuspecting astronomers, who thought they might be some kind of unusual meteor. One toy fire balloon launched at night in Edinburgh in 1839 even got itself into the pages of the Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science for 1853. It appeared as a yellow pear-shaped body which rose from the horizon and disappeared in a flurry of sparks. Fire balloons still fly today, but now they masquerade as spaceships rather than meteors.

* At about 8 p.m. on 9 July, 1967, people along the Kent coast were alarmed by the appearance of a slow-moving bright white light in the sky. “…traffic stopped, people stared and phones rang. At Folkestone a caller told police; ‘Quick, the Martians are here - and I’m not joking.’ Another man phoned the Folkestone coastguard and said: ‘Please tell my daughter it’s safe to go to bed.’ A helicopter sent up from Manston identified the object as a balloon at a height of 8,000 feet. 62

A disintegrating meteor fireball photographed by H.M. Walker from Bangor, North Wales, 25th April 1969.

* Meteors can vary from brief 'shooting stars' to huge fireballs as bright as the sun which can turn night into day. The latter are rare, but always cause excitement and alarm when they are seen. Meteors always appear high in the atmosphere, about 50 or 60 miles up, so they need a clear sky to be visible. Any fireball seen under a cloud, or in front of a cloud, is not a meteor. The flight speed of meteors varies, but they are always fast. They don't have to 'fall down' but can progress in a straight line from horizon to horizon. Occasionally, for reasons not quite understood, they move in an undulating path. Meteors usually leave a trail, which can sometimes linger for hours and become self-luminous, but they can also appear as globes or points of light. Often they explode, with the sound reaching the observer several minutes later. The parent meteorite sometimes disintegrates in the atmosphere, creating a formation of fireballs.

* Although many meteors have been mistaken for UFOs, there are occasions when the reverse has happened. There are numerous accounts of 'meteors' which behaved in a rather non-meteoric way. The 19th Century, which was the heyday of natural history observation, provides many of them. A 'meteor' seen in Scotland in 1833 was visible for over a minute. It moved very slowly, there was no tail or train, and the fireball did not burst.


ANOMALOUS LIGHTNING over Foggia, Italy, evening, c. 1944. A layer of altocumulus cloud at about 15,000 feet was “discharging rose-coloured, slow-moving lightning. No thunder heard.” Drawing by Timothy Herlihy.

Abortive Luminosities
* At the lowest end of the scale of mysterious luminous phenomena are what might be called abortive luminosities. These phenomena, despite being dubious and unspectacular, often terrify witnesses, who think, understandably, that they are witnessing some ghostly manifestation. The nature and even existence of abortive luminosities will probably forever remain doubtful, but they may be 'failed' or 'potential' fireballs, or fair-weather lightning balls of very low energy.

Abortive Luminosity Zoo

  1. Poole, Dorset, 1966. A 'fluorescent mist' drifted across a stable yard.
  2. Camberwell, 1961. A vague 'grey column of fluorescent light' was seen indoors. Anomalous fires also occurred.
  3. Richmond, Surrey. A 'pillar of white mist' about 5 feet high was seen indoors at night. It drifted towards a window, which burst open.
  4. Eastleigh, Hampshire. In absolute darkness, a 'luminous ball of grey light' drifted slowly round a bedroom ceiling.
  5. Elgin, Scotland. A 'thin column of light about six feet high' was seen for a few seconds on a country road after dark.

A lightning ball captured by a photographer recording storm lightning in 1933. Several persons saw the ball, which lasted about 10 seconds as it
sank slowly to the ground. Two minutes later another ball appeared, but the photographer had exhausted his film.

Ball Lightning

* Ball lightning, or kugelblitz, is an elemental mystery. No-one knows what it is, and its very existence has been denied. Ball lightning has been explained as a misperception of common lightning, or persistence of vision after a bright lightning flash. These ideas reveal a limited acquaintance with the phenomenon. Ball lightning is usually thought of as a small globe of light which appears during a thunderstorm, but it has much more variety than that.

* Ball lightning evidence is testimonial, but the nature of the phenomenon makes that unavoidable. There are quite a few photographs, (despite statements often seen that "ball lightning has never been photographed"), which are usually, and also unavoidably, inconclusive. But to ignore a natural phenomenon because it doesn't appear in a manner convenient for instrument readings seems to smack of 'don't speak to it and maybe it will go away'. Ball lightning has been reported since antiquity, and is not likely to go away.

* Ball lightning has the following characteristics.

Ball lightning is of course usually spherical, sometimes elongated or pear-shaped, with streamers of 'fire'. Occasionally more bizarre shapes are reported.
Almost always luminous, sometimes brilliant. There are one or two accounts of black or dark balls which seem to be made of 'smoke'. Sometimes the ball leaves a luminous trail. The body is sometimes sharp-edged, sometimes indistinct or 'enveloped in a luminous atmosphere'.
Ball lightning is usually small (5 to 7 inches), occasionally tiny. Much larger globes have also been described.
A survey by Neil Charman14 showed the following colours:
Ball lightning colours

Ball lightning sometimes moves in a seemingly random manner, at other times in straight or curved paths. Some balls seem to be 'inquisitive'. The globes are usually seen near ground level, sometimes inside buildings or aircraft, though they have also been seen hanging below clouds or moving from one cloud to another. It usually terminates in one of three ways:
1. Dissipation
2. Explosion, no damage
3. Explosion, damage
Ball lightning is sometimes accompanied by a crackling or hissing sound, with a 'pop', a 'bang' or a 'roar' on dissipation or explosion.
An observation of a lightning ball forming is very rare. They usually appear during thunderstorms, though reports of 'fair-weather ball lightning' are not infrequent. Tornadoes sometimes emit or are accompanied by ball lightning.
Ball lightning has made marks on the ground, melted holes in glass, and boiled water. It is often claimed that ball lightning is harmless, and it does frequently encounter persons or objects without damage. But there are also reports of destruction, injury or death caused by the explosion of, or contact with, a lightning ball.

Ball Lightning Zoo

  1. Norfolk. While driving during a thunderstorm, the witness saw a flash of lightning appear to strike the road verge. The strike produced a ball of red and yellow light which bounced twice, covering several car lengths of the road before exploding. 15
  2. Coille Bhragad, Argyllshire, Scotland. 1975 August 15. During a thunderstorm, a 'bulb' of lightning with a tail like 'crinkly white silk ribbon' about a yard long descended to within a few inches of the ground, hovered, and vanished. 16
  3. Gloucestershire, 1556 A 'fiery sulphureous globe' rolled through a house, killing 8 persons. 17
  4. Albany, New York. 1975 July 9. A factory was struck by lightning four times during a 3-second interval. During this time a very bright orange-yellow 'fireball' about 5m. (16 feet) wide was seen about 5m. away.18 )
  5. Kingsley, Cheshire. 1983 March 21. During a squall, a glowing white ball over a metre in diameter blasted its way through a steel-mesh reinforced window, rushed with a roar through a factory, and left by blowing a 3-metre hole through an asbestos wall.19
  6. Crail, Scotland. 1968 August. During a thunderstorm, a round shape trailing lines of light was seen just above the ground. The lines 'rolled up' to form a compact 20 cm diameter ball, revolving in the direction of motion.20
  7. Wells, Somerset. 1’596 December. A dark unproportioned thing' as big as a football entered a church by a window, moved along a wall and exploded, throwing people to the ground. A thunderstorm followed.21
  8. Norfolk, 1981. During a thunderstorm, a tennis-ball sized lightning ball hovered before a 10-year old boy in the hallway of his home. His feet and hands turned numb and he fell unconscious for several minutes.22
  9. Stone, Staffordshire, 1936. A brown globe like a 'large coconut' was seen during a thunderstorm about 6 feet above the ground. It exploded with terrific noise and a great flash of light.23
  10. Cornwall, 1947. During a thunderstorm, a 'misty coloured' ball came through trees. When it touched the trees, 'zigzag lightning' shot out. The trees appeared undamaged.24

Anomalous Fireballs
* This phenomenon forms the connecting link between ball lightning and airborne UFOs. At one end of its spectrum is 'fair-weather ball lightning', small luminous spheres which appear without a thunderstorm. The 'fireballs' then become larger, until they reach 'UFO' size, which seems to be, by an unspoken assumption established since 1947, anything large enough to be a spaceship. But there is no real division. Anomalous fireballs go smoothly up the size scale, from fair weather globes a few inches across to luminous bodies showing a large angular size as they vanish into clouds. The 19th century French astronomer Flammarion proposed the name of bradytes, or exceptionally slow meteors for these objects, but it did not find favour, and the phenomenon remained obscure. These days, of course, bradytes are all UFOs.

Anomalous Fireball Zoo

  1. Lancashire, June 1929. On a fine, dry day the doors of a slaughterhouse flew open, and a ball of orange fire moved through the building about 4 feet above the ground and made an exit through a small open door at the far end. 5 persons saw it.25
  2. France, July 4, 1898. The astronomer Lucien Libert saw a luminous golden-yellow spherical object 1/4th the apparent diameter of the moon appear low above the northern horizon. The object moved slowly across the sky and descended towards the WSW, finally vanishing 30° above the horizon. A 'fairly strong noise of explosion' was heard a few seconds after it disappeared. The object was visible for 12 minutes and 26 seconds.26
  3. Ontario, Canada. Summer 1960. Witnesses followed a luminous object in their car at night until they came within 100 yards of it. The object, spherical and brilliantly luminous, less than 3 feet in diameter, changed colour 'through the whole visible spectrum' as it circled a solitary tree. (It passed behind and before the tree). As the observers approached, the body instantly accelerated to a very high speed and disappeared over the southern horizon.27
  4. Rumania, 1963. A brilliant white sphere with orange spots passed apparently very low overhead. Towards the north it stood still, emitting red and white light alternately, during which a faint 'sizzle' was heard. The object then vanished suddenly.28
  5. Illinois, 1957. A large bright orange sphere close to the ground changed shape to a cigar, surrounded by 'a fogginess which seemed to emanate from the object itself'. Then the body rose rapidly, changed back to a sphere, and 'sucked up the fogginess around it'. After 10 or 15 minutes it rose to a great height and vanished from the bottom up, as if it were being filled with black ink. Car headlights dimmed just before the object became visible, but were unaffected while it was being observed.29
  6. Segeburg, summer 1883. Two fiery spheres about the size of the full moon travelled side by side, 'not very fast' on a N-S course.30
  7. USS Supply, North Atlantic Ocean, February 28, 1904. Three red objects, two round and the largest egg-shaped and about 3° across, hung below a cloud layer, then rose and disappeared.31

Airborne UFOs

* Airborne UFOs are "the conservative foundation of the phenomenon". In fact, it seems that before 1947, all UFOs were airborne. Some occasionally came close to the ground, but none 'landed'. Once cases of mistaken identity (meteors, stars, planets, optical phenomena, etc.) have been hopefully eliminated, the phenomena seem to have the following characteristics.

The shapes are usually simple discs, ellipses, or ovals. There are no wings, fins or engines. This is usually taken as evidence of advanced technology, but it could equally indicate the fact of no technology. In a sample of 180 UFOs, the following shapes appeared:
UFO shape

UFOs sometimes move in formations, occasionally very large ones. UFOs sometimes change shape. Sometimes they have a well-defined shape; others are reported to have blurred outlines, an aureole, or a mass of gaseous material surrounding them.

It is not surprising that artists usually depict UFOs as luminous. They usually are, sometimes intensely so. The sample of 180 UFOs breaks down as follows:
In daylight, a luminous object may appear 'shiny', especially if it is presumed metallic. (Observations of metal aeroplanes will show that they usually appear grey unless a surface reflects the sun). Over 70% of reports collected by the U.S. Air Force described luminous, glittering, shiny, mirror-like, flame-like or very bright objects. There were only 6 reports of black or dark objects. UFOs sometimes emit beams of light or leave 'vapour' or 'smoke' trails.

It is impossible to judge accurately the size (or altitude) of something in the sky unless you know what that object is. UFOs are usually considered to be large, sometimes very large. Some are large enough to show a distinct shape at high altitude (as when passing behind clouds).

UFOs which show colour are almost always luminous. Even a 'silver' colour (usually seen in daylight) may be a subdued luminosity.
A sample of 180 UFOs showed the following colours. (The total comes to more than 180 as UFOs which changed colour are included in more than one category).
UFO colours

575 UFOs studied by NICAP
32 broke down into colours as follows:

UFOs often move in a random or erratic manner, at other times in straight or curved paths. Sometimes they make right-angled turns or sudden sharp ascents, and travel at very high speeds. Some are motionless or make only very slow movements. They usually terminate in one of three ways:

  1. Over horizon
  2. Into thin air
  3. Into cloud
Occasionally they vanish with an explosion.

How UFOs appear is rarely noted. Usually they are just noticed, or emerge from behind a cloud. A few reports describe UFOs forming from nebulous 'clouds''. Rarely, large bodies known as cloud-cigars are seen producing secondary objects.

UFOs have been reported to make marks on the ground, to frighten animals, to stop car engines, to cause radio interference and to damage human skin.

  1. Romania, 1968. A light-red glowing disc, 'ringed in a mass of gaseous material' moved soundlessly, jerkily and at very high speed from south to north. It was visible for about 8 seconds. A short time later the object reappeared, moving in the opposite direction. After 4 or 5 seconds it made a 90° turn and disappeared.33
  2. Location N/S. An oval luminous yellowish-white object with 'fuzzy outlines' about 75 feet above the ground sent down a beam of light as a car approached it, apparently causing the car's engine to stop and all electrical components to malfunction. The light beam, well defined in contrast to the originating object's indistinctness, was then retracted like a ladder. The object then disappeared straight up at very high speed, changing colour to bright reddish-orange.34
  3. Location N/S. A vivid orange light hung stationary for about 5 minutes, then rose silently and moved away behind a mountain. Around the whole area where the object had been, a glow remained visible.35
  4. Vaugn, Montana. Two objects with glowing domes and revolving blue and white lights were observed at dusk for 5 minutes. A lightning bolt was seen underneath them at intervals.36
  5. Beuhlah, Michigan, 1961. A nocturnal object illuminated the landscape like a full moon. Inside the glow, there was another sort of light like a rotating beacon. Six other bodies were seen.37
  6. Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1976. An oval white object with an orange ring moved swiftly across a clear blue sky. Whitish streamers surrounded it and dissipated in mid-air.38
  7. Soda Springs, Idaho. 1 a.m., clear and cold. A luminous pale green oval rose from trees, hovered silently for 3 minutes, then drifted off with a whistling sound to the NW and was out of sight in 15 seconds.39
  8. France, 1957. A blindingly bright yellow hemisphere the size of the moon with green and purple filaments was seen for 45 minutes. It repeatedly vanished and reappeared.40
  9. Mongolia, 1926. An oval form with a shiny surface, one side 'brilliant from the sun' moved at great speed from N. to SW.41
  10. Switzerland, 1951. 4 pm. A flat disc of a blinding white colour, leaving a white smoke trail, moved jerkily about the sky for 15 minutes.42
  11. Rumania, 1968. 9.50 pm. A deep red disc with something like a 'star' following moved to the SE. The disc's colour changed to white, then it went out and reappeared much weaker, 'like a headlamp in fog'.43
  12. Denmark, 1952. A shiny disc with metallic appearance passed overhead and disappeared in clouds to the east.44
  13. New Mexico, 1947. A sharp-edged white ellipse hung among clouds, motionless but for 'wobbling'. The body then moved behind a cloud and reappeared. Against a dark cloudbank it was self-luminous. It was lost to sight in clouds after several minutes.45

Photograph taken by J.H. Hanssen from an aeroplane, near Morristown, New Jersey, 10 a.m., 9 or 10 July 1947. The objects were said to be at a height of 12,000 feet, and were described as ‘wraith-like’. (63, 64)

* Genuine UFOs are rare. Even rarer are observations of the phenomena which may produce UFOs, but they provide clues to the natural origin of these objects. Tornadoes sometimes emit ball lightning. Now and then, it seems that a phenomenon similar to a tornado may appear in clear air and emit anomalous fireballs or UFOs. Some ufologists liked to call these things 'mother ships' even though there usually seems to be nothing solid about them. The French ufologist Aimé Michel called them, more appropriately, cloud-cigars (le grand cigare des nuees). It appears that no one has ever filmed, or even photographed, a cloud-cigar, but if one could be caught in the act, it might go some way to providing the much-yearned for 'proof' of UFOs. If we are to believe the people who claim to have seem them, cloud-cigars sometimes provide an awe inspiring spectacle, but it seems to be the spectacle of a natural force rather than an alien mother ship.

Cloud-Cigar Zoo

  1. Germany, 1923. An object like a 'golden beer barrel' fell from a tornado funnel aloft, hit a telegraph pole, and exploded into lightning.46
  2. Rumania, 1927. Fine weather. A smoke-grey cylinder passed over a village at an estimated height of 200 feet. It made no sound.47
  3. Vence, France, 1877. Midnight. A large black thundery cloud, very agitated, rose and fell, and emitted 3 or 4 fireballs every two minutes from its upper part. They diverged in all directions, then burst silently.48
  4. Dover, Kent, 17 Dec. 1852, 5 pm. A 'remarkable cloud' over the sea emitted red flashes, and a red ball of light was seen in the cloud's centre. The object approached the shore, 'throwing off portions', and the 'nucleus' suddenly exploded. A mass fell into the sea, 'causing great spray'.49
  5. Stavanger, Norway, 1752. An earthquake. An octagonal luminosity in the sky emitted fireballs from its angles.50
  6. New York, 1964. 6.30 pm. A black 'spiral formation' of 'smoke' appeared, with wisps almost boiling out of the black cloud. Then the spiral changed from horizontal to vertical, and amid boiling smoke changed to a banana shape before sinking into the clouds. A horizontal pencil-shaped object appeared after a few minutes, emitted flashes of light, clouds of smoke, and finally divided into several smaller objects. Seen 45 minutes.51
  7. Vernon, France, 1954 August 22. Midnight. The town was suddenly illuminated by a huge vertical cigar estimated to have been 100m. long. Five red discs, each surrounded by a halo, dropped at intervals from the cigar and flew away. After 45 minutes the cigar lost brightness and faded away.52
  8. Border of North and South Dakota, 1958. In a cloudless sky, a 'silver cigar-shaped object, like a giant windsock', rushed out of view, leaving a trail of strange purple clouds.53
  9. South of Paris, 22 Sept. 1954. 8 pm. A stationary red 'cigar surrounded by clouds' emitted, one by one, more than 6 small disc-shaped objects which flew away from its lower end. Another witness described a red sphere emitting 'luminous smoke'.54
  10. Oloron, S. W. France, 17 October 1952. 12.50 pm. Clear sky. A fleecy cloud in the north had above it a long narrow whitish cylinder, tilted at 45°. Puffs of white smoke escaped from its top. Some distance ahead, about 30 'shapeless smoke balls' moved on the same course. All the bodies left long 'trails' which drifted to earth and festooned trees and rooftops. An almost exactly similar phenomenon occurred at Gaillac on October 27th.55
  11. Saint-Prouant, Vendee, France, 14 Sept. 1954. 5 pm. A 'luminous blue-violet mist' in the shape of a cigar emerged from a dark cloud layer and took up a vertical position. A tiny 'metallic disc', leaving a white trail, emerged from the bottom of the cigar and circled the parent body in an ascending and descending spiral. The disc then left the cigar and darted about before returning to it at great speed and disappearing like a shooting star into the lower part. The cigar then leaned over, began to move, and vanished into distant clouds. Hundreds of people are said to have seen this.56

Tornado Lights and Plasma Generators
* Cloud-cigars, as remarked above, have more than a passing resemblance to tornadoes. Tornadoes also descend from dark clouds, have a spiral motion, emit balls of light, and sometimes glow inside. A nocturnal tornado in Oklahoma in 1955 had a deep blue band of brilliant light around the upper part of the funnel. Encircling this were several small clouds lit by an inner glow. Another observer said that a dazzling light inside the funnel was rotating, like the beacon in a lighthouse.57 Compare this with UFO no. 5, which also had a light like a rotating beacon inside. Note also the black spiral, with 'boiling' (rotatory?) motion, of cloud-cigar no. 6.

* There are many accounts of tornadoes emitting or accompanied by fireballs, of tornadoes illuminated from within, and even a description of a tornado whose formation was preceded by a beam of light reaching to the ground.
58 Some meteorologists have suggested that tornadoes (or at least some of them) may be powered by a 'plasma generator' or 'ring current', in fact, something like an atmospheric electric motor. During a tornado in Texas in 1957, the 'plasma generator' may have been seen unshielded by a funnel. A motorist in a hailstorm heard intense static on his radio, then, a roaring sound prompted him to leave his car to see if there was a tornado. The hail increased to baseball size, and in the south he saw a ring-shaped light estimated to be 50 feet across. Lightning seemed to rise from the ground, corkscrew round to join the ring, then enter the clouds.59

* Most scientists would deny the existence of a 'plasma generator' and it is certain that many tornadoes can form without the assistance of such a thing. Nonetheless, something was glowing inside that 1955 tornado. It is possible that a tornado may create a plasma generator rather than vice versa, and that tornado lights may be just a side effect of the intense dust-laden vortex. An Arizona dust devil (a whirlwind which forms in fine weather) in 1902 is said to have emitted lightning when it became 'trapped' in a narrow canyon.

* It is not known if 'plasma generators' exist. If they do exist, it is not known how they are formed. If they can form, it is not known if they can form in clear air. But an intense plasma generator forming in clear air might generate a 'cloud-cigar', which in turn would expel 'UFOs', just as a tornado (or rather its plasma generator) emits ball lightning. Smaller plasma generators of low energy would still glow, and might appear structured, with rings, rotating beams, and attendant bodies.

These phenomena are still mysterious. Even if it is only a natural mystery, it demands solution. The solution may not lead to contact with alien intellects, or reveal new powers of the human mind, but the mystery remains. If the UFOs that remain after the mistakes, deceptions and lies have been swept away were proved to be unknown natural phenomena, they would at once become of little interest to most of the world. But they would still be a 'wonder of nature', and it seems likely that they will keep their secrets from the human race for a good while longer.

For more information on ball lightning and similar phenomena, you may like to visit my other site, (created by Peter van Doorn and myself) ‘Ball Lightning and Globular Light-Emitting Objects’:

please click here

  1. 2 Report on Planet Three, Arthur C. Clarke
    Man and the Stars, Duncan Lunan, Souvenir Press, 1974
    UFOS - Identified, Philip J. Klass, Random House, 1968
    5 Klass appears to have changed his mind about this after 1968, and later believed that all UFOs had 'prosaic' explanations.
    The UFO Handbook, Allan Hendry, Doubleday, 1979
    7 Hendry
    Unsolved Mysteries of the Arctic, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Collier Books, 1962
    Nature, 1506, 58, p.460, 1898
    10 Andrée's fate was unknown until 1930, when his remains were discovered on White Island, 250 miles east of Spitzbergen.
    The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, Edward J. Ruppelt, Gollancz, 1956
    Spyplane, Norman Polmar, MBI, 2001
    13 R. P. Greg, ‘Catalogue of Meteors & Fireballs from AD 2 to AD 1860’.
    Report of the British Association, 1860, p. 62.
    14 Neil Charman, 'Ball lightning photographed?'
    New Scientist, 26 February 1976
    15 Charman
    Journal of Meteorology, 1:10
    Journal of Meteorology, 1:10
    Weather, 4,31,1976
    Journal of Meteorology, 8:82
    Weather, 37:3
    21 Stow's
    Annals, Journal of Meteorology, 1:10
    Journal of Meteorology, 9:94
    23 Rev. F. J. Clayton,
    The Times, 1936
    Meteorological Magazine, 903:76, Sept. 1947
    25 Charman
    Challenge to Science - the UFO Enigma, Jacques & Janine Vallee, Tandem Books, 1974
    The UFO Experience, J. Allen Hynek,
    UFOs from behind the Iron Curtain, Ion Hobana & Julien Neverbergh, Souvenir Press, 1974
    The Hynek UFO Report, J. Allen Hynek, Sphere Books, 1978
    30 Vallee
    Remarkable Luminous Phenomena in Nature, William R. Corliss, Sourcebook Project, 2001
    32 National Investigation Committee on Aerial Phenomena (USA)
    33 Hobana & Neverbergh
    The Hynek UFO Report
    Messengers of Deception, Jacques Vallee, And/Or Press, 1979
    Messengers of Deception
    Messengers of Deception
    UFOs & the Limits of Science, Ronald D. Story, New English Library, 1981
    39 Hendry
    Challenge to Science - the UFO Enigma
    Shambhala: In search of the new era, Nicholas Roerich, Rochester, VE: Inner Traditions, 1990 (1930)
    Messengers of Deception
    43 Hobana & Neverbergh
    The Encyclopaedia of UFOs, Ronald D. Storey, ed. New English Library,1980
    UFOS - Identified
    Journal of Meteorology, 3:26
    47 Hobana & Neverbergh
    Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights & related luminous phenomena. William R. Corliss, Sourcebook Project, 1982
    49 ‘Observations of Luminous Meteors’,
    23rd Report of the B.A.A.S., 1853
    50 ‘3rd Report on the facts of Earthquake Phenomena’, Robert Mallet,
    B.A.A.S. Report, 1852
    Challenge to Science - the UFO Enigma
    The Evidence for UFOs. Hilary Evans
    Phenomena, John Michell & Robert J.M. Rickard, Thames & Hudson, 1977
    Challenge to Science - the UFO Enigma
    The Truth about Flying Saucers, Aimé Michel, Robert Hale, 1957
    Anatomy of a Phenomenon, Jacques & Janine Vallee, Tandem Books, 1974
    Handbook of Unusual Natural Phenomena, William R. Corliss, Sourcebook Project, 1977
    58 'Luminous Phenomena in Nocturnal Tornadoes', B. Vonnegut & J. R. Weyer,
    Science, vol. 153, Sept. 1966
    59 'Dehydration and Burning Produced by the Tornado', P. A. Silberg,
    Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, vol.23, March 1966
    Tornadoes, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation & related weather phenomena. William R. Corliss, Sourcebook Project, 1983
61 The Nature of Ball Lightning. Stanley Singer. Plenum Press, 1971
Daily Mirror, 10 July 1967
Flying Saucers on the Moon. H. T. Wilkins, Peter Owen Ltd., 1954
UFO Photographs Around the World, vol. 1. W. C. Stevens & A. C. Roberts. UFO Photo Archives, 1986