Comment: Although the Monroe picture no doubt attracted
a lot of
readers, it also had the tendency to make the UFO subject
seem somewhat frivolous.]
This is a scrupulously accurate eyewitness painting of
a mysterious green fireball rushing
through the night sky over New Mexico. It was done by
Mrs. Lincoln LaPaz, wife of an
authority on meteors. Both she and her husband have observed
the fireballs at first hand.
Comment: Although this claims to be "a scrupulously
accurate eyewitness painting" the picture is a bright
green whereas Dr. Lincoln LaPaz repeatedly stressed that
one of the key unusual features of the fireballs was that
they were bright YELLOW-green, NOT bright green. Did LIFE
incorrectly calibrate the color on its reproduction of
the painting, which seems unlikely given LIFE's world-renowned
expertise in photography, or was Mrs. LaPaz strangely
in error in her painting despite the on-site input of
her husband? The traffic-signal green color in this drawing
is probably altered from the actual pale yellow-green
of the real green fireballs in order to catch copycats
falsely claiming to have seen the fireballs.]
WE VISITORS FROM SPACE?
Air Force is now ready to concede that many saucer and
fireball sightings still defy explanation;
here LIFE offers some scientific evidence that there is
a real case for interplanetary saucers.
Magazine, April 7, 1952
by H. B. Darrach Jr. and Robert Ginna
four years, the U.S. public has wondered, worried or smirked
over the strange and insistent tales of eerie objects
streaking across American skies. Generally, the tales
have provoked only chills or titters, only rarely, reflection
week, the U.S. Air Force made known to LIFE the following
As a result of continuing flying saucer reports
the Air Force maintains constant intelligence investigation
and study of unidentified aerial objects.
A policy of positive action has been adopted to find out,
as soon as possible, what is responsible for observations
that have been made. As a part of this study, military
aircraft are alerted to attempt interception, and radar
and photographic equipment will be used in an attempt
to obtain factual data. If opportunity offers, attempts
will be made to recover such unidentified objects.
Comment: These new efforts at instrumented investigation
of UFO's, note even the phrase "unidentified objects,"
stem from the initiative of the deputy to Maj. Gen. John
A. Samford, the Director of AF Intelligence, beginning
in January 1952. The deputy, Brig. Gen. William M. Garland,
was Samford's Assistant for Intelligence Production. Both
had received a series of briefings on UFO's from AF staff.]
Already all operational units of the Air Force
have been alerted to report in detail any sightings of
unidentified aerial objects. Other groups -- scientists,
private and commercial pilots, weather observers -- all
trained observers whose work in any way concerns the sky,
and what happens in it, are urged to make immediate reports
to Air Technical Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson
AFB, Dayton, Ohio of any unidentified aerial objects they
Further, for the first time since Project "Saucer"
was changed from a special-type project to a standard
intelligence function, in December 1949, the Air Force
invites all citizens to report their sightings to the
nearest Air Force installation. All reports will be given
expert consideration and those of special interest will
be thoroughly investigated. The identity of those making
such reports will be kept in confidence; no one will be
ridiculed for making one.
Comment: This was the critical phrase in the entire article,
the AF for the first time "invites all citizens to
report their sightings to the nearest Air Force installation."
This was part of the plan approved by Gen. Garland to
give civilian and anecdotal cases one more chance to prove
they had any intelligence value at all, at a time when
AF Intelligence under Garland's leadership was in the
process of downgrading or rejecting all anecdotal reports
on any intelligence subject, Soviet aircraft, missiles,
radars, UFO's, etc. Air Technical Intelligence Center
(ATIC) UFO Project Grudge chief Lt. Edward J. Ruppelt
had told Garland that if they could only get enough civilian
reports from a given area they could get triangulations
of UFO size, altitude and speed, and if they announced
interest in public reports this "publicity plan"
might yield scientific data. But when the UFO wave of
July 1952 struck, this "invitation" by the AF
was blamed for the avalanche of UFO reports. Then ATIC
at Wright-Patterson AFB tried to deny they had ever sponsored
or approved any such "publicity plan."]
There is no reason as yet to believe that any of
the aerial phenomena commonly described as flying saucers
are caused by a foreign power or constitute a clear and
present danger to the U.S. or its citizens.
Comment: This seems to suggest the AF was discounting
at present the ET possibility but then a few paragraphs
later the ET explanation is all but asserted, perhaps
as LIFE's own interpretation.]
disclosures, sharply amending past Air Force policy, climaxed
a review by LIFE, with Air Force officials, of all facts
known in the case. This review has resulted from more
than a year of sifting and weighing all reports of unexplained
aerial phenomena -- from the so-called flying saucers
to the mysterious green fireballs so often sighted in
the Southwest. This inquiry has included scrutiny of hundreds
of reported sightings, interviews with eyewitnesses across
the country and careful reviews of the facts with some
of the world's ablest physicists, astronomers, and experts
on guided missiles. For the first time the Air Force (while
in no way identifying itself with any particular conclusions)
has opened its files for study.
of this exhaustive inquiry, these propositions seem firmly
shaped by the evidence:
1. Disks, cylinders and similar objects of geometrical
form, luminous quality and solid nature for several years
have been, and may be now, actually present in the atmosphere
of the earth.
2. Globes of green fire also, of a brightness more intense
than the full moon's, have frequently passed through the
3. These objects cannot be explained by present science
as natural phenomena -- but solely as artificial devices,
created and operated by a high intelligence.
4. Finally, no power plant known or projected on earth
could account for the performance of these devices.
Comment: Points 3 qand 4 all but assert the ET origin
of UFO's, but apparently represent LIFE or its staff writers'
own conclusions, perhaps unofficially encouraged by the
us first review some widely known facts.
shapes and inscrutable portents of the flying disks first
broke upon the skies of the world in the early months
of 1947, with several sightings reported to the Air Force.
The story first reached the nation on June 24, 1947, when
a private pilot named Kenneth Arnold was flying from Chehalis
to Yakima, Wash. Some 25 miles away, Arnold saw nine "saucer
like things ... flying like geese in a diagonal chainlike
line," approaching Mount Rainier. They swerved in
and out of the high peaks at a speed Arnold estimated
to be 1,200 mph.
told the whole story to his hometown newspaper, and like
summer lightning it flashed across the country. Within
a month, saucers had been reported by people in 40 states.
For the public (as LIFE itself merrily reported in its
issue of July 21, 1947) he saucers provided the biggest
game of hey-diddle-diddle in history. Any man, woman,
or child with talent enough to see spots before his eyes
could get his name in the newspaper.
in serious moments most people were a little worried by
all the "chromium hubcaps," "flying washtubs"
and "whirling doughnuts" in the sky. Buried
in the heap of hysterical reports were some sobering cases.
One was the calamity that befell Air Force Captain Thomas
F. Mantell on Jan. 7, 1948. That afternoon Mantell and
two other F-51 fighter pilots sighted an object that looked
like "an ice-cream cone topped with red" over
Godman Air Force Base and Fort Knox, Ky. Mantell followed
the strange object up to 20,000 feet and disappeared.
Later in the day his body was found in a nearby field,
the wreckage of his plane scattered for a half mile around.
It now seems possible that Mantell was one of the very
few sighters who actually were deceived by a Skyhook balloon,
but the incident is still listed as unsolved by the Air
was no such easy explanation for the strange phenomenon
observed at 2:45 a.m. on July 24, 1948 by two Eastern
Air Lines pilots. Captain Clarence S. Chiles and Copilot
John B. Whitted were flying in bright moonlight near Montgomery,
Ala. when they suddenly saw "a bright glow"
and a "long rocket like ship" veer past them.
They subsequently agreed that it was a "wingless
aircraft, 100 feet long, cigar-shaped and about twice
the diameter of a B-29, with no protruding surfaces, and
two rows of windows ... From the sides of the craft came
an intense, fairly dark blue glow ... like a fluorescent
factory light." They said the weird craft "pulled
up with tremendous burst of flame from the rear and zoomed
into the clouds at about 800 miles an hour," rocking
their DC-3 with its "prop or jet wash."
as inexplicable was the experience of Lieut. George Gorman
of the North Dakota Air National Guard. On Oct. 1, 1948
Gorman was coming in at dusk to land his F-51 at Fargo,
when he saw an intense, bright light pass 1,000 yards
away. Curious, Gorman followed the light and saw that
it seemed to be attached to nothing. For 27 hair-raising
minutes Gorman pursued the light through a series of intricate
maneuvers. He said it was about 6 inches in diameter and
going faster than his F-51 (300-400 mph). It made no sound
and left no exhaust trail. After Gorman landed, the light
having suddenly flashed away in the upper air, he found
support for his story -- the chief of the control tower
had followed the fantastic "combat" with binoculars.
occurrences, jarring though they must have been to the
participants, left the official calm of the Air Force
unruffled. The project set up to investigate the saucers
("Project Sign," known to the press as "Project
Saucer") seemed to have been fashioned more as a
sedative to public controversy than as a serious inquiry
into the facts. On Dec. 27, 1949, after two years of operation,
Project Saucer wrote off all reports of unidentified aerial
phenomena as hoaxes, hallucinations or misinterpretations
of familiar objects -- that is, all but 34. These stubborn
34, seemingly unexplainable, were briskly dismissed as
these assurances appeased most of the press and pacified
the public, some elements in the Air Force just about
this time began to worry a bit more seriously. Saucer
reports continued to come in a rate of about one a day
and were handled under the code name of "Project
Grudge." Officers at policy level began to show concern.
"The higher you go in the Air Force," conceded
one Intelligence officer, "the more seriously they
take the flying saucers."
was good reason to be serious. As review of all records
has shown, these years have produced literally dozens
of incidents defying simple explanation -- and provoking
the most incredible questions.
and rechecked, 10 cases out of the formidable list on
record are here presented in essential detail. Of these,
three were discovered in the course of LIFE's own investigation
and are reported for the first time.
The Lubbock Lights, flying in formation, are considered
by the Air Force the most unexplainable phenomena
yet observed. These photographs (only one shown above)
were made at Lubbock, Texas, on August 30th,
1951 by Carl Hart, Jr. Scientists say lights were not
natural objects, but they traveled too fast and too
soundless for known machines.
9:10 p.m. on Aug. 25, 1951, Dr. W. I. Robinson, professor
of geology at the Texas technological College, stood in
the back yard of his home in Lubbock, Texas and chatted
with two colleagues. The other men were Dr. A. G. Oberg,
a professor of chemical engineering, and Professor W.
L. Ducker, head of the department of petroleum engineering.
The night was clear and dark. Suddenly all three men saw
a number of lights race noiselessly across the sky, from
horizon to horizon, in a few seconds. They gave the impression
of about 30 luminous beads, arranged in a crescent shape.
A few moments later another similar formation flashed
across the night. This time the scientists were able to
judge hat the lights moved through 30 degrees of arc in
a second. A check the next day with the Air Force showed
that no planes had been over the area at the time. This
was but the beginning: Professor Ducker observed 12 flights
of the luminous objects between August and November of
last year. Some of his colleagues observed as many as
10. Hundreds of nonscientific observers in a wide vicinity
around Lubbock have seen as many as three flights of the
mysterious crescents in one night. On the night of Aug.
30 an attempt to photograph the lights was made by 18-year
old Carl Hart Jr. He used a Kodak 35-mm camera at f 3.5,
1/10 of a second. Working rapidly, Hart managed to get
five exposures of the flights. The pictures exhibited
by Hart as the result of this effort show 18 to 20 luminous
objects, more intense than the planet Venus, arranged
in one or a pair of crescents. In several photographs,
off to one side of the main flight, a larger luminosity
is visible -- like a mother craft hovering near its aerial
Carl Hart, 18-year-old student, photographed the Lubbock
Lights with Kodak 35.
Professors at Texas Tech who saw Lubbock Lights (left
to right), Dr. Oberg, Prof. Ducker,
and Dr. Robinson, discuss them with Dr. E. L. George.
observations have been too numerous and too similar to
be doubted. In addition, the Air Force, after the closest
examination, has found nothing fraudulent about Hart's
pictures. The lights are much too bright to be reflections,
and therefore bodies containing sources of light. Since
Professors Ducker, Oberg, and Robinson could not measure
the size and distance of the formations, they could form
no precise estimate of their speed. However they calculated
that if the lights were flying at an altitude of 5,000
feet they must then have been traveling about 1,800 mph.
The professors, along with other scientists, agree that
in order to explain the silence of the objects, it must
be assumed that they were at 50,000 feet in the air; in
which case they were going not 1,800 but 18,000 mph. [Note:
See follow-up letter from professors at end questioning
authenticity of Hart's photos.]
July 10, 1947 at 4:47 p.m., one of the U.S.'s top astronomers
was driving from Clovis to Clines Corners, N. Mex. [Note:
Later revealed to be Dr. Lincoln La Paz -- see Incident
10, green fireballs, which La Paz investigated.] His wife
and his teen-aged daughters were also in the car. (For
professional reasons he has asked LIFE to withhold identity.)
It was a bright sunny day, but the whole western half
of the sky was a "confused cloud sea." All at
once, as the car headed toward these clouds, "all
four of us almost simultaneously became aware of a curious
bright object almost motionless" among the clouds.
Instantly, from long habit in dealing with celestial phenomena,
he began to make calculations. with what crude materials
he had at hand. He held a pencil at arm's length, measured
the size of the object against the windshield of the car,
measured the distance between his eyes and the windshield,
etc. His wife and two daughters did the same, each making
independent calculations. The object, says the scientist,
"showed a sharp and firm regular outline, namely
one of a smooth elliptical character much harder and sharper
than the edges of the cloudlets... The hue of the luminous
object was somewhat less white than the light of Jupiter
in a dark sky, not aluminum or silver-colored.... The
object clearly exhibited a sort of wobbling motion ...
This wobbling motion served to set off the object as a
rigid, if not solid body." After 30 seconds in plain
view, the ellipsoid moved slowly behind a cloud (273 degrees
azimuth, elevation 1 degree) "and we thought we had
lost it." But approximately five seconds later it
reappeared (275 degrees azimuth, elevation 2 degrees).
"This remarkably sudden ascent thoroughly convinced
me that we were dealing with an absolutely novel airborne
device." After reappearing, the object moved slowly
from south to north across the clouds. "As seen projected
against these dark clouds, the object gave the strongest
impression of self-luminosity." About two and a half
minutes after it first came into view, the thing disappeared
finally behind a cloudbank.
astronomer vouches for the approximate accuracy of his
observations and computations. He determined that the
object was not less than 20 nor more than 30 miles from
his viewing point; that it was ellipsoidal and rigid;
that it was 160 feet long and 65 feet thick, if seen at
minimum distance; or 245 feet long and 100 feet thick
if at maximum; and that its horizontal speed ranged between
120 and 180 mph and its vertical rise between 600 and
900 mph. He also observed that the object moved with a
wobble, no sounds, and left no exhaust or vapor trail.
His wife and daughters support his observations, and their
computations were in accordance with his own, though slightly
less conservative. The object's appearance and behavior
answer no known optical or celestial phenomenon. No known
or projected aircraft, rocket or guided missile can make
such a rapid vertical ascent without leaving an exhaust
or vapor trail.
April 24,1949 at 10:20 a.m., a group of five technicians
under the general supervision of J. Gordon Vaeth, an aeronautical
engineer employed by the Office of Naval Research, were
preparing to launch a Skyhook balloon near Arrey, N. Mex.
A small balloon was sent up first to check the weather.
Charles B. Moore Jr., an aerologist of General Mills Inc.
(pioneers in cosmic ray research) was tracking the weather
balloon through a theodolite -- a 25-power telescopic
instrument, which gives degrees of azimuth and elevation
(horizontal and vertical position) for any object it is
sighted on. At 10:30 a.m. Moore leaned back from the theodolite
to glance at the balloon with his naked eye. Suddenly
he saw a whitish elliptical object, apparently much higher
than the balloon, and moving, in the opposite direction.
At once he picked the object up in his theodolite at 45
degrees of elevation and 210 degrees of azimuth, and tracked
it east at the phenomenal rate of 5 degrees of azimuth-change
per second as it dropped swiftly to an elevation of 25
degrees. The object appeared to be an ellipsoid roughly
two and a half times as long as it was wide. Suddenly
it swung abruptly upward and rushed out of sight in a
few seconds. Moore had tracked it for about 60 seconds
altogether. The other members of his crew confirmed his
report. No sound was heard, no vapor trail was seen. The
object, according to rough estimations by Moore and his
colleagues, was about 56 miles above the earth, 100 feet
long and was traveling at seven miles per second.
known optical or atmospheric phenomenon fits the facts.
A natural object traveling at seven miles per second has
never been seen to make a sudden upward turn. There is
no known or projected source of silent, vaporless power
for such a machine. No human being could have borne the
tremendous "G" load brought to bear on the craft
during its abrupt vertical veer.
night in the summer of 1948 Clyde W. Tombaugh, the discoverer
of the planet Pluto, was sitting in the back yard of his
home at Las, Cruces, N. Mex. With him were his wife and
his mother-in-law. It was about 11 p.m. and they were
all sitting quietly, admiring the clarity of the southwestern
sky, like any proper astronomical family. All at once
they all saw something rush silently overhead, south to
north, too fast for a plane, too slow for a meteor. It
seemed to be quite low. All three of the witnesses agreed
that the object was definitely a solid "ship"
of a kind they had never seen before. It was of an oval
shape and "seemed to trail off at the rear into a
shapeless luminescence." There was a bluegreen glow
about the whole thing. About half a dozen "windows"
were clearly visible at the front of the ship and along
the side. They glowed with the same blue-green color as
the rest of the ship, only the glare was brighter, and
had a touch of yellow in it.
object bore a resemblance to the craft seen by Pilots
Chiles and Whitted. It bore resemblance to no aircraft
known to be in operation on earth.
this case LIFE's informant is an Air Force officer who
holds a top military post at a key atomic base. Since
his assignment and whereabouts must be kept a secret he
has asked LIFE to withhold his name. He has the highest
security rating given. Before he took his present assignment,
this officer was in command of the radar equipment that
keeps watch over a certain atomic installation. One day
in the fall of 1949, while watching a radarscope that
covered an area of sky 300 miles wide and 100,000 feet
deep, he was startled to detect five apparently metallic
objects flying south at tremendous speed and great height.
They crossed the 300-mile scope, in less than four minutes.
The objects flew the whole time in formation.
is no dead-certain explanation of this phenomenon -- radar
is as full of tricks as an old-maid's imagination. However,
the officer involved is an experienced observer, well
aware of the eccentricities of the instrument. He believes
that in this instance he made a legitimate radar contact.
If so, it can be said that the only natural objects known
to travel at such a speed are meteors, but meteors do
not fly in formation. If the officer picked up machines,
they were performing in a manner that rocket experts agree
is still beyond the capabilities of earth's most advanced
"Civilian Saucer Investigations" was organized
by Sighter Ed J. Sullivan (standing), who urges other
write to P.O. Box 1971, Main Post Office, Los Angeles.
CSI includes Dr. Walter Riedel (behind Sullivan), who
was chief designer at great German rocket laboratory at
May 29, 1951 at 3:48 p.m., three technical writers for
the aerophysics department of North American Aviation's
plant at Downey, outside Los Angeles, were chatting on
the factory grounds. They were Victor Black, Werner Eichler
and Ed J. Sullivan. All at once they stared at the sky.
Sullivan describes what they saw: "Approximately
30 glowing, meteor like objects sprayed out of the east
at a point about 45 degrees above the horizon, executed
a right-angle turn and swept across the sky in an undulating
vertical formation ... that resembled a tuning fork on
edge. It took each of them about 25 seconds to cross 9O
degrees of the horizon before performing another right-angle
turn westward toward downtown Los Angeles.... We estimated
their diameter at 30 feet and their speed to be 1,700
mph. Each appeared as an intense electric blue light,
round and without length. They moved with the motion of
flat stones skipping across a smooth pond."
known natural or optical phenomenon, makes the peculiar
light, in bright day, attributed to these objects by Sullivan
and his colleagues; nor can any natural object, hurtling
at such a speed, execute a right angle turn. As in the
Moore theodolite sighting, the execution of such a turn
would have crushed any human crew under the impact of
"G" forces. Finally, of course, no known machine
travels at 1,700 mph without making a sound or leaving
an exhaust or vapor trail.
Jan. 20, 1951, at 8:30 p.m., Captain Lawrence W. Vinther
of Mid-Continent Airlines was ordered by the control tower
at the Sioux City airport, to investigate a "very
bright light" above the field. He took off in his
DC-3 with his copilot, James F. Bachmeier, and followed
the light. All at once the light dived at the DC-3 almost
head on; it passed silently and at great speed about 200
feet above its nose. Both pilots wrenched their heads
back to see where it had gone, only to discover that the
thing had somehow reversed direction in a split second
and was now flying parallel to the airliner heading in
the same direction. It was a clear moonlight night and
both men got a good look at the object. It was as big
or bigger than a B-29, had a cigar-shaped fuselage and
a glider type wing, set well forward, without sweepback
and without engine nacelles or jet pods. There was not
exhaust glow. The white light appeared to be recessed
in the bottom of the plane. After a few seconds the object
lost altitude, passed under the DC-3 and disappeared.
A civilian employee of Air Intelligence was a passenger
on the flight, saw the object and confirms the description
by the pilots.
conditions for observation were excellent. One fact alone
-- the astonishing reversal of direction performed by
the object -- suffices to classify it as a device far
beyond the known capacities of aeronautical science. Although
its shape is different, the soundlessness of the object
and the absence of observable means of propulsion relate
it to the saucer class of phenomena.
6:45 a.m., just before sunup on Feb. 18, 1952, a photographer
named C. E. Redman was driving through Albuquerque, N.
Mex. on his way to photograph a wedding. Stopped for a
traffic light, he noticed two bright things in the sky.
"They were hovering above Tijeras Canyon.... The
one to the north was on its edge. The other was lying
horizontally. They were bright, bluish white.... It was
probably the most astonishing thing I've ever seen. Those
things were soundless. They were not jets or vapor trails.
I've seen hundreds of jets and vapor trails." Redman
was questioned later the same day by a LIFE reporter and
a prominent scientist, working together. From his testimony,
and from the lay of the land, it was estimated that the
disks were 20 miles away and four miles in the air, and
that they had a diameter of about 136 feet. Another witness
saw the same objects Redman saw, and at the same time,
but from the other side of town. W. S. Morris, a retired
master sergeant of the Air Force who is now a news dealer
in Albuquerque, was out to drop off his morning papers
when he saw two strange objects over Tijeras Canyon. "I
watched them for 12 minutes. They were a blinding silver,
long and thin, gleaming all over. They hovered, one kind
of above the other to the right. They seemed brighter
than the sun, which wasn't yet over the Sandia mountains.
It just touched their bottoms and they glowed red. They
didn't flutter or move. They just hung there. It must
have been 20 miles away. Then they just suddenly dropped
down behind the mountain, and the upper one tilted so
that I could see its profile. It looked like a bell pepper-with
a bump on top, that is."
AFB acknowledged that there were no aircraft in that area
at that time. The observations reinforce each other and
point to several striking facts. First, one disk proved
itself three dimensional when it tilted, to descend. Second,
the suddenness of the disk's descent indicates that the
bodies contained a source of power. Third, the power that
can suspend a three-dimensional body, of the size Morris
describes and in the position he indicates, without turning
a blade or roaring a jet, is unknown.
How discs looked in relation to each other is shown by
C.E. Redman of Albuquerque.
Jan. 29, 1952, just before midnight, a B-29 was on solo
mission over Wonsan, Korea. It was flying at a speed somewhat
less than 200 miles an hour, at an altitude somewhat above
20,000 feet. Simultaneously the tail gunner and the fire-control
man in the waist saw a bright round orange object in the
sky near the plane. Both said it was about three feet
in diameter, flew with a revolving motion on a course
parallel to theirs, and wore a halo of bluish flame. It
also appeared to pulsate. The object followed the B-29
for about five minutes, then pulled ahead and shot away
at a sharp angle. On the same night a similar globe was
seen by the tail gunner and waist man of another B-29,
80 miles away over Sunchon, but flying at about the same
height. The globe followed the plane for about a minute,
in the Air Force believe the fireballs were not natural
phenomena but propelled objects. They bear some similarity
to the balls of fire called "fireball fighters"
or "foo fighters" -- which flew wing on Allied
aircraft over Germany and Japan during 1944-45 and which
have never been satisfactorily explained. In the Korean
incidents, the fireballs seem -- on the evidence of their
sharp acceleration, their blue light and their abrupt,
angular swerve -- to resemble the saucers described earlier.
The same disks sighted by Redman were seen by W.S. Morris,
ex-Air Force master sergeant.
the night of Nov. 2, 1951 a ball of kelly-green fire,
larger than the moon, and blazing several times more brightly,
flashed eastward across the skies of Arizona. It raced,
straight as a bullet, parallel to the ground, and then
exploded in a frightful paroxysm of light --- without
making a sound. At least 165 people saw the incredible
thing; hundreds more witnessed the similar flight of countless
other fireballs that since December 1948 have bathed the
hills of the Southwest in their lunar glare. In the last
year they have been seen as far afield as Pennsylvania,
Maryland and Puerto Rico. The chief Air Intelligence officer
for the Albuquerque district saw one. Colonel Joseph D.
Caldara, USAF, attached to the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
saw one in Virginia. Hundreds of pilots, weather observers
and atomic scientists have sighted them. Reports came
so thick and fast during 1948 that in 1949 the Air Force
established "Project Twinkle" to investigate
them. Project Twinkle established a triple phototheodolite
post at Vaughn, N. Mex. to obtain scientific data on the
fireballs. Day and night, week in, week out, for three
months, a crew kept vigil. Ironically, while fireballs
continued flashing everywhere else in the Southwest, they
saw nothing until the project was transferred to the Holloman
Air Force Base at Alamogordo, N. Mex. There, during another
three-month siege, they saw a few but were unable to make
satisfactory computations because of the fireballs' great-speed.
Search parties have had no better luck. They have combed
in vain the countryside beneath the point of disappearance;
not a trace of telltale substance has been found on the
popular Southwest belief that a strange meteor shower
was underway has been blasted by Dr. Lincoln La Paz, mathematician,
astronomer and director of the Institute of Meteoritics
at the University of New Mexico. He points out that normal
fireballs do not appear green, they fall in the trajectory
forced on them by gravity, are generally noisy as a freight
train, and leave meteorites where they hit. The green
New Mexican species does none of these things. Neither
do the green fireballs appear to be electrostatic phenomena
-- they move too regularly and too fast.
the fireballs are the product of a U.S. weapons project,
as some Southwesterners believe, it is a very secret one
indeed: the Atomic Energy Commission and every other government
agency connected with weapons development has denied to
LIFE any responsibility for the fireballs.
they be self-destroying Russian reconnaissance devices?
Not likely. While the U.S. believes the Russians have
an intercontinental guided missile, there is no intelligence
that indicates they have developed silent power plants
or objects capable of moving nearly as fast as meteors
(12 miles a second). Yet -- for whatever it may be worth
-- the only reports of green fireballs prior to 1948 came
from the Baltic area.
the fireballs do not respond to gravity, they could only
be explained as lighter-than-air craft or electrical phenomena
-- but they have characteristics which rule these out.
Therefore they must be propelled. If propelled and not
natural phenomena, they must be artificial. The extreme
greenness of the fireballs has impressed most witnesses.
When asked to indicate the approximate color on a spectrum
chart, most of them have touched the band at 5,200 angstroms,
close to the green of burning copper. Copper is almost
never found in meteorites; the friction of the air oxidizes
it shortly after the meteor enters the upper atmosphere.
However, a curious fact has been recorded by aerologists.
Concentrations of copper particles are now present in
the air of Arizona and New Mexico, particularly in "fireball
areas." These were not encountered in air samples
made before 1948.
THEY ARE NOT -- AND WHAT THEY MAY BE
are the flying saucers, the luminous fuselages, the foo
fighters and the green fireballs? The answer -- if any
answer at this time is possible -- lies in the field of
logic rather than of evidence. What the things are may
be adduced partially by reviewing what they are not.
ARE NOT PSYCHOLOGICAL PHENOMENA. Although the Air
Force cheerily wrote off its 34 unexplained incidents
with this pat theory, the explanation does not hold up.
There is no evidence, beyond textbook speculation, for
such a supposition, and there is the direct evidence already
cited against it. To doubt the observers in the foregoing
cases is to doubt the ability of every human being to
know a hawk from a handsaw.
ARE NOT THE PRODUCT OF U.S. RESEARCH. LIFE investigated
this possibility to exhaustion. Not fully satisfied by
the public denials of President Truman, Secretary Johnson
and others, the investigators put the question directly
to Gordon Dean, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.
He said: "There's nothing in our shop that could
account for these things, and there's nothing going on
that I know of that could explain them." Still unconvinced,
LIFE checked the whereabouts and present business of every
scientist who might have anything to do with the development
of super aircraft. All were accounted for in other ways.
Careful feelers through the business and labor world encountered
no submerged projects of the immensity necessary to build
a fleet of flying disks. And there is still the conclusive
fact: U.S. science has at its command no source of power
that could put a flying machine through such paces as
the saucers perform.
ARE NOT A RUSSIAN DEVELOPMENT. It is inconceivable
that the Russians would risk the loss of such a precious
military weapon by flying a saucer over enemy territory.
No man-made machine is foolproof; sooner or later one
would crash in the U.S. and the secret would be out. Nor
is there any reason to believe that Russian science, even
with German help, has moved beyond not only the practical
but the THEORETICAL horizons of U.S. research.
ARE NOT DISTORTIONS OF THE ATMOSPHERE RESULTING FROM ATOMIC
ACTIVITY. To quote the answer David Lilienthal, former
AEC commissioner, once made to that suggestion: "I
can't prevent anyone from saying foolish things."
Nor are they aberrations of the northern lights. Magnetic
disturbances cannot account for them and neither can a
notion (recently fathered by Dr. Urner Liddel, the Navy
physicist) that they are "vertical mirages"
-- reflections from a vertical (instead of a horizontal)
layer of heated air.
ARE NOT SKYHOOK BALLOONS. This was the, original Liddel
explanation, and in a few instances it may have been correct.
But not many. They could scarcely be "fireflies in
the cockpit," as one Air Force colonel suggested,
since most of the observers were not in a cockpit when
they saw their saucers. And it is hard to believe that
saucers could be the reflections of automobile headlights
on clouds, when they are seen in daylight under cloudless
skies. These being the dead-end alleys of negative evidence,
is there hope of an explanation on the open avenues of
scientific theory? The answer is yes.
rank of science has taken the saucers far more seriously
than the file of laymen and, after five years of close
watch on all reports, a number of scientists were ready
with some conclusions. One of these was Dr. Walther Riedel,
once chief designer and research director at the German
rocket center in Peenemunde, now engaged on secret work
for the U.S. Dr. Riedel has never seen a saucer himself,
but for several years he has kept records of saucer sightings
all over the world. He told LIFE: "I am completely
convinced that they have an out-of-world basis."
Riedel has four points to his argument: "First, the
skin temperatures of structures operating under the observed
conditions would make it impossible for any terrestrial
structure to survive. The skin friction of the missile
at those speeds at those altitudes would melt any metals
or nonmetals available.
consider the high acceleration at which they fly and maneuver
... In some descriptions the beast spirals straight up.
If you think of the fact that the centrifugal force in
a few minutes of such a maneuver would press the crew
against the outside, and do likewise to the blood, you
see what I mean.
There are many occurrences where they have done things
that only a pilot could perform but that no human pilot
in most of the reports there is a lack of visible jet.
Most observers report units without visible flame ...
and no trail. If it would be any known type of jet, rocket,
piston engine, or chain-reaction motor, there would be
a very clear trail at high altitude. It is from no power
unit we know of ..."
Riedel's arguments are reinforced by those of Dr. Maurice
A. Biot, one of the leading aerodynamicists in the U.S.
and a prominent mathematical physicist. From an aerodynamical
viewpoint, says Dr. Biot, the saucer shape makes very
little sense if the machine is to travel in the atmosphere.
A disk has a high drag and is a poor airfoil unless stabilized;
when whirled at high speed through the air, it "wobbles"
distressingly -- a movement observed in several of the
saucers sighted. However, for space travel, where there
is no atmosphere to oppose, the disk has significant advantages.
The sphere, theoretically better, presents several difficult
problems of construction and utilization. The disk, easier
to build, has almost all the virtues of the sphere and
some of its own. Reviewing the evidence presented here,
Dr. Biot said: "The least improbable explanation
is that these things are artificial and controlled ...
My opinion for some time has been that they have an extraterrestrial
WHAT? AND WHEN?
at least, is a plausible explanation of the disk shape.
But the real depths of the saucer mystery bemuse penetration,
as the night sky swallows up a flashlight beam. What of
the other shapes? Why do the things make no sound? How
to explain their eerie luminosity? What power urges them
at such terrible speeds through the sky? Who, or what,
is aboard? Where do they come from? Why are they here?
What are the intentions of the beings who control them?
these awesome questions, science -- and mankind -- can
yet only halt in wonder. Answers may come in a generation
-- or tomorrow. Somewhere in the dark skies there may
be those who know.
A U.S. rocket is launched from a proving ground. Neither
this nor any known U.S. missiles fit the descriptions
of the sighted saucers and fireballs.
April 28, 1952: Letters to the Editor
"Have We Visitors from Space?" (LIFE, April
7) is the most comprehensive report I have read on the
subject. I was very closely associated with Projects "Twinkle"
and "Grudge" at Alamogordo, N. Mex. where I
was chief of the technical photographic facility at Holloman
Air Force base. I have seen several of these objects myself,
and they are everything you say they are as to shape,
size and speed.
Daniel A. McGovern
I first learned about the green fireballs from Marine
Corps night fighter pilots while I was an aviation intelligence
officer in Korea.
Pilots often reported seeing strange bright green objects
in the skies, unlike anything they had ever seen before,
and moving too fast and regularly to be explained or identified
or analyzed by the pilots themselves or the intelligence
Edward A. Kolar
LIFE has again rendered a distinct service to its readers.
The authors' painstaking work in compiling and evaluating
known data has made a case for interplanetary space ships
which is entirely logical and sensible.
Donald J. Falvey
Deep River, Conn.
As observers of the Lubbock lights, we feel the record
requires that we point out that the groups of objects
shown in the Hart photographs are, in these respects,
essentially different from any of the 12 or more groups
that we sighted.
1) All but three of the groups we sighted had no geometric
form; those three were smooth arcs, not V-shaped.
2) Those three could not be conclusively determined to
be composed of individual lights, but certainly they were
not made up of two distinct rows of alternately spaced
3) None of our sightings was either bright enough, nor
in view long enough (3 seconds) to offer any possibility
of being photographed.
4) Even if the lights we saw had been particularly rich
in nonvisible ultraviolet light, they could not have been
photographed without special equipment.
5) All of our sightings were close to the same speed of
30 degrees per second, at which speed it would be impossible
to follow them with a camera accurately enough to obtain
an unblurred image.
W. I. Robinson
A. G. Oberg
W. L. Ducker
E. F. George
Air Force experts had considered these objections of Professor
Ducker and Doctors Oberg, Robinson and George. But they
are still convinced that Hart was able to get exposures
of the two groups he saw (4 seconds for each to cross
the sky, 1-1/2 minutes apart) and found no reason to repudiate
his pictures. -- ED.
Your article overstates the strangeness of the fireballs
You imply that the 1951 fireball display in the Southwest
was not a meteor shower. We obtained and photographed
approximate paths for 11 fireballs reported as falling
Oct. 30 to Nov. 9 inclusive. The plot showed that all
came from a small area in and near the constellation Taurus.
This indicates a shower, perhaps related to the well-known
shower whose members are seen falling away from Taurus
in October and November.
C. C. Wylie
Professor of Astronomy
University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa
Although there were meteor falls during this period, Dr.
La Paz says: "Almost all of the green fireballs observed
in the Southwest between December 1948 and December 1951
radiated from the circumpolar region of the sky. They
came from points 35 to as much as 105 degrees distant
from the Taurid fireball radiant, and therefore obviously
were not related to this radiant." -- ED.
It is rather chilling to see that our plans for hospitality
include interceptions and recover. It would be tragic
indeed if the harmless and friendly behavior of these
crafts from elsewhere were met with military destruction.
Not only would the morals of such a course be a regrettable
indication of man's immaturity, but the practical consequences
might include drastic reprisals....
Los Angeles, Calif.
... The only reason the preponderance of this saucer-fireball-cigar
activity is taking place in the American Southwest is
that this is the area which has brought itself to interplanetary
(or perhaps I should say, intergalaxial) attention. It
was done so by virtue of the fact that it was the site
used for the original A-bomb experiments....
San Diego, Calif.
The Air Force, which has attempted to correlate the frequency
and location of saucer reports with the testing of atomic
weapons, has found no significant relationships. -- ED.