High Strangeness: Death Star Over Hudson Bay!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Death Star Over Hudson Bay!

I was going over my book notes today and reread the transcript of the entertaining interview I conducted early on with William Powers a few months before he passed on. Bill had worked closely with Dr. J. Allen Hynek at the Dearborn Observatory at Northwestern University in the 1960s, and became such a trusted confidant that Hynek sometimes sent him out in his stead to investigate UFO sightings for "Project Blue Book." Most notably, Bill investigated the Lonnie Zamora case in Socorro, New Mexico, for Hynek, and he still had serious doubts about what Zamora had seen.

I asked Bill how Dr. Hynek reconciled his ideal of the "perfect" trained observer UFO witness with the reality of the flawed humans who filed most UFO reports, and Bill told me a fascinating story of a strange object sighted in the skies of the Upper Midwest:

"We started getting telephone reports of an object appearing in the northern sky. It grew in size until it was rather large, and then it moved around and then it faded away. But, half of the people reported it was rushing at them; not just that it got bigger, but that it was rushing towards them. Which is a natural interpretation, if you see a round thing that gets bigger. We got reports from Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan and Indiana. My immediate thought was that there’s something actually there, and it’s pretty far away. And it must be pretty big. What have we got here? The Death Star?"
Whatever it was, the witnesses who called in reports to the Air Force felt that they were in imminent danger from an object that was in very close range. When Bill interviewed those witnesses, however, he made a startling discovery:

"I started calling them back, and just started writing things down and plotting it all on a map. And, sure enough, all the lines of sight they reported converged, and they converged somewhere over Hudson Bay. Oh, that’s a long way away! Of course the baselines were pretty long, too; they were hundreds of miles apart, so we had a pretty good triangulation on this thing."

A terrifying sight over Hudson Bay... Good luck, Canada!
Yeah, Hudson Bay is a bit north of Wisconsin, and I know that for a fact because I live in Wisconsin and I can't see Hudson Bay from my back steps. So how do you explain that an airline pilot, one of Hynek' "ideal" witnesses, thought that this object that was hundreds of miles away was about to collide with his plane? Bill found it pretty puzzling: 
"In that particular case the expert was the guy who was wrong. He thought it was something on a collision course with them and he took evasive action, and he was the pilot of a commercial airliner. He took evasive action, and it was 200 miles away from him! So, it turned the whole prejudice thing upside down. The guy who was driving home drunk from the bar gave a pretty good report of it: he got the direction, the time, the appearance. He was pretty much in agreement with everyone else."
That's something to think about... I'd say we need to give more weight to the testimony of drunk UFO witnesses, and less to the testimony of airline pilots.

But wait! We still don't know what the Death Star over Hudson Bay actually turned out to be! Did Bill ever crack the case? You bet he did. 

"It was obviously something big, something high. It had to be high enough to be in space, because over the curve of the earth, something that appeared at that angle in the sky, 30 degrees up, had to be out of the atmosphere. Through the Air Force I was able to get the information; yes, there was a test. They were sending up a sounding rocket with a payload which was a load of heated barium which was released into space. They wanted to see how it would be excited by the electrons of the Van Allen Belt out in space. That would give them some indication how strong the radiation was up there. It was a valid scientific experiment."

Yep, that's right. Not only was the Death Star over 200 miles away to the north, it was also at least 600 miles above seal level! And it was a slow-moving cloud! And still people in Wisconsin thought it was about to smack them!

Epic fail, right? Not to Bill, bless his heart. True to form, he saw only the positive:

"So now we had a case where people were reporting something that we knew had happened! We knew where it was, and we knew what it was. This was “an unusual thing seen under ordinary circumstances.” And, by golly, the observers came through that with flying colors. We were able to get data together that made sense; the correlations between the data from the different observers were what they should have been, and the observers were all ages and all occupations."
 Something for every UFO investigator to keep in mind, eh?

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