Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Shadow Chasing

I recently got back from a more than two thousand mile trip, from San Diego up to Rexburg, Idaho, near Idaho Falls. The reason, of course, was to observe the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017. It was the first time I'd actually seen a total eclipse. Way back when I was a student at Northwestern, my buddy and I took a Greyhound bus from Chicago to the Florida panhandle, near Tallahassee, to see the total solar eclipse of March 7, 1970. We got there with a few hours to spare, and found a park where lots of telescopes had been set up. Unfortunately, it was cloudy. We saw the shadow approaching on the clouds, we saw it get dark. We saw the edge of the shadow, we saw it get light again. And then we got back on the bus for the two day trip home.

As everyone knew, for this eclipse hotel rooms and campgrounds anywhere near the path of totality were long sold out. A few rooms, the kind that would normally go for about $75, were offered at $400, $600, or more. We ended up sleeping in our cars, as planned, for just one night. We found a nice temporary eclipse campsite set up on private land, with porta-potties (the most important concern!). We looked at the map in Fred Espenak's Road Atlas for the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017. As best we could tell, we were sitting right on top the eclipse's center line. One fellow consulted some high-precision NASA eclipse map, then his GPS, and announced we were one-quarter mile south of the exact center. He proposed to walk up there to observe the eclipse right on the center line. I replied that this was close enough for me. The duration of the total phase would be 2 minutes, 18 seconds.
And closer....
Rexburg, Idaho: totality is getting close...

Ta-da!!!! The solar corona is clearly visible. The star Regulus is seen near the bottom, at left.

And this time, the weather in Idaho was just perfect on eclipse day. I set up an Orion SkyScanner 100mm Dobsonian scope with a Thousand Oaks solar filter, which gave crisp images of the partially eclipsed sun. The solar filter comes off during totality, and I saw extremely fine detail in the solar corona. I had the impression I was seeing some sort of bizarre neon display, such was the color and texture of the corona. The star Regulus was conspicuous, twinkling rapidly. Then I moved over to the Canon 20d DSLR camera, and snapped these photos using a 200mm zoom lens.

Solar prominences are visible at the top just as totality is ending, and we see the "Diamond ring".

So far as I am aware, nobody reported seeing any UFOs during totality, unlike the major total solar eclipse in Mexico City in 1991 (see chapter 21 of my book UFO Sightings). As soon as totality had ended (third contact), I heard vehicles starting and quickly driving off. They were trying to beat the expected heavy traffic. We stayed until the eclipse had actually ended; very few others did that. We could see highway US 20 from our campsite, and the southbound direction, toward Idaho Falls, quickly became congested, traffic practically at a standstill. It remained that way for about two hours. When we saw that traffic was moving again, we got on the road, but encountered more congestion on the way to Idaho Falls, where we stopped to eat dinner. 

Idaho Falls

After taking a little tour of the park by the falls, we got on I-15 heading south. The closest hotel reservation I could get at a normal price for that evening was in Tremonton, Utah, just south of the Idaho state line. The drive from Idaho Falls normally takes about two hours. That evening, it took six.

Actually, Tremonton, Utah was the site of a classic UFO film. On July 2, 1952, a  Navy Warrant Officer named Delbert C. Newhouse got a 16mm Kodachrome film of "About a dozen shiny disk like objects" that were "milling around the sky in a rough formation."  Project Blue Book reached no definite conclusion about it.  “All they had to say was, ‘We don’t know what they are but they aren’t aircraft or balloons, and we don’t think they are birds.'   William K. Hartmann concluded in the Condon Report (case 49) that 

The visual observations and film are not satisfactorily explained in terms of aircraft, radar chaff, or insects, or balloons though the films alone are consistent with birds. Observations of birds near Tremonton indicate that the objects are birds, and the case cannot be said to establish the existence of extraordinary aircraft. 
I didn't see any flocks of birds around Tremonton, but I suspect Dr. Hartmann is correct, although many UFOlogists today would disagree.

 Eclipse watchers: Brent Beckett, Shawn Carlson, Keña Castañeda, and Yours Truly.


  1. It appears that the only UFOs reported in MUFON's and NUFORC's database have to do with internal reflections/lens flares people got when they photographed the eclipse. The 1991 eclipse was almost three times as long as this one, which probably gave people more time to look around and see the planet Venus. I did see Venus this time but did not notice much else (other than the moon shadow/twilight). In 1991, I remember seeing Orion's belt. This time I only saw Venus but this may have been because I did not want to spend too much of this short totality gazing at stars. For this reason, I suspect the short duration of this eclipse may have minimized the amount of UFO reports being made due to astronomical objects. People were too focused on the sun to notice anything else.

  2. Don't you know that total eclipses are caused by giant flying saucers (sideways up) passing in front of the sun? 'They' just don't want the public to know...

  3. This is slightly off-topic since it has nothing to do with eclipses, but I thought you might like to be reminded that tomorrow is the 50th. anniversary of one of the most interesting events in the history of ufology, yet one of the least remembered. Details here:

    This nowadays little-known hoax is particularly interesting because it shows how, in an era when flying saucers weren't anything like as much of a joke as they are today, the British authorities responded to a "Roswell Incident" which definitely did happen, and which they didn't at first know was a hoax.

    You'll notice the complete lack of any cover-up whatsoever. You'll also notice how casually these unidentified and initially mysterious objects were dealt with, heavily implying that there were no security procedures in place for situations like this because 20 years after the start of the modern UFO age, the British government had absolutely no reason to take them seriously.

    So Britain, a major world government and close ally of the USA, still didn't know in 1967 that 20 years previously an extraterrestrial spacecraft had crashed in New Mexico, and aliens who might be a threat to the continued existence of humanity had been constantly visiting the entire planet in large numbers ever since? It seems to me the only logical explanation is that the British government knew nothing because there was nothing to know.

    Maybe that's also why this splendidly well-executed prank has been so thoroughly airbrushed out of the history of ufology?

  4. Count Otto:

    But a conspiracist can easily argue that the UK government did know about Roswell being ET and thus planted the joke 'saucers' deliberately to deflect attention and make it look as if they knew nothing about the crash of 20 years earlier.

    Once you are a genuine believer in cover-ups or conspiracies, the authorities can do literally ANYTHING to deflect attention from the great 'truth', can't they?

    The 1967 hoax was all done with official US co-operation. Still top secret, of course.

  5. Thanks for the solar eclipse photos! It was awesome wasn't it? We live in the PNW and I booked a year in advance for accommodation in Depoe Bay Oregon to view the eclipse. As the date got closer I wanted to kick myself because its cloudier at the coast -- but we got lucky and saw the entire event through the softest cloak of silver fog. During totality there were two bright, twinkling stars that were amazingly clear as viewed through the eclipse 'specs - quite magical. I suppose some nitwit will say those stars were UFO' the alleged "sighting" in Yakima, Washington!! Dude probably spent too much time at the pot-shop on his corner. Anyway, what a spectacular event to see and kudos to you guys for going to Twin Falls ID, its gorgeous in that area.

  6. Count Otto: there is an article from the BBC who claim that a US security police officer named Kevin Conde was responsible for the Rendlesham prank:
    There is no evidence that anything "ET" happened at Rendlesham and although I'm sure that Colonel Halt believes that what he saw was a UFO and had no reason to embellish the truth, I think it was a very good prank that became an urban legend. (hope its ok to post the link in this comment, if not then please remove it admin)

  7. @Encens Sacre: I'm afraid you've chosen a very bad example! Almost every word of that news item bends the truth. Kevin Conde's original statement, sent to skeptical ufologist Ian Ridpath in 2001, can be read in full here:

    You'll notice that Conde has absolutely no memory of the incident involving Col. Halt, saying: "One thing is certain. I was stationed at RAF Bentwaters at the time, and in a position to know any and all weird incidents that may have occurred. The only UFO incidents that occurred during my tour were the ones I participated in." So in 2001 Coyne was claiming that Col. Halt and the other witnesses saw nothing at all and at a later date they told elaborate lies inspired by a joke played by Coyne on somebody else!

    As time goes by and he finds out that, whether aliens were involved or it was just a bizarre misidentification of ordinary things such as stars and a lighthouse, the incident unquestionably did happen, his claim subtly changes until by 2010 he's saying that all he remembers is people laughing about Col. Halt's alleged alien encounter, and nobody took it seriously. So 21 years after the event he can't remember it, but 30 years after it he can, once he finds out that having a memory that bad makes his story less convincing?

    I don't find this man a very credible witness! Also, he never actually claimed that it was his prank Col. Halt misidentified as an alien spacecraft, and even in 2010 the best he could do was suggest that some unknown person must have been inspired by his practical joke to play the same trick on Col. Halt.

    I think Kevin Conde just likes media attention, so he jumped on the Rendlesham bandwagon so long after the event that there's no way to check anything he says, and even if his story's true, I doubt it has much to do with the events involving Col. Halt, which, whatever really happened, could not plausibly have been faked by one person shining coloured lights out of a car!

    Though at least he's a more reliable source than Brenda Butler. To quote a newspaper article from 2010:

    Ms Butler said she has visited the forest at least once a week for the last 30 years and has made regular contact with extra terrestrials.
    "We've seen different beings in the forest," she said.
    "We've seen the black cat, we've seen the little brown monks which float around, we've seen disks, we've seen the craft in the sky, we've seen shadow man, we've seen ghosts.
    "We see all kinds of stuff in the forest."


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