Monday, April 30, 2012

"Top Ten" UFO Case - Yukon, Canada, 1996 - BUSTED!

On the evening of December 11, 1996, more than 30 people in several different locations in Canada's sparsely-populated Yukon Territories reported seeing a huge "UFO mothership" with rows of lights, flying by as a Close Encounter of the First Kind.

The documentary film Best Evidence: Top 10 UFO Sightings lists this "multiple witness sighting in the Yukon" as number eight of the top ten UFO cases of all time. In that film the celebrated "Flying Saucer Physicist" Stanton Friedman says of this case:
"The Yukon case IS emblematic of what a good case should be. I mean, sure, we'd like to have a piece of the craft, we'd like to have the crewmember introduced for dinner. BUT multiple independent witnesses lasting a long time, describing something that's WAY outside the norm, -- there's no way you can make it into a 747, for example [chuckle]. And big, but this was much much bigger than a 747. "
UFO "Mothership" sighted from the Klondike Highway, Yukon Territory, Dec. 11, 1996. 

Longtime UFOlogist Michael Swords of CUFOS says:
Not knowing [investigator] Martin Jasek I can't "stand up in court" on this one, but everything that I've heard says that this is not only a "good" but possibly one of the best cases ever… I look forward to any of the gang clearing my misconceptions up on this case, because right now it might be one I'd "take into war" with me.

On April 4, the British skeptic Ian Ridpath sent around email to a number of active UFO skeptics, asking if anyone had information on this case. James Oberg replied that he was unable to help because he was in Beijing, China, headed for North Korea! James traveled with the NBC news team to witness North Korea's new missile, before its (unsuccessful) launch. His reporting on this unprecedented trip is on his website, .
Witness PEL2 drew the UFO passing below the Big Dipper

When he returned, Oberg contacted the Canadian satellite expert Ted Molczan with the details of this case. Molczan is probably the world's top civilian expert on observing earth satellites and calculating satellite orbits. Molczan looked into the matter carefully, and came up with an exact match: "the observed phenomena were due to the re-entry of the 2nd stage of the rocket that placed Cosmos 2335 into orbit earlier the same day." Should anyone doubt this, Molczan provides details of the mathematical calculations that support this conclusion.

James Oberg placed a comment on the "Above Top Secret" forum discussing this case.

Molczan's software-generated plot of the decay of the rocket booster for Cosmos 2335

Stimulus / Response

A case of this type affords us an excellent opportunity to judge the credibility of eyewitness testimony. Given a known stimulus "in," what is the observer's response "out"? In other words, how accurately did the observers' descriptions match the known stimulus? Not well at all!

Report: "many rows of lights"
Reality: The booster disintegrated into an irregular train of debris, that was perceived as an orderly pattern of "lights" on a huge solid object.

Report: "As he was walking his flashlight happened to point in the direction of the UFO. As if reacting to his flashlight, the UFO started speeding rapidly toward him."
Reality:  the "UFO reacting" to him was entirely in his imagination. The rocket booster did not react to his flashlight.

Report: the UFO was hovering approximately 300 yards in front of the observer. "Hynek Classification: CE1" (Close Encounter of the First Kind).
Reality: the distance to the re-entering booster was approximately 233 km (145 miles), so this was not a "close encounter." At no time did it stop, or hover.

Report: The UFO was approximately 500-750 meters (up to 1/2 mile) in length.
Reality:  It is impossible to estimate the size of an unknown object unless its distance is known. Since the disintegrating booster was about 145 miles distant, its debris train must have been spread over many miles.

Report: "The interior lights in her car started to go dim and the music from her tape deck slowed down."
Reality: This effect was entirely in the observer's imagination. The rocket booster did not affect her car's electronics.

Report: "stars blocked out" by huge UFO.
Reality:  the observers were viewing a long train of debris from the disintegrating rocket booster. It was not a solid object, and thus could not have "blocked out" stars. However, the light from the reentry may have made nearby stars difficult to see.
ESA illustration of a satellite disintegrating and burning up upon re-entry to earth's atmosphere

 Molczan closed his analysis by saying,

Experienced sky watchers on SeeSat-L may find it difficult to believe that anyone could misidentify a re-entry as a spaceship, but human perception is notoriously fallible, and no one is immune. Much depends on the circumstances and personal experience. Driving through the wilderness under a pitch black sky, and suddenly faced with a slowly moving formation of brilliant lights can be awe-inspiring and even terrifying. The human mind races to make sense of the unfamiliar, drawing on experience that may be inadequate. Depth perception can play tricks, such that something 200 km away, 100 km long, and moving at 7 km/s, seems to be just 200 m away, 100 m long, and moving 7 km/h - the angular velocity is roughly the same. Taking these considerations into account, the eyewitnesses did a pretty good job, and need not be embarrassed for having perceived more than was there.

He left out the part about reports of the object hovering, the electrical interference, etc. Not "a pretty good job" in my book.

Here we have yet another clear-cut example of extraordinary reports ("giant UFO Mothership!") arising from a perfectly ordinary (if rare) phenomenon. Therefore, the existence of extraordinary reports does not suggest the existence of extraordinary objects. It is perfectly possible to get extraordinary reports from ordinary objects. 

Which gives us more evidence of the wisdom of the Royal Society of London, the world's first scientific body founded in 1660, taking as its motto "nullius in verba' : take nobody's word for it!

[January 14, 2014: More discussion of this case in later Blog entry.]


  1. Thanks Robert!

    That top ten list is now a tattered shadow of its former self.

    My prediction is that believers will simply make a new list of dubious cases.

    Such a sad sham.


    1. You still have not replied to my one query. And you tacked reason. The tree still falls and the forest knows it. marky

    2. Marky;

      As with most "UFO" reports, the facts of the completely mundane 2000 Highland/Scott AFB event are not nearly as extraordinary as the fairy tale created about it by the credulous.

      Officer Ribbing said, "It was just an aircraft." ... "We saw an airplane with its landing lights on up near Scott Air Force Base in the early-morning hours. But as soon as it turned off its lights, I could see it was an aircraft."

    3. Markysparky,

      As I recall, your "one query" concerns the early morning nocturnal lights in Illinois reported on Jan. 5, 2000. As I noted earlier, I don't have a lot of information on that one. And as I might have said, had you asked me about the 1996 Yukon UFO as recently as a month ago, I don't have a lot of information on that one, either. But look at it now - shattered into pieces!

      Since the Illinois UFO was probably not a satellite re-entry, getting the full story on it probably will not be as easy as with the Yukon UFO. But if you are really so enamored of this light-in-the-sky, just be patient. Sooner or later the whole story will be written. I'm not going to alter my activities to try to prove a point to a pseudonymous writer; if Stanton friedman goaded me about it, perhaps I would. In the meantime, note well what zoamchomsky wrote: "it was just an aircraft," according to Officer Ribbing.

    4. test as pseudo non-credible

    5. "I don't have a lot of information on that one"

      I wonder how many military aircraft "turn their lights off" regardless of in air or on the ground until they are through with the mission. I was in our United
      States Air Force and I never saw an military aircraft: from a dirty-30 to a C-5 or a C-17 turn off their lights off until they were completely through with their mission. You are patently disregarding this occurrence for obvious reason. You don't know. How about going to the ground and find out what really happened. Just like you, I am here to know.

      my name is Mark Fowler Johnson

      Just for that pseudo problem. you've got my email

    6. Wow, booster re-entry, what a bunch of hog wash

    7. Well from the witnesses descriptions and the time line, it clearly was not the Russian rocket booster. Just because something happens on the same night is just a cheap shot at trying to debunk this obviously very credible incident. I wonder why there's always people who have to try and say that all UFO's are not real? All I can guess is that it somehow threatens their closed-minded religious beliefs, either that or they're just typical Republicans

    8. UFOs are political now!
      You do yourself a disservice. You can also guess at the rules of grammar and syntax.

    9. Seriously? I know being a skeptic means you feel like you are instantly intelligent, esp if you throw around the world "critical thinking" every now and then.

      Let's be honest here! You a part of this belief group because you want to be intelligent, that is all. You are more concerned about being right, and not wrong.

      Hard-core believers and hard-core debunkers are the same, they just do not know it.

  2. It is funny you should say this Lance. Back during the Condon study, Dr. Roy Craig recalls discussing this with Dr. Condon. At the time, Dr. MacDonald had his best ten or twenty list. At one point, Condon suggested they focus on those cases and the other claims made by UFO groups. Craig stated he knew that Condon loved a good fight but persuaded him not to do this because as soon as some of these cases were shown to be explainable, UFOlogists would simply substitute others. Craig stated that Condon relented to his suggestion and allowed many of these bogus claims and cases pass figuring that the weight of evidence against them would eventually expose them for what they were.

  3. Who made the artists' impression of the giant 'mothership'? Presumably it was compiled from several witness accounts, or was it just one such, exaggerated, account? Anyone seeing that impression would certainly conclude it was a giant UFO. Also, why did it take so long to identify? There have been other re-entries (many such) giving similar effects. But none, as far as I know, took 15 years before the explanation was found.

    Yes, if Stan Friedman accepts the explanation (which I greatly doubt after all this time) he will merely replace it with another.

  4. Lance, Tim, cda: You're absolutely correct about what the believers will do. First, they'll never admit that they were wrong, or that anything was wrong with the cases they endorsed. And the next time that someone compiles a "best of" list, this one will be missing, and something else will take its place.

    Why did this take so long? Because nobody was working on it, that's why. If Ian hadn't prodded us, this case might still wait a few more years (or perhaps forever, if the old satellite elements had been lost). So, people, get busy and look for more reports that sound like they might be satellite re-entries, and check them out.

    The illustration at the top is from UFOBC, which did the principal analysis of this case. Don't know the details of the drawing.

  5. "Therefore, the existence of extraordinary reports does not suggest the existence of extraordinary objects."

    The Null hypothesis of "UFO" reports validated once again!

  6. Actually, if Leslie Kean's recent book is anything to go by, the UFO shamsters will simply ignore the explanation and continue to present this case as among their "best evidence". And the public that buys UFO books will never learn any different.
    Kudos to Ted Molczan for the hard work and skill that went into this identification.

    1. I suspect you're right -- it's a shame... They'll just track down a witness to add a little detail that stands outside of the analysis, and suddenly they've got a whole new ballgame and another silly reason to discount skeptical logic on the basis of what the analysts have once again ignored. It's damn tiring having to go back over the same little details over and over again due to witness inconsistency, but it's hard to know what else can be done. It can definitely be a little depressing at times...

  7. Another one bites the dust....

  8. Congrats from France to Ted Molczan and thank you so much for this new entry in your very interresting blog I closely follow and relay, Robert Sheaffer. As stated by Ian Ridpath, such news are poorly or never shared in ETH pro-medias (at least in my Country, France). Well, that's very interrestings for the IFO University, as for the SocioPsychological Hypothesis.
    In France, we have a similar so famous UFO top case, the 5 november 1990 "wave": in fact and in several our skeptic analysis, it is a satellite re-entry too, but ETH proponents continue to invoke, ad hoc, the "mimic" or the "parasitic" ETI capacities. Amen!
    TY again for this very interresting news.
    Gilles Fernandez

  9. Read most of the comments here and understand the skepticism but I can assure you UFOs are real. Many of the UFO cases (especially famous cases) have flaws when you scratch deep enough but there are a few cases that simply defy explanation. Also people have a hard time accepting something that does not fit into their normal so they find (many times make up) explanations and then accept that as gospel.
    Here is a link to my website, this link will take you directly to a sighting I had in 1994. This could have been a Government Craft or for that matter a alien craft but I can assure you that it was something not of this world. I hope you don't feel I am trolling,(the site is non commercial and does not ask for or accept donations) I am simply saying to people,open up to the possibility because something is going on out there, whether we are being visited or the government is conspiring to contain this information and technology, I have no idea. If you have questions or want to comment you can repy to here is the link

  10. There has been additional work by Ted Molczan and by Harro Zimmer in refining the details of the re-entry decay of the Cosmos 2335 rocket booster (1996-069B / 24671, ). The result gives even greater precision to the object's position and velocity during re-entry. It fully confirms the identification Molczan made earlier. The world's experts on satellite orbits and re-entries are in full agreement: the Yukon UFO coincides exactly with the breakup of the rocket booster of Cosmos 2335.

  11. This "explanation" is ridiculous and ignores 90% of witness testimony then discounts the rest. Once again low flying, hovering objects that are near some witnesses for several minutes are said to be space debris that burns up in a matter of seconds. THIS is why professional skeptics are so reviled. They try to take multiple DIFFERING eyewitness events and fit them into one mold to discount them. That is not science, that is bs, and anyone truly objective can smell it.

    1. Ian W - This kind of comment demonstrates why UFO proponents are out of touch with how individuals report these kinds of events and how long these events last. If you actually read the links Robert provided, the re-entry event did not last "a matter of seconds". They lasted a couple of minutes, which is consistent with what the witnesses reported. I suggest you read Dr. William Hartmann's account of Zond IV on March 3, 1968 before you make you comments like the one above.

    2. and "Ian"

      Since it's a fact that the booster re-enty was exactly when and where the purported "UFO" was seen, how many "UFO" witnesses reported seeing both?

  12. For the guy asking about the Jan. 2000 incident near Saint Louis, Missouri.. there's no question that SOMETHING was seen which behaved very much like some type of aircraft. Given the slow moving, silent nature of the craft reported by many and the proximity to SAFB, my money is on a military craft, quite possibly a top secret stealth blimp. The military has expressed an interest over the years in contracting for a high altitude spy platform such as this and there are actual craft that you can see on youtube which would give you the basic idea.

  13. I have just received information from Ted Molczan concerning a similar case to this one. He and Harrow Zimmer have shown definitively that the Moroccan UFO sightings of 1976 Sep 19 UTC were caused by the re-entry decay of the motor assembly of a Russian rocket stage (1976-074C / 09051). This case is not as well-known as the above Yukon case, and occurred on the same day as the famous Teheran UFO, with which it is sometimes associated. However, the two incidents appear to be completely unrelated. See:

  14. I want to believe this one was 'busted'.
    But the mathematics doesn't match the witness statements' times of viewing.
    You say each witness saw something for a few minutes.
    But those "few minutes" were hours apart according to the timeline of the event.

    The earliest saw something around 7 pm, the others at various times thereafter, and the last witnesses spotting something around 10 pm.
    How, exactly, do you account for this 3 hour discrepancy in sightings?

    Given the Yukon Territory's proximity to Alaska, has anyone done any serious research into the possibility of being some wayward US military aircraft buzzing around off course?

  15. You do know the Royal Society arrogantly ridiculed meteorites until the 1800's right? Ironic you use their slogan. They figured meteors were superstitions of the common folk. Kind of like what some of these comments say. I don't know about the Yukon make a good case. But why the arrogance...? Tricks of perception work both ways. Remember: there are none so blind as those that will not see.

    Oh and what about this 3hr. discrepancy mentioned above?


    Please note the timeline, and here are some of the eyewitness accounts by the eyewitnesses themselves and in their words.

  17. Well, I guess "seeing is knowing" Can't be bothered to debunk the debunkers. It all falls on deaf ears.

    1. It's the old cliché, "it could be, therefore it isn't"

  18. The new Discovery-Canada UFO series debuts tomorrow night [Jan 10, 2014] in Canada [in US, somewhat later], and it's prize case -- guaranteed "unsolvable" -- is the 1996 Yukon "Mothership".

    On the discussion page http://www.discovery...f-4496800000201 I’ve posted:

    ‘…, I hope researcher Jasek has gotten better informed since he made [http://www.discovery...aspx?aid=57139] the silly statement, "the descriptions of a rocket reentry do not match the highly graphic descriptions and drawings of the [Yukon] witnesses."

    Actually, half a century of previous rocket-body reentries have repeatedly resulted in witness reports and drawings indistinguishable in any feature from the Yukon case.

    Too bad that Jasek didn't know what he didn't know, now he can learn better.

    Just look at the range of impressions in this 1963 satellite reentry over Ukraine: http://www.jamesober...0-1963_kiev.pdf, or France in 1990:


    1. These links got truncated, the full links are in the follow-up posting at

  19. i live in pelly crossing yukon to this day and when i was 10 i remember the event clearly. On that night of the ufo mothership a family member called our home freaking out of what they saw and said its above pelly so i ran to my brothers room and look out the window. What i saw was a circular craft mostly black, the way i knew it was circular in shape was because of the lights around it all moving in sequence colors i seen were blue, red, green and orange. I cant say what size exactly it was but if you hold a dime with ur thumb and index finger and stretch your arm straight up in the sky, thats what it looked like in size from my perspective. Upon gaining knowledge of the craft being sighted on route from fox lake to pelly crossing simutaniously by eyewitnesses says to me that when it arrived in pelly crossing, it must of altered its coarse and when the man said when he noticed the craft he turned towards it and the flashlight pointed at it and then it reacted by zooming up towards him and then flew off i think at that exact time it flew off, is when it came up above pelly moving slowly eastward. Which by the time they got to a phone and called us, what i was witnessing. My mom and dad and brother were all watching it, except for my mom she took a lil glanced and ran to her room and hid under her blankets. As you talk about a rocket booster re-entering earths atmosphere does not cut it and also it was not during the day it was night and furthermore what i and my family witnessed was NO rocket booster. You can attempt to explain its existence and phenomenon with your story that in my opinion is totaly ridiculus but we know that the reality of it is and shall remain what it always was and for a long time to come a mystery! Don't even attempt to debunk my experience with the object by saying i was a child with imagination because it was not my imagination. Like to post traumatic kids around the world this event will stay as sharp in my memory as the night it happened.

    1. also for the ones judging its size i can see how their observations can be off as their not trained aircraft pilots or astronomers. But for one thing if anyone has been to fox lake yukon territory then you would know of the big hill across from the lake as you drive past and the witness testimony of it hoving over the big lake and saying it must have been as big as a football stadium or bigger they cant be far off from its size but one thing everyone agrees on is that it was huge.

    2. Generally speaking, the progression began with your 'You can't tell ME what I saw'.
      Eventually, you'll start to question it, and, in time, you'll come to realize that memories are more fluid than we suspect.

      It's normal to rail against the end of some magical part of our youth. With the right mindset, an amazing sight like a rocket booster flaming out in the atmosphere can replace that magic.

  20. This "debunk" completely ignored what the witnesses say they saw and drew on paper. The debunkers didn't even try. This is a solid UFO case.

    1. If this is solid, you just made life a lot easier for Sheaffer and Ridpath. They've been putting actual effort into finding out what really transpired in these cases, and come to find out, this is what passes for credible.

  21. I always read the debunking sites before wasting my time on a ufo report, however entertaining. But, sorry to say so, this looks like lazy debunking. Witness reports are between 7Pm and 9Pm. That's a hell of a re-entry, they should fine the Russians for littering. And such a re-entry would have been reported everywhere in different states, not just in a few selected locations. And where elements of the witness account are inconventient for the debunking, they are simply dismissed. With this approach I can debunk whatever. Decided to spend some time now reading the whole report, based on this failed debunking.

    1. Unk, you need to study the dozen or more documented similar reports around the world to see what actual reentry fireball swarms appear like to witnesses. Scatter of time and motion is the rule rather than the exception. Perceiving the fireball swarm as a large structured object is very common.

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  23. I live in the Yukon and was teaching school in a northern community in Dec., 1996. I did not see the UFO. I arrived at school on the morning of Dec. 12 and a cluster of students were excitedly chatting. As I walked by, one of them asked me if I believed in UFOs. I said that I couldn't imagine that we are the most intelligent beings in the universe. She went on to say that a group of them had seen a huge vessel in the sky the night before. Others joined in, describing it as the size of a football field with lights running around the perimeter. According to them, it sat above the highway for some time, near a local hotel, then, in an instant, disappeared.

    There was a second group of students who'd been playing road hockey that evening, in a another part of the community. They reported seeing the same object and corroborated the size and speed of movement sited by the others. All of these students volunteered this information. As I said, I did not see anything; however, I have no doubt that they did. Their excitement was palpable and they were anxious to discuss their experiences.

    I don't see how debris from a satellite would 'hang' around for such an extended period of time, just hovering over the road. The students all said it was one vessel and that it was huge!

  24. I think you do have a point if the events and position coincide but it has to be said that presenting this explanation as case closed is anything but scientific. Anyone who has listened to the witnesses describing what they saw in their own words would find it very difficult to reconcile with this explanation so whilst this may be the explanation it requires a great deal more evidence as would the original sighting to be taken as conclusive proof of anything.

  25. The additional witness reports, even if multi-hand, are valuable, thanks for posting them. I note that they were all outside at the time the satellite reentry was also occurring, but nobody seems to recall seeing it. Why didn't they?

  26. The sat reentry was Dec 12 while the sighting was Dec 11. I do not see the correlation.

    1. One was GMT, the other was local. Meanwhile, a reminder, Tim Printy found Alaska press reports of a fireball swarm headed for the Yukon at exactly that time.


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