Re: Donald H. Menzel, Unreliable Witness - Maccabee
From: Bruce Maccabee <email@example.com>
Date: Mon, 28 Aug 2000 19:42:15 -0400
Fwd Date: Tue, 29 Aug 2000 09:11:39 -0400
Subject: Re: Donald H. Menzel, Unreliable Witness - Maccabee
>From: Jerome Clark <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>To: UFO UpDates - Toronto <email@example.com>
>Subject: Donald H. Menzel, Unreliable Witness
>Date: Sun, 27 Aug 2000 14:27:29 -0500
>Few people in the history of the UFO controversy have played so
>destructive or dishonorable a role as the late Harvard
>astronomer and obsessed UFO trasher Donald Howard Menzel
>On May 12, 1949, Menzel had a personal encounter with the UFO
>phenomenon. His private description of the event and his later
>public one differed markedly. His initial account of the
>incident did not come to light until the 1970s, when researcher
>Brad Sparks managed to uncover the report, sent to the Air Force
>and marked "CONFIDENTIAL." (Sparks, 1977).
>Menzel related that at 9:30 that evening he and a driver left
>Holloman Air Force Base on their way to Alamogordo, New Mexico.
>As they traveled along Highway 70, heading east-northeast,
>Menzel, in the backseat, admired the full moon ascending in the
>southeast and noted the presence of the reddish star Antares
>just below and to the left of the moon.
>A minute or two later he saw another object in the sky, this one
>nearer the horizon and farther to the left. As he told the Air
>Force, "The star had a fuzzy appearance, caused, I thought, by
>low-level atmospheric haze. As I watched, I noted, within half a
>minute, a second star about three degrees to the South of the
>first." Thinking at first that these were the stars Castor and
>Pollux, he watched them for another minute as they gradually
>Suddenly he realized that "the two stars had to be something
>else." They were too big, and Castor and Pollux were in the
>western, not the east-southeastern sky. The objects, he related,
>were "very nearly identical in diameter, nearly one-half the
>size of the full moon." The drawing accompanying his report
>shows two small circles.
>Quickly determining that these were not reflections on his
>bifocals or on the car window, he continued to observe the
>"ghostly objects" for another four minutes. They were white,
>almost as bright as the brightest stars, and level with each
>other. Then the object on the right "suddenly disappeared."
>Convinced that what he was seeing was "exceptional," he ordered
>the driver to stop immediately, but the very moment he was
>speaking, the second object vanished instantly.>
>Menzel calculated that if the objects were truly motionless, as
>they seemed to be, they were at least "180 miles away" and about
>"3/4 of a mile" in size. (If they were closer and in motion,
>they would be smaller.)
>When Menzel submitted his report to the Air Force soon
>afterwards, he was clearly puzzled. But when he recounted the
>story four years later, in the first of three anti-UFO books he
>grudgingly acknowledged that "I cannot explain the phenomenon in
>every detail." He wrote, "It was merely a reflection of the
>moon.... A layer of haze, perhaps disturbed and tilted by the
>moving car, probably caused the trick reflections of the moon."
>The situation was comparable to "that of a person riding in a
>fast motorboat. He might see the moon reflected in the bow wave
>thrown up by the boat. But the reflection would vanish when the
>boat stopped." Therefore, he reasoned, the lunar- reflection
>theory "would also explain why the pair of ghostly attendants
>faded at the moment we stopped the car; the reflecting bumps >
>would then disappear" (Menzel, 1953). As Sparks has pointed out
Debunker Rule #1: Any explanation is better than none.
This is an excellent example of inventing an explanation which,
upon examination, makes no sense. It would require a fantastic
tilted mirage in the atmosphere (atmospheric beam bending of
light from the moon), or actually two mirages.
Menzel invented a similar bizarre mirage theory to explain the
"best" (his characterization) sighting of th early years, that
of C.B. Moore (recently of Roswell Mogul fame).
Menzel may have been a credible observer (his sighting was rated
as good or credible by the Air Force) but he was a non-credible