Expliquer l'inexplicable

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It can be expected that when people are confronted with some novel experience, they will try to account for it in some rational way. The more bizarre the experience, however, the less rational the explanations become. Flying saucers were about as bizarre an experience as one could imagine, so it is therefore not surprising to find that by the end of June, opinions and "explanations," as well as flying saucer reports, were on the increase.

The San Francisco Chronicle for June 27 printed a roundup of opinion regarding Arnold's sighting from assorted "experts." Captain Al Smith, a United Air Lines pilot, believed that what Arnold had seen were "reflections of his instrument panel," presumably in the Plexiglas canopy of his plane, although this is not stated.  Elmer Fisher, Portland, Oregon meteorologist, suggested that Arnold had encountered "a slight touch of snow blindness from the mountain peaks."

Dr. J. Hugh Pruett, University of Oregon astronomer and meteorologist, said that "persistent vision," often experienced after looking at objects such as the sun, "could have kept such reflections before him as they passed." Getting back on safer ground, Dr. Pruett added that the objects "were not of meteoric origin, for meteors do not dip and sway."

In his syndicated column on the same day, AP Science Writer Howard W. Blakeslee also tackled the Arnold report, stating that "in clear air the flash of sunlight from a plane can easily be seen for fifty miles. This flash is round, the shape of the sun. Any other reflection at a great distance is also likely to be round, coming from a small area on the plane." He also grappled with the problem of the high speeds:  if these objects had been jet planes, "their speeds probably would be noticeable and could fit into the estimates, where sight gave the impression of something traveling at 1,000 miles an hour." He secured his grasp on this assessment by explaining that the eye rarely makes an accurate estimate of speed through the sky. To be fair to Blakeslee, perhaps he did not know that Arnold had established the distance between him and the objects based on familiar landmarks; on the other hand, perhaps he chose to ignore it.

Another "explanation" was offered on the same day by Lt. Colonel Harold R. Turner, at White Sands, New Mexico. In an AP account carried in many papers, Turner maintained, like Blakeslee, that Arnold had seen jet planes. "The White Sands Proving Ground commandant said that jet planes have circular exhaust pipes and that these, when heated, might give an illusion of discs." He, too, may have been ignorant of the facts:  for example, that Arnold saw the objects first as they were approaching, north of Mount Rainier, in which position their "circular jet exhausts" would not have been visible. On the next day, following a series of reports from New Mexico, Colonel Turner rejected jet exhausts in  favor of "meteorites," explaining that "they appear much larger and apparently are coming closer to earth than usual" (see III-9). It is perfectly clear that Colonel Turner did not know what a meteorite was, let alone flying saucers.

But someone who did know the difference between meteors and meteorites made a statement that was printed in the Denver Post of June 28. Dr. H. H. Nininger, an expert in the field of meteoritics, declared that the object observed by Byron Savage may have been a meteor; and in commenting on another New Mexico sighting of the previous day, this one reported near Shiprock by an associate, Dr. R. L. Hopkins (Case 81), Nininger said he believed that what Dr. Hopkins saw "could have been a meteorite falling somewhere in southeast Arizona." Dr. Hopkins, of Maitland, Florida, had been visiting Nininger at his laboratory in Winslow and had been near Shiprock, New Mexico, when the sighting was made. Regarding the objects Arnold had seen, however, Dr. Nininger said that those could not have been meteors; the descriptions of them sounded to him more like "mechanical objects."

Some explanations were as bizarre as the UFO reports themselves. One of the most original and imaginative explanations came the same day (June 28th) from the operator of a bottle-capping plant in Everett, Washington, and was carried widely by the wire services. Offered with apparent seriousness, this solution proposed that the little aluminum discs inside the bottle caps were set free when the bottle caps were melted down, rose up the chimneys on columns of hot air, and were then carried aloft by the winds to be reported as flying discs by numerous people throughout the country.

On June 30th another Army official spoke out. AP reported that Colonel Alfred F. Kilberer, intelligence officer of the Eighth Air Force, in commenting upon recent reports made in Texas, said bluntly that "the reports might be true, but I doubt it." 2 days later he, like his colleagues in White Sands, had further thoughts on the subject:  in the Houston Post, AP quoted him as saying flying saucer reports were nothing more than "an interesting study in human psychology."

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