Case Histories : Howden Moor Incident> [prev ¦ 1 ¦ 2 ¦ 3 ¦ 4 ¦ 5 ¦ 6 ¦ 7 ¦ 8 ¦ 9 ¦ 10 ¦ 11 ¦ 12 ¦ 13 ¦ 14 ¦ 15 ¦ 16 ¦ next]


Space Debris?

One theory considered by the BGS as an explanation for the unexplained sonic events recorded in the Sheffield region was a Bolide meteor or man-made space junk burning up on re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. Debris such as this can appear as flashing lights or strings of moving lights in the upper atmosphere, and have been accompanied by loud explosions, for instance in the case of the 23 September 1997 event in Scotland described above. Indeed, just three days after the Howden Moors Incident, scores of calls were made by anxious people to police and coastguard stations along the east coast of England reporting “distress flares” which the RAF later told the local media had been caused by a meteor shower. However, meteorites or space debris were apparently ruled out as an explanation for the March 24 sightings by the UK’s tracking station at RAF Fylingdales,a fact confirmed by the base PRO in the summer of 1998. At no time since the search operation in March 1997 have the UK authorities, in the form of the RAF, Ministry of Defence or South Yorkshire Police sought to explain the Howden Moors incident as being caused by a Bolide meteor. This explanation was put forward by Dr Jacqueline Mitton of the Royal Astronomical Association at Cambridge University when she was asked to comment on the incident early in April 1997, and made the following statement:

“Everything people saw that night is consistent with a bolide meteor. They often look like a series of lights in a trail when they are breaking or burning up in the atmosphere and they have been known to cause explosions or sonic bangs. Very bright bolide meteors are not uncommon and I have seen one myself and it even left me puzzled. The one I saw seemed to move very slowly across the sky and for people who are not familiar with the night sky it would be very easy to see it as a slow moving object with lights attached. People were out of doors that particular night watching for the comet when this thing was seen so it was more likely they would notice a bolide. It was certainly nothing to do with Hale-Bopp because this was too far away but meteor showers are associated with comets because bits of debris from their trails hit and burn up in the atmosphere.”

Bolide meteors are common phenomena and sightings of blazing fireballs crashing to earth have often caused outbreaks of reports describing UFOs and “crashing aircraft.” A bright fireball meteor has been invoked as one possible explanation for the sightings at RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk on December 26, 1980. More recently, spectacular meteor showers witnessed by numerous witnesses in Britain on the evenings of June 11 and July 10, 1998, resulted in a series of calls to the police and emergency services reporting “flying saucers”, “distress flares” and “blazing aircraft.” The July 10 shower was accompanied by a large explosion in the sky above the Isle of Man, and the appearance of vapour trails in a “Z” and “Y” formation in the night sky. The explosions and smoke reported over the Butt of Lewis in the Hebrides on October 26, 1996, which triggered a major air sea rescue operation costing several hundred thousand pounds, was most likely caused by a bolide meteor or space debris of this nature. Even so, many of the observers who witnessed this explosion remain convinced that they saw a “real” aircraft, and speculation continues that the event was “covered-up” by the military.

Meteor showers and bright bolides burning up in the atmosphere can clearly be mistaken for more exotic phenomena. They are often spectacular, unexpected and can be accompanied by loud explosions and other optical effects. It is little wonder that sightings of these celestial phenomena often result in calls to the emergency services and searches for aircraft which are presumed to have been lost.

On December 1, 1997, just nine months after the Howden Moors incident, South Yorkshire Police scrambled their new force helicopter to search the Pennine Moors once again following reports of “a blazing object” crashing to earth. On this occasion John Barker, a resident of Crow Edge, a village high up on the moors at the border with West Yorkshire, called police after seeing what he described as “the oddest thing I have ever seen in the sky.” He said:

“I was sitting in the living room of my house facing the moors when I saw what looked like a multitude of coloured lights like an oxyacetylene torch through the window. It had all colours of the rainbow including orange, yellow, magenta and green and I could see burning debris dropping from it. It seemed to drop down or land on the moors and then it just disappeared. I was concerned that it could have been a small aircraft and because of the bad weather they would be in trouble so I called the police.”

The police helicopter searched the area of fells near Crow Edge where Mr Barker saw the lights descend with its heat-seaking equipment but found nothing. Later they discovered that police in Greater Manchester had received reports on the same night describing “a bright green or yellow light with tails trailing behind” falling from the sky in Oldham, on the western side of the Pennines. Air traffic control at Manchester Airport said they had not picked up any unidentified aircraft on their radar. Later it was revealed that both groups of witnesses had observed a huge meteor which had actually crashed to earth that night thousands of miles away, disappearing on the island of Greenland in the Arctic Ocean.

This evidence clearly demonstrates how easily eye-witnesses can be mistaken in their descriptions of unidentified objects in the sky, particularly at night when even qualified observers have difficulty judging distance and height. Many UFO reports can be explained as misperceptions of natural phenomena and aircraft under unusual atmospheric conditions, and clearly the Howden Moors incident is a prime example of this phenomenon at work. »

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