UFO Conjecture(s)

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Letter to Physicist J. A. Van Allen from Robert McLaughlin [May 12th 1949]


  • Captain Robert McLaughlin's role in legitimizing flying saucers has almost been forgotten. He leaked information to the press on the White Sands sightings. and his TRUE magazine article gave a big boost to the Keyhoe mythos due to his military status.

    McLaughlin's disclosure of Moore observing a UFO (along with multiple witnesses) through a scientific instrument became an early cornerstone of UFO credibility.

    Another interesting contribution by McLaughlin, due to the estimated small size of the saucer he saw, he theorized if there were beings inside they must be very small In effect, he's the father of "the little green men."

    By Blogger Curt Collins, at Sunday, August 10, 2014  

  • The McLaughlin/Van Allen letter is from my website:


    (I only mention it because Rich once had a cow when I used two generic Socorro symbols (the two disputed ones) which I found Googling the Net which Rich said were from his site.)

    I received the McLaughlin letter from Brad Sparks, then put it up on the Net. It has a rather interesting history in that it came from the files of Mogul engineer Charles Moore, given to Dr. James McDonald in 1969, probably there because it was primarily about and written less than three weeks after Moore's famous 1949 disc sighting. McLaughlin also mentions that Moore was in charge of Project Mogul.

    Yet ~25 years later, Moore was claiming that the name "Project Mogul" was top secret and he didn't hear the name ever mentioned until Robert Todd told him about it.

    Yet here is a letter in Moore's own files, retrieved and reviewed by him for McDonald, a copy probably sent to him by McLaughlin saying he was in charge of the very project Moore said he had never heard of by name.

    (Yes, I did sneak in Roswell and Project Mogul into the discussion, but then the letter is mainly about Moore and his sighting and bears on his later credibility as a Roswell debunker.)

    You'll also note McLaughlin referring to famed astronomer Clyde Tombaugh saying he had seen a flash on Mars clear back in 1941, which he now thought was an atomic explosion. Tombaugh is now known to have had at least 3 UFO and 3 green fireball sightings, the first a very famous from a few months later in 1949.

    By Blogger David Rudiak, at Sunday, August 10, 2014  

  • David:

    I don't recall "having a cow" because you used some Socorro insigniae from my site.

    But if I did, I was out of line.

    The Socorro symbol is all over the place, so I can't imagine why I'd be upset that you used them; after all, I love your site and the work you do plus the information you provide.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, August 10, 2014  

  • "Moore observing a UFO"... Whose description matches that of a daylight sighting of a earthgrazing meteor.

    "little green men"... The exact phrase commonly used for ET in science-fiction for fifty years before McLaughlin.

    By Blogger zoamchomsky, at Monday, August 11, 2014  

  • Moore is neither the writer or addressee, it merely refers to Moore and Mogul. There is no notation on the letter that identifies it as coming from Moore's files. That a copy of the letter came from Moore's files is only an assertion, we don't know that as fact; and even if it did, Moore may have never read it. All we have here is DR making an unsupportable claim, assumptions and indicting Moore.

    What would be interesting to see is Van Allen's response to McLaughlin on the subject of "flying saucers," assuming that Van Allen saw this letter and that his copy didn't go directly into the wastebasket. (g)

    By Blogger zoamchomsky, at Monday, August 11, 2014  

  • Part 1
    Zoam wrote:
    "....description matches that of a daylight sighting of a earthgrazing meteor."

    What was your college major, Zoam--contemporary fiction? It sure as hell wasn't meteoritics.

    From first principles, the minimum atmospheric entry speed of a meteoroid is about 7 miles per second, not the 3 to 5 miles per second that was calculated on the basis of the theodolite measurements. At the high speeds that are typical of real meteoroids, the meteoroid would appear to a hypothetical observer high above the Earth and fixed in heliocentric space, to move on essentially a straight line (known to us rocket scientists as the "approach asymptote"). In the vast majority of cases, the approach asymptote of a meteoroid intersects the solid body of the Earth. In those cases, the meteoroid becomes a meteorite and either impacts the Earth while still a whole body, or (if it is small enough) disintegrates from the large decelerative forces of atmospheric drag.

    In that small fraction of cases where the approach asymptote arrives essentially tangent to the Earth's surface at an altitude less than the thickness of the atmosphere, there is the possibility that the meteoroid will enter the Earth's atmosphere at a shallow angle, pass through a spherical chord, and depart from the other side. In doing so, the object is still traveling on a straight line asymptote in inertial space.

    An observer on the ground who happened to be within view of the asymptote would see the object approach from one horizon (from an initial small, or perhaps zero elevation angle) move to the point of closest approach and highest elevation angle, and then smoothly recede toward the opposite horizon while losing elevation angle, again. If the approach asymptote happened to pass directly overhead the observer, then the elevation angle at the point of nearest approach would be 90 degrees. In this case, the theodolite measured approximately a 45 degree elevation at the point of closest approach, which says that the altitude of the object was about the same distance as the lateral distance from the observer to the ground track. Because a theodolite allows measurement of azimuth angles, it allows a ballistics expert to estimate where the ground track was. I would have to assume that the uncertainty in the reported speed (3 to 5 miles/sec) is due to the uncertainty in locating the lateral distance to the ground track, since the time and all of the angles involved can be measured directly with an error of probably less than 5%.

    By Blogger Larry, at Monday, August 11, 2014  

  • Part 2
    The upper limit of the speed estimate is just about the speed an object would have in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). However, leaving aside the fact that nobody had a launch system capable of putting anything into Earth orbit in 1949, there is the uncomfortable fact that the trajectory was too low to have been in a stable orbit. An easily visible object in LEO (like the International Space Station) takes more like 3 minutes to go from horizon to horizon, when it reaches an apparent elevation angle of about 45 degrees. This object took only about 1 minute, meaning that it was considerably lower than orbital altitude.

    If you assume that the most likely speed of the object was about 4 miles/sec, then the object was not only impossibly slow for a meteoroid, it was also moving at suborbital velocity. That means that if it were a purely passive, ballistic object, it would not have been moving on a straight line, it would have been falling out of the sky on a ballistic arc. But it obviously didn’t do that, either.

    What it actually did was to gain elevation angle (from 25 to 29 degrees) and speed up as it was departing to the East. To give this appearance, it would have to have done one of two things (or possibly some of both). It could have maintained a constant ground track heading, sped up, and pulled up. Or, it could have changed its ground track heading by executing a turn toward the general direction of the viewer. By moving the ground track closer to the observer, a constant altitude (above the ground level) would result in an apparently increasing elevation angle. Likewise, a turn toward the observer would result in the velocity component orthogonal to the line of sight appearing to increase. Whichever of these two alternatives occurred, it is certain that the object did not move along a purely ballistic trajectory; it maneuvered.

    This is a classic case of someone (Zoam) being stupid around a particular subject (meteoritics) that actually requires real knowledge, but being so stupid about it that he doesn’t know he’s stupid. For a discussion of this psychological phenomenon, see for example:


    Or Google on David Dunning and Justin Kruger.

    By Blogger Larry, at Monday, August 11, 2014  

  • Thanks for the mathemagical mumbo-jumbo, Larry, none of which precludes a daylight sighting of an earthgrazing meteor as the most likely identification of what Moore reported. The theodolite was never really focused on the meteor, it was all naked-eye observation, assumptions and guesswork of size, distance and speed by Moore after the fact.

    By Blogger zoamchomsky, at Monday, August 11, 2014  

  • Maybe Zoambot should read what was actually written and said about the Moore sighting, including from Moore himself. What you see in these various descriptions of the sighting that indicate that this WASN’T a meteor, are the following key points:

    1. Well-defined, unchanging shape (eliptical) and unchanging lumination and color characteristics (solid white with hint of color on one edge).

    2. Absence of any trail.

    3. Long duration (about 60 seconds)—much too long for a visible, glowing meteor.

    4. ABRUPT change of course near end of its sighting, going from roughly horizontal flight to ACCELERATING UPWARD at roughly 20 g’s (one document from Moore's boss forwarded to Naval intelligence notes possible “CONTROLLED” flight in this regard). Climbed an estimated 25 miles in only 10 seconds, going from 25 degrees to 29 degrees elevation.

    5. Low speed (for a meteor) during most of its course: 3-5 miles/second, possibly ACCELERATING to about 7 miles per second at the end of the sighting, or escape velocity. (Meteors can only decelerate from friction, never accelerate.)

    6. Moore’s opinion from the start (read McLaughlin's letter) was that it was definitely NOT a meteor (nor a balloon, bird, or plane) and, in a 1986 letter to Dr. Bruce Maccabee, Moore even stated “it was a CRAFT with highly unusual performance.”

    7. Ironically, even knee-jerk arch debunker Menzel (an astronomer) never proposed Zoam’s “meteor” as an “explanation”, instead trying to claim it was a “mirage” of their own balloon. Moore instead stated in his Maccabee letter that “What I saw was NOT a mirage”, and denounced Menzel’s attempt to to debunk the sighting, stating, “I'm cynical about Menzel and his approach to science."

    Gee, I wonder what Moore would think about Zoambot’s approach to “science?”

    Moore was typically a UFO debunker himself, but apparently, in Zoambot World, on this one occasion, he and his crew fell victims to the Zoam mass psychosocial UFO delusion. Right Zoambot?

    By Blogger David Rudiak, at Tuesday, August 12, 2014  

  • DR first misrepresents somewhat Moore's 1949 daylight observation of a high-altitude earthgrazing meteor, then tells us why his partial misrepresentations fail to match that of a common meteor.

    A worthless straw-man by substitution, DR.

    Earthgrazers often don't have tails; can change speed and direction while skirting the upper atmosphere and escaping--not that Moore's observations were more than impressions.

    "There are at least 2000 Earth-crossers with diameters of 1 km or larger, 100,000 larger than the Rose Bowl, and 70-80 million larger than a typical house," and innumerable smaller bodies.

    Moore and Menzel were ignorant of the realities of earthgrazers, so are DR and Larry apparently.

    DR, doesn't it reveal something to you that you must work so hard at ignoring mundane astronomical realities to keep your brain-dead flying-saucer fantasy on life support?

    Maybe you and Larry should take Larry's advice.... (G)



    By Blogger zoamchomsky, at Tuesday, August 12, 2014  

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