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Science, Skeptics & UFOs – the ball lightning connection

Written by Seraphin. Posted in UFO's in the news

Do yourself a favour if you are at all interested in the serious scientific study of UFOs. Get a copy of Dr. Tim Pennington’s book “Science, Skeptics and UFOS: A Reluctant Scientist Explores the World of UFOs”. 



Check out my earlier posts on it. He had me re-contemplating my brush with “ball lightning” as he and I seemed to have that in common along with both being into UFOs & science, being chemists (“Its all about the chemistry”), and we were both caught up as witnesses and participants of intense localised UFO flaps peaking in 1973 (his in the Mississippi and mine around Tyringham, near Dorrigo, in OZ). Here is my take on the ball lightning connection lifted out of my up coming OZ Files column in the online magazine UFO Truth:

Dr. Pennington witnessed from a distance of about 90 feet ball lightning in March 2005 – a blue-green transparent outer sphere about the size of a beach ball, with white inner “spokes” which seemed almost too bright to look at. It came drifting down “from the sky with no thunder or lightning to be heard or seen.” It dropped steadily to the ground from about 40 feet in about 6 to 8 seconds, leaving no mark on the ground.

Tim Pennington liked the explanatory model of Tore Wessel-Berg’s atmospheric ball lightning, but he highlights that there are probably 2 or 3 separate phenomena grouped under ball lightning. Dr. Pennington writes, “The glowing balls of energy that have been seen in a few instances travelling along electric power lines, actually appearing to be in contact with the power lines, is probably not the same phenomena as atmospheric ball-lightning. I believe these power-line phenomena usually only exist in contact with the power line and do not usually float away from it. In any event, it is very doubtful that true ball-lightning can come from power lines.”

I’m inclined to agree, but my own experience suggests that the answer might be more messy and complicated than current models. I have always felt that keeping a eye on the natural phenomena data and literature is a useful calibration tool for the UFO experience. Also many cases of a natural origin often find their way to UFO researchers. That dynamic makes the UFO research field a very useful compliment to research into other anomalies that already engage with science. Yet another reason for scientists to engage with UFO research.

My own experience with ball lightning occurred in about late 1973 or early 1974. The uncertainty about the date I owe to incorrectly thinking at the time that the nature of ball lightning was relatively well understood. I know I immediately thought what I saw was natural and most likely ball lightning.

It was already lightly raining and I was riding a motorbike at speed trying to make it to the safety of Armidale, which I was just approaching from the Grafton Road direction.

It was late afternoon and the approaching intense storm front seemed pretty intense and laden with intermittent lightning. So it was not something I wanted to be caught in. I could smell ozone in the area. In the corner of my eye, behind me to the left I noticed the approach of something very bright. I made it out to be a basket ball size ball of intense light, first seen seemingly rolling along power lines, then it seemed to be bouncing along the lines, until it seemed to collide with the cross beam of a power pole.

At that point things happened very quickly so while extremely vivid in my recollections I can only describe what I thought I saw play out. I was kind of preoccupied with self-preservation at this point. I noticed arcing between the handlebars of the motorbike. With the apparent contact of the ball with the power pole, it seemed to descend quickly down the pole in a tight spiral, then seemed to leave the pole, at about half to two thirds of the way down in my general direction. It seemed to dive towards the ground, thankfully near the pole, but then seemed to break up into multiple small pieces kind of like sodium behaves when thrown onto water, namely fizzing or igniting like crazy in all directions.

I was immediately concerned the ball or its “remains” was going to earth on me, or the bike, and that I was sitting on a petrol tank! I veered across the road to the right laying the bike down as I rolled off it into an area on the side of the road in as low profile as possible. All this took several seconds, then I carefully put my head up and looked in the direction of the pole. All seemed relatively calm with no apparent ball or bits of it evident, but the storm was almost upon me, with the rain starting to intensify. I immediately righted the motorbike, starting it again, fortunately without any problems, and gunned it out of there, finally reaching cover and safety in Armidale.

This experience, at least to my mind, was ball lightning in action – intense ball of light, storm, lightning etc. I didn’t think the light ball was created by the power lines. And I was certain it wasn’t a UFO. Rather it was nature unbound in wild form.
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Science, Skeptics and UFOs – A reluctant scientist explores the world of UFOs

Written by Seraphin. Posted in UFO's in the news

I’m reading this at the moment on Kindle. My initial quick read through suggests this book is well worth getting. There is much that recommends this book.  I was impressed enough to order the hardback version of the book – looks like a keeper, which will no doubt get looked at in considerable more detail.  

As a fellow physical chemist I admire his approach. He has much to say about the approach of science to the subject.  Most of what I have read so far I would agree with.  :
Science, Skeptics, and UFOs
A Reluctant Scientist Explores the World of UFO
By B. Timothy Pennington PhD

From B. Timothy Pennington’s book:

“I have been saddened as I came to understand the irrational response of the scientific establishment to the UFO phenomena. I have come to understand the scientific establishment’s UFO paradigm. The paradigm is belief driven ….”“Never have I seen so many fallacies strung together as in the the scientific and skeptical responses to UFOs and other unexplained phenomena. It is the Emperor’s New Clothes in reverse.”

From the publishers:

On a farm in central Mississippi in the 1970s, the author and his family were surprised to find themselves in the middle of a hotbed of UFO activity. In 1977 the author, a scientist, turned to the book UFOs Explained by Philip J. Klass looking for answers, but found the explanations did not really fit. For years he drifted in indecision unable to fully come to grips with what he and his family had experienced. Knowing that UFOs were a taboo subject to most mainstream scientists, he was quite reluctant to come forward on the subject of UFOs during his career. Abandoning his concerns after retirement, the author takes the reader on a journey of full disclosure and discovery. During this journey, the author discovered that his family sightings and a number of well-known Mississippi sightings were clearly related phenomena. Further findings ultimately led the author to explore the wider world of UFOs and to discover some insights never brought to light before. B. Timothy Pennington was born in Jackson, Mississippi on September 2, 1948, the second of three children. He grew up in Polkville and Morton in central Mississippi and attended East Central Community College in Decatur before entering the University of Southern Mississippi where he went on to earn a Ph. D. in chemistry in 1974. He completed two years of postdoctoral research at the USDA Eastern Regional Research Center near Philadelphia, PA as a National Research Council Research Associate and one year as a Robert A. Welsh postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas at Arlington before accepting a teaching position at Navarro College in Corsicana, TX. After teaching and writing scripts for chemistry videotapes for two years as part of a National Science Foundation grant, he joined the chemical industry in the Lake Charles, LA area in 1979 and stayed in the industry for 30 years. A member of the American Chemical Society for over 35 years, he has seven publications in refereed scientific journals, two trade industry publications, and 21 US patents as inventor or co-inventor. In 1970, he married the former Esther Kennedy of Forest, MS and has three adult daughters.
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On JFK, UFOs, and 9/11, Most Americans Are Skeptics, Not Conspiracists – Slate Magazine

Written by Seraphin. Posted in UFO's in the news


Slate Magazine
On JFK, UFOs, and 9/11, Most Americans Are Skeptics, Not Conspiracists
Slate Magazine
In 1996, near the 50th anniversary of the supposed UFO crash in Roswell, N.M., Gallup asked Americans whether UFOs had “ever visited earth in some form.” Forty-five percent said yes. But when Gallup asked, in the same questionnaire, “Does the US 

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UFO skeptics back Kingston Council plans for $150000 spaceship-themed park – Herald Sun

Written by Seraphin. Posted in UFO's in the news

UFO skeptics back Kingston Council plans for 0000 spaceship-themed park
Herald Sun
The 0,000 spaceship-themed design at Grange Reserve, cashing in on the notoriety of the alleged 1966 UFO sighting at the park, is set to be erected in June. HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you believe in UFOs? Is the council's plan a good one? Tell us below or

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PAY ATTENTION SCIENCE, SKEPTICS AND MEDIA, ASTRONOMERS DO SEE UFOs

Written by Seraphin. Posted in UFO's in the news

In the current issue of the Australian bimonthly magazine “UFOLOGIST” Vol.16, No.1 May-June, 2012, in my new column SCIENCE and the UFO CONTROVERSY I have written a piece with the focus: PAY ATTENTION SCIENCE SKEPTICS AND MEDIA, ASTRONOMERS DO SEE UFOs.  I demolish a statement by Sydney Observatory consultant astronomer Dr. Nick Lomb where he stated “Only amateurs see UFOs,” and that no serious observer, particularly astronomers or even amateur astronomers, has ever seen a UFO.   Dr. Lomb, author of the recent excellent book “Transit of Venus,” is an expert on astronomy, but he is clearly uninformed about serious UFO research.

I recently had the opportunity to briefly met up with Dr. Lomb during an Observatory Sydney Writers Festival event.  He cordially signed my copy of his book “To Bill, clear skies to see identified objects,” and I gave him a copy of my column which discusses his statement and my response to it.  I hope he takes the time to consider this and makes a considered response.


Anyone seriously acquainted with the UFO subject would dispute Dr. Lomb’s skeptical statement. For example, Clyde Tombaugh the discoverer of Pluto reported UFO sightings.  Dr. Hynek undertook an early 1950s survey which revealed some astronomer’s sightings, and Professor Peter Sturrock’s survey during the 1970s revealed further evidence of UFO sightings by astronomers. Dr. Hynek once took photos of UFOs himself. He couldn’t explain what he captured on film from a plane window.

In my 1996 book “The OZ files – the Australian UFO Story” I describe a 1957 Mount Stromlo sighting, of which the assistant director of the observatory, Dr. A.R. Hogg stated, “It was the first time the observatory had sighted what might be called an unidentified flying object. What it was remains an open question.”
Much earlier, 1902 in fact, Adelaide observatory astronomers reported an aerial object they couldn’t identify. I describe that incident in detail in the column, focusing on an extraordinary legacy story of astronomer George Dodwell,  as it has a fascinating deeper story that flows from it – Dodwell not only witnessed a UFO from Adelaide Observatory in 1902, he was in later years convinced that alien UFOs existed. 
In “The OZ Files” I also describe a UFO sighting made by the late Dr. John Dawe, who was the manager of the Sidings Springs Observatory. He described his sighting near Merriwa in the Sydney Morning Herald of 11 January 1995, stating it was “classic stuff … It was something I still cannot explain. But I am 99.99 percent certain it was nothing alien.” A UFO still – an unidentified flying object.

Over 3 issues of the UFO Investigation Centre’s UFOIC Newsletter (No. 37, 38 & 39: 1972 – 1973) the group’s secretary at the time William Moser (also president of the local chapter of the British Astronomical Association) had his article “Astronomers and UFOs” published, listing numerous sightings by astronomers.



To skeptics and astronomers such as Dr. Nick Lomb, you need to realise that some “serious observers”, indeed astronomers and professionals, do observe UFOs, and it is often the uniformed opinions of their peers that prevent the reporting of their UFO sightings.  Another lost opportunity to discover something fascinating that is being reported by serious observers, not just amateurs, but a serious engagement by science of the UFO mystery could change this unsatisfactory dynamic, leading to the development of a productive field of UFO science.


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The Roswell Investigation and the Skeptics

Written by Seraphin. Posted in UFO's in the news

I have seen, over the last several months, nothing but criticism from the world of the skeptic about our efforts to assemble a team to investigate the Roswell claims. We have published little about our investigation, other than to announce the members of the team, and the skeptics and debunkers have found nothing to like about it. They are convinced that all we will do is reinforce the ideas that have already been published. That is, we’ll endorse the extraterrestrial and that is it.

In fact, I believe that the only answer they will accept is that Roswell was something mundane, most probably a weather balloon array launched from Alamogordo on June 4, 1947. If we determine anything else, regardless of what evidence we might uncover, it will be rejected as more of the same. They all know that there has been no alien visitation and therefore anything that suggests otherwise is the result of poor technique and investigation on our part.


Any eyewitness testimony that suggests otherwise is the result of poor memory, confabulation or outright lying. Nothing these people say will be believed, unless they provide testimony that what fell was something mundane, most probably a weather balloon array launched from Alamogordo on June 4, 1947.

If, however, the eyewitness testimony reinforces the balloon explanation, then those memories are accurate and reflect reality. It doesn’t matter if those memories are can be proven false with documentation, they must be believed because they lead directly to the accepted explanation.

As I say, all this is ridiculous because we haven’t completed our work. We have developed some interesting leads, but the skeptics are already rejecting our research without seeing any of it.

I’ll give you two minor examples of what we have found. First, I spent some weeks trying to learn if there was any sort of archive that would house NOTAMs. Now, I realize that there really is little of historical value in a NOTAM. These are simply notices to airman about temporary conditions that would affect flight operations. It might be a runway closing, it might be something about lighting at an airfield, or it might be something that could pose a threat to aerial navigation such as the launch of an array of balloons that could cause trouble for an aircraft.

You would think that the answer would be simple to find, but it wasn’t. I called, wrote, emailed and communicated with a couple of dozen different agencies most of them within the FAA. I finally learned that no such archive exists. The rules said that the NOTAMs be held for a short period and then destroyed when no longer useful.

When you think about it, that makes sense since there would have been tens of thousands of them and most would have little historical importance. In other words, once the runway was reopened, who really cared that it had been closed for two weeks half a century earlier… Or that the arrays of balloons that could create an aerial hazard were no longer being launched around Alamogordo. It would have been nice to see, exactly, how the NOTAM was worded, but that information is long gone.

The second point is also relatively minor. The skeptics complain that no one saw the object in the air. We, and by we I mean Don Schmitt, Tom Carey and I have found several different witnesses to an object in the sky at the right time. First was William Woody, who recently died, and who, as a youngster saw something streak across the sky while working outside late one night with his father. Days later, they thought they would go in search of it but were turned back by the military cordon.

Second was E. L. Pyles, who was serving with the 509th Bomb Group in 1947. He said that as he was walking across the base, he saw something flare across the sky. Karl Pflock dismissed this testimony, writing that Pyles couldn’t remember much. Pyles, according to Karl, said, “It was in forty-seven. I don’t remember the month or the date.”

In the next paragraph, in attempting to learn about the time of night, Karl asked a couple of questions. Pyles replied that a “few days later,” he saw the “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer” story. That means that he couldn’t put an exact date on it, but did identify it as the first week in July, 1947, contrary to Karl’s statement a couple of sentences earlier. In other words, Karl’s criticism was inaccurate, but the skeptics never called him to task on it.

Third are the nuns. We had information based on what had been written in personal diaries. We believed then, and I believe now, that information is accurate. We, as had others, traced those diaries to Oklahoma, but we now have new information on their location. We are attempting to get permission from the church to review them and end this problem. In other words, we hope to see the diary entries in question.

What the diaries would do was put a date on this astronomical phenomenon, whatever it might have been. We should get a good description of it as well as the time it fell. It could be an important bit of documentation. Of course, until we see the actual entries, we won’t know how good that documentation is or even if it is there.

I remember back in the bad old days as the Condon Committee was working their magic, and those on the skeptical side complained that the UFO enthusiasts would accept no answer other than we were being visited. I realized then that Condon had a tough job because of that.

Now I see the same thing from the other side of the fence. It would be nice if the critics would wait until we complete our work and publish the results. They might be surprised by what we find…
Then again, we might be.

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A Skeptic’s Perspective/ Open Lines

Written by Seraphin. Posted in UFO Podcasts

In the first half, George Noory welcomed author and skeptic Guy Harrison, who shared his take on a wide variety of paranormal phenomena as well as conspiracy theories. Open Lines followed.


Coast to Coast AM – Past Shows

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