The UFO phenomenon is without any doubt one of the most intriguing puzzles that defies either science or common sense. Comprehending a heterogeneous variety of enigmatic objects, whose origins are yet to be explained, the evidence for their existence comes from all parts of the world either in the form of reports and descriptions, as well as photographs, film or recorded sounds. In order to extricate different types of interactions between Man and UFOs in this episode, Arthur C. Clarke has employed the Hynek method, which comprises three different kinds of sightings: the first, where the objects are observed from a distance; the second kind, where these objects are seen to have physical influence on other elements within their environment: and finally the third kind, where the witness or witnesses have close interaction with the objects or beings, inside or outside the object.
On the December 30th, in the year of 1978, a television crew led by Australian reporter Quentin Fogarty tried to capture some of the flying objects which had been reported days before by pilot of an airplane flying on the same route. Near the Kaikoura coast in New Zealand, the crew was surprised to see that, just before midnight, strange objects started to appear on the skies. The footage and reports were immediately analysed as the plane landed at Blenheim. Though sceptics tried to dismiss the observed object as the planet Venus, the radar was able to confirm that some of these unidentified objects had indeed flown over that area. Further inquiries determined that some sections of the film, though blurry, seem to show what the airplane crew described: an object with a luminous base and a transparent top.
Supervising the project Starlight International in Leander (Texas), Dr. Ray Stanford presents a very unique perspective on the properties demonstrated by these objects. His work consists of using the latest technology in order to detect unidentified flying objects in the skies with the aid of a state-of-the-art computer mainframe, specifically programmed to monitor activity in the area and alert the team in case of an occurrence. Having recollected some amount of evidence, from film to sound records, Dr. Stanford believes that these objects aren’t a natural phenomenon, but a highly sophisticated display of technology which couldn’t have been created by humans. He states, wittingly: “If the Soviet Union has that kind of technology, God help the free world. And if the free world has that kind of technology, God help the soviets”.
The modern-day view of UFOs, often mistaken for flying saucers, derives from that which is considered to be the triggering event that led to years of theories and debate. As he flew over the slopes of Mount Rainier in search for a crashed military aircraft, Kenneth Arnold noticed a glow in his cockpit. To the North he spotted an echelon formation of unusual aircrafts approaching the mount at a very high speed (later determined to be approximately 1700 Mph/2735 Km/h, a value indeed much higher than any craft could achieve at the time). He observed that one of these crafts was crest-shaped and had a hole in its centre. Later he described what he saw to a news reporter, stating that the objects flew the same way a saucer would. Distorting Arnold’s words, the reporters ignored the rest of his descriptions and focused solely on the notion of “flying saucer”, hence the persistent popular folklore icon.
But appearances can be deceiving. Many reports may in fact be based in misperceptions of natural or man-made objects, as Clarke himself describes: one night he was out with his friend and they both pointed at Venus in the dark sky, though in opposite directions. He soon found out that the other Venus in the sky was none other than the local weather balloon. Other recorded sightings, however, take more time and effort to analyse. Lee Hansen’s famous film of an unspecified object flying the mounts of Catalina Island (California), shot in 1966, is placed under scrutiny at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena by Dr. Robert Nathan who analyses it frame by frame. After adding several layers of the best frames, he concluded that Hansen’s film contained not a UFO but a small commercial airplane as seen from the glare caused by the upper wings and the windows of the cockpit to the right.
Because long distance sightings, or encounters of the first kind, are prone to erroneous interpretations, the episode moves on to some darker accounts where people claim to have had a close encounter of the third kind. That is the case of Mrs. Jesse Roesternberg, living in a farmhouse in Staffordshire at the time of the event. On the 21st of October, 1954, just as she was tidying herself up she heard a loud noise she described as that of a “giant cauldron of water poured on a hot fire”. She took her children to the front garden and they all observed, in awe, what Mrs. Roestenberg identified as a craft with the size of 60ft/18m, approximately, like a “huge Mexican hat”. She also observed that from within it were beautiful people with long blond hair and vivid blue suits, staring at her. As a reaction to her disbelief, she then looked at her children and asked if they too were seeing it: on that same instant, as she looked back, the craft had circled the farm two times and then vanished as it ascended the sky.
Forestry worker Bob Taylor was doing his usual round in the Dechmont forest in the 9th of November of 1979, near Edinburgh, when he noticed a menacing apparatus on a small, fenced terrain. It had a huge round dome, with arms sticking out of it, and was of a dark grey colour with a big flange around it. Underneath it were two spheres that crawled on pipes sticking out of them, and they started moving towards him. Due to the shocking nature of this event, Mr. Taylor’only remembers the suffocating smell and being pulled before he went running home. Later, the police officers investigated the site and found track marks as well as over 40 holes on the ground, possibly caused by the arms emerging from the spheres. There were no other marks found either inside or outside the fenced area, thus rejecting the hypothesis of a hoax. Furthermore, the police bureau attested the credibility of the witness as a respected member of the community, and not one likely to create such an awkward story.
Clarke’s conclusion to this episode is as ambiguous as the theme itself. Is it possible that visitors from outer space have been visiting selected people for years, landing in murky places, without being tracked by the radar networks installed all over the planet? ‘I feel that when there really is a visitation from outer space it will be something spectacular rather like the climax of the movie Close Encounters of the third kind: we will be certain of it in about five minutes.’