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UFO viewing tips

KXAS-TV 
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KXAS-TV's Scott Gordon
reports on the UFO frenzy
in Stephenville, Texas.


Ten days after the first sightings of lights in the sky over Texas, tales of UFOs are still sparking speculation. One of the witnesses, Steve Allen, is offering $5,000 for a good picture of the flying object - but he hasn't bought any of the photos or videos offered so far. "The pictures weren't worth a damn," he told me.

On Saturday, he and other witnesses are gathering to pool their accounts for a national UFO organization – but there's always a chance the Texas sightings will fade into the distance, just like the O'Hare UFO sighting over a year ago. What's the best way to document a sighting? Here are some tips:

Take a picture
Getting an image of something in the sky may sound like the best way to go, but as this month's reports illustrate, that's not always sure-fire. Allen was one of the most widely quoted witnesses of the purported flyover on Jan. 8, and it was his desire to have an image that led him to offer the $5,000 reward. "I'd have given five grand that day to have a camera," he explained.

Several residents from the area around Stephenville, Texas, responded - but Allen said the pictures showed little more than dots in the sky. "I don't need a dot standing out there," he said.

Today the Fort Worth Star Telegraph published a front-page picture of the sighting, taken by a trucker with his cell phone as he drove along Interstate 20. "It looked like a meteor entering the atmosphere," the truck driver, Sean Kiel, was quoted as saying.

Allen was unimpressed. "It's not worth a flip," he told me. The bright spot's position in relation to the sun reminded me of a sundog, and the speck on the upper part of the image looked like an airplane. But of course, I'm no expert.

Photos are easy to fake. For example, in the case of the O'Hare UFO sightings, there were rumblings for weeks afterward about photographs showing the strange saucer over the airport. However, more than a year after the story caused such a sensation, only one picture remains that hasn't been debunked, according to Above Top Secret. And that one is far from conclusive.

Take a reading
NBC News space analyst James Oberg is hardly a true believer. Over the years, he's been pilloried by ufologists for coming down too hard on claims of strange sightings. But in the Texas case, Oberg is reluctant to prejudge the witnesses. Rather, he merely says that observers should be alert if they have an opportunity to identify a strange sky object. Here's what he had to say in an e-mail:

"Anytime you get a revisiting UFO, you have the chance to narrow down the normally near-infinite candidate list of prosaic explanations. You can ask people to memorize or record positions in the sky and angular size and speed of the apparition - not make unhelpful and automatically suspect guesses of sheer size and range, guesses that always involve unspoken (and unrealized) guesses about exactly those parameters that are supposedly being reported. Compare the object to the size of a fingertip, or a fist, at arm's length.

"Note where you are when you see it, and where it is over - and later go back and convert that to a true compass bearing. Log the times as accurately as possible - and if by your own watch, later compare it to a clock on a news channel. That way, separate but simultaneous sightings can be combined to create parallax measurements of true range.

"If nobody does this serious observation stuff, they may all be excited and have fun, but they'll be of no use to figuring out what may be behind the apparitions - and there's lots of stuff, some of it deliberately clandestine, that could be masquerading.

"Seeing jets chasing a UFO is a common perception - it's happened to me at least twice - and one has to be cautious about interpretations. Even at ranges of a mile or two, three jets in a close row will give the impression of the first object being silent - a 'UFO' - because the sound delay makes the second jet appear to be the first object giving off engine noise. It is a striking misinterpretation that most folks are never warned about. I'm not offering it as an explanation - only as a cautionary admonition."

Take a meeting
The Texas chapter of the Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON, has scheduled a session starting at 1 p.m. CT Saturday in Dublin, Texas, to interview Allen and other witnesses. To hear MUFON state director Ken Cherry tell it, the spectators and journalists in attendance might well outnumber those witnesses. "Normally we do this in a more private setting," he told me today.

Nevertheless, Cherry said he has received eyewitness reports from at least 40 to 50 "folks who sound credible," via telephone (817-379-0773) or the MUFON Web site.

"We consider this the most significant mass sighting since the Phoenix Lights of 1997," he said.

MUFON investigators will be asking the witnesses to fill out three-page questionnaires and also tell their stories - and the results will be eventually be compiled in a report. "The whole process will probably take several months," Cherry said.

Will the Texas sighting be the event that finally rips the lid off the UFO conspiracy, or will it go into the same file drawer where the O'Hare and Phoenix cases are sitting? Stay tuned for the next installment - and in the meantime, feel free to take our UFO quiz, register your opinion using our unscientific Live Vote, check out the archived Log items here and here ... and, as always, weigh in with your comments below.

Update for 6:10 p.m. ET Jan. 20: The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has a report about the "crowded cacophony of confusion" at Saturday's UFO meeting, with seven investigators quizzing more than 50 witnesses as 400 onlookers (some in tinfoil hats) milled about. As Cherry said in advance of the event, it'll be several months before MUFON puts out its report. Among other media outlets in attendance were KXAS-TV, the Houston Chronicle and The Dallas Morning News.

Update for 6:30 p.m. ET Jan. 23: There will likely be more about this, but just for the record, I should pass along this U.S. Navy advisory issued today:

"NAVAL AIR STATION JOINT RESERVE BASE FORT WORTH, Texas - In the interest of public awareness, Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs realized an error was made regarding the reported training activity of military aircraft.

"Ten F-16s from the 457th Fighter Squadron were performing training ope,rations  from 6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday January 8, 2008 in the Brownwood Miltary Operating Area (MOA), which includes the airspace above Erath county.

"A MOA is airspace designated for military training. ..."

Does this solve the mystery? Feel free to weigh in once more.