Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Re-entries of rocket boosters... and UFOs

Recently, a list of rocket booster and satellite re-entries was generated by a very diligent space fan, Ted Molczan. He had previously identified the "Giant Yukon UFO" as the re-entry of some space junk that had occurred about the same time as the observations of that infamous UFO. I and others have expressed our reservations that all of the 30+ observations were a re-entering spacecraft, but many skeptics are completely convinced.

But Molczan took it upon himself to go one better. He generated a list of re-entries that would have been visible to the naked eye, under the assumption that these re-entries would explain many UFO reports. It's a fascinating list, and an excellent body of work that must have taken him quite a while. I recommend that UFO buffs take a good look at it:

Since we recently completed the 25-year study of UFO reports in Canada, I realized this would make an interesting comparison with known observational data. Specifically, do the re-entries listed by Molczan during the last 25 years correspond to UFOs reported in Canada during that time?

And the answer is: yes.

Yes, there were 14 calculated re-entries on the list that would have been visible in Canada. There were 53 UFO reports that matched these re-entries. However, nearly all of these cases were already considered to have explanations or probable explanations by the UFO investigators themselves. And most were considered to have been bolides or re-entries, anyway.

But Molczan's work shows that UFO investigators are on the right track when it comes to trying to identify UFOs reported to them.

How many more UFO sightings can be matched to known spacecraft re-entries?

Here's my analyses of the list of re-entries:

A Comparison of UFO Sighting Reports Between 1989 and 2013
with the list of
Visually Observed Natural Re-Entries of Earth Satellites
compiled by Ted Molczan (2014)


One of the common explanations for reported UFOs is that of misidentified satellite or rocket booster re-entries. UFO investigators often check UFO sighting reports against lists of satellite observations as a matter of course. Skeptics have suggested that many “unexplained” UFO reports are unrecognized spacecraft re-entries, including some of the more well-known and heralded unexplained UFO cases.
            Recently, a list of visually observed re-entries was generated by an expert on such things in the course of an explanation for one particular reported unexplained UFO case: the giant “mothership” seen by dozens of witnesses in the Yukon Territory on December 11, 1996. The case has been the subject of intense investigation and considerable debate, but UFO proponents insisting the observed object was mysterious, but skeptics are adamant it was simply a re-entry of a rocket booster.
            The list is quite interesting because it allows a comparison of known re-entry data with UFO data from the 25-year period of study of the Canadian UFO Survey. Out of 14 re-entries on the list noted as being observable in Canada during the past 25 years, four did not generate any UFO reports at all. There were 53 UFO reports that matched times of re-entries, all but three of which were either explained, had insufficient info or were thought to have possible explanations (and noted by the UFO reporting organizations as bolides or re-entries).
In other words, ufologists were able either to identify the re-entries as what they were or did not consider them UFOs in 50 out of 53 reports. This can be interpreted to show that UFO investigators are generally able to differentiate misidentified UFOs in at least 94 per cent of cases known to be spacecraft re-entries. Ardent skeptics may not be the only ones capable of explaining UFO sightings.
The one other case that is of some debate is Case 4, where a “Giant UFO” was described by dozens of witnesses located post hoc by a UFO investigator after some months had passed. The case was therefore not included in the Canadian UFO Survey for that year. Forensic historical UFO research has shown that these sightings may be related to the re-entry event that night, although witnesses of the UFOs that night described objects with structure and discrete form, lasting a significant length of time. In fact, two witnesses described large circular objects passing directly overhead, and two witnesses separated by only a few miles described radically different angular views of the apparently same object, something impossible if the observed object was actually a spacecraft re-entry almost 150 miles up in the atmosphere. (Unless, of course, the witnesses were lying or badly mistaken.)
Also, one only has to look at the descriptions of other misidentified re-entries in the list to see that witnesses in most cases used terms such as “fireball,” and “ball of light trailing sparks,” “tail on fire,” “comet-like,” “airplane on fire” and so forth. The Yukon case involved multiple independent witnesses who described large objects with a shape and form, not just strings of lights that could be a fragmenting re-entry.
Also, debunkers note that UFO investigators investigate UFO cases in a linear progression of steps, with “Step One: Assume the testimony is reliable.” They note that eyewitness testimony is in fact usually unreliable, so that judging the worthiness of a UFO report on witness testimony is inappropriate. However, as we have seen in this brief study, witness testimony was considerably reliable in explaining known fireball cases reported as UFOs, investigated and classified by UFO investigators themselves.
In summary, the excellent work by Molczan in compiling a list of spacecraft re-entries that might explain some UFO cases is admirable. However, UFO investigators without the list were generally able to assess the validity of UFO reports shown later to match the re-entries. The one standout case was that of the Yukon case of 1996, which is still debated among ufologists and debunkers.
It is recommended that all ufologists familiarize or reacquaint themselves with the appearance of terrestrial spacecraft re-entries, and ensure the possibility of such an event is considered when evaluating UFO reports.

Case 1:
1989 Nov 16  03:07UT
1985-050A 15833 Russia Cosmos 1662
Visible from southern Manitoba

1989    11 15   1900    Chibougamau              PQ       NL        fireball                        NRC                 I           N89/75: 15 diff. reports of lights moving in sky, "fireworks"       
1989    11 15   1900    Val D'Or                      PQ       NL        fireball                        NRC                 I           N89/75: light moving, like "fireworks"
1989    11 15   2105    Winnipeg                     MB      ND       fireball                        UFOROM         P          ball of light trailing "welding sparks", seen ove wide area          
1989    11 15   2100    Oakville                       MB      ND       fireball                        NRC                 P          N89/76: long "tail on fire" moving slowly       

There were four reports filed that seem to coincide with the date of this event. Only two were from Manitoba, and both were described as fireballs or bolides with long tails, fragmenting as they flew. One was reported to the National Research Council, while the other was reported to Ufology Research directly. Curiously, the other two possible matches were from Quebec, two hours earlier than the re-entry, but were also described in terms of a fragmenting fireball. In fact, the NRC report notes that it received 15 reports of observations – many more than Manitoba. Given this coincidence, it is possible the re-entry calculations were in error with regards the extent of observable locations. Two of the reports were classified as “Insufficient Information,” likely because the NRC file was incomplete, and two were classified as “Probable Explanation.”

Case 2
1990 Aug 24  02:41UT
1990-075B 20766 Russia Cosmos 2096
Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota

1990    8          23        2140    Portage la Prairie       MB      nl         300      multi    2          ps         5          8            UFOROM         u          pilots saw lights on parallel course; no a/c in area  

One UFO report was found matching the re-entry perfectly. It was classified as Unknown because the witness was a reliable observer. However, the witness only reported “lights,” so no structured object was described.

Case 3:
1996 Apr 14  07:05UT
1996-021C 23844 Russia Astra
Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan NUFORC, SeeSat-L

1996    4  14    0300    Nouvelle                      PQ       NL        yellow  cigar    SOS OVNI        U          object w/4 large lights; 'big as a trailer'           
1996    4  14    0311    Port-Melnier               PQ       NL                                SOS OVNI        I           pilot reported object flying E-W; Transport Canada log      
1996    4  14    0312    Caplan                         PQ       NL        yellow ps        SOS OVNI        P          "airplane in flames"           
1996    4  14    0315    Caplan                         PQ       C1                    round   SOS OVNI        I           obj. stopped over road; then took off; within 100 feet  

These four reports appear congruent with the re-entry event. Two had insufficient information, and one was listed as “Probable Explanation” because of the description “airplane in flames” which is a common description of a fireball. The report listed as “Unknown” is curious because it has descriptors unlike a re-entry. The sighting at 0315 hours local was noted as a “Close Encounter,” yet in time and location matches the re-entry.

Case 4:
1996 Aug 20  00:47UT
1996-010D 23797 Russia Raduga 33r2
New Brunswick: St. John - glowing near perigee, day prior to fall from orbit.

No sightings reported during this time period.

Although the Molczan list suggested this re-entry would be observable over the Maritime provinces, no UFO sightings were reported.

Case 5:
1996 Dec 12  04:27UT
1996-069B 24671 Russia Cosmos 2335
Alaska: Anchorage, pilots all over the state; Yukon: Fox Lake, Carmacks, Pelly Crossing, Mayo

No sightings reported during this time period*

Similar to Case 2, although the Molczak list notes widespread observations. No one reported seeing any UFOs at the time, even though there was at least one news report about the event. However, this case is the noted “Giant UFO in the Yukon” for which there have been found numerous witnesses long after the fact; this sighting was therefore not included in the 1996 Canadian UFO Survey.

Case 6:
1997 Nov 15  05:09UT
1997-070C 25047 Russia Kupon
British Columbia, Oregon and Washington

1997    11  14  2109    Deep Cove       BC        NL        fireball                        UFOBC             E                      tracks of glowing green/white objs. moving W-E; Russian booster re-entry  

There was only one report of a UFO, at it exactly matches this re-entry. It was easily identified as such and classified as “Explained.”

Case 7:
1998 Jan 06  13:43UT
1997-048C 24927 China Iridium
Arctic Canada: Nunavut: 74.43 N, 94.4 W; Coral Harbour; Grise Fiord

No UFO reports received during this time period.

Case 8:
2001 Aug 12  03:42UT
2001-030B 26868 Russia Molniya 3K-11
Quebec: Drumondville; Nova Scotia: Halifax

2001  08  11  2300                              NS        NL        ps   3    5                      Internet           P         
3 bright lights in triangle, changing positions; bolide?         
2001  08  11  2200                              NS        NL        ps  3     9                      MUFON           P         
4 independent reports of triangles and pairs of lights; rocket?        
2001  08  11                Ottawa            ON       NL        ps  3     5                      Internet           I          
overhead blinker craft' w/peculiar lights, no sound, video taken    
2001  08  11  2230      Chicoutimi       PQ       NL        60  orange  fireball 3  4  SOSOVNI     E          fireball w/long white tail [Russian rocket booster reentry]   
2001  08  11  2230      La Baie                       PQ       NL        60  orange  fireball 3  4 SOSOVNI      E          fireball w/long white tail [Russian rocket booster reentry]  
2001  08  12  0045      Halifax             NS        NL        fireball            3  7                     NUFORC       E          bright obj. w/3 "jets of flame" moving N-S; Russian rocket?      
2001  08  12  0035      Halifax             NS        NL        white   fireball            3 5          NUFORC       P          obj. w/tail "like a Navy flare"      
2001   08 12  0015      Edmonton        AB        NL        irregular   3     5          AUFOSG           P          3 dim parallel streaks like shooting stars, seen briefly        

This is an interesting event, since there are eight possible matches with this re-entry. Seven reports came from eastern Canada and the Maritimes, but only four are good matches with the re-entry, and two are possible matches. The report from Edmonton is unlikely to have been related. Several witnesses accurately described fireballs with long tails. All of these UFO reports were classified as “Explained” or “Probably Explained.”

Case 9:
2001 Sep 06  10:50UT
1975-076B 8128 Russia Cosmos 756
Along the U.S. northeast coast. SeeSat-L, NUFORC

No UFO reports received.

Case 10:
2002 Feb 01  05:27UT
1997-051D 24947 USA Iridium 27
Yukon: Whitehorse, Lake Laberge SeeSat-L, UFO*BC, Whitehorse Star

2002    1  31    1610    Whitehorse     YK        dd        irregular          UFOBC             I           metallic obj. low on horizon moving S       
2002    1  31    2110    Whitehorse     YK        nl         fireball                        UFOBC             P         
many witnesses observed a "meteor" with a long tail          
2002    1  31    2120    Whitehorse     YK        nl         blue     ps         UFOROM         I          
obj. w/6 or 7 smaller lights following, moving NW  
2002    1  31    0300    Burns Lake      BC        nl                                 HBCCUFO        I           witness awakened by light shining in window      

The two reports around 2100 hours on January 31 could match this re-entry. One was suspected to be a re-entry, while the other did not have sufficient information for evaluation at the time.

Case 11:
2002 Nov 28  14:13UT
2002-053B  27558   Russia   Astra

2002    11  28  620      Pender Island  BC        NL        white   irregular          NUFORC          E          satellite making "messy re-entry"; trail of objs going N-S in E

One report received during this period, explained by investigators as an early morning satellite re-entry.

Case 12:
2004 May 06  06:17UT
1996-010A 23794 Russia Raduga 33
Ontario: Toronto; Ohio: Massillon; Pennsylvania: Erie SeeSat-L

2004    5   5     2351    Fort McMurray           AB        NL  fireball                  MIAC               E          very bright fireball           
2004    5   5     2205    Vancouver       BC                    NL   ps                         NUFORC          P          flashing lights in W, low on horizon, descending          
2004    5   6     2320    Gravenhurst    ON                   ND  triangle                NUFORC          P          arrow-shaped obj. flying high in sky, W-N           

None of these reports received that night seem congruent with the re-entry listed. However, MIAC recorded a bright fireball a few hours earlier; perhaps this was a fragment? None of these UFO reports were classified as Unknowns.

Case 13:
2004 Jun 27  02:54UT
1992-088E  22273  Russia   1992-088E  
Ontario   SeeSat-L, NUFORC, MUFON

2004    6          26        2050    Brampton        ON       nl                     orange 1          fireball            3          6            HBCCUFO        p          3 consecutive objs. with trails, very fast       
2004    6          26        1100    Toronto           ON       dd        120                  1          ps         3          5          NUFORC            p          2 starlike objs. moving back and forth "inconspicuously"     
2004    6          26        2000    Toronto           ON       nl         120                  1          ps         3          5          NUFORC            p          2 starlike objs. in W., moving around, increased, decreased, went E          
2004    6          26        2300    Toronto           ON       nl                     orange 1          fireball            3          6            HBCCUFO        p          fragmenting fireball seen by experienced observer 
2004    6          26        2245    Hamilton         ON       nl         15        white   1          fireball            3          6            HBCCUFO        p          3 objs. moving together, leaving trail, going NE       
2004    6          26        2245    Markham        ON       nl                                 1          fireball            3          6            HBCCUFO        p          comet-like obj. going W-E, long tail  
2004    6          26        2230    Guelph ON       nl         30                    1                      fireball            3          7            MIAC   e          re-entry of Cosmos 2224, fragmenting, long tail      
2004    6          26        2300    Windsor           ON       nl         30        white   2          fireball            3          6            NUFORC          p          5 objs. traveling together, going E, bright tail          
2004    6          26        2250    Goderich         ON       nl         120      orange 2          fireball            3          5            Internet           p          3 comet-like lights trailing debris heading E
2004    6          26        2145    Port Elgin        ON       nl         25        red       10        fireball            3          5            Internet           p          3 comet-like objs. w/tails going SE to E        
2004    6          26        2300    Toronto           ON       nl         60        orange 6          fireball            3          5            Internet           p          slow-moving obj. like it was burning up        
2004    6          26        2252    Toronto           ON       nl         30        orange 1          fireball            3          5            Internet           p          3 cometlike objs. w/tails flying horizontally over downtown Toronto          
2004    6          26        2252    Toronto           ON       nl         30        orange 5          fireball            3          5            Internet           p          4 bright objs. going from W to NE, tails like comets
2004    6          26        2300    Bradford          ON       nl         120      orange 3          fireball            3          6            Internet           p          3 comet-like objs. "streaming" in sky going SE         
2004    6          26        2252    Toronto           ON       nl         2          gold     1          fireball            3          4            HBCCUFO        p          golden ball of light going quickly W-E           
2004    6          26        2200    Acton   ON       nl         60                    1          fireball            3          5          NUFORC            p          3 bright objs. heading W-E    
2004    6          26        2250    Toronto           ON       nl         60        white   1          fireball            3          5            NUFORC          p          3 comet-like objs. with long tails flying horizontally 
2004    6          26        2300    Toronto           ON       nl                     orange 4          fireball            3          6            HBCCUFO        p          3 comet-like objs. "streaming" across sky to SE        
2004    6          26        2255    Harwood         ON       nl         20                    1          fireball            3          6            MIAC   e          slow, fragmenting bolide, re-entry of Cosmos 2224 
2004    6          26        2300    Toronto           ON       nl         15        orange             fireball            3          7            MIAC   e          fireball 20 deg. above horiz., going SW-SE, sparks, trail      
2004    6          26        2253    Janetville         ON       nl         20                    1          fireball            3          6            MIAC   e          slow-moving fireball, fragmenting, trail, re-entry of Cosmos 2224 
2004    6          26        2240    Windsor           ON       nl         30        red       3          ps         4          6          HBCCUFO            u          3 small lights going W, seen 5 mins. after bright fireball    

This was obviously a well-witnessed re-entry event. There were 22 reports from that area on that date, with 19 apparently related. The DD report at 1100 is clearly unrelated, for example. It is interesting to see that the time of observation varied considerably, from 2145 to 2300 CT. Most reported times do generally agree with the actual time of re-entry. Also, in all but one case, the report was recognized as a fireball and/or re-entry and given a classification of “Explained.” The single exception was the report from Windsor in which witnesses reported seeing a fireball, but then also saw 3 small objects after the original event, leading to an “Unexplained” evaluation of the report.

Case 14:
2008 Mar 13  07:27UT
1992-050D 22071 Russia Molniya 1-84
British Columbia: Prince George "Fireball over central B.C. was Russian space junk", Canwest News Service, Mar 13, 2008

2008    3  13    0023    Prince George             BC        ND       fireball                        HBCCUFO        E          trail of fire leaving sparks
2008    3  13    0025    Green Lake                  BC        ND       fireball                        HBCCUFO        P          fireball w/long tail, going W-E           
2008    3  13    0028    Armstrong                   BC        ND       fireball                        NUFORC          I           oval light moved through sky, glowed thru trees          
2008    3  13    0030    Kamloops                    BC        ND       fireball                        HBCCUFO        E          bright streak going W-E; rocket re-entry     
2008    3  13    2350    Kelowna                      BC        ND       oval                 MUFON           I           obj. moved slowly across sky, tail grew, shrank

These five British Columbia UFO reports match the re-entry and were easily identified or suspected to be fireballs or re-entries.  


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