Open-minded Research Needed on UFOs
The article on Clyde Tombaugh
notes that “he was later known as one of only a few scientists to take UFOs seriously.” He no doubt took them seriously primarily as a result of the fact that he had at least three UFO sightings. Tombaugh also had three sightings of the still-mysterious “green fireballs” seen in the Southwest states in 1948 and 1949, that were also observed and studied by Lincoln La Paz, Founder and Head of the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico.
It is to be regretted that it remains true that only a few scientists take UFOs seriously. Unlike the SETI search for extraterrestrial intelligent radio signals, that has no data to report, UFO data are voluminous and many cases (such as the Mansfield, Ohio, case of October 18, 1973, the Council Bluffs, Iowa, case of December 17, 1977, and the Haines City, Florida, case of March 20, 1992) are startlingly impressive. (See The UFO Enigma: A New Review of the Physical Evidence
by Peter A. Sturrock, Warner Books, New York, 1999.)
The Air Force based its decision to end its investigation of UFO reports (and NASA based its decision not to start an investigation) on the recommendation of Edward U. Condon, Director of the University of Colorado Air-Force-funded UFO Project (1966-68). Condon’s assertions (Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects
, Bantam Press, New York, 1969) that “nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the last 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge,” and that “further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby” were his own views that–to put it mildly–are difficult to reconcile with the case reports and summaries prepared by his own staff (Enigma
, pp.18 -44).
In 1997, on the initiative of Laurance S. Rockefeller, a panel of nine distinguished scientists (chaired by Von Eshleman and Tom Holzer) met with eight highly qualified UFO investigators in Pocantico, New York. The panel’s salient conclusions were: (1) The UFO problem is not a simple one, and it is unlikely that there is any simple universal answer; and (2) Whenever there are unexplained observations, there is the possibility that scientists will learn something new by studying those observations (Enigma
, pp. 120- 122).
Long-term, open-minded scientific research remains the essential prerequisite for resolving this long-standing puzzle. Peter A. Sturrock Stanford, CA