Phone lines lit up with anxious callers all over the western United States the evening of Thursday, October 3, 1996. Some reported a huge green light shooting through the sky, trailing sparks. Others said it was brilliant gold. Still others said it lit up the entire sky as bright as day. And many said they were sure it was heading for the ground nearby, though none could say where it landed.
Late night talk radio lit up with reports, too, suggesting that the mysterious object was seen as far north as Alaska and as far south as the Mexican border. It was reportedly seen in Las Vegas. It was certainly seen all over California and the southwest U.S.
In some places it caused sonic booms. In other places it caused cars to veer off the road and aircraft to take evasive action. It gave the impression of being in two or more places at once, and of making not one but two distinct passes through the sky.
What was it? As of October 15, several experts at UCLA and Sandia Labs were proposing a bizarre meteor, a celestial object that behaved in a way never seen before. But some witnesses said they had seen something even odder -- some kind of unidentified flying object. Following is text from several different news reports.
On October 4, the Associated Press ran this story:
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A falling meteor streaked through the skies, creating a brilliant flash that could be seen from California to New Mexico.
"We thought it was a skyrocket," said Ignacio Tantajos, a ranger at Los Angeles' sprawling Griffith Park. "It lit up and came down and that was it."
The greenish-yellow light Thursday evening "just blossomed out into something like a flare or a torch flame. It seemed to have little sparkles coming from it," said Patricia Dobbins, another witness at Griffith Park.
A television news helicopter pilot said he swerved to avoid what he at first thought was a spotlight from another helicopter.
In New Mexico, Monica Gomez of Eldorado was driving on the highway when she saw it streaking across the sky. "It was bright. It looked like it was on fire," she said. "It was amazing."
March Air Reserve Base control tower atmospheric observers said [it was] a meteor, which fell in a westerly direction shortly before 9 p.m.
"This is probably the biggest flash we've seen in two years," said John Moseley, an astronomer at the Griffith Park Observatory. "The meteor was probably a crumbly piece of asteroid, or possibly a fragment of a comet."
At first, some said it might have been a falling satellite. But the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which tracks satellite debris, said the flash could not have been caused by any items it was following and was likely a meteor or other natural phenomenon. [End AP story]
But independent news reports in many parts of the west speculated on stranger possibilities. Typical was this story by Bruno Navarro, a reporter for the New Mexican, a daily paper in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Under the title, "Some Witnesses Say Flash Wasn't Meteor," the text ran as follows:
Officials propose it was a meteor -- seen as far away as California -- that streaked across the heavens Thursday night [Oct 3]. But some local eyewitnesses say what came from and disappeared into the dark sky was no space rock.
Kevin Walsh and his mother, Frances, both of Eldorado, were driving back from Albuquerque on Interstate 25 when they spotted what looked like an approaching airplane and pulled onto the shoulder.
"It wasn't, like, 'Cool, a UFO.' We pulled off because we thought it was going to crash into the highway," he said. "It never occurred to me that it was a meteor."
Walsh said the fast-moving lights managed "a graceful, immediate pause," and then "shot east," apparently disappearing into the mountains.
Phil Romero, who lives on the south end of Agua Fria Street (Santa Fe), said he was home, playing his accordion with the lights off, when he spotted about 100 yards away what looked like a "helicopter without rotors -- just a fuselage," trailed by sparks. By the time he put down his equipment and walked to the window to get a better look, the light had disappeared.
A third witness reported seeing a "string of seven lights, emerald green in color, shoot across Siringo Road, vanishing into the mountains."
Despite the proximity of the putative sightings, no one reported hearing any accompanying sounds.
Other witnesses, however, reported seeing a larger than normal meteor along the horizon. Doug Bland, an amateur astronomer in Eldorado, said the meteor appeared "greenish white with bits of orange" for about 15 seconds before breaking into eight separate pieces. "It was completely gorgeous." [end story text]
CNI News began making inquiries through a local observatory concerning the nature of the celestial object and learned that a meteorite specialist named John Wasson had set up a hotline for eyewitness reports at UCLA's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. Without a doubt, this object had aroused high level attention, even if it was a meteor.
On October 15, Wasson and another researcher from Sandia National Laboratory reported their theory on the object. The Associated Press carried this story by science writer Jane Allen:
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Scientists believe the mysterious flash of green light seen over Western skies early this month was a meteorite breaking apart -- twice.
The chunk of space rock burned through the atmosphere to create a glow seen over Texas and New Mexico, then orbited Earth for more than 1 1/2 hours before streaking to a blazing doom northeast of Los Angeles, say John Wasson, a University of California-Los Angeles meteorite specialist, and Mark Boslough, a physicist from Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque.
"It's two events, the same object," Wasson said.
Scientists have never seen a meteorite entering the atmosphere, going into orbit and then re-entering the atmosphere and would like to get their hands on it, the researchers said.
UCLA is offering a $5,000 reward for the first chunk weighing at least 4 ounces, with smaller rewards for smaller samples. The fragments would look like small black stones, Wasson said.
Based on messages from lay observers, Wasson and Boslough have come up with the following scenario for the meteorite's plunge:
The object first entered Earth's atmosphere at about 8 p.m. MDT on Oct. 3 east of Las Cruces, N.M. It was heading east-northeast and slowed down as it descended at a shallow angle toward the Texas Panhandle.
It came the closest to Earth's surface near Artesia, N.M., where it began breaking apart, spawning a shower of meteors that created a brilliant sky show extending at least as far as Lubbock, Texas.
The biggest fragment then hurtled back into space. Eventually it slowed to 18,450 mph -- too slow to escape Earth's gravitational field. The chunk briefly became a small "moon," making a single, 100-minute orbit of the Earth.
It re-entered the atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean and passed over the California coast near Point Conception. The mass, glowing with heat from the re-entry, continued its journey just north of Bakersfield.
The largest mass stopped glowing northeast of Kernville in the Sierra Nevada, where sonic booms were widely heard, Wasson said.
Wasson said the meteorite was similar to the so-called "Peekskill fireball" captured on videotape on Oct. 9, 1992, before it crashed into a parked car in Peekskill, N.Y. Another fireball observed on Aug. 10, 1972, above North America was filmed by a tourist in Grand Teton National Park. It was placed into a new orbit that scientists believe will bring it near to the Earth again next August, the scientists said. [end AP text]
One wag quickly likened Wasson's scenario to the "single bullet theory" of the Kennedy assassination. That seems to be one remarkably clever and highly maneuverable meteor, if Wasson is correct. Of course, he may be.
But CNI News has heard from another witness -- a physician who also happens to be a Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserves, with security clearances -- who insists that something truly extraordinary may have happened the night of October 3, involving not a fancy-dancing meteor, but a bonafide spacecraft that both came, and left, under the watchful eyes of U.S. military personnel.
This story will be continued in the next edition of CNI News.
Original file name: .CNI - Meteor.LA UFO
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