It looked very much like an eclipse of the sun, which was about three fourths of total eclipse, in size, shape, and color (NICAP)

Description by witness to the infamous Gander UFO event in 1951. Photograph of a setting crescent moon by the author.

The Moon as a UFO

©Tim Printy 2009

It sounds crazy doesn’t it? I have to admit I would side with many UFOlogists in proclaiming that I would think it extremely unlikely that the brightest thing in the sky next to the sun could be mistaken for a UFO. This appears to be the sentiment that Jerome Clark expressed in his commentary about Astronomer Jill Tarter, who had admitted she had been fooled by the moon in some clouds for a short period of time while in an airplane once.

Jill Tarter looked ridiculous when she admitted (boasted, even) that - as an astronomer yet - she failed to recognize what any Joe Doakes has no trouble identifying instantly: the moon partially hidden by clouds. (Clark)

So, Clark has proclaimed that just about anybody should be able to recognize the moon and would not consider it a UFO.  However, there are UFO cases where the moon has played a role.

The Moon under unsual atmospheric conditions.

Many UFOlogist rarely appreciate how sky conditions can make familiar objects look not so familiar. In the case of Jill Tartar, she was recounting an episode where she saw a bright light peaking out of some clouds. She would realize what it was once she watched the sky clear enough to reveal the source of the light.  Mrs. Tartar was just admitting how she had been fooled for a few minutes by a common event in the sky seen under unusual conditions.  Careful observation was all it took to figure the UFO out. 

Probably the most difficult time to identify the moon is shortly after moonrise and moonset.  The thick atmosphere close to the horizon can play a significant role in distorting the moon’s shape and color.  Examine this sequence of photographs I took back in 1978 as the last quarter moon rose over lake Michigan:

The moon exhibiting color changes as it rises over Lake Michigan (Photos by the author)

M. Minnaert describes numerous issues associated with the rising sun and moon and how light refraction can affect colors and distort the shape of the moon/sun in his book, Light and colour in the open air. Additionally, there are interesting descriptions at this website which explains the phenomena with sunsets.  The light of the moon reacts in a similar manner and is subject to the same laws of physics as the sun. Because the moon is not as bright as the sun, these kinds of events tend to be less obvious to a casual observer.

"Joe Doakes" could never misidentify the moon as a UFO!

Probably the best case histories for UFOs being identified comes from the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) lead investigator, Allan Hendry.  His book, The UFO Handbook, should be required reading for all UFO investigators. The book is out of print but several copies are available in used book stores or ebay. Hendry's efforts to identify UFO reports are to be commended and they demonstrate how some of the most mundane events can be misperceived as UFOs. To me, his section on the moon was most interesting.

Hendry states he had twenty-two cases of misperceptions of the moon. Even police officers, who are often considered "trained and reliable observers", were not immune to this problem:

In case 100 police officers in separate cars were convinced that the setting moon was moving awy from them at fantastic speed "while setting on Main street" at 3:25 AM. The police sped up to 60MPH to chase it, but to no avail. (Hendry 45)

After reading this, one has to really wonder about the claim that reliable observers could never misidentify the moon.

Hendry moves on to describe other problems with witnesses misidentifying the moon:

...in case 363, the moon was construed to "follow" a car. When the car stopped, it "kept on going" right over the western horizon. In case 569, the moon "followed" the car and always matched its speed.

It was claimed (in case 295) that the moon "landed one to two miles away," and in another case "came down on Plum Island." In case 86, the simple dimming of the moon near the horizon was interpreted as line-of-sight motion.  (Hendry 45-6)

Why would any "Joe Doakes" think the moon was following their car and why would any individual think the moon "landed" only a few miles from their house? It is clear from Hendry's writing that the claim that everyone can readily identify the moon is not valid and people do make errors. Some of these errors may sound ridiculous now but the witness felt these were accurate observations of what they saw.

In another case, Hendry reports all sorts of interesting effects associated with a misperception of the moon:

A waitress in California got home at 3:57 AM when she saw a saucer "twenty-five feet in diameter" with red, green, and blue flashing lights and a cloud haze around it. This report had a lot of other provactive elements going for it:


1) The waitress called two more adult witnesses, who also filled out reports describing the saucer.
2) Two lights were seen next to the saucer that looked like stars but pulsated different colors like the object.
3) The saucer hovered stationary over a hospital for fifty minutes and then shot straight into the sky very rapidly. Surprisingly, the two "stars" disappeared at the same time.
4) A loud humming noise was heard throughout the observation. At the end, the hum got louder and changed into a high-pitched loud beeping sound just prior to the "rapid ascent"
5) The lights were seen dimming and brightening in the parking lot of the Grossmont Hospital over which the saucer hovered, "as if it were sucking energy from them."
6) Animal reactions included her parakeet screeching and her dogs howling and barking.
7) Physiological reactions were present here too; while watching the saucer the waitress felt as if she were in a trance and could hardly speak. She felt drained of energy and it was an effort to move around for the next forty minutes.


Sounds pretty good right? Attempts at identification and further corroboration were falling through. A local field investigator checked with the Miramar RAPCON and Gillespie field but no radar observation of anything unusual was noted. The local police department received no calls. The La Mesa police department claimed to have had two calls but sent no car. All police helicopters were down at the SD helicopter base at that time, and a check with the Grossmont Hospital personnel revealed that nothing unusual was noted at the "scene" of the drained power. Remembering that Mars and Jupiter were "scheduled" to be positioned very close to each other at that date, I checked my star charts and astronomy magazines to determine whether Mars and Jupiter could be that pair of stars seen next to the saucer. Imagine my shock when I discovered not only the Mars-Jupiter pair in the direction and bearing provided by all of the witnesses, but a horizontally oriented crescent moon positioned exactly where they put the saucer right next to the "stars"! Searching through the reports of all the adult witnesses, I confirmed that none of them had reported seeing the moon at the same time as the object although they said it was "clear" out! Yet all of the witnesses put the direction and bearing of the "saucer" right wehre the moon should be. Also, they all agreed that its apparent size fell somewhere between "one half" and "two times" the moon's width.


Remarkable? Remember that the witnesses had described a cloud or haze around the moon. Obviously, that same haze was responsible for the brightening and dimming of the hospital parking lot lights a half mile away, the saucer's colors, and the eventual obscuring of the moon, Mars, and Jupiter resulting in the sudden disappearance. Now it is no longer surprising that Mars and Jupiter disappeared at the same time as the saucer. There was another "witness" in the area, independent of the other group, but he appears to have been watching a red light like a helicopter in a different direction. It must be concluded then that the other effects, such as the beeping noises and animal reactions, must be ascribed to other causes.
(Hendry 77-78)

If it were not for Hendry's investigation, one wonders how this case could have entered UFO folklore.  Would it have been a case where the UFO affected power distribution and animals?  What about the tremendous speed of the UFO involved, which would have indicated the case would defy conventional explanation for many UFOlogists?  What about the effects on the waitress? Would she have been considered a possible abductee because of her physical reaction? Finally, one would have to consider the response of many UFO proponents if a skeptic had suggested this was the moon. After all, UFO expert Jerome Clark has stated "matter-of-factly" that "any Joe Doakes" should be able to readily identify the moon. In my opinion, the skeptic would probably have been denegrated and his explanation dismissed flippantly.  Lucky for the skeptics, Hendry's status as a highly trained and knowledgable UFO investigator allowed the explanation to be accepted.

Visual sightings are not the only cases where the moon is misidentified.  Project Bluebook received many photographs of UFOs and some turned out to be the moon. Not surprisingly UFO proponents laugh off such explanations the same way they laugh off explanations for these visual sightings.

UFO photographs and the moon

I know of at least two examples of photographs of the moon being submitted as UFOs. One has to wonder what the photographers were thinking when they presented them.  Did they really think they were UFOs or were they just simply trying to pass off their photographs as UFOs?  One can never tell for sure but if they really thought their photographs were of UFOs, what does it say for peope being able to readily identify the moon?

The first example comes from the 1966 Michigan UFO flap.  According to the title for the photograph, which was published in the media, this is a photograph of two UFOs on the morning of March 17th, 1966. Compare that photograph with the attached image of what the sky looked like just before dawn on the date in question:

 

Venus and the moon in a photograph compared with the sky that morning around 5:15 AM as depicted in Orion's "The Sky" program. (Camera)

Another newspaper, The News-Palladium, gave the time as 5:30 AM on March 16th for the photograph. The moon rose shortly after 5AM on the morning of the 17th. It appears this photograph was taken on the morning of the 17th since the positions of the moon and Venus clearly match. The date of the 16th probably is a confusion between the night of the 16th and morning of the 17th. 

Most interesting is how the article in The News-Palladium stated the photographer described the UFOs. According to the article, Deputy David Fitzpatrick inidcated that "the two objects he photographed gave off a brilliant yellow-white light in graceful swoops" (See).  The photograph does not show any motion that indicates anything other than the motion one would expect from celestial objects. Again, we are presented with a professionally trained and reliable observer who can't seem to identify the moon and Venus or was trying to perpetrate a hoax. Compounding this error was the media, who could not see that this was a time exposure of Venus and the moon rising.  

Another photograph was presented on the UFO evidence website as an indication of a UFO. The authors of the website state the following:

Upon investigating the report, Project Grudge officially labeled it: "the moon"! Some ufologists have speculated that tubular objects of this sort may be "mother ships," purportedly capable of taking on and discharging smaller "craft" in stacks, poker-chip fashion.  (UFOevidence.org)

Based on my experience as an astrophotographer, I felt it looked like the crescent moon that was exposed multiple times on the same piece of film.  The setting motion of the moon, would add the length of the trail. Therefore, I saw no problem with this being explained as the moon. However, the authors of this website chose not to accept it and essentially ridiculed the possibility. Since the authors felt it was unlikely, I chose to see if the Project Grudge boys did their homework and got the explanation correct.

The date given was March 20, 1950. No other data (other than the location being New York) was given so I did a quick check of the phase of the moon for that date.  Sure enough, a two-day old crescent moon was in the west shortly after sunset and set at 8:20 PM.  Therefore, this seemed to indicate it was possibly the moon. Even the glow in the sky, which was probably the twilight glow, indicated it was taken about the right time for the setting moon.  Of course, if the photograph was taken in the early evening of 20 March, one must ask the simple question, "Where is the moon in the photograph if this is a photograph of a true UFO?"

Further checking of the photograph indicated that the angle of the trail was roughly 55 degrees. The setting moon would have been moving at about 49-50 degree angle, which is fairly close.  Additionally, looking at some of the waterline lights, the camera seems to be tilted a few degrees to the right giving a corrected angle of the trailing object of about 52 degrees.  This is pretty close to the angle one would expect for the setting moon that night.  I think imperfections in the lens, measurement errors, film issues, etc.  could easily explain the minute differences between the two values. This seems to solidify the idea that this was the moon. Yet, there are some objections to this theory.

The principle objection I have seen that this could not be a multiple exposure of the moon is because there are stars visible in the image and they do not move.  The problem with that is it appears these may just be specs on the original negative or from a scan of the print that had the specs on it. There is no indication that these can be actually stars.  Without the original negative, it is hard to tell. However, if the shot is of the moon, we have to look at the sky for that time period.  The sky in the west had no bright first magnitude stars or planets at the time. Films in use at the time were relatively slow.  Looking at the buildings in the photograph, we can only see the bright city lights and very little else.  To me that indicate the exposure times were very short and probably only a fraction of a second (most likely 1/4th of a second or faster).  Such exposure times will only record the brightest celestial objects like Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, Mars, first magnitude stars, and, of course, the moon.

I reproduced this image on my own on December 30, 2008.  This is a multiple exposure image of the crescent moon. Each exposure was 1/15th of a second and they were all approximately 30 seconds apart. The individual exposures were stacked in photoshop to duplicate the effect of exposing on one frame of film.  I set the senitivity of the digital SLR to 800, which is way beyond the sensitivity of any film in use in 1950. Notice that the planet Venus is the only "star" that is visible even though there were several second and third magnitude stars in the area as well (there are some "hot spots" present in the images, they are not stars). 

The moon in a multiple exposure image (photo by author)

Notice how the moon is stacked "poker chip" fashion when the image is enlarged (photo by author)

Contrary to the claims made by the UFO evidence website, there is little doubt in my mind this is a multiple exposure photograph of the setting moon.  This is one case the Project Grudge boys got right. I wonder why the UFO proponents who wrote the accompanying text did not bother to do their homework? Flippantly rejecting the moon explanation without doing a check for plausibility indicates a "rush to judgement" that is usually hurled by UFOlogists at the AF personnel associated with Projects Grudge and Bluebook.  If UFOevidence.org accepts such photographs as "evidence" what does it say for the rest of their database?

I have demonstrated that the moon has been shown to be a factor is some minor UFO cases and photographs. Could it be that there are any major UFO cases that might have involved the moon?

The Gander, Newfoundland UFO case

Recently, I have been reading about Graham Bethune and his claim to the “disclosure project” where he recalls his 1951 encounter with a UFO off of Gander, Newfoundland.  I remember reading about this in Philip Klass’s “UFOs Explained”, who suggested the source was the setting moon.  Since this case was getting some press, I felt it was necessary to examine Klass’s explanation and the claims being made about the case.

The UFOlogists version of events can be found on various websites. Some provide the original documents while others just retell the story as they heard it from Bethune’s recent recollections. The main story is that the UFO was visible for about 7-8 minutes on or around the time 0055Z on the 10th of February 1951.  We are also given a position of 50 deg 03 min west longitude and 49 deg 50 min north latitude.  These are the particulars concerning the case.  However, we are not told how accurate these values are or if the time given is for the end of the incident or the beginning.  If it is the end, how long did it take the observers to note the time?  These all become important when determining a possible cause for the event in question.

According to the original report by the plane’s commanding officer, Lt. Fred Kingdon:

My attention was first called to the occurrence by Mr. BETHUNE, who asked me to look at an unusual light which was to my right. I then saw that there was a glowing light beneath a thin layer of strato-form clouds beneath us. This light was to my right and down at an angle of about 45 degrees. This object appeared to lie on the surface and was throwing a yellowish orange glare through the cloud deck. It appeared to be very large and I first thought that it could be a large ship completely illuminated.

 

Mr. BETHUNE and I watched the object for several minutes in trying to determine its nature. We then called our Navigator, Lieutenant N. J. P. KOGER to the cockpit to scrutinize the object and render his opinion as to its nature.

 

While further observing the object I saw that it suddenly started ascending through the cloud layer and it then became quite bright. The object was very large and was circular with a glowing yellow-orange right around its outer edge. This object appeared to be climbing and moving at a tremendous speed, and it appeared to be on a more or less collision course with our aircraft. When it appeared that there was a possibility of collision the object appeared to make a 180 degree turn and disappeared over the horizon at a terrific speed. During the course of events LTJG A. L. JONES had come to the cockpit and he made a turn in the direction of the object but it went out of sight in a short period of time.

 

Due to the fact that this object was seen over water at night it would be most difficult for me to estimate speed, size or distance we were from it during the course of events. However, the speed was tremendous and the size was at least 200 to 300 feet in diameter. The object was close enough to me to see and observe it clearly.(NICAP)

 

Bethune’s statement at the time was very similar to Kingdon’s report:

While flying in the left seat at 10,000 feet on a true course of  230 degrees at a position of 49-50 North 40-30 West, I observed a glow of light below the horizon about 1,000 to 1,500 feet above the water.  Its bearing was about 2 O'Clock.  There was no overcast, there was a thin transparent group of scuds at about 2,000 feet altitude.  After examining the object for 40 to 50 seconds I called it to the attention of Lieutenant KINGDON in the right had seat.  It was under the thin scuds at roughly 30 to 40 miles away.  I asked "What is it, a ship lighted up or a city, I know it can't be a city because we are over 250 miles out".  We both observed its course and motion for about 4 or 5 minutes before calling it to the attention of the other crew members.  Its first glow was a dull yellow.  We were on an intercepting course.  Suddenly its angle of attack changed, its altitude and size increased as though its speed was in excess of 1,000 miles per hour.  It closed in so fast that the first feeling was we would collide in mid air.  At this time its angle changed and the color changed.  It then was definitely circular and reddish orange on its perimeter.  It reverse its course and tripled its speed until it was last seen disappearing over the horizon.(NICAP)

Lt. Jones reports the following:


I was in the cabin of the plane checking the passengers when one of the navigators, Lieutenant N. JJ P. KOGER, came aft and pointed to this phenomena.  I watched it for a minute and went forward to the cockpit to get a better view.  Upon reaching the cockpit, I took the plane off of the auto-pilot and turned to a true heading of 290 degrees in pursuit of the object.  The object left on a heading of about 290 degrees true and went over the horizon in a very short time.(NICAP)

The general story is that a bright light was seen beneath some clouds near the surface of the ocean. The light of the object made the clouds glow.  Then the light broke through the cloud layer and was glowing yellow-orange. It appeared to come straight at the craft but before colliding, reversed course and disappeared over the horizon at tremendous speed.  

It is interesting that one of the witnesses of this event has come forward with Stephen Greer's "disclosure project" as a "reliable" witness. Lt. Graham Bethune has stepped forward with the typical conspiracy claims of government censorship and how the full story was not told that evening.  He has now amended his original description of the event with some rather interesting statements that never appeared before:

1. The object did not really reverse course but seemed to show motion to the right many degrees before approaching and receding away.

2. Bethune indicated he was not passive and violently evaded the collision.

3. Passengers in the plane thought a collision was imminent and all ducked to the point they all fell onto the floor of the plane.

4. An unknown doctor, who was aboard but never made any statement, declared it was a “flying saucer” that he saw.

5. Bethune also alluded that the DEW line radar at Goose Bay Labador was able to track the UFO.

These statements about violent maneuvers appear to be more exaggerations than fact.  Perhaps Bethune has decided to embellish his role in a "Walter Mitty" type fashion to portray himself as a hero that night.  One can not say for sure but these claims are in disagreement with the other observers and their written reports. Recall that Lt. Jones reported, " Upon reaching the cockpit, I took the plane off of the auto-pilot and turned to a true heading of 290 degrees in pursuit of the objec."(NICAP).   If this is the case, what happened prior to Jones arriving in the cockpit? Did Bethune put the plane back on autopilot after conducting his maneuver? Why didn't Jones describe being tossed about or the near collision? As for the passengers being tossed around onto the floor of the craft, this is in total disagreement with Chief Shiever's statement where he was unaware of anything unusual in the aircraft's flight, " After being asleep for awhile I heard someone say something about an object or something to the starboard of the aircraft.  I raised my head to the window and saw a round object which to me looked like it was round with a color of fire.  I didn't see it only for a few seconds then it was gone"(NICAP). So, it seems that Bethune's new story is not total accurate and may be embellished significantly. Additionally, the mysterious “doctor” did not make a statement.  Exactly, how accurate are Bethune’s recent statements/recollections when examining the story as the crew told them only hours after the event?

Finally, we are led to believe that the DEW radar at Goose Bay Labador was able to track the UFO.  The problem is that the Goose Bay radar station was not operational at the time. Still, some UFO websites/organizations refer to this as a “radar-visual” event.  There is no documentation that suggests there was any radar contact with the UFO and none of the aircrew refer to it in their statements. Calling this a "radar-visual" event is an effort to give credibility to Bethune's recent wild claims.

So what about Klass and his solution for the event? I have seen one website distort Klass's writings on this case where it is suggested Klass was describing a "reflection" of the setting moon.  Apparently, the authors did not read Klass's book very clearly. Klass originally thought it might have been a "sub moon", which is a reflection of the moon but when he found out the moon had set just before the event occurred, he correctly decided that could not be the case. Perhaps the authors of the website confused the terms refraction and reflection. Unless the facts can be presented correctly, such arguments lose credibility.

Examining the original statements is important when one wants to see why Klass felt it might be the setting moon. On the night in question, the moon was a thin crescent moon and between 10-15% illuminated. Looking at some of the descriptions by the other witnesses, it appears they all saw something slightly different in shape.

Lt. Kingdon – The object was very large and was circular with a glowing yellow-orange right around its outer edge.(NICAP)

Lt. Bethune – It then was definitely circular and reddish orange on its perimeter.(NICAP)

Lt. Jones - My first view of it resemble a huge fiery orange disc on its edge. As it went further away the center became darker, but the edge still threw off a fiery hue.  When it went over the horizon, it seemed to go from a vertical position to a horizontal position, with only the trailing edge showing in a half-moon effect.(NICAP)

Lt. Koger – The best view I had of the object showed it to be a circular, bright  orange-red disc, which was approaching us at a very great, undeterminable speed.  (NICAP)

Lt. Meier – When I first saw the sight it was far away from us and rapidly disappearing over the horizon.  Not being too familiar with flying in this particular area my first impression was the celestial setting of the moon and the fact that stratus layers were present to cause the bright red glow and the halo effect that was apparent.(NICAP)

Aviation Electronicsman chief Shiever - I raised my head to the window and saw a round object which to me looked like it was round with a color of fire.  I didn't see it only for a few seconds then it was gone. (NICAP)

Aviation Electrician third class Daniels - It looked very much like an eclipse of the sun, which was about three fourths of total eclipse, in size, shape, and color (NICAP)

Meier's and Daniels descriptions seem to describe a setting crescent moon. Were they all describing the setting moon? At least some of the descriptions seem to indicate what one would expect from a setting crescent moon.  The color would start as golden yellow and turn to brick red/orange just before sunset. The shape would change as the thick atmosphere distorted it and parts of the moon actually set.

The crescent moon setting. Note the color changes over a period of ten minutes. The moon started out as yellow but later changed to a reddish-orange. A distant treeline produced the splitting of the moon into two parts but clouds and the horizon could produce a similar result (Photo by author)


The specific data associated with moonset on February 10th was 0046Z at an azimuth of roughly 275 degrees for sea level. This is only five to ten minutes before the time reported by the witnesses. Lt. Koger in his statement stated the events were transpiring at 0050Z. Lt Kingdon stated that the event had already started before Koger made it to the cockpit. Bethune stated it was 4-5 minutes before they alerted other crew members. This indicates the 0055Z time probably was when the event actually ended. Klass makes a note that the altitude of the aircraft at 10000 feet would have changed the set time and refraction could account for the rest and allow for the edge of the crescent moon to be visible above the horizon at the appropriate time. When I ran the simulation using "Starry Night" and an elevation of 3000m (roughly 10,000 feet), the northern horn of the moon was just setting around 0050Z near an azimuth of 278 degrees. If refraction played any role in the event that evening, it is possible that the moon was setting even later than the 0050Z time suggested by "Starry Night".   The USNO website states that the higher the latitude, the more severe the effects of refraction and observer elevation affect the accuracy of rise and set times. All of these factors could result in the setting time for the northern portion of the sunlit moon to be around 0055Z as stated by Klass in UFOs Explained.

The moon setting from approximately 10,000 feet on February 10, 1951 at 0049Z (left) and 0051Z (right) (Images obtained from Starry Night)

Another factor is weather.  The pilots report mostly scattered low clouds below them but the distant horizon is the most concern for the setting moon.  I think it may have been possible for the moon to be behind a distant cloud bank prior to it setting since weather data from the time period indicates there was clouds/preciptation to the west of the aircraft less than six hours before the event.

This is from the weather bureau's map of North America for 1:30 PM EST on February 9th, 1951. Note the patch of preciptation/clouds to the west of the aircraft's position (marked by arrow). (NOAA)

The distant clouds could have hid the moon giving the impression to the pilots that the moon had set some time before it actually did. When an opening appeared just above the horizon, it would allow for the pilots to see the moon briefly just before it actually set. The clouds may have even provided some additional distortion of the moon's shape to prevent readily identifying the object. When the moon reappeared it would cause a glow in the clouds before it brightened significantly as it broke into a clear spot.  This would give the impression that it was rapidly approaching the craft.  Then the moon began to set giving the impression that it was rapidly receding from the aircraft in an opposite heading. Recall that in Hendry's description of his case 86 above, a witness described the moon doing the exact same thing as it began to dim while setting.  All of these events can be reasonably explained as misperceptions. Only the more recent exaggerations/embellishments by Bethune make the event seem so extraordinary that it can not be explained.

I believe Klass also made a rather astute observation about this case that gives more credence to the moonset hypothesis. Specifically, he states:

If the UFO and the upper limb of the moon were not one and the same, it seems strange that not a single crew member, in the original reports, mentioned seeing the moon, or said that the UFO was observed to be close to the moon. (Klass 58)

They also could have mentioned that the UFO appeared/disappeared in the same direction the moon had set if they had known where the moon was located. Failure to mention the moon in any of the reports raises the possibility that the source of the UFO was the moon setting. Once again, we can examine Hendry's case history of how a waitress reported seeing a UFO over a hospital.  Failure to mention the moon near the UFO indicated the UFO was the moon!

Considering the close time associated with actual moonset (0050Z for the sunlit side at 10000 feet) and the observed event (0050-55Z), the fairly close azimuths for the object (290) and the setting moon (278 at 0050Z), and some of the descriptions given, there is no reason to dismiss the possibility that they saw the setting moon. One can never declare that this is the final explanation since it requires a few variables that can not be ultimately resolved. Were the times given accurate? Was there enough refraction on the western horizon and altitude for the aircraft to allow the moon to be seen setting 5-10 minutes later than usual? Was the position of the aircraft accurate or was the position an old one meaning the craft was just a bit further west delaying the set time? Were there some distant clouds that created an effect of obscuring the moon before it actually set or distorting the shape of the moon? All of these variables are reasonably plausible and could have resulting in confusing the observers as well as extending the time for the setting moon. Given this information, it appears that the moonset hypothesis can not be ruled out and is a plausible explanation for this event.

 

I doubt that most UFOlogists will ever admit it was possible that some pilots mistook the setting moon under unusual circumstances as a UFO.  This is because of the notion they like to present that pilots can never make a mistake in observation.  They then resort to stating that skeptics are calling them liars or incompetent.  After all, didn’t noted UFO historian Jerome Clark declare that “any Joe Doakes” could easily identify the moon instantly?  Nobody is stating that the pilots were stupid or incompetent. However, when exposed to something familiar, under unusual conditions, even people with professional/technical backgrounds can be mistaken about what they think they saw. This is what is being suggested by Klass in his book UFOs Explained.

Conclusion

Contrary to what many UFO proponents would like to publicly admit, the moon can play a role in UFO sightings. In most cases, it requires a setting/rising moon or some hazy/cloudy skies that hinder identification. There may even have been at least one highly publicized UFO case where the moon was the culprit. It is now clear that not every "Joe Doakes" is capable of recognizing the moon instantly and when trying to determine the source of a UFO report, the moon should not be overlooked as a possibility.

Works cited

"Camera captures UFO". Holland Evening Sentinel. March 25, 1966, Holland, Michigan. P. 1.

Clark, Jerome. "ABC Jennings Special" 27 February 2005. UFO Updates Mailing list. On line posting. Available WWW: http://www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/2005/feb/m28-009.shtml

Hendry, Allan. The UFO Investigators Handbook. London: Sphere Books Ltd. 1980.

Klass, Philip. UFOs Explained. New York: Random House, 1974.

National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). The Gander, Newfoundland, Encounter Documents. Available WWW: http://www.nicap.org/canc.htm

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). US Daily weather maps project. Available WWW: http://docs.lib.noaa.gov/rescue/dwm/data_rescue_daily_weather_maps.html

"See Saucer near Holland: Others caught by camera". The News-Palladium. March 25, 1966, Benton Harbor, Michigan. P. 1.

UFO Evidence.org. UFO photograph March 20, 1950. UFO Evidence website Available WWW: http://www.ufoevidence.org/photographs/section/1950s/photo393.htm

 

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