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Volume 4
Number 23
September 30, 1999

Editor: Joseph Trainor

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On Thursday, September 23, 1999, at 5:05 a.m., scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California were monitoring the Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO) as it began its final approach into orbit around Mars.

The Mars Climate Orbiter was launched from Earth on December 11, 1998. NASA hoped that the $125 million spacecraft "would return the most detailed information yet about Mars' climate and atmospheric conditions."

The MCO passed behind Mars, ready to begin a 17-minute engine burn maneuver that would slow its speed and drop it into a Martian orbit.

But, at the moment the spacecraft should have emerged from nehind Mars, JPL sent a radio signal and received nothing by way of a response.

"We're not quite sure what's happening," said project manager Richard Cook after the MCO failed to answer the signal.

"We don't know what specifically happened to the spacecraft," Cook added, "We believe it came in at a lower altitude."

The Mars Climate Orbiter "was last heard from about 5:05 a.m. Thursday after it fired its engine to slow down as it neared Mars. All systems were fine as it slipped behind the planet and out of radio range from Earth."

"Controllers thought the spacecraft was on a course to fly no lower than 87 miles (149 kilometers) above the surface on the far side of Mars. That would be low enough to be captured by Martian gravity but high enough to avoid damage from atmospheric friction."

"But the spacecraft failed to reappear on the other side of Mars about 20 minutes later when it would have been back in radio range."

"Controllers checked their calculations and found that the spacecraft had been on a (flight) path just 37 miles (59 kilometers) above the surface--so close to Mars that atmospheric friction probably burned or shattered it, Cook said."

"'We're never had an error like this in the spacecraft business that I could recall,' says Lou Friedman, executive director of the non-profit Planetary Society in Pasadena. 'This is unprecedented, and we'll learn a lot from it.'"

"The loss will not hurt Martian exploration in the long run, said Carl Pilcher, NASA's chief of solar systems exploration. The agency plans at least one Mars mission every two years for at least a decade. The same type of instruments aboard Climate Orbiter can be flown on missions planned in 2006 or 2007."

On Saturday, September 25, 1999, at 3 p.m., NASA ended its radio search for the missing spacecraft. The agency had been using the three 70-meter (230-foot) diameter dish antennae of their Deep Space Network in the hopes of re-acquiring a radio signal from the MCO.

For now, the Mars Climate Orbiter seems to have met the same dismal fate of the Mars Observer in 1993 and the Pathfinder/Sojourner mission of 1997. (See USA Today for Friday, September 24, 1999, page 6A, "Bad math may have lost spacecraft" by Paul Hovenstern.)

(Editor's Comment: The loss of the Mars Climate Observer wasn't the only unusual event happening in space last week. Read on...)


Astronomers in Hawaii last week announced the discovery of "three new, distinct, weirdly- orbiting moons around Uranus, bringing the planet's satellite total to 21, the most in our solar system."

"The discovery of these irregular satellites is very important because it seems that Uranus is not an oddball but rather is like Neptune, Saturn and Jupiter," Matthew Hormar of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said in a statement Monday," September 21, 1999.

"If these new moons are confirmed, and added to the two other irregular satellits observed in 1997, Uranus would have 16 regular and 5 irregular moons, the most of any known planet."

"Irregular satellits do not follow the near-circular orbit of most satellites, including (Luna) Earth's Moon." Instead these irregular moons follow "highly elliptical orbits or follow paths that are severely tipped to the plane of the planet's equator." (See the Reuters report for September 22, 1999. Many thanks to Steve Wilson Sr. for forwarding this news story.)

(Editor's Comment: Curious how these three "weirdly-orbiting moons" were missed by both Voyager spacecraft during their Uranus flybys in the 1980s. It'll be interesting to see if their presence is confirmed by other astronomers. On the other hand, if these large objects in orbit around Uranus are the "saucer carriers" of an alien task force, then maybe we have an answer to the loss of the Mars Climate Observer and the spectacular recent surge in UFO sightings.)


"Astronomers worldwide are tracking down a mysterious and unusual burst of energy that exploded like a flash bulb in the sky last week, lingered several hours and disappeared."

"The sudden flash turned a star too dim to see except with a good telescope into one almost visible to the naked eye. But the outburst really wowed astronomers in invisible wavelengths-- X-ray, gamma ray and radio--when it flashed more than 120 times stronger than normal, to become briefly the brightest object in the sky."

"Messages flashed through cyberspace as astronomers buzzed about something very peculiar going on."

"''It's become kind of a global detective story,' said American University astronomer Richard Berendzen."

"On Sept. 15, as a storm approached in Australia, Rod Stubbings, as amateur astronomer, snatched a glance at a star that is known to flicker a bit in the southern constellation Sagittarius."

"'Wow! This is some outburst,' Stubbings recalled via email. 'I closed up the observatory, ran inside and reported the outburst.'"

"Then the worldwide hunt started. Researchers scoured the spectrum from long-range radio waves to very short wave X-rays and gamma rays. Astronomers at the Massachusetts Institude of Technology diverted a NASA X-ray telescope to take a look."

"'This one came screaming out of nowhere at us,' said MIT rsearcher Donald Smith."

"'Something really unusual is going on,' said astronomer Bob Hjellming at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in New Mexico. 'It's gotten odder and odder as we've gotten pieces of data on it.'"

"Gamma-ray astronomers started an independent investigation. They were floored by what they saw."

"'It's kind of like you were sitting out on your porch seeing a rabbit going hopping across and then another and then another and then a 500-pound gorilla is going across. And you're sitting there saying, 'Did this really happen?'' said Mike McCullough, a gamma-ray scientist at the University Space Research Association in Huntsville, Alabama." (See the Duluth, Minn. News-Tribune for September 26, 1999, page 16A, "Astronomers still hunting for flash's source.")

(Editor's Comment: I have to ask it. Did this mysterious flash have anything to do with the disappearance of the Mars Climate Observer?)


On Friday, September 17, 1999, residents of the city of Ferrara in northern Italy spotted "an object with a very long luminous tail, moving at an extremely high velocity.."

Witnesses said the OVNI (Italian acronym for UFO) "had a luminosity that was five times the size of Jupiter's. The object was a silver-blue color and was seen by 10 witnesses."

Ferrara is 75 kilometers (45 miles) northeast of Bologna.

On Sunday, September 19, 1999, at 10 p.m., municipal police in Viterbo received dozens of telephone calls reporting "an OVNI approaching Tuscia and being a white light surrounded by multi-colored lights."

"'It was very speedy,' said all of the witnesses."

The UFO "caused much apprehension and alarm among the populace."

Viterbo is a city located about 55 miles (88 kilometers) north of Rome. (See the Italian newspaper Il Corriere di Viterbo for September 20, 1999. Grazie a Alfredo Lissoni e Giuseppe Monticelli di Centro Ufologici Nazionale (CUN) d'Italia per questo rapporto.)


On Monday, August 23, 1999, at 11:20 p.m., an air freight pilot flying a twin-engine Beech Baron BE-58 at an altitude of 5,500 feet Mean Sea Level (MSL) when he caught sight of a dark triangular UFO.

The aerial encounter took place just north of Dubuque, Iowa (population 57,546), a city on Highway 20 approximately 203 miles (324 kilometers) northeast of Des Moines.

The pilot, who declined to be identified, reported, "During a moon rise in the eastern sky at 11:20 p.m., an object caught my attention, moving at an unusually high rate of speed. As I looked upward and focused on the object, I made out a dark blue or almost black trianglular craft flying grid patterns in a north-to-south and east- to-west pattern."

"I noticed the craft was leaving behind its travel path a gray misty contrail, which seemed to be falling into small puffy clouds between myself and the craft."

He estimated that the triangular UFO was flying at an altitude of about 10,500 feet MSL.

"When the Flying Triangle made a change of direction, it was done very abruptly. Ninety-degree turns were made with no gradual change of direction. They were instantaneous. I estimated its rate of speed to be 500 to 800 knots, nearly ten times that of my rate of speed. The craft had no lights. The only way I could see it was by the reflection on its surface of the nearly full moon."

"After flying for an additional 12 minutes, I noticed the contrails descending or falling past my aircraft. They almost looked like snowflakes, but the air temperature (outside the plane) was only 50 degrees Fahrenheit."

Passing through the contrail, the pilot said his lungs "began to feel inflamed and irritated. I also felt a burning sensation and had to keep my breathing rate low at the time." (Many thanks to Steve Wilson Sr. for forwarding this report.)


On Saturday, September 25, 1999, at 9:45 p.m., six residents of Dandridge, Tennessee (population 1,540), a small mountain town 23 miles (36 kilometers) northeast of Knoxville, gathered to do some skywatching.

The group included three couples--Patricia and David G., Elizabeth and Rex C. and Angela and Colin T., all of Dandridge, who were standing by with binoculars, two telescopes and a videocamera set upon a tripod.

From 9:45 p.m. to 12:45 a.m., the six people "watched this mysterious light in the northeastern sky about 20 to 35 degrees above the horizon for three hours."

"Through the telescopes, we could see three distant lights rotating, pulsating and flashing," Patricia G. reported, "They were white, orange-red and green. The lights would move and flash and continue right out of range of the telescope lens. The telescopes were not moved or touched."

"Every so often, another red flash could be seen 'below' the light, with arms that extended two inches below the original," she added.

Patricia reported that UFOs have been seen "off and on" in the Dandridge area all summer. (Email Interview)


On Sunday, September 19, 1999, at 10:36 a.m., a resident of North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (population 38,436) reported seeing "eight or nine brightly shining objects, some with tails, extremely high in the sky over North Vancouver, heading towards Horseshoe Bay."

Later the same day, at 9:10 p.m., "a resident of Nanaimo, B.C. observed an object heading north from the 2 o'clock to the 10 o'clock position, a 40-degree angular sweep across eight miles east to west at approximately an altitude far above 10,000 feet (3,000 meters)"

The UFO was described as "whitish with three lights in a triangle.. There was one object and it happened in five seconds."

Nanaimo, B.C. (population 60,129) is a port city on the eastern shore of Vancouver Island about 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of Vancouver city via ferry. (Many thanks to Donald Ledger for this report.)

(Editor's Comment: Eight miles in five seconds works out to an airspeed of 5,760 miles per hour.)


On Sunday, September 19, 1999, at 8:30 p.m., Christen S. was walking her dog in her hometown of Boronia, Victoria state, Australia when she noticed something unusual in the sky.

"I had just seen three bright lights in the sky," Christen told Diane Harrison of the Australian UFO Research Network. "About the size of a (Australian) five-cent piece. A dull orange star-like object. At first I thought they were stars, but they moved in a V formation. When they went away, they formed a straight line and faded off in the distance."

On Wednesday, September 22, 1999, at 8:30 p.m., Fabian T. and some friends were in Musgrave, Bayswater, Vic. "when a guy yelled to me to have a look at these three strange lights in the sky.."

"They were big. They just hung in the sky," Fabrian reported, "One moved away from the other. They did this for about four or five minutes. Then they formed a V formation and faded out one at a time."

"I'll tell you, we were all scared. It was as though it was watching us. I got to my car and took off home. And I tell you, I don't scare easily." (Many thanks to Diane Harrison of Australian UFO Research Network for these reports.)


On Friday, September 10, 1999, Martin, a UK policeman, and his wife were in Weston Zoyland, Somerset, UK when they spotted a bright UFO in the sky.

"My wife and I observed a bright light much larger than a star and moving at a very rapid speed to 120 degrees from north from 85 degrees from north. We were heading in an easterly direction from our home in Weston Zoyland at 0500 hours (5 a.m. UK time--J.T.)"

"The object suddenly became stationary for about 15 minutes, during which time I observed it through my telescope. It appeared to have a spherical underside, but the top was not spherical. One side had a faint red glow. After this period of time, it moved in a direct line at a great speed and eventually disappeared." (Many thanks to John Hayes for this news story.)


More crop circles appeared in the small town of Midale, Saskatchewan last week, making it the focus of Canada's current crop circle flap.

Midale (population 497) is on Provincial Highway 39 about 98 miles (157 kilometers) southeast of Regina.

On Monday, September 14, 1999, a pilot spotted "a formation of (crop) circles just east of Midale," according to reporter Sherri Tessier, "One circle is a simple large ring complex 80 feet (24.24 meters) to 90 feet (27.27 meters) in diametre. Another is a smaller circle with two surrounding rings, about 50 feet (15.15 meters) in diametre."

On Tuesday, September 28, 1999, another crop circle formation was spotted from the air by pilot John Erickson and researcher Nancy Talbott. The crop circle was found "four miles east and one mile north of Midale" and consisted of "a large 50-foot (15.15 meter) to 60-foot (18.18 meter) circle" in a wheat field "with a circle of standing wheat about three feet across."

A crop circle formation was also found in Canada's Alberta province recently.

On Saturday, September 4, 1999, farmer Carl Kuhn was combining his field of durum wheat in Acadia Valley, Alberta, a small town on Provincial Highway 41 approximately 115 miles (184 kilometers) north of Medicine Hat, when he spotted a crop circle.

Kuhn reported that the circles "were in a straight line about 10 feet (3 meters) apart. The first two were about 30 feet (9 meters) in diametre, the largest on the right end is about 60 feet (18.18 meters) in diametre. All have a counterclockwise lay."

According to Paul Anderson of Circles Phenomenon Research-Canada, "In the largest circle there are series of single standing stalks spaced about every two or three square feet., which show no signs of every having been touched or flattened down," adding that Kuhn reported "no entry pathways" near the circles within the wheat field. (Many thanks to Paul Anderson of CPR-Canada for these reports.)


On Tuesday, September 21, 1999, at 6:47 p.m., the witness, who was visiting his parents' home in East Sussex, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) south of London, was in the kitchen, "when all of a sudden, a high-pitched tone came from nowhere. I raced into the garden but couldn't see anything. About ten seconds later, it faded, only to be replaced by roar of a very low, unmrked, chunky black helicopter circling around the small block of homes where my parents live."

"It just hovered about 200 to 225 feet above us in the garden. I ran and grabbed a disposable camera and took nine pics (photographs). It stayed above us for about nine minutes, then took off down the road into the sunset."

"Think I'll have that cup of tea now." (Many thanks to witness Steve B. and John Hayes for this report.)

from the UFO Files...


What do three of the USA's most famous celebrities--singer Rosemary Clooney, 71, TV and movie actor George Clooney, 38, and the new Miss America for the year 2000, Heather Renee French, 24, have in common?

They all hail from Augusta, Kentucky (population 2,000), a town on the south bank of the Ohio River on Highway 8 about 63 miles (100 kilometers) north of Lexington.

The small riverfront town has a past full of strange mysteries. Let's start with the surprising discovery of some weird bones in Augusta back in 1792.

According to author Lewis Collins, an early settler, Gen. John Payne, made a strange discovery while building his house along the Ohio River

"The bottom on which Augusta is situated is a large burying ground of the ancients...They have been found in great numbers, and of all sizes, everywhere between the mouths of Bracken and Locust Creeks, a distance of about a mile and a half. From the cellar under my (Payne's) dwelling, 60 by 70 feet, over a hundred and ten skeletons were taken. I measured them by skulls, and there might have been more, whose skulls had crumbled into dust...The skeletons were of all sizes, from seven feet to infant. David Kilgour (who was a tall and very large man) passed our village at the time I was excavating my cellar , and we took him down and applied a thigh bone to his. The man, if well-proportioned, must have been 10 to 12 inches taller than Kilgour, and the lower jaw bone would slip on over his, skin and all. Who were they? How came their bones here?"

"When I was in the army, I inquired of old Crane, a Wyandot (Huron Indian--J.T.) and of Anglerson, a Delaware (proper name Lenni Lenape--J.T.), both intelligent old chiefs, and they could give me no information in reference to these remains of antiquity. Some of the largest trees of the forest were growing over the remains when the land was cleared in 1792." (See Historical Sketches of Kentucky by Lewis Collins, Maysville, Ky. 1847, page 205.)

On December 21, 1806, the town of Augusta had a distinguished--some might say infamous-- visitor. None other than Harman Blennerhassett, the foremost Illuminatus of the early USA.

Blennerhassett was born on October 8, 1764 in Hampshire, UK. He attended Westminster School in London and Trinity College in Dublin, graduating in 1790.

Next Blennerhassett turned up in Paris, part of the entourage around Jean-Baptiste Val-du-Grace, a Belgian nobleman better known as Anacharsis Cloots, self-styled "Secretary-General of the Human Race." (In case you're wondering where the UN title came from--J.T.)

With a letter of introduction from Cloots, Blennerhassett made his way to Germany and met Adam Weishaupt, the Big Enchilada of the Order of the Illuminati, and was admitted to the order, rising to the level of Illuminatus Magus.

A couple of years later, Blennerhassett turned up in the UK's Channel Islands. On the isle of Jersey, he met and married Adeline Agnew (no relation to Spiro--J.T.), the beautiful daughter of a former lieutenant governor of New York state.

He didn't stay long in New York City, however. Blennerhassett purchased an island in the Ohio River and built his "castle," a luxurious house where he indulged his interests in chemistry, astronomy, magnetic therapy, astrology and occultism. He also made a new friend--Aaron Burr, the vice president of the USA.

To make a long story short, Blennerhassett and Burr engaged in a conspiracy to unseat then-President Thomas Jefferson. The plot was discovered by Army officers loyal to Jefferson, and the Ohio militia attacked Blennerhassett's secret camp at Marietta on December 19, 1806.

Blennerhassett fled with about 50 of his fellow initiates, leaving his wife, his sons and the rest of his guerrilla troops behind. But instead of fleeing straight down the Ohio River to the Mississippi, Blennerhassett made his still-unexplained side trip to Augusta, Ky., arriving on the day of the solstice.

After the Burr conspiracy was exposed, Blennerhassett left the USA and returned to the Channel Islands, settling on Guernsey, where he died on February 1, 1831

His wife Adeline remained in the USA and died in New York City in 1842, after unsuccessfully suing the U.S. government for damages to her island mansion. (See The Great American Rascal: The Turbulent Life of Aaron Burr by Philip Vail, Hawthorn Books, New York, NY 1973, pages 138 and 139. See also Life of Harman Blennerhassett by William H. Safford, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1853.)

(Editor's Comment: I visited the Payne House in Augusta in September 1979, and the owner let me explore the old cellar where those unusual human bones were found. I wrote a story about it, but it didn't sell. And then Heather French of Augusta, Ky. became the new Miss America. Which just goes to show that if you hold onto your notes long enough, you can write about anything.)

We'll be back next week with more UFO news from around the planet, brought to you by "the paper that goes home--UFO Roundup." See you then.

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