Green Fireballs and UFOs

This is a scrupulously accurate eyewitness painting of a mysterious
green fireball rushing through the night sky over New Mexico



It was done by Mrs. Lincoln LaPaz, wife of an authority on meteors.
Both she and her husband have observed the fireballs at first hand.

A recently published research paper by Australian astrophysicist Dr Stephen Hughes proposes that green fireballs may be linked to ball lightning due to their presence triggering an electrical connection between the upper atmosphere and the ground, a connection which resulted in providing energy for what is thought to be the notoriously rare phenomenon of ball lightning.

This research paper first came to my attention by way of an article posted to the BBC by their science correspondent which ran the headline:

Ball lightning ‘may explain UFOs‘” which I initially thought was more than likely going to draw parallels between ball lightning and existing UFO reports, yet the first line of the article states:

Some UFO sightings could be explained by ball lightning and other atmospheric phenomena,” which leaves no doubt that we’re talking about a very, very, very small percentage of UFO reports that could qualify under the parameters of ball lightning, but admittedly when also including atmospheric phenomena within the scope then it is widened considerably. However, it would be naïve and just plain wrong to suggest that this isn’t already accepted as an immutable fact by all but the most uninformed UFO researcher so why would a rather intriguing “ionosphere-to-ground conductive path hypothesis” be so readily associated with UFO reports? After reading the research paper it seems that this is due to the VERY last sentence of the “Conclusion” paragraph which states:

If confirmed, this hypothesis may be able to explain previously unexplainable UFO sightings and the so-called foo fighters and other aerial phenomenon.” .

Which I guess is a fair observation regardless of the validity of the hypothesis and I found the research paper itself interesting, here’s the abstract:

Green Fireball
Photograph taken by a member of the public from the CBD of Brisbane.


This paper presents evidence of an apparent connection between ball lightning and a green fireball. On the evening of the 16th May 2006 at least three fireballs were seen by many people in the skies of Queensland, Australia. One of the fireballs was seen passing over the Great Divide about 120 km west of Brisbane, and soon after, a luminous green ball about 30 cm in diameter was seen rolling down the slope of the Great Divide. A detailed description given by a witness indicates that the phenomenon was probably a highly luminous form of ball lightning. An hypothesis presented in this paper is that the passage of the Queensland fireball meteor created an electrically conductive path between the ionosphere and ground, providing energy for the ball lightning phenomenon. A strong similarity is noted between the Queensland fireball and the Pasamonte fireball seen in New Mexico in 1933. Both meteors exhibit a twist in the tail that could be explained by hydrodynamic forces. The possibility that multiple sightings of fireballs across South East Queensland were produced owing to fragments from comet 73P Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 is discussed.

Green fireballs and ball lightning” research paper [Hughes, Stephen W. (2010)

A summary (with images) is available here and the full research paper (PDF) is available here.

And here’s a news report on the 2006 fireball incident discussed which the author also posted with the research paper:

However, ball lightning aside, green fireballs have been a staple of UFO lore almost since the inception of flying saucers in the late forties, respected and long time UFO researcher Bruce Maccabee posted the following on his website which is from his, “UFO FBI Connection” book (pp 149-161) and talks about the, “Project Twinkle report” which was established to investigate fireballs in 1950:

“The efforts of Dr. Kaplan and Major Oder to start a fireball research project came to fruition in the spring of 1950. A $20,000 half-year contract was signed with the Land-Air Corporation which operated the phototheodolites at White Sands. Land-Air was to set up a 24 hour watch at a location in New Mexico to be specified by the Air Force and the phototheodolite operators at White Sands were to film any unusual objects which happened to fly past.

Dr. Anthony Mirarchi was not the average scientist. He was skeptical, all right, but he was skeptical of the glib explanations. In 1950 he was the Chief of the Air Composition Branch at GRD/AFCRL. Project Twinkle began as Dr. Mirachis project. However, he retired from AFCRL in October, 1950, so he was not involved with Twinkle when Dr. Elterman wrote the final report a year later. In fact, Dr. Mirarchi may never have seen that report. Dr. Mirarchi visited Holloman Air Force Base in late May, 1950, and requested a brief report on the April 27 and May 24 sightings which Elterman mentioned (see above). Fortunately for the truth, the brief report to Mirarchi survived in the National Archives microfilm record where it was found in the late 1970s long after the Twinkle report had had its…intended?…debunking effect on the green fireball sightings!

As you will see, this document refutes Elterman.”

1. Per request of Dr. A. O. Mirarchi, during a recent visit to this base, the following information is submitted.

2. Sightings were made on 27 April and 24 May 1950 of aerial phenomena during morning daylight hours at this station. The sightings were made by Land-Air, Inc., personnel while engaged in tracking regular projects with Askania Phototheodolites. It has been reported that objects are sighted in some number; as many as eight have been visible at one time. The individuals making these sightings are professional observers. Therefore I would rate their reliability superior. In both cases photos were taken with Askanias.

3. The Holloman AF Base Data Reduction Unit analyzed the 27 April pictures and made a report, a copy of which I am enclosing with the film for your information. It was believed that triangulation could be effected from pictures taken on 24 May because pictures were taken from two stations. The films were rapidly processed and examined by Data Reduction. However, it was determined that sightings were made on two different objects and triangulation could not be effected. A report from Data Reduction and the films from the sighting are enclosed.

4. There is nothing further to report at this time.

The writer of this letter is not known (no signature).

The Data Reduction report attached to the letter reads as follows:

Objects observed following MX776A test of 27 April 1950

2nd Lt. (name censored) EHOSIR 15 May 50

1. According to conversation between Col. Baynes and Capt. Bryant, the following information is submitted directly to Lt. Albert.

2. Film from station P10 was read, resulting in azimuth and elevation angles being recorded on four objects. In addition, size of image on film was recorded.

3. From this information, together with a single azimuth angle from station M7, the following conclusions were drawn:

a). The objects were at an altitude of approximately 150,000 ft.
b). The objects were over the Holloman range between the base and Tularosa Peak.
c). The objects were approximately 30 feet in diameter.
d). The objects were traveling at an undeterminable, yet high speed.


Wilbur L. Mitchell
Data Reduction Unit

Maccabee then concludes:

“So, there you have it, four unidentified objects… UFOs… were flying at 150,000 ft near the White Sands Proving Ground. Each was roughly 30 ft in size. The sighting was similar to that of Charles Moore a year earlier. Could Mr. Mitchell and the Askania operators have made a mistake? Not likely. Their business was tracking fast moving objects (rockets) and calculating the trajectories of the rockets. As the writer of the above letter stated, The individuals making these sightings are professional observers. Therefore I would rate their reliability superior.

Human beings had made no objects that could fly at 150,000 ft in the spring of 1950. So, what were they? Whose were they?”

Source (& full report).

And what Maccabee says about Project Twinkle is further confirmed by several responses to FOIA requests, for example:


TO : D. M. Ladd DATE: August 23, 1950

FROM : A. H. Belmont



To advise that: (1) OSI has expressed concern in connection with the continued appearance of unexplained phenomena described as green fireballs, discs and meteors in the vicinity of sensitive installations in New Mexico. (2) XXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXX XXXXXX of the University of New Mexico, reported that the phenomenon does not appear to be of meteoric origin. (3) OSI has contracted with XXXXXXXXXXXX, Alamogordo, New Mexico, to make scientific study of the unexplained phenomena.


Observations of aerial phenomena occurring within the vicinity of sensitive installations have been recorded by the Air Force since December, 1948. The phenomena have been classified into 3 general types which are identified as follows:

1. Green fireballs, objects moving at high speed in shapes resembling half moons, circles and discs emitting green light.

2. Discs, round flat shaped objects or phenomena moving at fast velocity and emitting a brilliant white light or reflected light.

3. Meteors, aerial phenomana resemblng meteoric material moving at high velocity in color.

Full response available here.

Green fireballs were one of the UFOs that LIFE magazine covered in their landmark 1952 article titled, “Have We Visitors From Outer Space”. The article opened with the following:

For four years the U.S. public has wondered, worried or smirked over the strange and insistent tales of eerie objects streaking across American skies. Generally the tales have provoked only chills or titters, only rarely, reflection or analysis. Last week the U.S. Air Force made known to LIFE the following facts:

  • As a result of continuing flying saucer reports the Air Force maintains constant intelligence investigation and study of unidentified aerial objects.
  • A policy of positive action has been adopted to find out, as soon as possible, what is responsible for observations that have been made. As a part of this study, military aircraft are alerted to attempt interception, and radar and photographic equipment will be used in an attempt to obtain factual data. If opportunity offers, attempts will be made to recover such unidentified objects.
  • Already all operational units of the Air Force have been alerted to report in detail any sightings of unidentified aerial objects. Other groups — scientists, private and commercial pilots, weather observers — all trained observers whose work in any way concerns the sky, and what happens in it, are urged to make immediate reports to Air Technical Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio of any unidentified aerial objects they sight.
  • Further, for the first time since Project “Saucer” was changed from a special-type project to a standard intelligence function, in December 1949, the Air Force invites all citizens to report their sightings to the nearest Air Force installation. All reports will be given expert consideration and those of special interest will be thoroughly investigated. The identity of those making such reports will be kept in confidence; no one will be ridiculed for making one.
  • There is no reason as yet to believe that any of the aerial phenomena commonly described as flying saucers are caused by a foreign power or constitute a clear and present danger to the U.S. or its citizens.

These disclosures, sharply amending past Air Force policy, climaxed a review by LIFE, with Air Force officials, of all facts known in the case. This review has resulted from more than a year of sifting and weighting all reports of unexplained aerial phenomena — from the so-called flying saucers to the mysterious green fireballs so often sighted in the Southwest (above — main picture). This inquiry has included scrutiny of hundreds of reported sightings, interview with eyewitnesses across the country and careful reviews of the facts with some of the world’s ablest physicists, astronomers, and experts on guided missiles. for the first time the Air Force (while in no way identifying itself with any particular conclusions) has opened its files for study.

Out of this exhaustive inquiry these propositions seem firmly shaped by the evidence:

1. Disks, cylinders and similar objects of geometrical form, luminous quality and solid nature for several years have been, and may be now, actually present in the atmosphere of the earth.

2. Globes of green fire also, of a brightness more intense than the full moon’s, have frequently passed through the skies.

3. These objects cannot be explained by present science as natural phenomena — but solely as artificial devices, created and operated by a high intelligence.

4. Finally, no power plant known or projected on earth could account for the performance of these devices.

Full Life magazine article available here.

Powerful stuff especially in 1952, the article caused such a reaction that it even warranted a mention from Ruppelt (former head of Blue Book) in his own 1956 book, “The Report On Unidentified Flying Objects” (pp. 177-178.) an extract follows:

The LIFE article undoubtedly threw a harder punch at the American public than any other UFO article ever written. The title alone, “Have We Visitors From Outer Space?” was enough. Other very reputable magazines, such as TRUE, had said it before, but coming from LIFE, it was different. LIFE didn’t say that the UFO’s were from outer space; it just said maybe. But to back up this “maybe,” it had quotes from some famous people. Dr. Walther Riedel, who played an important part in the development of the German V-2 missile and is presently the director of rocket engine research for North American Aviation Corporation, said he believed that the UFO’s were from outer space. Dr. Maurice Biot, one of the world’s leading aerodynamicists, backed him up.

Full text available here.

To view any of the information above in its entirety and also for further details (including replies to related FOIA requests) concerning green fireballs from the same time-period then please visit here.

(Thanks to PR for the motivation ) 

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