Analysis of a Photograph of a High Speed Ball of Light
UAP Head Area Emphasizing Coronal Micro-Structure
(450 dpi scan, B=10, C=15, emboss filter)
The left tip of the tail can be seen here. The areas lying outside
of this central, gray region are of more interest, however. Thin,
parallel fingers are seen protruding from the rounded front of this
image. It is interesting that most of these fingers diverge from
ten to fifteen degrees arc from the UAP's flight path. What these
short protrusions are is not known but may represent energy
projections of some sort.
UAP Head Area Emphasizing Corona Macro-Structure
(450 dpi scan, B=10, C=15, RGB curves filter as described in text)
These protrusions also appear in Figure 9 where the same part of the
image was subjected to a sinusoidal filtering (RGB Curves function)
using seven (7) equally spaced cycles across the 255 bits of
exposure depth. This yields artificially enhanced profiles of equal
luminance. The luminance boundaries nearest the head of the UAP tend
to include the projections that characterize the head itself while
boundaries more distant do not. This effect seems consistent with a
radiation effect that decreases in intensity with distance from the
The appearance of separated striations within the white tail
behind the UAP appear to be consistent with condensation trails of a
blunt-nose body in sub-sonic flight through Earth’s atmosphere
(Smith, 2001). Of course, the tail may be produced by a totally
different mechanism. In addition, if the UAP was travelling at a
supersonic velocity there would be a significantly different
appearance of the bow shock wave than is seen in the photograph.
Further, the sailplane pilot did not hear a sonic boom nor feel any
sudden air buffeting during or soon after the UAP passed him which
would be consistent with a vehicle travelling at sub-sonic velocity.
The last test performed on the head of the UAP
consisted of “stretching” the exposure so that only thirty [about
12%] of the 255 total (245 minus 215) bits of input
(exposure) “depth” were stretched over two hundred (200) bits of
output “depth.” This was done to see if very low contrast
detail might lie buried within the greatly overexposed region of the
UAP’s head. Figure 10 shows what was found.
IAP Head Area
With Luminance Stretching
(450 dpi scan, B=-5, C=0, Stretched Exposure)
The magnification and image centering of Figure 10 are similar
to that of Figures 8 and 9 for sake of comparison. The luminance
stretching was performed only within the smaller inset square to
permit comparison of its diameter with the unstretched image (seen
in the remainder of the figure. It may be noted that the front edge
of the head is relatively circular and (again) includes several
short protrusions located near the top of the head. The spherical
shaped object that Mr. Williams perceived likely corresponded to
part of this rounded region.
Sun's Location, Sky Luminance, and Weather Analysis
On July 16st 1988 at 1400 PST the sun was at 56
deg. 37.8 min. arc elevation and 244 deg. 33.6 min. azimuth at this
location. These values are useful in studying illumination and
shadows on the UAP, sailplane, and chase plane windows. The reported
heading of the sailplane (approx. 45 deg.) at the moment of the
photograph is consistent with the location of the sun's shadow on
its fuselage. In addition, a rather significant amount of sunlight
is also reflected from the earth’s surface upon the underside of the
sailplane as seen in Figure 3.
No clouds are visible in the photograph which supports Mr. Williams' statement
that clouds had not yet developed at this hour of the day.
The entire frame was scanned at 175 dpi and a brightness filter applied to emphasize
the range of luminance along lines A and B (i.e., upper right to
lower left). Figure 11 presents the resultant image. When the image
is rotated about thirty degrees CW these measurement lines represent
the sky's horizontal luminance gradient. Individual luminance
values (3 x 3 pixel cursor) are shown at their measurement location. It may be noted that the sky in the upper right-hand corner of this
image is visibly darker than it is in the lower left-hand corner. A
luminance difference of about x 2.4 was found along line A which is
larger than would be expected from usual atmospheric particle light
scattering across this narrow an angle of sky (Allard, 1876).
Sky Luminance Distribution (175 DPI scan, B=+22;
Windshield and Side Window Optical Analysis
In order to better understand the possible cause of this large
luminance gradient several hypotheses were formulated. The first is
that sunlight struck the Mooney's right-hand window to create the
veiling luminance seen in Figure 11. An attempt was made to obtain
geometric details of the side window’s rate of curvature and other
geometry. A rough estimate of these parameters was made based upon
inspection of a front-view photograph of this aircraft (cf. Figure
12). The passenger's side window possesses a large radius (approx.
24) horizontal curve over its upper half progressing to a nearly
flat plane over its bottom half.
Nose View Photograph of Mooney M20S
Assuming that the chase plane was beginning a left-hand bank
away from the sailplane when the photograph was taken the camera's
line of sight would probably have been through the lower, planar
part of the window. With the Mooney's heading of approximately 360
deg. and sunlight azimuth at about 244 deg, sunlight could not have
struck the tinted plexiglass side window. In short, the lighting
conditions were perfect for this photograph with the sun
illuminating the top and left-hand side of both the Mooney and the
sailplane; the window and camera both were in shadow. The
gradient of the sky's luminance seen in Figure 11 is not
likely caused by sunlight falling on the Mooney's side window if the
aircraft headings are those assumed here.
A second working hypothesis is that this large luminance
gradient across the film plane may have resulted during its
processing if a typical darkroom environment has been used. The
Kodak film specifications state: "Do not use a safelight. Handle
unprocessed film in total darkness." (Kodak, pg. 2, 1997)
Fortunately, Mr. Williams was able to locate five other frames taken
from the chase plane during the same flight. He indicated that the
photograph shown in Figure 13 is very likely the frame obtained just
prior to the UAP photograph (Fig. 3; cf. footnote 7. This frame
allowed a comparison to be made of the sky's luminance gradient with
that of the UAP frame; approximately the same range of
luminance was found in each which argues
against the second hypothesis as well as a third.
The third hypothesis is that the UAP had somehow caused additional exposure of
the film perhaps due to emitted radiation of some sort. Figure 13,
taken many minutes before the appearance of the UAP, suggests that
this possibility is very unlikely because of a similar amount of
luminance gradient present here as well.
Photograph of Sailplane Taken Several Minutes Before the UAP Photo
The fourth hypothesis is that this luminance gradient is merely that of the
natural daylight sky under these conditions. Inspection of all
photos provided by Mr. Williams tends to support this hypothesis
even though the range is higher than would be expected (Allard,
1876, Koschmieder, 1924).
Calculations of Possible UAP Velocity
If the UAP (1) travelled in a straight line, (2)
travelled at a constant velocity, (3) was seen for five or ten
seconds (t) total, (4) travelled through the horizontal angles (Col.
A - see below), and (5) was either one or two miles away from Mr.
Williams (Col. D) it would have had to travel at the velocities
(Col. V) shown in Table 2.
Calculated UAP Parameters
for These Assumed Parameters
Total Horizontal Angular rate Duration Distance (st.mi.)
Total Distance Velocity
arc.) of UAP (sec.) from Sailplane
Traveled (st. mi.) (mph)
UAP Travelled (deg./sec.) t
in Time "t"
100 20 5
100 20 5
2 4.77 3,434
100 10 10
1 2.38 857
100 10 10
2 4.77 1,717
100 10 10
3 7.15 2,574
5 1 2.86
5 2 5.71
110 11 10
1 2.86 1,030
110 11 10
2 5.71 2,056
110 11 10
3 8.57 3,085
It appears that all of these velocities are too large in view
of the likelihood that the UAP was travelling at sub-sonic speed for
reasons given above. Either the sighting duration estimate was too
short, the distance to the UAP was too large, the angle through
which the UAP appeared to pass was in error, or some combination of
these factors. Even the 857 mph (bold faced) value given above is
supersonic. Clearly, a rather large error exists in these estimated
parameters. Such perceptual errors are not at all uncommon when
there are few if any stable, visual landmarks and/or time references
available within the visual field (Haines, 1980). Even if the
distance to the UAP was reduced to only one-half mile it would have
had to travel at 428 mph over ten seconds and 100 deg arc; at 0.75
mile distance it would have had to travel at 644 mph over ten
seconds and 100 deg arc given the other estimates.
The change in azimuth angle through which the sailplane traveled at 110 kts in a
coordinated 20 deg banked turn (no side slip assumed) to the right
over five seconds equals about 14 degrees and 27 degrees over ten
The sailplane would have traversed about 700 and 1,400 feet during
these two durations, respectively. Since the UAP was seen initially
on the left-hand side of the sailplane, i.e., on the outside of his
right-hand turn, Williams would be turning in a direction to keep it
in sight slightly longer than if he were in straight flight by about
A UAP subtending a visual angle of 2 deg. 35 min arc at one and
two miles distance would measure 238 and 475 feet across,
respectively. At 0.25 mile distance it would measure 59.4 feet
Evaluation of Reporter Credibility
Mr. John Williams was confirmed to be a licensed pilot (S.E.L.
and "Diamond" level soaring pilot with 18 years flying experience)
at the time of the event. He did not possess any waivers or
limitations. He claimed to have had 400 logged hours with 350 hrs.
in high performance sailplanes "…in multiple flight envelopes and
conditions." His reported directorship on a prominent California
aerospace museum in the 1980s also was confirmed. His clear and
detailed knowledge of aeronautics and flight details was found to be
accurate in every respect. No evidence of any kind could be found
that he ever attempted to capitalize on this photograph in any way.
Two primary subjects will be discussed: (1) the differences (and possible
causes) between what was reportedly seen and what was recorded on
the photograph and, (2) the ambiguity of whether or not the negative
submitted was original or a copy negative and reasons for accepting
it for study.
(1) Differences Between What was Seen and Photographed.
Mr. Williams remarked that the UAP looked to him like a “large
reflective sphere … almost like a large ball bearing."
But this is not what his photo looked like. A quite similar
situation exists with the 1956 report by Childerhose discussed
earlier. And, when asked to comment on whether or not he remembered
seeing a parallel upper edge to the vapor trail that is visible in
his photograph he remarked, "The UAP looked more distinct and
spherical than it does in the photo, with an area to the rear,
several times its diameter that had a vapor quality." This
perceptually-based description clearly implies the presence of an
object with a polished metal surface and not a diffuse white ball
with a vapor trail that is seen on the film. He did recall seeing a
"tail" behind it.
Several possible explanations exist for these appearance differences: (a) Williams'
memory may have been modified somewhat over the intervening years.
Such examples of memory modification are well documented (e.g.,
Shepard, 1979). (b) Williams changed the visual description of the
UAP for some unknown reason. The likelihood of this seems small in view of the fact that
his description of the UAP didn't correspond at all to the
photograph he submitted. This argues in support of his honesty and
self-assurance in this sighting detail. (c) The radiation reflected
or emitted by the "spherical" UAP affected this film differently
than it affected his retina and visual system. This last possibility
deserves further comment related to both the geometric and the
spectral sensitivity aspects of the case.
Geometric Aspects. The author has conducted laboratory research on both
the perceptual and photographic effects of using ultra-high
luminance targets in support of the space program (Haines, 1965,
1966, 1968, 1969, 1971) and has photographed highly polished metal
spheres and other surface shapes under full sunlight conditions
(e.g., Haines, Fig. 39, 40; 1980). These studies clearly demonstrate
that the normal human eye perceives very bright targets differently
than they will appear on film that has been exposed under so-called
"normal" conditions. Let us first consider the visual appearance of
a polished metal sphere. For prolonged, light adapted viewing of a
sunlit sphere one will see its entire outline and "metallic" surface
(reflecting sky and other background) with a smaller diameter,
reflected, virtual image of the sun that is extremely bright.
But the entire surface of the sphere will not appear homogeneously
bright. Recall that Mr. Williams' perceptually based statement
was that the UAP looked like "a large reflective sphere… a large
Now consider the visual appearance of a correctly exposed photograph of the same
mirror surface target as above. Given the proper shutter speed and
aperture much the same object detail will be seen as described
above. On the other hand, if the shutter speed and/or aperture are
not adequate to reduce the ultra high optical power coming from the
spherical target what is produced is a much larger diffuse
white area perhaps the same angular size of the entire sphere itself
as is seen in the present photograph. Yet in the present photograph
the sailplane was properly exposed so the shutter speed and aperture
had to be approximately correct for these nominal conditions. The
over-exposed UAP had to result only from its excessive output of
optical power. It is likely that this is what occurred in the
present case as well as in the earlier Childerhose case.
Now consider a sunlit sphere in the sky whose surface is not mirror but diffusely
reflecting, like white chalk. It will appear both to the naked eye
and on a photograph as an almost flat surfaced object, i.e., its
third dimension will be significantly reduced. Its round edge will
correspond with its angular diameter. Each point on its surface
will radiate light toward the eye and camera. The difference between
sunlit a mirror surface and a diffuse surface sphere is immediately
discernable and will not be confused.
Another possibility in one or both aerial sightings is that the film may
have undergone some poorly understood type of direct irradiation
perhaps due to non-visible (near infra-red?) wavelengths from the
source. Further research is called for to find out if this is
Spectral Sensitivity Aspects. Another issue is the degree to which Kodak
ASA100 color film faithfully captures the same target wavelengths as
does the normal human visual system. In fact, there has been shown
to be a relatively good correspondence in this regard (cf. Kodak,
1997). Indeed, if this were not the case such film would not be sold
as consistently as it is. People would not continue to purchase
film that did not capture the same hues and contrasts as exist the
perceived scene. At the shorter wavelength end of the spectrum of
Kodak 5026 the yellow-forming layer's spectral sensitivity curve
extends down to 400 nm while the normal visual sensitivity falls off
to virtually nothing at 395 nm. (Prince, 1962). Much the same
correspondence is found at the longer wavelength end of the spectrum
as well where the (cyan -forming layer) of the emulsion is sensitive
out to 690 nm which is just under the 730 nm cut-off of the normal
eye. Thus, the eye can see slightly farther into the near infrared
than can this particular film stock.
What is the possibility that this UAP emitted non-visible radiation that
affected the film?
There is no known published research on this important matter. Further research should
be conducted to evaluate such a possibility, particularly microwave
wavelengths in the 1mm to 1cm wavelength range.
(2) The Issue of Negative Originality. Of course it
is important to study the original negative of an alleged UAP or
other claimed anomaly whenever possible (Louange, 1999) unless it
has been lost and a high quality copy, unaltered negative has been
made. As mentioned earlier, it appears that the negative that the
author received was not original but a copy. In addition, of the three frame negative strip received,
the UAP was imaged on frame 3A with no exposures on frame 4A or 5A.
When Williams was asked about this discrepancy (on March 9, 2001) he
said he thought it was original "as far as I know." Whether or not
this fact seriously impacts the value of the entire case rests on
the personal motives and credibility of the primary witness. The
only other two people who handled the film were the photographer and
the technician at the one-hour film developing shop on Convoy Street
in San Diego. Since the photographer did not remove the film from
the witness's camera but simply handed it all to Williams upon
landing it removes him from suspicion. It isn't known whether the
copy negative was made by the technician. He had it for a full week
according to Williams who further recalls that he did receive a full
roll of negatives back but can't be sure if they were his
Consider the following: (1) Mr. Williams did nothing with the negative for 11.5
years as far as can be determined other than having two enlargements
made - one of which he submitted to the author for study and the
other for his office wall, (2) It is possible that the photographer
had loaded a second roll of film and then stopped taking photos
immediately after the UAP passed by. Williams though that they all
headed back to land very soon after the sighting. (3) When the
author visited him in his home-office located NW of Seattle,
Washington it was noticed that (a) he was a former Naval officer,
(b) There was no indication that he had any kind of an interest in
ufo or anything occult, (c) At no time did he become defensive or
belligerent about the apparent discrepancy surrounding the copy
negative; he merely shrugged it off as something of no great
importance. At no time did he contradict himself or give facts that
were later found to be in error, and (d) He is well educated, a
respected member of the community, and now a salesman of high
technology, non-destructive testing hardware and is very precise in
his vocabulary and knowledge of flying. All of these facts tend to
support the contention that Williams is a trustworthy individual
despite the fact that the negative analyzed probably was not
original. Of course, theoretically, overall case reliability is
lessened because of this fact.
(3) Other Issues. A check was made to determine whether other UAP reports had
been made at this time, date, and location. No reports to the
National UFO Reporting Center (Seattle, Washington) were found other than Mr. Williams' own abbreviated report submitted on
January 10, 2000. It may be important to note that Mr. Williams did
not include the day of the month of the incident in his report to
NUFORC. He had to locate this date in his flight log book for them
later. There also were no sighting reports found in the national
data base maintained by Hatch (2001). A check was also made with an
international astronomical clearing house in Czechoslovakia
regarding meteorite and bolide sightings; none were reported by
astronomers for this time and location.
A number of tentative conclusions are offered as a result of this
investigation: (1) There is no firm evidence of a double exposure
or other deliberate hoax despite the fact that the pilot probably
did not submit the original negative. (2) Whatever the UAP was it
was most likely in sub-sonic flight, as suggested by visual
characteristics of turbulence within the tail behind the UAP's head,
the lack of a visible bow-wave effect, and the fact that no sonic
boom was heard. (3) If the UAP was moving at sub-sonic speed then
either the estimated sighting duration was too short, the distance
to the UAP too great, the angle that the UAP appeared to travel
through was in error, or some combination of them all. It isn't possible to determine which of these estimate(s) are in error. (4)
The UAP's visual appearance did not match the appearance of the
photograph, a finding that parallels an earlier aerial photographic
case. This difference may be because the total optical power of the
UAP was so great as to completely saturate the relatively "slow"
film. Indeed, even with extreme computer "stretching" of the highly
exposed area it wasn’t possible to locate any significant detail
within the central core of the 'white' head. (5) The diminution of
the albedo of the UAP’s tail with increased distance behind its
leading edge is not consistent with sunlight reflected off of
water vapor at these angles. It is as if the particles possessed
directional reflectivity or some other non-mundane characteristic.
(6) Very fine micro-structure details were discovered that extended
outward from the "head" of the UAP. The nature of the UAP has not
been identified as of this date.
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