A UFO…from 1883?

In 1883, José Bonilla took several photographs of objects crossing in front of the sun. After more than a century of speculation, scientists believe they have finally identified these objects. Were they high flying geese? A series of old UFOs? Or was it a force of epic proportions…a force that nearly destroyed the Earth?


First things first. As many of you know, I released my first novel yesterday. It’s an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy of Chaos at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

 An Old UFO Sighting…from 1883?

Now, on August 12, 1883, an astronomer named José Bonilla was studying sunspot activity at the Zacatecas Observatory in Mexico. Suddenly, he noticed something strange. Dark objects seemed to be crossing in front of the sun. Bonilla worked fast and managed to take a couple photographs of the phenomenon.

In 1886, these pictures were released to the public via the magazine L’Astronomie. Taken as a whole, they were “dubbed the first photo of a UFO – a series of 447 objects that looked ‘misty’ and ‘left behind a similar misty trace.'” However, the magazine’s editor was more skeptical and attributed the images to high-flying birds, insects, or a dust cloud rather than an old UFO.

What was this Old UFO?

Recently, a team of scientists led by Hector Javier Durand Manterola at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México proposed a new theory to explain Bonilla’s strange images. Namely, they believe the objects were parts of a “highly fragmented comet.”

Using Bonilla’s observations, Manterola estimated that the objects in question measured anywhere between 151 – 2,608 feet across and passed at a distance of 334 -5,009 miles above the Earth’s surface. If true, then it means that this gigantic body “came close to hitting the Earth – with a similar mass to the object that killed the dinosaurs.” (Assuming, of course, that an asteroid or comet actually killed the dinosaurs in the first place).

“The only bodies in the Solar System which are surrounded by a bright mistiness are the comets, so it is appropriate to suppose that the objects seen by Bonilla were small comets.” ~ Hector Javier Durand Manterola, Maria de la Paz Ramos Lara, and Guadalupe Cordero

Not everyone agrees. There were no reports of a meteor shower at the time. And the annual Perseid meteor shower “was no brighter than usual.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

As far as I can determine, the evidence pointing to a comet is pretty skimpy (as is the evidence pointing to an old UFO). It appears that Manterola’s team made its determination based primarily on the “bright mistiness” of the objects. Then they proceeded to analyze the objects as such.

All in all, the theory is plausible. And I tend to think that comets have impacted Earth at a greater rate than history generally assumes (possibly even causing the Black Death). But the lack of an exceptional meteor shower raises significant questions that are difficult to answer. Regardless, if Bonilla’s 1883 sighting was a fragmented comet, we can be thankful it didn’t come any closer to Earth. Otherwise, well, we might not be here right now.

The Velikovsky Affair and Consensus Science?

In 1950, Immanuel Velikovsky published a book entitled, Worlds in Collision. This work, which involved decades of research, subsequently became a best-seller. However, it also inspired unprecedented backlash from the scientific community, which became known as the Velikovsky Affair. Who was Velikovsky and why were his ideas derided by established scientists?

Who was Immanuel Velikovsky?

Immanuel Velikovsky was an independent, multidisciplinary scholar who researched in fields such as astronomy, physics, ancient history, and comparative mythology. He was also a proponent of catastrophism, which is the theory that Earth has been greatly impacted in the past by sudden, violent events such as comet collisions and volcanic eruptions.

In 1950, Velikovsky released Worlds in Collision. It proposed that “many myths and traditions of ancient peoples and cultures are based on actual events.” His work noted that Venus, which is the second brightest object in the sky, was not observed by ancient astronomers. Based on historical texts and his reading of the physical evidence, he suggested that Venus was a relative newcomer to the solar system, having been ejected from Jupiter around the 15th century BCE. Furthermore, he thought that Venus originally had an irregular orbit. This caused numerous catastrophes on Earth which were subsequently recorded in ancient texts.

The Velikovsky Affair?

Velikovsky was a polymath and thus, not easily dismissed as a kook or a fraud. So, the scientific establishment went after him in a different fashion, in what would become known as the “Velikovsky Affair.”

According to David Stowe’s essay, The Velikovsky Story: The Scientific Mafia, Velikovsky “became the target of nearly universal abuse and derision.” During the Velikovsky Affair, he was shunned and essentially blackballed from college campuses. He was also “rigorously excluded from access to learned journals for his replies.” The Senior Editor at Macmillan who helped publish his book was fired as was the director of the Hayden Planetarium who “proposed to take Velikovsky seriously enough to mount a display about the theory.” In regards to the Velikovsky Affair, the Italian probabilist Bruno de Finetti reportedly described the scientific establishment as a “despotic and irresponsible mafia.”

Analyzing the Velikovsky Affair

The Velikovsky Affair deserves to be scrutinized in two ways. First, the merits of his ideas must be considered. While criticizing some of Velikovsky’s work, no less an expert than Mike Baillie (see: Did a Comet Cause the Black Death?) is generally supportive of some of his basic ideas.

“Velikovsky was almost certainly correct in his assertion that ancient texts hold clues to catastrophic events in the relatively recent past, within the span of human civilization, which involve the effects of comets, meteorites and cometary dust…But fundamentally, Velikovsky did not understand anything about comets…He did not know about the hazard posed by relatively small objects…This failure to recognize the power of comets and asteroids means that it is reasonable to go back to Velikovsky and delete all the physically impossible text about Venus and Mars passing close to the earth…In other words, we can get down to his main thesis, which is that the Earth experienced dramatic events from heavenly bodies particularly in the second millennium BC.” Mike Baillie, Exodus to Arthur: Catastrophic Encounters with Comets

We must also scrutinize the response of the general scientific community. As a recent study observed, creative ideas are often rejected in favor of the “tried and true.” This is just as accurate in science as it is in business or any other field. Unfortunately, some scientists are so eager to discredit things they view as pseudoscience that they end up blocking progress. In the case of Velikovsky, he disagreed with the so-called “consensus science” of the time and found himself blackballed as a result.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Science is hardly the apolitical field it is portrayed to be in the popular media. Original thinkers are often either forced to conform or face professional destruction at the hands of the consensus. Hence, the shameful Velikovsky Affair. However, progress dictates that we must always remain skeptical of “consensus science,” no matter how difficult it is to do so.

“Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.” ~ Michael Crichton, Speech: Aliens Cause Global Warming