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Anomalous Green Fireballs: Were Early “Alien Drone” Theories Misleading?

Late October is an ideal time for stargazing, since the annual Orionid meteor shower occurs, where Earth’s skies are pummeled with bits of cosmic debris that burn brilliantly as they coast through the atmosphere.

This morning at about 5:45 Eastern Time, I ran outside with a hot cup of freshly brewed, French pressed coffee, and within about half an hour had seen between 9 and 15 shooting stars. While some were mere flickers of light skimming the atmosphere, others left bright pink tails that lingered for several seconds in the sky after the meteor itself had burnt up.

While I enjoy spotting shooting stars for fun, meteors have probably been on my mind over the last few days more specifically because I have been reviewing a reprint of Edward Ruppelt’s The Report of Unidentified Flying Objects, 1956 Edition. For those unfamiliar with the manuscript, this is a remarkably revealing dissertation, dealing with a variety of early Project Blue Book investigations into various UFO related phenomenon, and the book’s fourth chapter deals with a particularly interesting variety of early UFO: Anomalous Green Fireballs.

During the late 1940s when the most famous “Green Fireball” reports were taking place, there were some interesting assessments made by scientific minds who engaged in debate over the phenomenon. One view, held by many at the time, was not only that these objects may be extraterrestrial in nature, but that they had been “probes” or “drones” piloted remotely by an alien craft suspended above Earth at an altitude of several hundred miles. The logic behind this was based on three factors presenting varying levels of difficulty pertaining to human spaceflight, which had been applied thusly to presumed extraterrestrials. They were as follows:

1) The difficulties associated with exiting the atmosphere of a planet like Earth,
2)  The difficulties of space travel in general, and
3) The very difficult scenario involving re-entry into an Earth-like atmosphere

Due to the troubles such interplanetary modes of transportation would likely present, the scientists observing these famous “Green Fireballs” presumed, based on then state-of-the-art theories regarding how human astronauts might observe an alien planet in the future, that aliens were foregoing the trouble of entering our atmosphere at all, and simply piloting little “drones” to gather atmospheric data, which then very likely burnt up during the process of entry, and thus removed any ability for wreckage or other alien memorabilia to be recovered.

The reason I bring all this up here is because I find it rather interesting that in the 1940s and 50s, prior to any successful attempts at spaceflight ourselves, scientists were jumping the gun and presupposing how extraterrestrials might be doing it. In fact, if we stop to review the Green Fireball enigma from our modern perspective, the notion that there was anything extraterrestrial going on at all might seem a bit absurd to a few of us; and yet the scientific establishment took the idea very seriously back in 1949.

This is all interesting to me because the speculation was taking place years before any successful attempts at space flight by humans, and of course, also prior to successful reentry into Earth’s atmosphere via space shuttles, etc. And yet, no doubt, these early hypotheses were clearly orchestrating the beginnings of an idea that would continue on for decades to follow, right up to the present: that these objects, whatever they were, were likely interplanetary spacecraft! While we cannot ignore the possibility that some UFOs may represent extraterrestrial craft, one can’t help but wonder how scientists like those Ruppelt mentioned in his book might have interpreted the Green Fireball mystery if they had appeared during the Apollo years, when notions of reentry into Earth’s atmosphere would have seemed much less foreign.

What this clearly shows is that when it came to early interpretation of UFO phenomenon, there were indeed some bold leaps of faith that were taking place among the scientific establishment–perhaps even in the place of otherwise logical assessment. The result, no doubt, contributed greatly to the well-accepted notions of today that extraterrestrial visitation is the clear and obvious solution to the UFO mystery. As I’ve argued many times here at Mysterious Universe and elsewhere, this simply may not be the case, and it cannot be taken as a gospel truth when so little evidence exists to support it. Thus, we might be wise to ask ourselves whether early theories regarding anomalous fireballs were indeed misleading, in that they may have begun to condition us to the idea of extraterrestrial visitation… and at a time where our own understanding of space flight was, at best, rather lacking.


Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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