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With all of the balloons and UFOs flying around and falling out of the sky these days I thought I'd take the time to get to the bottom of one of America's best known UFO mysteries. In 1947, the small town of Roswell, New Mexico, became the center of a major controversy that would spark decades of speculation and conspiracy theories. The incident was initially reported as a crash of an unidentified flying object (UFO) that was recovered by the US military. However, over time, it was revealed that the object was actually a top-secret government project known as Project Mogul.

Project Mogul was a joint effort between the US military and the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to develop a high-altitude surveillance balloon that could detect sound waves from Soviet nuclear weapons tests. The project used balloons that carried listening devices and traveled in the upper atmosphere. The balloons were made of lightweight materials, such as neoprene, and were designed to be undetectable to radar.

Major Jesse A. Marcel holding foil debris from Roswell, New Mexico, UFO incident, 07/08/1947

On June 14, 1947, one of these balloons crashed on a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico. The debris was found by a local rancher, Mac Brazel, who reported it to the local sheriff. The military arrived on the scene soon after the call to the sheriff and retrieved the debris. The military stated to the public that they had recovered a "flying disc," sparking speculation and rumors about extraterrestrial life and a government cover-up. The incident gained lots of attention and became known as the Roswell UFO incident. To this day the Roswell UFO incident is still a popular subject for conspiracy theories and in pop culture.

Newspaper clipping from Roswell Daily Record on July 9, 1947 covering the Roswell UFO incident.

Over the years, the government has declassified documents related to Project Mogul and the Roswell incident, shedding light on what really happened. In 1994, the US Air Force released a report that concluded that the Roswell incident was a result of a Project Mogul balloon falling out of the sky and the military covering their tracks so the capabilities and intel gathered by Project Mogul would not be known by the Soviets.

Despite the government's attempts to clarify the situation, many people still believe in the conspiracy theories surrounding the incident. Some argue that the government is covering up the existence of extraterrestrial life or extraterrestrial technologies they gained from the crashed UFO. Others believe that the government intentionally misled the public to test the waters for a potential UFO threat. A even less common theory is that the Roswell incident involved time travel, rather than extraterrestrial life. That the military recovered a time machine or some other form of time travel technology, which they have kept hidden from the public (this is a personal favorite as there's a Futurama episode that plays with this idea).

The UFO has helped the small town grow with an influx of tourism this is taken from a display at Roswell's "UFO Museum"

While the incident may remain a topic of debate and speculation, the evidence suggests that it was a case of misidentification rather than an encounter with extraterrestrial life. I would guess the same is true for the UFOs that are currently being shot down but I'm still excited to see the evidence as it comes out.

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  • Writer's pictureLuke

Updated: Jan 30

We will be visited by a bright green comet this late January/early February! The comet’s official name is Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF but just shortining it to "Comet ZTF" has a better ring to it in my opinion(ZTF stands for Zwicky Transient Facility which is the observatory that first discovered the comet back in March 2022).

A time-lapse of Comet ZTF I took on 1/27/23

On the night/morning of Febuary 1st/2nd 2023 the Comet ZTF will make its closest approach making it brighter in the sky this whole week! It will be passing in the sky right between the Small Dipper (Ursa Minor) and The Big Dipper (Ursa Major).

Sky and Telescope magazine has a good image of where the comet will be in the sky for the next few months here:

A picture of Comet ZTF taken with my telescope on Friday 1/27/23

Comet ZTF should be fairly visible, a decent pair of binoculars or a decent telescope will probably offer the best views and you might be able to catch it with the unaided eye in a very dark place on the night of closest approach (Wednesday Feb 1st). It is hard to predict brightness of comets but about 5+ magnitude seems to be the current guess (about the brightness of Uranus, would barely be seen with dark skies and unaided eyes/require a small telescope or good binoculars to see).

Comet Neowise seen on an AstroTour in March 2020

The main factor working against the comet will be the moon. In the coming weeks the moon will be growing causing more and more natural light pollution and setting later and later. On the night of 2/1 the moon will be 83% full and setting at 5am making it highly likely to wash out the comet’s appearance to many viewers.

The word comet comes from Latin and means “long haired star” referring to the hair like tail, the most striking feature of a comet. The comet ZTF should appear with a faint cloud tail possibly with a green hue pointing away from the sun.

Comet 67P which was studied up close by the Rosetta mission

Comets are referred to as dirty snowballs as they are primarily made up of ice with some rock and dust mixed in. The tail of a comet always points away from the sun because the heat of the sun and the solar wind (a stream of charged particles the sun radiates) hits the comet with enough power to melt the ice and burn the dust. Watching the Comet ZTF in a telescope between the now and 2/19 the change in direction of the tail should be very apparent, flipping from pointing east to pointing north as the comet crosses the sky.

How a comet's tail changes as it orbits the sun

Up to the 1700s Saturn was seen as the limit of our solar system. Comets of course were known of prior to the 1700s as they are quite striking when they appear, however comets were seen as foretelling a large event. So instead of studying them when they appear many focused mainly on what upcoming event is being foreshadowed. Aristotle and many others thought comets were phenomenon which occur in the Earth's atmosphere. Edmund Halley famously predicted a comet he had seen in 1682 to return in 1758 this was the first insight into what comets really were. Halley’s comet meant that the solar system was much larger than previously thought as, the orbit Halley predicted had his comet traveling just outside of the orbit of Neptune (which wasn’t discovered until 1846) meaning the comet traveled over 3.7 times as far as Saturn’s orbit.

Halley's Comet during its pass through the inner Solar System in 1986

If you wish to see the Comet ZTF up close in one of my large telescopes and learn more about it I will be offering 2 special tours for the comet, one on Febuary 1st one in Boulder and one in Winter Park.

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  • Writer's pictureLuke

Watch the sky on December 7th from 7:30p to 8:45p (Mountian Time, in Colorado) to see Mars go behind the moon and come out the other side! this rare alignment will be visible across most of the US, all of Canada and in most of Europe

This rare Eclipse of mars is called an Occultation and can be used to study the moon! If you're lucky enough to see this in a telescope you will see mars peeking thru valleys and topography on the moon as the moon blocks it out and mars is right on the edge of the disk of the moon.

The folks at the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) have a map on their site that shows where and when the event will be visible.

In the US/Canada the occultation of Mars will happen on the night of December 7th around 7:30p Mountian Time (the graphic says Dec 8th because it is using Universal Time)

To learn more about Mars and why it's so bright this year read my previous blog post here:

Keep up to date with things happening in the sky like this sign up for my news letter here:

To see Mars up close in a telescope book a tour here:

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