BLOG: Ancient Aliens, NASA Edition?

Ancient Aliens Image Finalby Michael Lauck

After being mentioned in a recent episode of Hangar 18, a nearly decade old 14 page paper written by Dr Richard Stothers has been getting quite a bit of attention in certain UFO circles. Dr. Stothers worked at NASA’s Goddard Institute and his paper Unidentified Flying Objects In Classical Antiquity is being implied to be a NASA release and has been described as “in-depth study by the Epoch Times (http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/703237-nasa-reports-on-credible-ufo-sightings-in-ancient-times/). Unfortunately, it is actually neither. 

ur538b04b1According to his New York Times obituary, Richard Stothers went to NASA as a graduate student looking for summer work at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in 1961. He earned his doctorate from Harvard within a couple of years and spent his entire career at Goddard. Over the course of his life he authored or co-authored about 200 academic papers on a variety of topics, including volcanic eruptions, stellar evolution, earthquake lights and even giant serpents. Dr Stothers passed away in 2011. The Goddard Institute maintains a page on their website listing his five decades of publications, including Unidentified Flying Objects In Classical Antiquity. with links to online versions of each paper. This is something they appear to do for all alumni.

NASA did not publish this paper; they merely host an online reprint of it. The work originally appeared in a 2007 issue of The Classical Journal. This is a century old peer reviewed quarterly publication produced by the Classical Association of the Middle West and South. On its website, The Classical Journal describes itself as containing “a mix of academic articles and notes on Graeco-Roman antiquity, generally with a literary, historical or cultural focus.”

Unidentified Flying Objects In Classical Antiquity is a 14 page overview of sightings categorized using a modified version of Dr J Allen Hynek’s classification system. Daytime and nighttime sightings, for example, are combined and radar is a non-issue. It only examines written accounts from Classical Antiquity. This means that it confines itself to the period from about the 7th Century BC (the rise of Greece) to the 5th Century AD (the fall of Rome) in the area of the Mediterranean dominated by Greece and then Rome. All other times and areas are excluded from consideration. In fact, there is only one mention of any other sighting, Reverend Gill’s famous 1959 encounter in New Guinea.

Basically, the paper is a catalog of sightings that fit Dr Stothers’ criteria and that means there are only about twenty incidents. What makes the paper interesting is that Dr Stothers explains why each of these sightings is not easily explained by natural phenomenon. He compares the language used to descriptions of known astronomical events, for example, to eliminate comets, bolides and the like. It also provides a handy reference to the best written unidentified flying object from the time period. This alone makes it an invaluable paper for anyone interested in historical UFO reports. The paper includes a short history of the attempts to make scholarly examinations of historical UFO encounters. Finally, the paper includes an impressive list of works cited which will give anyone interested in the topic of UFOs in the ancient times a ready made reading list.

Readers expecting to find information on Babylonian stories of the Annunaki or Vedic flying machines will be disappointed. Both of these cultures find outside the definition of Classical Antiquity. Similarly, later sightings and descriptions from Asia are not included. The paper also limits itself solely to written accounts, so there is no discussion of UFO-like objects in art.

One disappointing feature of the paper is the statement at the end of the abstract, a summary that leads academic papers. Stothers wrote that UFO sightings “fall neatly into the same categories as modern UFO reports, suggesting that the UFO phenomenon, whatever it may be due to, has not changed much over two millennia.” While this may be a defensible position, it really is not something discussed in body of the work. The system to classify sightings Stother uses is based first on the distance of the sighting and then on whether or not physical evidence was left or occupants were observed. It seems a rather flimsy basis for stating that the phenomenon is basically unchanged in 2,000 years.

Dr Richard Stothers’ Unidentified Flying Objects In Classical Antiquity, as well as his other papers, can be found online at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies official website (http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/authors/rstothers.html).