In this blog post I will share two essays written by students in my astrophysics class this summer as an exercise in critical thinking and making claims based on evidence. They both report alien abduction cases that became quite famous, one of which even became the basis of a motion picture.
Betty and Barney Hill: The Zeta Reticuli Incident
The Betty and Barney Hill case, also known as the Zeta Reticuli incident is one of the most known and credible alien abduction cases in the world. Many people have researched and been informed about this case in the 1960s and how it became an important prototype for abduction stories from then on.
The background on this case starts out simple. Betty and Barney Hill were a biracial couple in the 1960s. They both had busy lives with intense tiring jobs. Barney worked a night shift at a post office located 60 miles away from home. He made the tough commute to work every day. Betty worked a lot in the child welfare field, which can be brutal. The couple spent most of the time doing their jobs. In the little free time they acquired they spent most of it working at church in the civil rights movement.
They were married for 16 months before they were able to take a 3-day break for their honeymoon. The couple decided to take a trip to Montreal and Niagara Falls. On September 19, 1961 they were at a diner nearing the end of their trip. They decided to stop and eat before they continued the journey home to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They left the diner at about 10 p.m. to avoid all the hurricanes and storms that were supposed to hit. They planned to get home at around 2 or 3 a.m. While driving home they noticed a strange light hovering over them. Barney was an ex-WWll vet and he just assumed that it was a satellite going off course. Betty, not knowing much, was worried that it was something more. The light grew closer and closer with each mile. Eventually, the light was straight above their heads. That was the last thing either of them remembered before the end of the night.
They came around 2 hours later and surprisingly 35 miles down the road. They both felt dirty and could not recall anything that had happened in the past 2 hours. They drove all the way home. They both tried to remember what happened but could not seem to. Throughout the next month Betty and Barney developed an increasing amount of anxiety surrounding the incident. They both decided to seek help from a mental health specialist. They met with a psychologist and neurologist named Benjamin Simon. He specialized in hypnosis. He was able to recover memories for the couple through intense therapy. They claim to have remembered being abducted. After the light hovered over them, they recalled being taken into a ship that blocked their way through a narrow pass. They could see alien-looking gray creatures inside, who came out to meet them, but they found themselves unable to move. The creatures took them inside the ship, where they were stripped and evaluated. One of the creatures showed Betty a kind of diagram on the wall of the ship that showed a network of dots connected with dotted, single, and double lines. The alien pointed to two larger dots near each other on the bottom right of the diagram, and Betty felt this indicated where the aliens came from.
The real question though is: Is this incident real? We also must find credible evidence that points to an alien abduction. Betty and Barney Hill have a lot of believers and credibility. However, I have done a lot of research on many different websites and I have not found any credible sources. Most websites just explain the story in similar ways that other websites explain the incident. I have seen quotes directly from the Hill’s. Everything they are saying is being believed with no solid evidence. The only piece of evidence that we had is the star map drawn by Betty.
A teacher named Marjorie Fish studied the map in a magazine. She spent a lot of time building a 3D model of the nearby stars using the best data for distance and position then available and identifying stars that were most like our sun. Since there are many stars in the radius of our sun (estimated to be around 1,000 stars), Fish spent a lot of her time sorting stars into various categories. She eventually came down to 46 stars. It took Fish five years of looking at her model from every angle to find a match.
The view point was right above Zeta 2 Reticuli, which she assumed to be the double star system on Betty’s map. She stated “Since we did not have the data to make such a map in 1961 when Betty saw it, or in 1964 when she drew it, it could not be a hoax. Since the stars with lines to them are such a select group, it is almost impossible that the resemblance between Betty’s map and reality could be coincidental. Betty’s map could only have been drawn after contact with extraterrestrials” Fish concluded that this would give us major evidence to help conclude whether the abduction really happened. If the map had not been created when Betty drew it, it would have to conclude that something had happened that night.
However, if you look back at Betty’s map today and line it up with a more accurate model (the map from the 60s was not completely accurate, as we now have very accurate parallax measurements from the HIPPARCOS and GAIA satellites) you can see that the stars on Betty’s map do not line up with any stars.
Another piece of evidence that is critical is the reliability of using hypnosis to recover lost memories. Research says hypnosis is not a reliable method for memory recovery. People who undergo hypnosis therapy tend to be super confident in their memories which can lead to “persistence of false memories.” There have been laboratory studies that prove that someone can be influenced into believing something that did not happen is real. Hypnosis is a state similar to a dream or alpha state where therapists can plant memories in the patient’s minds, whether intentionally or not. There is not any legitimate science found behind unlocking memories through hypnosis. Everything “recalled” after the Hills blacked out cannot be trusted.
My conclusion on this incident is that there was something that happened the night of September 19, 1961. Alien abduction seems a little stretched. It could be aliens and it could be something different.
Lacina, L. (2019, June 5). The First Alien-Abduction Account Described a Medical Exam with a Crude Pregnancy Test. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/news/first-alien-abduction-account-barney-betty-hill
Barney Hill, UFO Witness born. (n.d.). African American Registry. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from https://aaregistry.org/story/barney-hill-a-story-of-alien-beings-on-earth/
Observatory, A., & Planetarium. (2011, August 19). The Truth about Betty Hill’s UFO Star Map – Astronotes. https://armaghplanet.com/betty-hills-ufo-s tar-map-the-truth.html
Betty Hill, 85, Figure in Alien Abduction Case, Dies. (2004, October 23). The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/23/us/betty-hill-85-figure-in-alien-abduction-case-dies.html Hypnosis. (n.d.). http://Www.hopkinsmedicine.org.
Recovered Trauma Memories and Hypnosis – Abuse. (2015). Mentalhelp.net. https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/recovered-trauma-memories-and-hypnosis/
The Travis Walton Abduction
On November 5th, 1975, a lumber jack from Arizona named Travis Walton allegedly went missing while at work in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest near Snowflake, Arizona for five days and approximately six hours. Scent dogs were called in and helicopters were issued to try to find Walton. Investigators thought that Walton’s co-workers had murdered him, but this was false. Once found, his story was told.
On November 5th a crew of seven men, including Walton, went to work on timber stands in the national forest. While riding out to the timber stands, the group allegedly saw a hovering mass that looked like a saucer. The “saucer” was thought to be approximately 110 feet away from the truck with the seven crew men. They claim to have heard a loud buzzing noise. Walton exited the truck and approached the object when a light came down on him and he lost consciousnesses. The six other crewmen were frightened off and left Walton behind.
When Walton returned to town, he told the story of waking in a room that resembled a hospital room surrounded by small creatures that were bald who seemed to be studying Walton. He noted that the creatures weren’t humanlike at all. Walton claimed to have fought the creatures until a human intervened while wearing a red helmet.
The man took Walton to a different room. In the second room, Walton claims to have been approached by three other human men that covered Walton’s face with a plastic mask. He then blacked out losing all consciousness. Walton stated that he remembered nothing else following the moment that he blacked out in the room with the three men. He claims to only remember waking up five days later walking down the side of the highway while he watched the saucer disappear into space. Walton had gone missing near Heber, Arizona.
There were some immediate responses to Walton’s story. That he first told it to the newspapers instead of reporting to the police was seen as questionable, and it was found that Walton had a motive for making up an alien abduction hoax. His lumber crew were behind on their forest service contract and about to default, which would have cost them thousands of dollars. Claiming there were aliens would give them a legitimate reason for not wanting to go back to the site or finish their contract. Another motive was that The National Inquirer was offering $5000 for the best UFO story of the year, which they paid to Walton despite their own investigator stating he felt the story was a hoax.
While considered a hoax, Walton’s story raises some interesting questions. All crew members passed the polygraph test but one which was determined to not be conclusive. Their stories were congruent with that told of Walton.
How could this be if it is really a hoax? It makes me question the credibility of the story. I ask myself, could this be true? I do think this story is most likely a hoax, but I do believe that there very well could be true UFO incidents. One thing that leads me to the conclusion that Walton’s story is a hoax is the cash prize of $5,000 that was awarded to Walton for the best UFO case. There was obviously an incentive for such an elaborate story. A movie was even made about the story following the event. It is called Fire in the Sky, making the Walton case a very famous story, although the movie greatly exaggerated the peril described by Walton. These lead to my suspicions about the veracity of Walton’s story.
The Travis Walton case is a puzzling incident. While the story was deemed a hoax, the workers’ stories all lined up with Walton’s. Could Walton be telling the truth? I don’t believe so, but the possibility is still an interesting mystery to look into.
As a science teacher I use UFO encounters and alien abduction stories to teach students critical thinking skills and how importance it is to use solid evidence when making extraordinary claims. Both of the incidents above were very famous and are continually debated by UFO enthusiasts and debunkers alike. What would constitute sufficient evidence that UFOs are actually alien space craft, which, despite all the evidence of science that such travel would be impossible or take hundreds of years, have travelled trillions of miles just to visit our backwater little planet and then leave no conclusive proof that they ever came. Doesn’t make much sense.
Science teaches us to have two opposing frames of mind when examining extraordinary claims. First, we need to keep an open mind that such claims might be true, because extraordinary things somethings become accepted. But that doesn’t mean we keep such open minds that our brains fall out. A healthy dose of skepticism is important for scientists. Just because someone wrote about it in a blog post (myself included) doesn’t make it true.
I hope you have enjoyed these UFO stories. What do you think? Are we not alone? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
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