S t r a n g e f i r e b a l l p h o t o g r a p h e d o v e r S o u t h F r a n c e
On July 16, 2009, Spanish veteran UFO researcher Vicente-Juan BALLESTER OLMOS posted the details of a new UFO sighting on the web forum of the European UFO Network hoping to elicit opinions from other list members. In the attachments to Vicente-Juan's post were a photo of the UFO and a newspaper article, the
latter scanned from the June 2009 issue of UFOmania magazine. According to the news article the sighting had occurred in the early morning of January 19, 2009, in the city of Mazamet, some 30 km (19 miles) north of Carcassonne and 76 km (46 miles) east of Toulouse, France. We publish the photo below followed by the main text of the newspaper account.
"It went very fast"
A housewife from Mazamet and her son were witnesses to an as yet unexplained phenomenon: a fireball is said to have crossed the sky last January 19th.
"The fireball came to a stop over the mountain, remained stationary for a minute, then moved up again and disappeared". The description given by Florence C----- is not compatible with a simple sighting of a meteorite. Last January 17, hundreds had indeed witnessed the disintegration of such celestial particles in the Toulousian sky. Two days later, Florence C. and her son Albin spotted a totally different phenomenon.
"We did see it"
"It was 8h10-8h12 in the morning of January 19th. We were getting ready to go to school. Automatically, I look through the window and see this ball of fire over Vermeil". The ----- family resides on the slopes of the Montagne Noire, close to the route de Négrin. From the window, the view over the valley and the heights of the Pont-de-l'Arnaises and beyond is indeed unique. "This went very fast... a luminous trail of two or three colours, then it formed a ball of 50 centimetre that moved up and then... nothing". This housewife of Mazamet is still mystified by it. She's looking for a rational explanation for the phenomenon and wants to know what it was that crossed the Mazamet sky that day, and why this luminous ball formed near the horizon in semi-darkness in the early morning hours. In short, she testifies because she hopes to find out. "The photo camera happened to be there, on the table. I had time to take the shot". His eyes still in bewilderment, Albin insists: "It went very fast, but we saw it clearly". According to our sources, the phenomenon may well have been a meteorite. But the central luminous part of 50 centimetres leaves room for other hypotheses. Inquiries and verifications are being made. Not all has been said about this Unidentified Flying Object.
Immediately after Vicente-Juan BALLESTER OLMOS brought this case to the attention of the EuroUfoNet list , various members of the network began posting their thoughts. Initial attempts to explain the mystery light focussed mainly on halo phenomena, either a sun pillar or a sundog. British investigator Martin SHOUGH, however, was quick to rebut the idea of a sun pillar by pointing out that:
- there is colour separation visibly lefty to right, i.e. in a horizontal direction;
- the horizon sky brightness tends to increase to the left while there is no local sky brightness which would indicate a sun just below the light;
- the luminous streak is not actually vertical in relation to the image frame, but canted to the left (this could mean that the camera was held skewed but also that the streak is actually a section of an arc) .
In the same post, Martin SHOUGH also questioned an explanation in terms of a sundog. Martin: "a sundog is an ice halo" meaning that "crystals must have been falling in the line of sight near the horizon". However, "data from the weather balloon's radiosonde released at Nimes-Courbessac, circa 170 km [106 miles] east of Mazamet, show the freezing level at about 2.600 m (~ 8.000 feet). It was quite a mild night, at the level of Mazamet about 10° Celsius from midnight".
For a short time, another halo phenomenon was considered, namely the left half of an antisolar halo display or anthelion, whereby a luminous area appears in the sky exactly opposite to the Sun's position . If such a - very rare - halo display had occurred, the vertical band leaning slightly to the left would have been a section of the so-called Parry anti solar arc (a.k.a. anthelic arc) and the slightly canted horizontal band stretching to the left, a part of the superparhelic circle (actually it is the intersection of these two arcs that forms the brighter diamond/oval-shaped area known as a counter-sun or anthelion). Still, as Martin SHOUGH pointed out shortly after this idea was proposed: "The shape of the halo display does not reflect the shape of the solar disc in such a way that half a sun would produce half a display. No image of the sun is formed. Rather, all the ice crystals near the antisolar point reflect light from all parts of the sun because the crystal tilt tolerances are within a degree or two, so I think that half a sun would produce an entire halo of fainter arcs, not a bisected halo" .
The time had come to see if more data could be gleaned from the news article. Since not only the location from where the sighting occurred (near the route de Négrin) was known, but also direction the witnesses were looking at (in the direction of Vermeil), it was clear that the phenomenon had appeared somewhere in the northern quadrant of the sky.
Apparently, the witnesses had a good idea of the time the light had appeared ("It was 8h10-8h12 in the morning "), so an important thing to do was to check where the Sun was at that moment. It turned out that, at 08:10 a.m. EST, the Sun was still below the horizon (elevation: -1°) and in the east-southeast (azimuth: 118°, when measured from N over E) .
It was now clear that a sun pillar (a vertical shaft of light extending upward or downward from the Sun), a sundog (which would have had the same elevation as the Sun, and would therefore have been below the horizon) and an anthelion (which should have been visible on the opposite side of the Sun) had to be ruled out definitely.
But then what was this bizarre light? The Moon piercing through a translucent cloud layer perhaps? Impossible too, because, at the time the photo was taken, the Moon was nowhere near the north but in the south-southwest (azimuth: 190°; elevation: 24°; phase: 0.38).
Other proposed explanations included a movable spotlight or the fire from the mouth of a tiltable blast furnace converter projected onto low cloud. These possibilities would at least account for the movements, but the idea of a spotlight being operated at 8 o’clock on a Monday morning, seemed a bit far-fetched, whilst the nearest melting plant north of Mazamet is in Albi, some 50 km (31 miles) away and too far to be visible from the sighting location .
And yet, the correct explanation had been staring us in the face all the time.
Already from the start, two commentators (SHOUGH and Spanish investigator Manuel BORRAZ AYMERICH) had suggested that the light on the photo could be a portion of a rainbow.
Manuel BORRAZ AYMERICH wrote in that regard:
"A rainbow follows an arc centred in the antisolar point with an angular radius of 42°. Sun was in the SEE at altitude -1°, therefore the antisolar point was in the NWW at 1° over the horizon. So, the rainbow arc should have 'departed' roughly vertical, near the horizon, from a point located 42° to the right of the NWW. In other words, the (right) end of the rainbow would have been located towards the NNW" .
In addition to this, Martin SHOUGH pointed out that:
"Some levels radiosonde show pretty high relative humidity in the 90%s, so it's not impossible that it was raining in the area. [...] The colour separation of a rainbow occurs along a radius from the sun, with green on the inner side of the bow and red on the outer. This is what the photo shows. There is a faint but visible green tinge along the left (inner) edge of the arc. The shorter wave colours are very faint but this is typical of a so-called red rainbow seen at dawn or dusk. When the sun is low on the horizon the path lengths of light rays through the atmosphere are long, so that most of the blue wavelengths are scattered out.
In a attempt to explain the reported movements (Mrs. C. stated that the light first moved down, then up again), Martin wonders if this could not have been caused by "skeins of rain drifting slantwise across and intercepting the (virtual) rainbow arc at changing angular elevation. The region of brightest reflection could then migrate up and down the arc as the rain passes through".
But is it possible to have a rainbow with the Sun below the horizon?
Yes it is! Manuel explains why:
"For a sun elevation of -1° (i.e. 1° under the horizon), water droplets at a distance of, say, 6 km [3.7 miles] from the observer, in the opposite direction to the sun, need to be around 970 m [3,182 feet] or more over sea level to get reached by the sunlight [...] Consider also that the shorter the distance to the observer, the larger the angular elevation of the rainbow end.
In fact we could interpret that there is a strip of shadow at the bottom (presumably, for orographic reasons), then a well sunlit strip where the rainbow starts, showing a typical effect of sky background brighter inside the bow (left) than outside (right), and, finally, an upper region either more or less in the shadow (clouds at the back of the photographer?) or with a lower density of water droplets, or both things, where the rainbow fades" .
The rainbow theory also offers an explanation for the bright area to the left of the egg-shaped light. Manuel: "If considering the red rainbow hypothesis, the apparent 'horizontal band of light stretching to the left' could be just a fraction of the inside part of the rainbow, where the sky is brighter than outside. From the www.atoptics.co.uk/.../primary.htm pages: 'A rainbow is not just a set of coloured rings. The sky inside is bright because raindrops direct light there too. The primary bow is a shining disk brightening very strongly towards its rim'" .
So the bright area to the left of the mystery light is totally consistent with a so-called rainbow spoke; i.e. a lighter segment inside the rainbow that logically coincides with a brighter part of the bow itself. For a marvellous picture of these rainbow spokes see: www.atoptics.co.uk...wheel.htm.
Confirmation of the rainbow theory came when CAELESTIA correspondent Werner POETS got the idea to use Google Earth to compare local horizon features NNW of Mazamet to the shape of the skyline in the alleged UFO photo. A rather good match was found but, ultimately, it was a visit to the sighting location that enabled us to positively determine the exact location of the mystery light. It's azimuth turned out to be 338°. With the Sun's azimuth being close to 118° and the anti solar point close to 298°, this places the "fireball" at an angular distance of 40° to the right of the antisolar point, which is, given some uncertainties about the exact time of the sighting and the exact location of the witnesses, very close to the angular distance of 42° we were looking for. It should also be taken into account that the photographed section of the arc is not located on the horizon but above it, meaning that the horizontal distance to the Sun’s azimuth is somewhat smaller at that point.
(For more Internet discussions on mystery rainbows see:
spaceweather.com and more details about this particular rainbow in Dutch at:
 EuroUfoNet stands for European UFO Network, a virtual community of about 100 (September 2009) scientifically-oriented ufologists in Europe. Web address: www.euroufo.net
 Message from Martin SHOUGH, posted on the EuroUfoNet list on July 16, 2009.
 E-mail from Werner POETS to Wim VAN UTRECHT dated July 20, 2009. Rare images of anti solar halo displays can be viewed at:
- www.meteoros.de and
 Message from Martin SHOUGH, posted on the EuroUfoNet list on July 21, 2009.
 The position of the Sun was found using the StarCalc program version 5.73. This program can be downloaded at starcalc.en.softonic.com.
 Message from Wim VAN UTRECHT, posted on the EuroUfoNet list on Juy 17, 2009.
 Message from Manuel BORRAZ AYMERICH, posted on he EuroUfoNet list on July 17, 2009.
 Message from Manuel BORRAZ AYMERICH, posted on he EuroUfoNet list on July 18, 2009.
 Message from Manuel BORRAZ AYMERICH, posted on he EuroUfoNet list on July 22, 2009.