Goodbye, Zeta Reticuli

I've got an article in the current (November 2008) issue of Fortean Times (named, of course, after Charles Fort). It's not at all airminded, it's not really historical either -- it has more to do with my shady astrophysicist past. It's about the famous Betty and Barney Hill abduction incident in New Hampshire in 1961 -- that's alien abduction, supposedly. In a hypnosis session a couple years later, Betty recalled being shown a star map on board her abductor's craft, supposedly of nearby space. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a schoolteacher named Marjorie Fish used the latest astronomical data in a prodigious effort to match the map to real stars near the Sun. And eventually she found a good match, which has been touted by some ufologists as scientific proof of the reality of alien visitation, possibly from Zeta Reticuli.

Except that nobody ever checked Fish's model against new astronomical data gathered over the last three decades, in particular the parallax observations made by the Hipparcos satellite in the early 1990s. When you do this, the Fish interpretation falls to pieces! Using her own assumptions and the new data, six of the fifteen stars chosen by Fish must be excluded, which is no match at all. And that's what my article is about. So I think this makes me, officially, a dirty debunker. Or maybe a noisy negativist.

I have an erratum: a footnote I added late in the editing process didn't make it through. It should have come after the word 'collapse' in the fifth sentence in the last column on page 51:

Since writing the above, I have been made aware of an unpublished and thorough analysis of the Fish interpretation by Charles Huffer of MUFON, which also uses Hipparcos data to reach conclusions similar to mine.

Anyway, I promise there will be some aeroplaney stuff soon :)

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6 thoughts on “Goodbye, Zeta Reticuli

  1. [satire] Well, they must have come from farther away, then. They had to come from somewhere! [/satire]

    You're going to hear it, you know. Sounds like good work, though.

  2. Dr Space Junk

    I'm lost in admiration! Must buy November issue. To be honest, I've gone off Fortean Times lately as it seems to have become more lightweight and less interesting - but I'm sure your contribution will help that!

  3. Post author

    Jonathan:

    I'm sure you're right! It's just a bit of fun, though, so ultimately if people don't want to be convinced I don't mind too much ...

    Dr Space Junk:

    Thank you -- but since you've had Greg Egan commenting on your blog, I think that makes us even!

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  5. Post author

    I recently came across a blog post by a UFO sceptic who has read my Fortean Times article and challenged the foremost promoter of the Hill star map, Stanton T. Friedman, nuclear physicist, about the Hipparcos data. Friedman's response:

    Friedman agreed 100% that the Hipparchos data is an order of magnitude more accurate. But of course Stanton wanted to have his cake, and eat it too. He agreed that the Fish map has problems, but he still claimed we have identified "the base": Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli, even though the data that identification was based on is now known to be inaccurate.

    Ah, well.

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