Case 10

South Central

Winter 1966

Investigators: Saunders, Wadsworth

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A pulsating reddish light seen below treetop level from a highway at night became brilliant white briefly, then resumed its earlier character. Its location was estimated by rough triangulation. By comparison with the car headlights, the white light was estimated to emanate from a source of several hundred megawatts. Inspection of the area ten weeks later revealed no explanation of the light.


The principal witness reported the sighting to Barksdale AFB; the report reached the CU project shortly afterward, and a telephone interview with the witness developed the following account.

The principal witness, with his wife and children, was driving north on U.S. Highway 79 through a wooded region near the eventual UFO site at about 8:30 p.m. The sky was heavily overcast, with fog and a light drizzle, ceiling about 300 feet; no lightning activity was noticed. The wife called her husband's attention to a red-orange glow appearing through and above the trees ahead and to the left (west), and both watched it as they continued driving. The light apparently emanated from a source below the tops of the trees, appearing as a luminous hemisphere through the fog and rain. It pulsated regularly, ranging from dull red to bright orange with a period of about two seconds.

As the witnesses reached a point on the road apparently nearest the source of the light, it suddenly brightened to a brilliant white, "washing out" the headlight illumination on the road, lighting up the landscape and casting shadows of trees, forcing the driver to shield


his eyes from the glare, and waking the children. After about four seconds, the light subsided to its earlier red-orange pulsation. The driver then stopped to estimate the bearing of the source from the highway (it was then to the rear) and then proceeded on his way. No sound or other effect had been noted except the light.

The principal witness, a nuclear physicist, made rough estimates of his distance from the light source and the illumination it produced during the bright phase. From these estimates, he deduced a source power of about 800 megawatts, which he believed implied a nuclear-energy source. This figure was later revised somewhat.


Although the report did not relate specifically to an UFO, the qualifications of the principal witness, the similarity of the reported incident to many UFO reports, and the possibility of recurrence or observable effects of heat, all appeared to justify a field investigation.

In Spring, 1967, the project team, together with the principal witness and his astronomer friend, began a joint air-and-ground investigation of the area in which the light had appeared. While two men in a helicopter surveyed the area, the other two operated transits to fix the location of the helicopter whenever they were informed by radio that it was over a feature of interest. At night a watch was kept for a possible reappearance of the light. The following day, the vicinity of the presumed location of the light was explored on foot.

The area was found to contain little but trees, underbrush, and oil wells. A burned area that showed slightly higher radioactivity than background turned out to be a burned-over oil slick beside a pumping station. Similar radiation anomalies were found at other oil slicks. Nothing was found that suggested any relation to the unexplained light source.

The CU team returned home, while the principal witness carried out several follow-up investigations. He later reported the following results:


  1. The chief dispatcher of a railroad which runs in the vicinity of the sighting, stated that no rolling stock was within 50 mi. of the site on the night in question.

  2. The nearest high-tension power lines were about nine miles west of the area.

  3. The five oil companies operating in the area concerned had no record of any burnoffs, or rupture of oil or gas lines, or other fires in the vicinity of the sighting. No fires, flares, or other night activity had occurred in the area for a year preceding the sighting.

  4. Numerous areas in the region showed significant radiation levels. These appeared to relate to oil wells or old tank sites, but not all such places showed anomalies.

  5. A local resident related that he had hunted in the area for many years, and that he had noted a sharp decrease in game since the end of 1966.

  6. The principal witness revised his estimate of the power of the light source to a minimum of 500 megawatts. He estimated that he drove about 0.6 mi. from first sighting of the light until its bright phase, and had clocked 0.6 mi. on the odometer from that point to his final observation. He estimated that the bearing of the light relative to the highway was between 45° and 60°, forward in the first case and rearward in the second. The highway was not straight; but he estimated his distance from the light during its intense phase by plotting the bearings on an aerial photo of the area, obtaining a range of 1,000-1,400 yd.

    He judged that the illumination during the intense phase was just noticeably stronger than that of his headlights ten meters in front of the automobile. His headlamps totalled 175 watts. On the basis of this rough photometry, he computed the power of the unknown source at about 500 megawatts. However, he noted that its total power might have been substantially less than this value if it was concentrated in a beam.


  1. The witness reported several descriptions of sightings by others in the area; but these did not appear to offer anything to clarify the original sighting. However, one witness reported that about 8:30 p.m. six days before the sighting a similar bright white light had appeared near the location of the original sighting.

  2. The principal witness arranged for the photointerpretation group at Barksdale AFB to examine aerial photographs of the vicinity of the sighting, and he and a companion went in on foot to check detailed features the AF analysts noted. Several features were not satisfactorily identified, but nothing was discovered that appeared to relate to the sighting.


This case is of interest mainly because of the difficulty in accounting for any kind of a light in that area on such a night, and because of the very high power attributed to the source. However, the latter estimate involves great uncertainties.

Considering that it was a dark, rainy night and that the sighting was unexpected, the witness' judgment of his locations on the highway when he took bearings may have been seriously inaccurate. His comparison of the illumination during the intense phase of the unknown source with that of his headlights was subject to wide errors because of the rain, excitement, and difficulty in adapting to the sudden brilliant light. A significant discrepancy appears in the record: In a formal report of the sighting written 5 April 1967, the principal witness stated that the "intensity" (illumination) from the unknown source "at the highway" was estimated by JND "just noticeable difference" curves to be at least 100 times that of the headlamps. In a letter dated 3 June 1967, he stated that he estimated the illumination from the headlamps ten meters ahead of the car was one JND greater than that of the unknown source; this was the basis of the revised computation. In a follow-up telephone conversation 13 September 1968--admittedly a long time after the event--he stated that he did not recall that he had detected any difference in illumination by the unknown source and the headlamps on the road 20 ft. ahead.


Further uncertainties are involved in attempting to compare the source intensity of the unknown light with that of the headlamps. The light from the latter is concentrated in beams in which the distribution is unspecified, and which were incident on the road at an unknown angle (e.g., high or low beams). The unknown light emanated apparently from a concentrated source seen through trees from a moving car, and also from a general glow (reflection from clouds?) above the trees; it would have been enhanced by this effect, and attenuated by the rain, fog, and obstructing trees. And it impinged on the roadway at an unknown--really undefinable--angle. In such circumstances, photometry is crude indeed.

Interpretation of even such a result as this in terms of the power dissipated in the light source introduces further wide uncertainties, since nothing whatever was known as to the mechanism of the light source or its radiative efficiency as compared with that of automobile headlamps, or whether it was radiating in a beam toward the witness or in all directions. All of these factors bear crucially on the power estimate, so that the value of several hundred megawatts is highly dubious.