Monday, October 20, 2008

U.S. pilot was ordered to shoot down UFO

Two U.S. fighter planes were scrambled and ordered to shoot down an unidentified flying object (UFO) over the English countryside during the Cold War, according to secret files made public on Monday.

One pilot said he was seconds away from firing 24 rockets at the object, which moved erratically and gave a radar reading like "a flying aircraft carrier."


The pilot, Milton Torres, now 77 and living in Miami, said it spent periods motionless in the sky before reaching estimated speeds of more than 7,600 mph (12,000 kph).

After the alert, a shadowy figure told Torres he must never talk about the incident and he duly kept silent for more than 30 years.

His story was among dozens of UFO sightings in defence ministry files released at the National Archives in London.

In a written account, Torres described how he scrambled his F-86 D Sabre jet in calm weather from the Royal Air Force base at Manston, Kent in May 1957.

"I was only a lieutenant and very much aware of the gravity of the situation. I felt very much like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest," he said.

"The order came to fire a salvo of rockets at the UFO. The authentication was valid and I selected 24 rockets.

"I had a lock-on that had the proportions of a flying aircraft carrier," he added. "The larger the airplane, the easier the lock-on. This blip almost locked itself."

At the last moment, the object disappeared from the radar screen and the high-speed chase was called off.

He returned to base and was debriefed the next day by an unnamed man who "looked like a well-dressed IBM salesman."

"He threatened me with a national security breach if I breathed a word about it to anyone," he said.

The documents contain no official explanation for the incident, which came at a time of heightened tension between the West and the Soviet Union. Planes were on constant stand-by at British bases for a possible Soviet attack.

The files blame other UFO sightings on weather balloons, clouds or normal aircraft. Torres said he had been waiting 50 years for an explanation.

"I shall never forget it," he told the Times. "On that night I was ordered to open fire even before I had taken off. That had never happened before."

UFO expert David Clarke said the sighting may have been part of a secret U.S. project to create phantom aircraft on radar screens to test Soviet air defences.

"Perhaps what this pilot had seen was some kind of experiment in electronic warfare or maybe it was a UFO," he said. "Something very unusual happened."

The files are online at: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ufos

Life's origin had a violent setting

A classic experiment exploring the origin of life has more than a half-century later yielded new results. New results fom the experiment show that life may have been born violently, in erupting volcanoes in the midst of a thunderstorm.

In 1953, Stanley Miller, then a graduate student of Harold Urey at the University of Chicago, put ammonia, methane and hydrogen — the gases believed to be in early earth’s atmosphere, — along with water in a sealed flask and applied electrical sparks to simulate the effects of lightning. A week later, amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, were generated out of the simple molecules.

Enshrined in high school textbooks, the Miller-Urey experiment raised expectations that scientists could unravel life’s origins with simple chemistry experiments. The excitement has long since subsided. The amino acids never grew into the more complex proteins. Scientists now think the composition of air on early earth was different from what Miller used.

Consulting Miller’s notebooks, his student Jeffrey Bada found that Miller had constructed two variations of the original apparatus. One simply used a different spark generator. The second injected steam onto the sparks.

Miller had reported that he had detected five amino acids produced by the original apparatus. Johnson’s work revealed small amounts of nine additional amino acids in those samples. In the residues from the apparatus with the steam injector, the scientists detected 22 amino acids, including 10 that had never before been identified from the Miller-Urey experiment.

Bada says the results show that the tidal pools near volcanoes, where similar conditions exist, would have been the places where the amino acids could have accumulated in concentrations, enabling more complex reactions to occur.