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The description of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) has remained fairly consistent throughout history, stretching back into antiquity. While many could be attributed to natural phenomena, an in-depth study by NASA’s Richard Stothers found “There nonetheless remains a small residue of puzzling accounts, and regardless of what interpretation one places on them, these constitute a phenomenon that spans centuries of time and widely different cultures.”
Stothers (1939–2009) received a degree in mathematics at Princeton University, earned his Ph.D. at Harvard, and was a permanent member of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
Here’s a look at 5 UFO sightings Stothers deemed puzzling in a 2007 report.
1. Chariots in the Sky Witnessed by Many
Historian Josephus wrote around 65 A.D. about a fantastical sighting over Judea: “On the 21st of the month Artemisium, there appeared a miraculous phenomenon, passing belief. Indeed, what I am about to relate would, I imagine, have been deemed a fable, were it not for the narratives of eyewitnesses and the subsequent calamities which deserved to be so signalized. For, before sunset throughout all parts of the country, chariots were seen in the air and armed battalions hurtling through the clouds and encompassing the cities.”
Josephus likely witnessed this event himself, said Stothers, though he bolstered his credibility by appealing to eyewitness accounts. The description does not seem to correspond to any natural phenomena, Strothers wrote.
2. Thousands of Roman Soldiers Witness UFO?
Plutarch wrote of a sighting witnessed by thousands. In 74 B.C., the Roman army was moving to engage the forces of King Mithridates VI in the area of modern-day Turkey.
“With no apparent change of weather, but all on a sudden, the sky burst asunder, and a huge, flame-like body was seen to fall between the two armies,” he wrote. “In shape, it was most like a wine-jar (pithoi), and in color, like molten silver. Both sides were astonished at the sight, and separated. This marvel, as they say, occurred in Phrygia, at a place called Otryae.”
Stothers pointed out that freshly fallen meteorites are black, not “molten silver” color, which suggests it was not a meteorite. Plutarch also made no mention of the impact.
Stothers wrote: “The object must have measured much more than a meter across, since it was easily resolved at a distance greater than half the range of a bowshot. If it had remained on the ground, a meteorite of such size would doubtless have become a cult object in Phrygia, with its long tradition of meteorite worship, yet later historical records referring to Phrygian meteorites are silent about it.”
Nonetheless, there is a chance the UFO was a bolide, a bright meteor that often explodes.
3. Sightings During the Second Punic War in Rome
Hannibal crossing the Alps during the Second Punic War (218-202 BC). Engraved by J.Cousen, published 1862. (Shutterstock)
Many sightings were recorded during and following the Second Punic War (218–201 B.C.) in Livy’s prodigy lists. The lists were derived from the Annales Maximi, published by the Pontifex Maximus of Rome. This source is considered trustworthy and accurate, explained Stothers, because of the time-consuming and thorough procedure required by Roman authorities to investigate claims before they would be recorded.
In Rome, in the winter of 218 B.C., “A spectacle of ships (navium) gleamed in the sky.”
In 217 B.C., “at Arpi, round shields (parmas) were seen in the sky.”
In 173 B.C., “at Lanuvium a spectacle of a great fleet was said to have been seen in the sky.”
It is not likely that suggestive cloud formations would have been mistaken for UFOs, Strother said, since these formations had long been understood and were familiar features. These sightings are also not likely a mock sun, because mock suns are routinely described as “double suns” or “triple suns.”
4. ‘Angel Hair’ Glassy Fibers
Image of a cobweb, perhaps similar to the gossamer substance said to be left in the wake of UFOs. (Shutterstock)
In modern UFO reports, it is common to hear about either glassy fibers or a chalky substance left behind by the UFO, known as angel hair. Ancient reports also include angel hair.
In 196 A.D., the historian Cassius Dio wrote: “A fine rain resembling silver descended froma clear sky upon the Forum of Augustus. I did not, it is true, see it as it was falling, but noticed it after it had fallen, and by means of it I plated some bronze coins with silver; they retained the same appearance for three days, but by the fourth day all the substance rubbed on them had disappeared.”
Two other “rains of chalk” were reported in Cales 214 B.C. and in Rome 98 B.C.
5. UFO Inhabited
Pope Pius I’s brother was probably the only witness of this UFO sighting near Via Campana, Italy, around 150 A.D.: “On a sunny day, a ‘beast’ like a piece of pottery (ceramos) about 100 feet in size, multicolored on top and shooting out fiery rays, landed in a dust cloud accompanied by a ‘maiden’ clad in white.”
Stothers concluded “This collection of what might be termed ancient UFO reports has been culled from a much larger number of reports of aerial objects, most of whose identifications with known phenomena are either certain or at least probable. Embedded in the mass of relatively explicable ancient reports, however, is a small set of unexplained (or at least not wholly explained) reports from presumably credible witnesses.”
“Any viable theory must reckon with the extraordinary persistence and consistency of the phenomena discussed here over many centuries.”
*Image of an Egyptian lintel via Shutterstock