I was the engineer on a Burlington Northern train one dark night in the late 1970s, operating a coal train from the Powder River Basin. We entered the section of track that runs eastward along the banks of the Yellowstone River between Custer and Hysham Montana, a distance of about 25 miles. There is no visible evidence of civilization at all during the whole of that stretch; you are in the breaks and bluffs of the river. The train was over a mile long, but because of the curves there are spots that the caboose could still see the locomotives.
Now, just a few moments after we entered that section of track, the other crew member in the cab franticly cries, "what the hell is that?"
Something was bathing the train in an eerie light. I threw open the window on the locomotive and looked up. What I saw was an object following us at the same speed at about 45 MPH, the same speed as the train. The object was cigar-shaped and we guessed that it had to be more than the length of 2 football fields and about 1 football field wide given the apparent height. It was directly above us; my guess is at about 500 feet in the sky.
It was covered in bright lights pointing down at us along the entire perimeter of whatever it was. It followed us the whole distance through the breaks and only departed as we exited the river's confines and proceeded back among the farm fields.
And by "departed," I mean "shot into the sky vertically."
We radioed the crew in the caboose, and they replied in the affirmative that they saw it also. I have thought about it many times over the years and can give no explanation for what it was, or how an object so huge and with no wings or apparent method of propulsion could fly so slowly. The rear crew asked, "weren't we scared?" and "did we hear anything?" I had five locomotives laboring to pull a coal train, so yes, we heard loud train noises.
They surmised that the only thing it could have been was a B-52. A B-52 bomber right above us, traveling slowly and with no wings? If you believe that, I've got some lakefront property in Yellowstone National Park to sell you.
No, before we go on, I feel I have to tell you that I really don't believe that extraterrestrials have visited this planet. Maybe, given the distances involved, they never will. That's if they exist.
So what about UFOs? Yes, they exist. After all, they are, by definition, unidentified flying objects, which I assure you are real. Let's say I wait until my neighbor (my nearest neighbor is 10 miles away, praise Jesus, but this is a thought experiment, so bear with me) was good and soused and then throw beer cans at his window. Plunk, plunk; he hears them and peers outside. Like my conductor on that mysterious night so long ago, he asks, "what the hell is that!?"
My neighbor sees something in the sky, something gleaming in the moonlight as it soars above his double-wide trailer. What he doesn't know yet is that it's a can of Rolling Rock. When he goes outside and sees me laughing and the small pile of beer cans collected outside his trailer, the objects in question will have been identified. Until then, they were UFOs.
When "UFO" is used as a term to describe a being from out of this world, I reckon we have the right to be a bit more skeptical. Is there life out there in the universe? I would bet so, and if conditions anywhere are similar to Earth, then I'd even give odds on it, but there is no proof as of yet. Is any of the life intelligent? Good question, but it seems to me that it's hard enough to find intelligent life on two legs, let alone in space.
The real problem of discovering life is the immense distances involved in the universe. We live near to (read: 93 Million Miles away) an unassuming yellow dwarf. I'm not talking about a jaundiced Hervé Villechaize (if you are under 45 years of age please look this up so you understand my hilarious joke), but an ordinary star in the outer edge of a spiral arm of an average galaxy we call the Milky Way.
To get a good idea of what we look like, find a photo of the Andromeda galaxy on the internet. The Milky Way looks very similar to the Andromeda galaxy. Andromeda and we are close enough that we actually orbit each other, just on a super grand scale. Someday the two galaxies will merge and become one unthinkably enormous conglomerate, the Apple Inc of galaxies.
The Andromeda Galaxy is indeed approaching us at the incredible speed of about (190 miles) per second, measured with respect to the sun. Even at that astonishing speed, the two galaxies will not merge until a few billion years from now.
Astronomers estimate that there are more than 100 billion stars that make up the foggy looking patch of light, the bulge we see in the middle of the galaxy, and as many more in the spiral arms. What you must realize is how large we are. The average distance between stars is 4 to 5 lightyears. Our galaxy is about 150 thousand lightyears across. The galaxy rotates, just as Earth revolves around our sun, it takes about 250 million years to make a full turn. Last time we were on this side of the rotation, dinosaurs were just thinking about getting started on Earth.
If you're not smelling what I'm cooking yet, let me give you a whiff: space is huge.
So huge that even traveling at the speed of light (not possible according to physicist and inventory of sticking your tongue out, Albert Einstein), it would take a ridiculous amount of time to go anywhere at all.
Voyager 1 is leaving our solar system, the cosmic equivalent of just backing out of the driveway, at a speed of about 38,000 mph, at which rate it would take it 18,449 years to travel one lightyear. It is 2.537 million lightyears to the Andromeda galaxy, so I think it is fair to say we do not have regular visitors from Andromeda.
Science fiction has a speed called "warp" that is assumed to be faster than lightspeed but again, that's fiction.
While on the subject, imagine hitting a meteor or, heck, even a grain of sand while traveling at that speed. It would probably be like hitting a bull moose in a Mazda Miata.
Furthermore, the Hubble space telescope reveals an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the universe, but this number is likely to increase to about 200 billion as telescope technology in space improves. I'm not saying that the universe isn't teeming with life, but they aren't getting together for parties.
So do I think we being visited by galactic travelers? Not too overly likely! If that is very plausible, then intergalactic visitors are completely preposterous.
So what the heck are we seeing (and by extension, what the heck did I see)?
Is it possible, or even likely that our governments have craft we do not know about? Or, and bear with me here because I may be having a slight freakout flashback from my time in 60s: are they time travelers from our future, strange to us but ultimately from the Earth? Are they the same weird little monsters that 19th century Irish people called the fey folk? Are dolphins much more intelligent than we think, having constructed a bunch of lightning-fast spaceships full of seawater?
What about mass hallucinations? Could a big chunk of the population of a city like Phoenix all have a simultaneous vision of the same flying object? And can a mass hallucination be filmed? Probably not. Yet UFOs are seen regularly, and nearly everywhere on Earth. What about reported crash sites, like Roswell?
And if we inescapably come to the conclusion that they must be from OUT THERE, then how do they overcome the immense distances?
Now, I'm not a pious man, but I was raised by a cabal of horrible, slightly mustachioed, yardstick-wielding nuns to approach any problem with a spiritual approach. So could it be answered by scripture?
Most of you are familiar with the story of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, and his being talked into partaking of the forbidden fruit by his goodly wife.
After that infamous debacle, God says (to whom, I wonder?): "see, the man has become like one of us, knowing what is good and what is evil, therefore he must not be allowed to put forth his hand and eat also of the tree of life and thus live forever." So Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden and God stationed the Angel with his flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life. Could Eden be somewhere in space?
To quote a television show I never watched: "I Want To Believe." But I can't. Not totally. So what did we see up there in the sky, one cold, dark night in Montana?
Beats the hell out of me.