by Robert Sheaffer

The story of Marjorie Fish’s attempts at identifying the star patterns sketched by Betty Hill was told in “The Zeta Reticuli Incident” by Terence Dickinson in the December 1974 issue of ASTRONOMY Magazine.  This pattern of solar type stars unquestionably bears a striking resemblance to the map that Betty Hill says she saw while she was being examined aboard a flying saucer.  But how significant is this resemblance?  Is there only one pattern of stars which will match the sketch convincingly?


Betty Hill herself discovered an impressive resemblance in a star map published in the New York Times.  In 1965 a map of the stars of the constellation Pegasus appeared in that newspaper, accompanying the announcement by a Russian radio astronomer (Comrade Sholomitsky) the radio source CTA-102, depicted in the map, may be sending out intelligent radio signals.  Intrigued by this remarkable claim, Betty Hill studied the map, and added the corresponding star names to her sketch.  As you can see, the Pegasus map -- while not exactly like the sketch -- is impressively similar.  If CTA-102 -- appearing near the “globes” in her sketch -- was in reality an artificial radio source, that would give the Pegasus map much additional credibility.


However, the case for the artificial origin of quasar CTA-102 soon fell flat.  Other scientists were unable to observe these reported strange variations which had caused Sholomitsky to suggest that CTA-102 might be pulsing intelligently.


In 1966, when Marjorie Fish was just beginning her work, Charles W. Atterberg (employed by an aeronautical communications firm in Illinois) also set out to attempt to identify this star pattern.

“I began my search by perusing a star atlas I had on hand,” Atterberg explained.  “I soon realized that this was a pointless and futile project.” 

Any star pattern useful for interstellar navigation, he reasoned, would not be Earth-centered as are the familiar constellation figures.  Thus Atterberg began to look in three dimensions for a pattern of stars that would approximate the Hill sketch.


Working from a list of the nearest stars, Atterberg,

“began plotting these stars as they would be seen from various directions.  I did this by drawing the celestial position of a star, I would draw a straight line penetrating the sphere at a known position, and measure out to the distance of the star.  It at first took me hours to plot this out from any one particular direction.”

When plotting the stars as seen from a position indefinitely far away on the celestial equator at 17 hours right ascension, Atterberg found a pattern of stars conspicuously similar to the Hill sketch.  After much work he refined this position to 17 hours 30 minutes right ascension, -10 degrees declination.  The resulting map resembles the Hill sketch even more strongly than does the Fish map, and it contains a greater number of stars.  Furthermore, all of the stars depicted in the Atterberg map lie within 18.2 light-years of the Sun.  The Fish map reaches out 53 light-years, where our knowledge of stellar distances is much less certain.


Carl Sagan states in Intelligent Life in the Universe that, excluding multiple star systems, “the three nearest stars of potential biological interest are Epsilon Eridani, Epsilon Indi and Tau Ceti.”  These three stars from the heart of the Atterberg map, defining the two spheres in the very center of the heavy lines that supposedly represent the major “trade routes” of the “UFOnauts.”  Epsilon Eridani and Tau Ceti were the two stars listened to by Project Ozma, the pioneering radio search for intelligent civilization in space.


Other heavy lines connect the spheres with the Sun, which we know has at least one habitable planet.  Thinner lines, supposedly representing places visited less frequently, connect with Groombridge 1618, Groombridge 34, 61 Cygni and Sigma Draconis, which are designated as stars “that could have habitable planets” in Stephen H. Dole’s Rand Corporation study, Habitable Planets for Man.  Of the 11 stars (not counting the Sun) that have allegedly been visited by the aliens, seven of them appear on Dole’s list.  Three of the four stars which are not included are stopping points on the trip to Sigma Draconis, which Dole considered to have even better prospects than Epsilon Eridani or Epsilon Indi for harboring a habitable planet.


Another remarkable aspect of the Atterberg map is the fact that its orientation, unlike the Fish map, is not purely arbitrary.  Gould’s belt -- a concentration of the sky’s brightest stars -- is exactly perpendicular to the plane of the Atterberg map.  Furthermore, it is vertical in orientation; it does not cut obliquely across the map, but runs exactly up and down.  A third curious coincidence:  The southpole of the Atterberg map points toward the brightest part of Gould’s belt, in the constellation Carina.  The bright stars comprising Gould’s belt might well serve as a useful reference frame for interstellar travelers, and it is quite plausible that they might base a navigational coordinate system upon it.


No other map interpreting the Hill sketch offers any rationale for its choice of perspectives.  The problem with trying to interpret Betty Hill’s sketch is that it simply fits too many star patterns.  Three such patterns have been documented to date.  How many more exist undiscovered?


Robert Sheaffer is a computer systems programmer currently working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.



Reply:  by Marjorie Fish

Basically, Robert Sheaffer’s contention is that at least three patterns can be found that are similar to Betty Hill’s map, and therefore, more such interpretations are likely.  If one stipulates that any stars from any vantage point can be used, then I agree that many patterns can be found similar to the map.  However, if one uses restrictions on the type of stars, according to their probability of having planets and also on the logic of the apparent travel paths, then it is much more difficult.  The three maps were: 

(1)  Betty Hill’s interpretation of the constellation Pegasus as being similar to her map

(2)  Charles Atterberg’s work

(3)  my work

When I started the search, I made a number of restrictions including:

  1. The Sun had to be part of the pattern with a line connected to it, since the leader of the aliens indicated this to Betty.

  2. Since they came to our solar system, they should also be interested in solar type stars (single main sequence G, probably also late single main sequence F and early single main sequence K).  These stars should not be bypassed if they are in the same general volume of space.

  3. Since there are a number of the above stars relatively near the Sun and the pattern shows only 12 stars, the pattern would have to be relatively close to us (or else they would be bypassing sunlike stars, which is illogical).

  4. The travel pattern itself should be logical.  That is, they would not zip out 300 light-years, back to 10 light-years, then out 1,000, etc.  The moves should make a logical progression.

  5. Large young main sequence stars (O, B, A, early F) which are unlikely to have planets and/or life would not be likely to be visited.

  6. Stars off the main sequence with the possible exception of those just starting off the main sequence would probably be avoided as they are unsuitable for life and, due to their variability, could be dangerous.

  7. If they go to one star of a given type, it shows interest in that type star -- so they should go to other stars of that type if they are in the same volume of space.  An exception to this might be the closest stars to the base star, which they might investigate out of curiosity in the early stages of stellar travel.  For example, they would not be likely to bypass five red dwarfs to stop at the sixth, if all six were approximately equal in size, spectra, singleness or multiplicity, etc. Or, if they go to one close G double, they would probably go to other close G doubles.

  8. The base star or stars is one or both of the large circles with the lines radiating from it.

  9. One or both of the base stars should be suitable for life -- F8 to K5 using the lowest limits given by exobiologists, or more likely, K1 given by Dole.

  10. Because the base stars are represented as such large circles, they are either intrinsically bigger or brighter than the rest or they are closer to the map’s surface (the viewer) than the rest -- probably the latter.  This was later confirmed by Betty Hill.

Mrs. Hill’s interpretation of Pegasus disregards all of these criteria.


Atterberg’s work is well done.  His positioning of the stars is accurate.  He complies with criteria 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 8; fairly well with 4; less well with 9, and breaks down on 7 and 10.  I will discuss the last three of Atterberg’s differences with my basic criteria in the following paragraphs:


Relative to point 9, his base stars are Epsilon Indi and Epsilon Eridani, both of which are near the lower limit for life bearing planets -- according to most exobiologists -- and not nearly as suitable as Zeta 1 Reticuli and Zeta 2 Reticuli.


Concerning point 7, I had ruled out the red dwarfs fairly early because there were so many of them and there were only 12 lined points on the Hill map.  If one used red dwarfs in logical consecutive order, all the lines were used up before the Sun was reached.  Atterberg used red dwarfs for some of his points to make the map resemble Betty Hill’s but he bypassed equally good similar red dwarfs to reach them.  If they were interested in red dwarfs, there should have been lines going to Gliese 65 (Luyten 76208) which lies near Tau Ceti and about the same distance from Epsilon Eridani as Tau Ceti, and Gliese 866 (Luyten 789-6) which is closer to Tau Ceti than the Sun.  Gliese 1 (CD-37 15492) and Gliese 887 (CD-36 15693) are relatively close to Epsilon Indi.  These should have been explored first before red dwarfs farther away.


Red dwarfs Gliese 406 (Wolf 359) and Gliese 411 (BD + 36 2147) were bypassed to reach Groombridge 1618 and Ross 128 from the Sun.  Barnard’s star would be the most logical first stop out from the Sun, if one were to stop at red dwarfs, as it is the closest single M and is known to have planets.


Since Atterberg’s pattern stars include a number of relatively close doubles (61 Cygni, Struve 2398, Groombridge 34 and Kruger 60), there should also be a line to Alpha Centauri -- but there is not.


Relating to point 10, Atterberg’s base stars are not the largest or brightest of his pattern stars. The Sun, Tau Ceti, and Sigma Draconis are brighter.  Nor are they closer to the viewer.  The Sun and 61 Cygni are much closer to the viewer than Epsilon Eridani.  The whole orientation feels wrong because the base stars are away from the viewer and movement is along the lines toward the viewer.  Betty Hill told me that she tried to show the size and depth of the stars by the relative size of the circles she drew.  This and the fact that the map was alleged to be 3-D did not come out in “Interrupted Journey,” so Atterberg would not have known that.


Sheaffer notes that seven of Atterberg’s pattern stars appear on Dole’s list as stars that could have habitable planets.  These stars are Groombridge 1618 (Gliese 380, BD + 50 1725), Groombridge 34 (Gliese 15,BD +43 44), 61 Cygni, Sigma Draconis, Tau Ceti, Epsilon Eridani and Epsilon Indi.  Of these seven, only Epsilon Eridani, Tau Ceti and Sigma Draconis are above Doles’ absolute magnitude minimum.  The others are listed in a table in his book Habitable Planets for Man, but with the designation:  “Probability of habitable planet very small; less than 0.001.” Epsilon Eridani was discussed earlier.  Sigma Draconis appears good but is listed as a probable variable in Dorrit Hoffleit’s Catalogue of Bright Stars.  Variability great enough to be noticed from Earth at Sigma Draconis’ distance would cause problems for life on its planets.  This leaves Tau Ceti which is one of my pattern stars also.


Another point Sheaffer made was that orientation of my map was arbitrary compared to Atterberg’s map’s orientation with Gould’s belt.  One of my first questions to Betty Hill was, “Did any bright band or concentration of stars show?”  This would establish the galactic plane and the map’s orientation, as well as indicate it was not just a local map.  But there was none indicating that if the map was valid it was probably just a local one.


The plane of the face of my model map is not random, as Sheaffer indicated.  It has intrinsic value for the viewer since many of the pattern stars form a plane at this viewing angle.  The value to the viewer is that these stars have their widest viewing separation at that angle, and their relative distances are much more easily comprehended.


My final interpretation of the map was the only one I could find where all the restrictions outlined above were met.  The fact that only stars most suitable for Earthlike planets remained and filled the pattern seems significant.


Marjorie Fish is a research assistant at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

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by Jeffrey L. Kretsch

Zeta Reticuli is a unique system in the solar neighborhood -- a wide physically associated pair of stars almost exactly like the Sun.  After searching through a list of stars selected from the Gliese catalog on the basis of life criteria, only one other pair within a separation of even 0.3 light-years could be found.  This pair, Gliese 201 and Gliese 202, a K5e and F8Ve pair separated by 0.15 light-years, is currently being investigated.  Zeta Reticuli is indeed a rare case.


Based on the Fish interpretation of the Hill map, the Zeta Reticuli pair forms the base of the pattern.  If the other stars in the patter fit, it is a remarkable association with a rare star system.


In order to deal with this problem, I decided to computer the three-dimensional positions of the stars and construct a three-dimensional model showing these stars positions.


Speaking quantitatively, I discovered the two patterns are certainly not an exact match.  However, if one considers the question of match from the standpoint of how the Hill pattern was made as opposed to the derived pattern’s means of reproduction, the quantitative data may not be a complete means of determining whether the two patterns “match” or not. 


For example, the Hill pattern was drawn freehand -- so one would have to determine how much allowance one must give for differences in quantitative data.  In such areas, I am not qualified to give an opinion.  However, because the map was drawn freehand from memory, the fact that the resemblance between the Fish map and the Hill map is a striking one should be considered.


In my work I was able to verify the findings of Marjorie Fish in terms of the astronomy used.


Jeffrey L. Kretsch is an astronomy student at Northwestern University.

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Over the last quarter century hundreds of thousands of Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) reports have been received by various private and government agencies.  The unexplained content of many reports from credible witnesses from all parts of the world continues to present a modern scientific enigma.

“Any phenomenon which has occupied the thought of so many people for so many years is surely worthy of serious scientific study,” says J. Allen Hynek, probably the world’s foremost authority on the subject.  “The UFO phenomenon has not been given serious attention in the past,” Hynek insists, “yet it is an incontrovertible fact that a great many unsolved UFO reports exist.”

Hynek, chairman of the astronomy department at Northwestern University, says the phenomenon has been the subject of misconceptions, misinformation, and an unscientific approach.  To help rectify the situation Hynek and a group of selected scientists have established the Center for UFO Studies “for those who wish to see positive scientific action taken to end a quarter of a century of misrepresentation and buffoonery.”


Hynek believes the evidence is strong that the UFO phenomenon represents new empirical observations of great potential value to mankind.  The work of the Center is directed toward discovery of the essential nature of the UFO phenomenon.

Hynek has disputed the scientific validity of two major UFO studies conducted so far -- both government sponsored projects.  One, the so-called Condon Report, is based on the two year research of a group of prominent scientists headed by Dr. Edward Condon, a noted physicist.  Although the negative conclusions of the Condon report (suggesting UFOs receive no further study) were widely circulated in the press, Hynek and others have found that 25 percent of the cases studied remain unexplained.


The other major study, Project Blue Book, was “a cosmic Watergate, or else gross incompetence” according to Hynek who was its scientific consultant for 20 years.  “Many interesting cases with scientific potential were disregarded,” he said.  Of the Blue Book cases, 20% were unexplained -- yet the project was closed in 1969 on the basis of the Condon conclusions.


The Center for UFO Studies defines a UFO as,

”the reported perception of an object or light seen in the sky or upon land; the appearance, trajectory, and general dynamic and luminescent behavior of which do not suggest a logical, conventional explanation, and which is not only mystifying to the original percipient, but remains unidentified after close scrutiny of all available evidence by persons who are technically capable of making a common sense identification, if one is possible.“

There exists a growing number of scientists, engineers, and other professionals generally associated with universities, laboratories, and industry, who have contemplated the possible significance of the UFO phenomenon.  They noted that such significance to science and society was being totally obscured by the popular confusion and gross misconceptions regarding the UFO phenomenon.  The Center provides an avenue whereby the interests and talents of these scientists and other professionals can be focused and brought to bear on this challenging problem.  A significant number of them have become actively associated with the Center and have volunteered their talents and facilities.


According to Hynek the Center has four principle objectives:

  1. To pursue a rigorous study and analysis of the UFO phenomenon, calling upon the talents and services of the Center associates and employing existing facilities (computers, physical and biological laboratories, etc.) at universities and in industry wherever possible.  While the ultimate objective of the Center is solution of the UFO enigma, should this not lie within our present scientific rubric, then at least this phenomenon, which has figured so prominently in modern history, should be documented and the data organized as thoroughly as possible

  2. To operate UFO CENTRAL, a clearing house to which persons can report UFO experiences without fear of ridicule or unwanted publicity, and with the knowledge that such reports will be given serious attention

  3. To provide bulletins and technical reports, and be a source of reliable information about the UFO phenomenon to schools and universities, scientific organizations, and the public in general

  4. To assist and help guide correlative studies conducted in the United States and elsewhere through international symposia and conferences (it is not generally known, for instance, that active work in this field is being pursued on several continents)

“The UFO problem clearly involves aspects of interest to psychologists, sociologists, and medical men, as well as to physical scientists and engineers,” notes Hynek.  He remarks that there has rarely been a subject so interdisciplinary in character.


To accomplish its objectives, the Center has access to modern electronic computers so that a central bank for UFO data can be maintained, queried, and updated.  Information theory and modern methods of information retrieval, pattern recognition, etc., are used to establish patterns and correlations between various UFO parameters (time, place, demographic factors, witness reliability, types of sightings, etc.).


A constant problem in UFO research has been unscientific reporting and data collecting.  To alleviate this critical problem, a toll free nationwide telephone number has been made available to law enforcement officers across the country, and to other responsible organizations on a 24 hour basis.  This enables the Center to be quickly apprised of UFO events, to make preliminary evaluations, and dispatch local investigators to the scene.


The Center’s main efforts are directed toward specific problems arising from reported UFO cases.  The large number of cases in which UFOs have been reported to have interacted with the environment presents a scientific toehold not available in the equally spectacular cases in which nothing has been left for study except the detailed report of the witness.


The research of the Center would concern itself with the credibility of witnesses, medical examinations of persons and animals affected, laboratory analysis of residues associated with a UFO close encounter (e.g. plant and soil samples), photographic analysis, theoretical studies of the dynamic and luminescent properties exhibited by UFOs, and statistical and correlative studies of UFO events involving geographic, demographic, and parametric aspects.


The problems studied are the intriguing problems and experiments suggested by the consensus of UFO reports -- not just the UFO itself.  A visitor to laboratories associated with the Center might find it hard to discover that the problems being studied and the experiments being performed had any direct connection with UFOs.

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