Moroccan UFO of Sep 1976 Correlates With Satellite Re-entry

From: Ted Molczan (
Date: Fri Oct 05 2012 - 02:45:20 UTC

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    Recently, I came across an old UFO story with descriptions that strongly suggested a misidentified re-entry from Earth
    orbit, which I believe correlates with the known re-entry of a piece of hardware from a Russian rocket stage.
    1. Sightings
    The sightings occurred in Morocco on the night of 1976 Sep 18-19 UTC, over an area spanning about 600 km. King Hassan
    requested the assistance of the U.S. Government to explain them, which resulted in the following message from the U.S.
    embassy in Morocco to the State Department:
    I found the following excerpts most useful analytically:
    "1. ... the object was on a generally southwest to northeast course, it was a silvery luminous circular shape and gave
    off intermittent trails of bright sparks and fragments, and made no noise ..."
    "3. The times of the sightings varied from 0100 to 0200 hours on the morning of 19 September, with the majority of them
    occurring between 0100 and 0130 hours. Sightings were reported from Agadir, Kalaa-Sraghna, Essaouira, Casablanca, Rabat,
    Kenitra, Meknes and the Fez region. There was general agreement that the UFO was proceeding on an approximately south to
    north course, generally parallel to the Moroccan Atlantic coast, at an estimated altitude of 1,000 meters, and that
    there was absolutely no sound from the UFO."
    "4. Descriptions of the UFO fell into two general categories, i.e., a type of silver colored luminous flattened ball
    (disc-shaped), or a large luminous tube-shaped object. Observers reported that the object intermittently emitted bright
    sparks from the rear."
    "5. Major Lissaoui said he was sent to brief Datt [U.S. defense attache] on the subject because he had himself sighted
    the UFO while returning from the city of Kenitra at about 0115 in the morning. He described the UFO as flying parallel to
    the coast at a relatively slow speed, as if it were an aircraft preparing to land. It first appeared to him as a disc-shaped
    object, but as it came closer he saw it as a luminous tubular-shaped object."
    This appears to be a fine example of a re-entry that was perceived as a saucer or cylindrical/cigar-shaped craft, at
    much closer range than reality.
    From the context, I took the reported times as local standard, which happened to be the same as UTC. Therefore, I looked
    for decays that could have occurred on 1976 Sep 19 between 01 h and 02 h UTC.
    2. Correlation with 1976-074C / 09051
    My query of USSTRATCOM's Space Track database revealed decays listed on each of 1976 Sep 18, 19 and 20 UTC. The decays
    for the latter two dates do not correlate with the UFO sightings, but the one on Sep 18 did. The object in question is
    1976-074C / 09051. Apparently it remained in orbit a bit longer than reported. It was the BOZ ullage motor assembly
    ejected from the third stage of the Molniya rocket that orbited Molniya 1-35 in July 1976. Mark Wade reports mass of 700
    kg, but it is unclear how much of this is fuel. Empty mass as little as 50 to 100 kg would be sufficient to produce a
    visually impressive re-entry. (It was the re-entry of an ullage motor of the Zond IV launch in 1968 (1968-013C / 03136),
    that resulted in what became the prototypical saucer/cigar UFO sightings.)
    USSTRATCOM recorded the date of decay as 1976 Sep 18, but my analysis placed it early on Sep 19, within a few minutes of
    01:30 UTC, consistent with the time of the sightings.
    I obtained the TLEs (2-line orbital element sets) for my analysis from Space Track, but they are also available on
    Jonathan McDowell's site:
    I estimated the date and time of decay using the combination of Alan Pickup's Satevo and Satana decay propagators, which
    are based on the published research of Dr. Desmond King-Hele, who was among the leading investigators into the
    mathematics and physics of Earth satellite orbits during the first three decades of the space age. Satevo quickly and
    reliably propagates a TLE to decay, reports the estimated date and time, and generates propagated TLEs for each
    revolution up to decay. Satana is a pre-processor for Satevo, that uses the same decay algorithms to fit more accurate
    decay rates to USSTRATCOM's TLEs, which I have found helps to improve the accuracy of decay estimates. The user
    specifies three TLEs, ideally spanning several revolutions, and the program generates improved versions. Alan recommends
    feeding the Satana result to Satevo to make the final decay estimate.
    I fed USSTRATCOM's final three TLEs to Satana, which yielded this improved estimate of the final TLE:
    76074C                                                   173 x 152 km
    1 09051U 76074  C 76262.69174196  .11501936  94379-1  44144-3 0 90590
    2 09051  62.8815 351.7629 0016273  58.0891 302.0689 16.41174274  9060
    Feeding it into Satevo yielded estimated time of decay on Sep 18 at 23:08 UTC, and a TLE propagated to the start of the
    final revolution:
    76074C                                                   137 x 129 km
    1 09051U 76074  C 76262.93484476  .71707607  81111+1  54560-3 0 90593
    2 09051  62.8782 350.7463 0006829  58.1326 301.9338 16.52439450  9104
    Further propagating this TLE using SGP4, revealed that the object would likely have survived well into Sep 19, with the
    final descent beginning around 01:10 UTC. The re-entry debris train passed the Moroccan coast, moving toward the
    north-northeast, consistent with items 1 and 3, and it would have been visible from all eight UFO sighting locations.
    Below is a plot of the ground track:
    It should be noted that the altitude profile and point of terminal descent (where the trajectory ends and any surviving
    fragments descend nearly vertically) is quite uncertain, so although the track is plotted through western Europe, it may
    not have actually extended that far. If it did, and if the weather was favourable, then sighting reports may exist.
    The following spreadsheet enables estimating the ephemeris (sky track) of the re-entry train from any location within
    range. Simply enter the site coordinates on the first sheet. Any portion that rises at least 3 deg above the horizon
    will be highlighted in red.
    The second sheet provides the ephemerides for the eight locations in Morocco from which sightings were reported. Below
    is a summary, listing the coordinates of each location, and the estimated elevation of the re-entry debris train at
                      N     W   HASL  Culm
                     deg   deg    m   deg
    Agadir          30.42  9.59   40   18
    Essaouira       31.51  9.76    5   27
    Kalaa-Sraghna   32.06  7.40  401   13
    Casablanca      33.57  7.58    5   20
    Rabat           34.01  6.83   10   18
    Kenitra         34.26  6.58   10   17
    Meknes          33.89  5.55  480   12
    Fez Region      34.04  5.00  298   10
    The re-entry would have culminated well above the horizon and been easily seen from all of these locations, which span a
    range of about 600 km across Morocco. It should be noted that the estimated altitude during this period - about 85 km -
    is somewhat uncertain, but even reducing it to 50 km by the time of closest approach to the Fez region would not
    invalidate the findings.
    3. U.S. Government Response
    The U.S. government failed to identify the exact cause of the UFO sightings, but it did narrow down the possibilities
    very well, per this report attributed to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger:
    His concluding comment:
    "8. In order to analyze the Moroccan event thoroughly, further descriptions or photographs from the local area would be
    needed. In the meantime, one would tend to believe that the event was a meteor, and probably a spectacular one or on
    account of the description of slow velocity, no noise, and burning fragments, a decaying satellite part, of which there
    is no precise re-entry record."
    I do not know whether consideration was given to the possibility that 1976-074C / 09051, which reportedly decayed on Sep
    18, could have survived long enough to cause the UFO reports early on Sep 19. I am reasonably confident in my estimate
    that it did, but make no claim to infallibility; therefore, I welcome and encourage alternative analyses. I would be
    especially interested to know the results of semi-analytic or numerically integrated re-entry propagations, which may
    yield a more confident estimate of the time of descent and the altitude profile.
    Ted Molczan
    Seesat-l mailing list

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