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One time several years ago in graduate school, I simply could not remember the word "syrup", so I called it "pancake gravy". That title was already taken(!), so I added "cane" because when I was a child in the Panhandle of Florida (aka Lower Alabama), my family grew sugar cane and made our own cane syrup.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The UFO I Saw

Once, in the early 2000's when I lived in east Texas, I was outside in my front yard chatting by phone with a friend when I was astonished to see a UFO.  It was early dusk, and a bright, saucer-like shape appeared to be hovering noiselessly over or beyond a stand of trees about 300 yards away.

I was more surprised than I can say.  Because I teach physics, I have a better feel than most for
  1. the real distance between stars, 
  2. how hard it would be to travel from one star to another, and
  3. how unlikely it would be for any creature to travel from one star to another and behave the way the crews of flying saucers are said to behave. 
So interstellar travel made no sense, but most of the other explanations you can find on the Internet for flying saucers were just as unreasonable.  There are no other planets in our solar system with intelligent life; the earth is not hollow; and the idea that they are from "another dimension" or from the future is less convincing than an appeal to pure magic.  Yet there it was, as large as life and twice as natural, as Lewis Carroll said, but defying my ability to explain it. I knew I would have to watch it in the hopes of some satisfactory explanation.

While all this was going through my mind, the saucer appeared to be slowly coming closer, and gradually I became aware of a low, buzzing sound. And then, suddenly, I saw exactly what it was, and the flying object ceased to be unidentified.

It was a powered paraglider.  The canopy was illuminated just for show, and in the twilight the pilot and paramotor were not visible until they were quite close.

Paraglider Motor

Before I get all kinds of angry comments:  No, of course I am not saying all UFO's are powered parasails.  On the other hand, I remain convinced that they are not space ships from other planets, either.  In any event, if I had not stayed to watch or if the "saucer" had not come my direction, this easily could have become yet another sighting by a "credible witness".


  1. Cool story.
    Okay, how far is the average distance between stars, Mr Physics?

    1. The closest stars to earth are Proxima Centauri, at 4.2 light years away, and Alpha Centauri, at 4.4 light years. Of course, those numbers don't help much without having a feel for what a light year is, but that will be the subject of an upcoming post.