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No. 56: Mar-Apr 1988

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Edinburgh ufo a mirage?

September 30, 1986. Edinburgh, Scotland.

"Yvonne Westgarth looked out of a north-facing window of her house in south Edinburgh. She was amazed to see a white cylindrical object like a missile travelling westwards just above the roofs of houses opposite (as she thought). She called her husband who also saw the object. Their sketches of what they saw are shown in Fig. l. Although their descriptions differ slightly, they agree that the 'missile' had a black band around its centre. They watched the object for a period of between 0.5 min and 1.5 min (period uncertain). It was first seen almost due north and it disappeared in the west-northwest. No noise was heard."

No one else reported seeing the object. A real missile was considered very unlikely. However, the object appeared in the direction of the glide path of the Edinburgh airport, where two aircraft had landed at about the time of the sighting. The witnesses were adamant that the UFO did not look at all like a plane; and that it was much higher in the sky than planes on normal glide paths, which were to be seen just above the horizon between the houses.

S. Campbell, who investigated this event, suggests that the Westgarths saw an enlarged distorted mirage of a Boeing 757 landing at Edinburgh. The timing and direction were right. Mirage action would elevate the image. By assuming that both an erect and inverted image of the aircraft were projected one above the other, something looking like a missile could be imagined. The black band would have been the doubled image of the wing. (Campbell, Steuart; "Mirage over Edinburgh," Journal of Meteorology, U.K., 12:308, 1987.)

Comment. As in many explanations of UFOs, one must decide whether a string of somewhat strained scientific assumptions is preferable to believing that a "real" UFO was sighted. In this instance, however, probability seems to be on the side of the scientific explanation.

'Missile' seen over Edinburgh in 1986 "Missile" seen over Edinburgh on September 30, 1986, by Y. Westgarth (top sketch) and her husband (bottom sketch)

From Science Frontiers #56, MAR-APR 1988. 1988-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987