UFO over Trindade Island: Withstanding scrutiny

by Tim Printy June 2004

It's a classic!

Thanks to Oliver Fontes, the news about the case was eagerly written about in the United States. The Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO), was fortunate enough to obtain some prints from the negatives. One of their experts, John T. Hopf, examined them and published his analysis:

The four photographs taken by Almiro Barauna on January 16, 1958 are without a doubt the finest record of a UAO to come into my hands. Although there can be no question of their authenticity due to the circumstances under which they were taken, I have made a careful study of the 8 x 10 enlargements sent to me. I am satisfied that these enlarged prints and the blow-ups from them which I made for publication in the Bulletin show all or nearly all the detail that was visible in the negatives. (A.P.R.O. could not obtain the negatives.)

The data as previously published in the Bulletin is as follows—Camera: Rolleiflex, Model E, F2.8 lens. Exposure: F8, 1/125 second. Kind of film: Not stated. Time of day: 12:20 p.m. Weather: Bright overcast.

Six exposures were made in 14 seconds as determined by subsequent tests with the same camera and photographer. Two of these (Nos. 4 and 5) did not show the object as the photographer’s aim was upset by the confusion on deck.

I have carefully weighed this data against the actual appearance of the photographs and have reached these conclusions:

1. The general appearance of the sky, water, rock detail, etc., indicates that they were taken on an overcast day.

2. The density and contrast of the UAO is that of a solid object at a considerable distance from the camera under such lighting conditions. This was checked by comparison with many similar distant photographs of conventional aircraft taken under overcast conditions. This comparison also indicates a likely size of 120 x 24 feet as deduced from the studies and tests made by the Brazilian government.

3. The object is not luminous or cloud-like as in many other UAO photographs.

4. The shutter speed of 1/125 second used would be enough to "stop" an object going several hundred miles an hour if it were far enough from the camera, as this one was. It is interesting to note that the outline of the object is quite sharp in views Nos. 2 and 3 where it had slowed down, but slightly blurred in Nos. 1 and 4 where it was going at a higher speed and the shutter setting was not high enough to freeze the motion. Greater distance would also contribute to this effect.

5. I can see no evidence of a vapor trail or luminous halo as reported by some witnesses. This may not have registered due to overexposure of the sky background.

6. Had the shutter been set at 1/250 or 1/500 second, we would have had a much sharper set of pictures; however, Mr. Barauna should be complimented on his alertness and self-control in getting photographs as good as these under such trying conditions. Had he stopped to reset his shutter speed, we might not have had this valuable evidence at all. (Lorenzen 167)

It seems that Hopf's analysis agreed with most of what Barauna had stated. However, he added nothing new to what was known. No information on the type of film used was made and no copy negatives or contact prints of the negatives were presented. There seems to be little to no effort in analyzing what was in the prints. The idea of measuring angular size, angular separation, azimuth and elevation angles seems to have completely been missed. Instead, the photographs seemed to have been "rubber stamped" and accepted as is.

In the 1970s, Ground Saucer Watch (GSW) began to digitize and analyze UFO images for authenticity. While many photographs did not pass the test, the Trindade images did get the seal of approval because no evidence of fakery could be found. Their report would read,

The UFO image is over 50 feet in diameter. The UFO image in each case reveals a vast distance from the photographer/camera. The photographs show no signs of hoax (i.e., a hand-thrown or suspended model)...We are of the unanimous opinion that the Brazilian photos are authentic and represent an extraordinary flying object of unknown origin. (Clark UFO 569)

It is interesting that the minimum size of the UFO had now shrunk to over half the original estimate made by the Brazilian military (as stated by Barauna). How either analysis was able to arrive at the object's size is hard to determine since they could only examine the image in two dimensions with no reference as to how far the UFO was away from the camera. Perhaps the only possible reference point was the mountain peak in the photographs but even then, one can only guess at the minimum size of the UFO since one can not tell how far behind the peak the UFO passed.

The efforts of Ground Saucer Watch can not be considered the final word. Allen Hendry reported that he sent them two UFO photographs for analysis:

Ground Saucer Watch examined the first photo and stated publicly that it was a "genuine" UFO, large in size and distant. Later, they were given the second picture snapped by the same photographer of the same Daylight Disc on the same roll of film. The result: "...[the film] depicts the crudest attempt at a hoax that we have ever seen." (Hendry 210)

This demonstrates that the GSW analysis was not fool proof. As with the Brazilian military's analysis, the best GSW could say is they could not find evidence of fakery. It does not mean the photographs are authentic images of a real object flying over Trindade Island. Still, the analysis by GSW seems to have cemented the case as a classic UFO event that should not be questioned. Meanwhile, the skeptic's opinions on this case were met with the usual derision.

Skeptical opinions

Many of the responses by the skeptics seemed to be too quick or too far-fetched. For instance, Steuart Campbell had suggested that the UFO was Jupiter under unusual atmospheric conditions. This explanation is a non-starter to begin with since, as skeptic Robert Sheaffer correctly observed, Jupiter is rarely visible with the naked eye in daytime. Additionally, it would not take on the appearance visible in the photographs and definitely could not be large enough to record as a disc on film.

UFOlogy's number one nemesis at the time was Dr. Donald Menzel. He originally suggested that the images were of an aircraft photographed under unusual conditions. In Jerome Clark's, UFO Book, we read that Menzel wrote to Richard Hall:

A plane , flying in a humid but apparently super-cooled atmosphere, became completely enveloped in fog, so about all one could see was a division where the stream lines were flowing up and down respectively over and under the wings. The cabin made a saturn-like spot in the center, and the wings closely resembled the appearance of the Brazilian photographs. (Clark UFO 568)

Strangely Clark leaves out a key comment made by Menzel in his letter, " I do not have, detailed meteorological phenomena [from Trindade] that would enable me to evaluate whether the air was indeed supersaturated. however, conditions in a tropical atmosphere are more conducive to this sort of thing than a more temperate zone" (Brookesmith 132). The effect of Clark's omission is that Menzel made this his explanation for the case as his final word on the matter. However, Menzel seems to be suggesting this as one possibility as demonstrated by the omitted lines. Menzel would eventually alter his opinion when he apparently realized the conditions for such a photograph did not exist at Trindade. By the time the book, The World of Flying Saucers(which he co-authored with Lyle Boyd), had gone to press in 1963, Menzel had come to the conclusion the event was a double exposure hoax.

Recently, Martin Powell also suggested that the images could have been of an aircraft under unusual conditions (http://homepage.ntlworld.com/mjpowell/Trindade/Trindade.htm). However, unlike Menzel's initial argument, he seems to bring up the possibility that this image of the aircraft was the first exposure in the double exposure image and was not an image of an actual aircraft flying over the island.

Probably the most interesting aspect of Menzel's arguments in his 1963 book, is that his questions surrounding the photographs and witnesses never were seriously answered by those defending the case. It is interesting that forty years later, similar questions were raised by John Harney and John Rimmer on the UFO Updates mailing list. As expected, instead of trying to provide additional information to help clear up the matter, many UFOlogists responded with the usual derision and dismissive attitudes that often are associated with those defending a "classic" case.

Desperate defense

The response of UFOlogists to recent critical questioning of this "classic" case has been highly indicitive of how UFO research is truly done. Richard Hall, who has been involved with UFOlogy since the 1950's and written/edited two books on the best evidence for UFOs, was very biting in his remarks when the case was being questioned:

What is "fundamental" to the case (the large number of witnesses, many of whom, despite your protestations, have been identified; the concordance of eye- witness testimony and photographic evidence; the total lack of any negative testimony) seems to escape you. Why? The case _has_ stood up to scrutiny for 45 years. (Hall)

What is "fundamental" to Richard Hall's remarks is that he has openly presented this case as some of the best available evidence for the existence of UFOs as physical objects. Having the case questioned is also a questioning of his selection of what cases present the "best evidence". Who says UFOlogists are "open-minded"? However, Richard Hall is not the only person who has staked a published claim as to the authenticity of this case.

When John Rimmer questioned some of the writings by Jerome Clark on the matter (specifically where he got the number of witnesses in his book), Clark was equally indignant and, instead of telling Rimmer where he came up with the information, countered that Rimmer could not produce the name of one person who can state the case did not happen as told by the principal eyewitnesses. The back and forth between Harney/Rimmer and Clark seems to be a long standing personal feud that accomplishes very little. However, Clark seemed to have an ace up his sleeve when he remarked, "There is some very important new evidence. I'm sorry to say that the news, for you, is not good" (Clark Re:Two). Exactly what this new evidence involved was not described and he did not elaborate. Rimmer would later comment:

My hope would be that it was additional contemporary eye-witness reports, with direct statements from named individuals who were present, on the deck of the Almirante Saldanha. I would be disappointed if it were merely a re-hash of the photographic analyses that were made at the time. (Rimmer)

As of the time of this writing, Clark never cleared up what the "new evidence" was but it seems that it is a new photographic analysis (much to Rimmer's disappointment) by Brad Sparks. According to Sparks:

Scientific studies by my Trindade Research Project in the U.S., with help from many abroad, are still underway and will not be ready for publication until next year some time, at present estimates. Hence I cannot provide more beyond this preliminary report at present, but believe me many more surprises are in store besides the above. Quantitative values are being further refined and error margins established and reduced as further research tightens the photographic parameters. Many studies are under way including topographic, photogrammetric, photometric, and historical investigations.(Sparks)

If this is Clark's "new evidence", it seems that Sparks has already reached his conclusions and had originally confided with Clark that his analysis would prove the case to be authentic. If so, it appears that Sparks had arrived at his conclusion prior to examining all the evidence or his analysis only included the type of examination that would validate the case.

Many aspects of the case have never been fully explained by UFOlogists. In fact, contrary to the statements that the case has been carefully scrutinized, it seems that there has been a blind acceptance of the story as it originally appeared in the Brazilian media in February 1958. UFOlogists failed to even raise the most critical of questions about the event and, as a result, it appears that much of what has been accepted is not quite correct.

Works Cited

Brookesmith, Peter. UFO: The Government Files. New York: Barnes & Nobles, 1996.

Clark, Jerry. The UFO Book. Detroit: Visible Ink Press 1998.

-. "Re: Two new items on Trindade case - Clark" 29 August 2002. UFO Updates Mailing List. On line posting. Available WWW: http://www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/2002/aug/m29-015.shtml

Hall, Richard . "Re: Trindade photos a fake?" 18 November 2003. UFO Updates Mailing list. On line posting. Available WWW: http://www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/2003/nov/m19-004.shtml

Hendry, Allan. The UFO Investigators Handbook. London: Sphere Books Ltd. 1980.

Lorenzen, Coral E., Flying Saucers: The startling evidence of the invasion from outer space. New York: New American Library, 1966

Rimmer, John. "The Trindade Island case: Multiple witness or wishful thinking". Magonia Supplement. 3 December 2002 No. 44. Available WWW:http://www.magonia.demon.co.uk/arc/00/ms44.htm

Sparks, Brad. "Re: Trindade scientific update [was: Trindade]" 6 November 2003. UFO Updates Mailing list. On line posting. Available WWW: http://www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/2003/nov/m07-010.shtml


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