UFOs seen west of Hereford, 31 Oct 1979

The Sighting

Whilst I make no claim to have seen aliens, their spacecraft or been abducted by them, this sighting is mysterious in that I cannot readily attribute a normal cause to it. The public perception of a UFO implies that it has been identified as an alien spacecraft but this sighting remains correctly described as "unidentified" until such time as anyone can come up with a convincing explanation for it.

I am reminded of this incident because of the US "Son of Star Wars" tests where one missile is targeted on another in the hope of destroying it. I am not aware of such a system being trialled in the 1970s, but it remains as a possible explanation of what I saw.

At about 7pm GMT I was outside my then family home in Byford, near Hereford, looking north in the hope of catching an aurora in the upcoming solar maximum. As usual I was disappointed and had to wait until 22 Oct 1981 before finally seeing one. However, what appeared to be a satellite caught my eye. It was travelling south at a rate of a little under one degree per second. It was already at an altitude of some 30 degrees when I first saw it in a NNE direction. As it moved south its altitude increased though it looked as though it would pass well to the east of the zenith. It had a brightness of about magnitude 2 so was not strikingly bright but was easily seen. It did not noticeably change in brightness or appearance as it moved.

I was about to look away when after about 30 seconds it suddenly veered to its left and headed east. In the space of about 2 seconds it had turned through a right angle. I followed it for a few seconds on this path but it faded rapidly from view.

At about the same time as it turned I noticed a second object a few degrees south of it. It looked as if the two had been on a collision course because the second object travelled northwards along a track almost parallel to the first, but gradually diverging a few degrees to the east of it. The first object had turned across the path of the second, though because it reached the intersect point a few seconds earlier the two did not actually meet. Nevertheless they came within 2 or 3 degrees of each other, before their individual paths took them away in their respective directions.

The second object was slightly brighter than the first but moved at about the same rate. I followed it for about 30 seconds before it began to fade then disappeared behind some trees north of the house. The whole incident lasted about a minute.

Possible Explanations

What puzzles me is not so much the appearance of the objects as their movement. Visually, there was nothing to distinguish them from polar orbiting satellites, which are seen fairly often in a clear sky during the summer months or within an hour or two of sunset / sunrise at other times. The time of observation was about 2 hours after sunset so there might still be illumination from the sun at the altitude of a medium height satellite.

The fact the objects were on an apparent collision course may just have been a line of sight effect as they might have been separated vertically by many miles. It is the change of course of the first object that turns this into something more interesting. A satellite travelling at some 5 miles per second (17,500 mph in low orbit) could not possibly undertake a turn through 90 degrees in two seconds, though it is just possible that a fighter aircraft could manage it if it was not travelling too fast - it would certainly subject the pilot to a large g-force.

Possible Explanation Evidence in Favour Evidence Against 
  • Apparent speed about right
  • Brightness about right
  • Illuminated by sun if altitude is sufficiently high
  • Rate of turn of first object requires acceleration of 400g *
  • No evidence of rocket flame or exhaust during manoeuvre
Fighter Aircraft on exercise
  • Apparent speed within limits for a high flying aircraft
  • Too low to be lit by sun, would need own source of illumination
  • Rate of turn requires acceleration of 10g *
  • No noise heard
  • No flashing navigation lights seen
Weather Balloon entering a jet stream
  • Might account for abrupt change in direction to east
  • Too low to be lit by sun
  • Does not account for initial southerly motion as jet streams run west to east
  • Brightness and stellar appearance
  • Moving too slowly
  • Meteors do not abruptly change direction
Missile intercept test
  • Two objects on a possible intercept course
  • Illuminated by sunlight if well above the atmosphere
  • Abrupt change of direction might be evasive action
  • Unlikely to perform missile test over populated area
  • Did technology for this exist in 1970s?
  • As for satellite, no evidence of rocket exhaust

* Acceleration calculation assumes that the radius of curvature r of the turn is equal to the distance travelled by the object in 2 seconds. The satellite is assumed to have a velocity v of 5 miles (8 km) per second, a plane 400mph (200m/s). Acceleration is calculated as v squared / r and divided by 10 to give the g-force.

Whatever it was there is probably an innocent explanation, but nevertheless it's a curious event which I have never seen repeated since.

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