|A nuclear-pulse powered starship begins a voyage to some nearby stars similar to our sun sometime in the 21st century. The first target is Tau Ceti, 12 light-years distant and seen in this rendering just to the right of the craft's sperical living quarters. This article chronicles how an unusual star map has led to new investigations of specific stars that might harbor Earth-like planets - and possibly advanced forms of life.|
A faint pair of stars, 220 trillion miles away, has been tentatively identified as the "home base" of intelligent extraterrestrials who allegedly visited Earth in 1961. This hypothesis is based on a strange, almost bizarre series of events mixing astronomical research with hypnosis, amnesia, and alien humanoid creatures.
The two stars are known as Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli, or together as simply Zeta Reticuli. They are each fifth magnitude stars -- barely visible to the unaided eye -- located in the obscure souther constellation Reticulum. This southerly sky location makes Zeta Reticuli invisible to observers north of Mexico City's latitude.
The weird circumstances that we have dubbed "The Zeta Reticuli Incident" sound like they come straight from the UFO pages in one of those tabloids sold in every supermarket. But this is much more than a retelling of a famous UFO incident; it's an astronomical detective story that at times hovers on that hazy line that separates science from fiction. It all started this way:
The date is Sept. 19, 1961. A middle aged New Hampshire couple, Betty and Barney Hill, are driving home from a short vacation in Canada. It's dark, with the moon and stars illuminating the wooded landscape along U.S. Route 3 in central New Hampshire. The Hills' curiosity is aroused when a bright "star" seems to move in an irregular pattern. They stop the car for a better view. The object moves closer, and its disklike shape becomes evident.
Barney grabs his binoculars from the car seat and steps out. He walks into a field to get a closer look, focuses the binoculars, and sees the object plainly. It has windows -- and behind the windows, looking directly at him are...humanoid creatures! Terrified, Barney stumbles back to the car, throws it into first gear and roars off. But for some reason he turns down a side road where five of the humanoids are standing on the road.
Apparently unable to control their actions, Betty and Barney are easily taken back to the ship by the humanoids. While inside they are physically examined, and one of the humanoids communicates to Betty. After the examination she asks him where they are from. In response he shows her a three-dimensional map with various sized dots and lines on it. "Where are you on the map?" the humanoid asks Betty. She doesn't know, so the subject is dropped.
Betty and Barney are returned unharmed to their car. They are told they will forget the abduction portion of the incident. The ship rises, and then hurtles out of sight. The couple continue their journey home oblivious of the abduction.
But the Hills are troubled by unexplained dreams and anxiety about two hours of their trip that they can't account for. Betty, a social worker, asks advice from a psychiatrist friend. He suggests that the memory of that time will be gradually restored over the next few months -- but it never is. Two years after the incident, the couple are still bothered by the missing two hours, and Barney's ulcers are acting up. A Boston psychiatrist, Benjamin Simon, is recommended, and after several months of weekly hypnosis sessions the bizarre events of that night in 1961 are revealed. A short time later a UFO group leaks a distorted version of the story to the press and the whole thing blows up. The Hills reluctantly disclose the entire story.
Can we take this dramatic scenario seriously? Did this incredible contact with aliens actually occur or is it some kind of hallucination that affected both Barney and Betty Hill? The complete account of the psychiatric examination from which the details of the event emerged is related in John G. Fuller's 'The Interrupted Journey' (Dial Press, 1966), where we read that after the extensive psychiatric examination, Simon concluded that the Hills were not fabricating the story. The most likely possibilities seem to be: (a) the experience actually happened, or (b) some perceptive and illusory misinterpretations occurred in relationship to some real event.
There are other cases of alleged abductions by extraterrestrial humanoids. The unique aspect of the Hills' abduction is that they remembered virtually nothing of the incident.
Intrigued by the Hills' experience, J. Allen Hynek, chairman of the department of astronomy at Northwestern University, decided to investigate. Hynek described how the Hills recalled the details of their encounter in his book, 'The UFO Experience' (Henry Regnery Company, 1972):
"Under repeated hypnosis they independently revealed what had supposedly happened. The two stories agreed in considerable detail, although neither Betty nor Barney was privy to what the other had said under hypnosis until much later. Under hypnosis they stated that they had been taken separately aboard the craft, treated well by the occupants -- rather as humans might treat experimental animals -- and then released after having been given the hypnotic suggestion that they would remember nothing of that particular experience. The method of their release supposedly accounted for the amnesia, which was apparently broken only by counterhypnosis."
A number of scientists, including Hynek, have discussed this incident at length with Barney and Betty Hill and have questioned them under hypnosis. They concur with Simon's belief that there seems to be no evidence of outright fabrication or lying. One would also wonder what Betty, who has a master's degree in social work and is a supervisor in the New Hampshire Welfare Department, and Barney, who was on the governor of New Hampshire's Civil Rights Commission, would have to gain by a hoax? Although the Hills didn't, several people have lost their jobs after being associated with similarly unusual publicity.
Stanton T. Friedman, a nuclear physicist and the nation's only space scientist devoting full time to researching the UFO phenomenon, has spent many hours in conversation with the Hills. "By no stretch of the imagination could anyone who knows them conclude that they were nuts," he emphasizes.
So the experience remains a fascinating story despite the absence of proof that it actually happened. Anyway -- that's where things were in 1966 when Marjorie Fish, an Ohio schoolteacher, amateur astronomer and member of Mensa, became involved. She wondered if the objects shown on the map that Betty Hill allegedly observed inside the vehicle might represent some actual pattern of celestial objects. To get more information about the map she decided to visit Betty Hill in the summer of 1969. (Barney Hill died in early 1969.) Here is Ms. Fish's account of that meeting:
"On Aug.4, 1969, Betty Hill discussed the star map with me. Betty explained that she drew the map in 1964 under posthypnotic suggestion. It was to be drawn only if she could remember it accurately, and she was not to pay attention to what she was drawing -- which puts it in the realm of automatic drawing. This is a way of getting at repressed or forgotten material and can result in unusual accuracy. She made two erasures showing her conscious mind took control part of the time.
"Betty described the map as three-dimensional, like looking through a window. The stars were tinted and glowed. The map material was flat and thin (not a model), and there were no noticeable lenticular lines like one of our three-dimensional processes. (It sounds very much like a reflective hologram.) Betty did not shift her position while viewing it, so we cannot tell if it would give the same three-dimensional view from all positions or if it would be completely three-dimensional. Betty estimated the map was approximately three feet wide and two feet high with the pattern covering most of the map. She was standing about three feet away from it. She said there were many other stars on the map but she only (apparently) was able to specifically recall the prominent ones connected by lines and a small distinctive triangle off to the left. There was no concentration of stars to indicate the Milky Way (galactic plane) suggesting that if it represented reality, it probably only contained local stars. There were no grid lines."
So much for the background material on the Hill incident. (If you want more details on the encounter, see Fuller's book). For the moment we will leave Marjorie Fish back in 1969 trying to interpret Betty Hill's reproduction of the map. There is a second major area of background information that we have to attend to before we can properly discuss the map. Unlike the bizarre events just described, the rest is pure astronomy.
Three key phases in the analysis described in this article are illustrated here. Top right diagram is a copy of the map Betty drew, allegedly a duplicate of one she saw inside an extraterrestrial vehicle. Center map is derived from a model of our stellar neighborhood by Marjorie Fish. It shows the stars that coincide with those on the Hill map (the Fish model is illustrated on page 14). The only area of significant incongruity is the wide separation of Zeta Reticuli in the Hill version. Lower image shows a cathode ray tube computer readout that was run at Ohio State University as a check on the Fish model. Data used to derive the Fish model and the computer readout wre taken from Gliese catalog. Names of specific stars are given on pages 12 & 13.
According to the most recent star catalogs, there are about 1,000 known stars within a radius of 55 light-years of the sun.
What are those other stars like? A check of the catalogs shows that most of them are faint stars of relatively low temperature -- a class of stars astronomers call main sequence stars. The sun is a main sequence star along with most of the other stars in this part of the Milky Way galaxy, as the following table shows:
Main sequence stars 91% White dwarfs 8% Giants and Supergiants 1%
Typical giant stars are Arcturus and Capella. Antares and Betelgeuse are members of the ultrarare supergiant class. At the other end of the size and brightness scale the white dwarfs are stellar cinders -- the remains of once brilliant suns. For reasons that will soon become clear we can remove these classes of stars from our discussion and concentrate on the main sequence stars.
The main sequence stars can be further subdivided.
Characteristics of Main Sequence Stars Class Proportion of Total Temperature (Degrees F) Mass (Sun=1) Luminosity (Sun=1) Lifespan (billions yrs) - A0 1% 20,000 2.8 60 5 Vega A5 - 15,000 2.2 20 1 - F0 3% 13,000 1.7 6 2 Procyon F5 - 12,000 1.25 3 4 - G0 9% 11,000 1.06 1.3 10 Sun G5 - 10,000 .92 .8 15 - K0 14% 9,000 .8 .4 20 Epsilon Erandi K5 - 8,000 .69 .1 30 - M0 73% 7,000 .48 .02 75 Proxima Centauri M5 - 5,000 .2 .001 200 -
The spectral class letters are part of a system of stellar "fingerprinting" that identifies the main sequence star's temperature and gives clues to its mass and luminosity. The hottest, brightest and most massive main sequence stars (with rare exceptions) are the A stars. The faintest, coolest and least massive are the M stars.
Each class is subdivided into 10 subcategories. For example, an A0 star is hotter, brighter and more massive than an A1 which is above an A2, and so on through A9.
This table supplies much additional information and shows how a slightly hotter and more massive star turns out to be much more luminous than the sun, a G2 star. But the bright stars pay dearly for their splendor. It takes a lot of stellar fuel to emit vast quantities of light and heat. The penalty is a short lifespan as a main sequence star. Conversely, the inconspicuous, cool M stars may be around to see the end of the universe -- whatever that might be. With all these facts at hand we're now ready to tackle the first part of the detective story.
Let's suppose we wanted to make our own map of a trip to the stars. We will limit ourselves to the 55 light-year radius covered by the detailed star catalogs. The purpose of the trip will be to search for intelligent life on planets that may be in orbit around these stars. We would want to include every star that would seem likely to have a life-bearing planet orbiting around it. How many of these thousand-odd stars would we include for such a voyage and which direction would we go? (For the moment, we'll forget about the problem of making a spacecraft that will take us to these stars and we'll assume that we've got some kind of vehicle that will effortlessly transport us to wherever we want to go.) We don't want to waste our time and efforts -- we only want to go to stars that we would think would have a high probability of having planets harboring advanced life forms. This seems like a tall order. How do we even begin to determine which stars might likely have such planets?
The first rule will be to restrict ourselves to life as we know it, the kind of life that we are familiar with here on Earth -- carbon based life. Science fiction writers are fond of describing life forms based on chemical systems that we have been unable to duplicate here on Earth -- such as silicon based life or life based on the ammonium hydroxide molecule instead of on carbon. But right now these life forms are simply fantasy -- we have no evidence that they are in fact possible. Because we don't even know what they might look like -- if they're out there -- we necessarily have to limit our search to the kind of life that we understand.
Our kind of life -- life as we know it -- seems most likely to evolve on a planet that has a stable temperature regime. It must be at the appropriate distance from its sun so that water is neither frozen nor boiled away. The planet has to be the appropriate size so that its gravity doesn't hold on to too much atmosphere (like Jupiter) or too little (like Mars). But the main ingredient in a life-bearing planet is its star. And its star is the only thing we can study since planets of other stars are far too faint to detect directly.
The conclusion we can draw is this: The star has to be like the sun.
Main sequence stars are basically stable for long periods of time. As shown in the table, stars in spectral class G have stable lifespans of 10 billion years. (Our sun, actually a G2 star, has a somewhat longer stable life expectancy of 11 billion years.) We are about five billion years into that period so we can look forward to the sun remaining much as it is (actually it will brighten slightly) for another six billion years. Stars of class F4 or higher have stable burning periods of less than 3.5 billion years. They have to be ruled out immediately. Such stars cannot have life-bearing planets because, at least based on our experience on our world, this is not enough time to permit highly developed biological systems to evolve on the land areas of a planet. (Intelligent life may very well arise earlier in water environments, but let's forget that possibility since we have not yet had meaningful communication with the dolphins -- highly intelligent creatures on this planet!) But we may be wrong in our estimate of life development time. There is another more compelling reason for eliminating stars of class F4 and brighter.
So far, we have assumed all stars have planets, just as our sun does. Yet spectroscopic studies of stars of class F4 and brighter reveal that most of them are in fact unlike our sun in a vital way -- they are rapidly rotating stars. The sun rotates once in just under a month, but 60 percent of the stars in the F0 to F4 range rotate much faster. And almost all A stars are rapid rotators too. It seems, from recent studies of stellar evolution that slowly rotating stars like the sun rotate slowly because they have planets. Apparently the formation of a planetary system robs the star of much of its rotational momentum.
For two reasons, then, we eliminate stars of class F4 and above: (1) most of them rotate rapidly and thus seem to be planetless, and (2) their stable lifespans are too brief for advanced life to develop.
Another problem environment for higher forms of life is the multiple star system. About half of all stars are born in pairs, or small groups of three or more. Our sun could have been part of a double star system. If Jupiter was 80 times more massive it would be an M6 red dwarf star. If the stars of a double system are far enough apart there is no real problem for planets sustaining life (see "Planet of the Double Sun", September 1974). But stars in fairly close or highly elliptical orbits would alternately fry or freeze their planets. Such planets would also likely have unstable orbits. Because this is a potentially troublesome area for our objective, we will eliminate all close and moderately close pairs of systems of multiple stars.
Further elimination is necessary according to the catalogs. Some otherwise perfect stars are labeled "variable". This means astronomers have observed variations of at least a few percent in the star's light output. A one percent fluctuation in the sun would be annoying for us here on Earth. Anything greater would cause climatic disaster. Could intelligent life evolve under such conditions, given an otherwise habitable planet? It seems unlikely. We are forced to "scratch" all stars suspected or proven to be variable.
This still leaves a few F stars, quite a few G stars, and hoards of K and M dwarfs. Unfortunately most of the Ks and all of the Ms are out. Let's find out why.
These stars quite likely have planets. Indeed, one M star -- known as Barnard's star -- is believed to almost certainly have at least one, and probably two or three, Jupiter sized planets. Peter Van de Kamp of the Sproul Observatory at Swarthmore College (Pa.) has watched Barnard's star for over three decades and is convinced that a "wobbling" motion of that star is due to perturbations (gravitational "pulling and pushing") caused by its unseen planets. (Earth sized planets cannot be detected in this manner.)
But the planets of M stars and the K stars below K4 have two serious handicaps that virtually eliminate them from being abodes for life. First, these stars fry their planets with occasional lethal bursts of radiation emitted from erupting solar flares. The flares have the same intensity as those of our sun, but when you put that type of flare on a little star it spells disaster for a planet that is within, say, 30 million miles. The problem is that planets have to be that close to get enough heat from these feeble suns. If they are farther out, they have frozen oceans and no life.
The close-in orbits of potential Earthlike planets of M and faint K stars produce the second dilemma -- rotational lock. An example of rotational lock is right next door to us. The moon, because of its nearness to Earth, is strongly affected by our planet's tidal forces. Long ago our satellite stopped rotating and now has one side permanently turned toward Earth. The same principles apply to planets of small stars that would otherwise be at the right distance for moderate temperatures. If rotational lock has not yet set in, at least rotational retardation would make impossibly long days and nights (as evidenced by Mercury in our solar system).
What stars are left after all this pruning? All of the G stars remain along with F5 through F9 and K0 through K4. Stephen Dole of the Rand Corporation has made a detailed study of stars in this range and suggests we should also eliminate F5, F6 and F7 stars because they balloon to red giants before they reach an age of five billion years. Dole feels this is cutting it too fine for intelligent species to fully evolve. Admittedly this is based on our one example of intelligent life -- us. But limited though this parameter is, it is the only one we have. Dole believes the K2, K3 and K4 stars are also poor prospects because of their feeble energy output and consequently limited zone for suitable Earthlike planets.
Accepting Dole's further trimming we are left with single, nonvariable stars from F8 through all the Gs to K1. What does that leave us with? Forty-six stars.
Now we are ready to plan the trip. It's pretty obvious that Tau Ceti is our first target. After that, the choice is more difficult. We can't take each star in order or we would be darting all over the sky. It's something like planning a vacation trip. Let's say we start from St. Louis and want to hit all the major cities within a 1,000 mile radius. If we go west, all we can visit is Kansas City and Denver. But northeast is a bonanza: Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York and more. The same principle applies to the planning of our interstellar exploration. The plot of all 46 candidate stars reveals a clumping in the direction of the constellations Cetus and Eridanus. Although this section amounts to only 13 percent of the entire sky, it contains 15 of the 46 stars, or 33 percent of the total. Luckily Tau Ceti is in this group, so that's the direction we should go (comparable to heading northeast from St. Louis). If we plan to visit some of these solar type stars and then return to Earth, we should try to have the shortest distance between stops. It would be a waste of exploration time if we zipped randomly from one star to another.
Blow-up of above map
Route map. Click here.
The route map above shows the culmination of our efforts. This group of stars is a "natural" for exploration when we achieve interstellar flight. Even if, as most exobiologists contend, we are highly unlikely to find advanced forms of life in such a small sample, the physical exploration of planets of other stars by beings from Earth is inevitable, and the stars of this group should be among the first targets.
Now we are ready to return to the map drawn by Betty Hill. Marjorie Fish reasoned that if the stars in the Hill map corresponded to a patter of real stars -- perhaps something like we just developed, only from an alien's viewpoint -- it might be possible to pinpoint the origin of the alleged space travelers. Assuming the two stars in the foreground of the Hill map were the "base" stars (the sun, a single star, was ruled out here), she decided to try to locate the entire pattern. She theorized that the Hill map contained only local stars since no concentration would be present if a more distant viewpoint was assumed and if both "us" and the alien visitors' home base were to be represented.
Let's assume, just as an astronomical exercise, that the map does show the sun and the star that is "the sun" to the humanoids. We'll take the Hill encounter at face value, and see where it leads.
Since the aliens were described as "humanoid" and seemed reasonably comfortable on this planet, their home planet should be basically like ours. Their atmosphere must be similar because the Hills breathed without trouble while inside the ship, and the aliens did not appear to wear any protective apparatus. And since we assume their biology is similar to ours, their planet should have the same temperature regime as Earth (Betty and Barney did say it was uncomfortably cold in the ship). In essence, then, we assume their home planet must be very Earthlike. Based on what we discussed earlier it follows that their sun would be on our list if it were within 55 light-years of us.
The lines on the map, according to Betty Hill, were described by the alien as "trade routes" or "places visited occasionally" with the dotted lines as "expeditions". Any interpretation of the Betty Hill map must retain the logic of these routes (i.e. the lines would link stars that would be worth visiting).
This model, prepared by Marjorie Fish. shows all the stars located in a vast volume of space extending out about 55 light years in the direction of Zeta Reticuli. The viewing angle is from a point in space beyond that limit looking back toward the Sun. Each star is suspended on a separate thread at its appropriate distance and position from the Sun, and colored according to its spectral type (solar type stars are yellow). The star "behind" the two components of Zeta Reticuli is Zeta Tucanae. From a model such as this, using the same viewing angle seen here, Marjorie Fish noted 16 stars whose positions are remarkably closeto the stars in the drawing made by Betty Hill. The fact that all of the stars in the "Hill configuration" are solar type stars is one of several intriguing areas that enshroud the "Zeta Reticuli Incident".
Keeping all this in mind, Marjorie Fish constructed several three-dimensional models of the solar neighborhood in hopes of detecting the pattern in the Hill map. Using beads dangling on threads, she painstakingly recreated our stellar environment. Between Aug. 1968 and Feb. 1973, she strung beads, checked data, searched and checked again. A suspicious alignment, detected in late 1968, turned out to be almost a perfect match once new data from the detailed 1969 edition of the Catalog of Nearby Stars became available. (This catalog is often called the "Gliese catalog" -- pronounced "glee-see" -- after its principal author, Wilhelm Gliese.)
The 16 stars in the stellar configuration discovered by Marjorie Fish are compared with the map drawn by Betty Hill in the diagram on page 6. If some of the star names on the Fish map sound familiar, they should. Ten of the 16 stars are from the compact group that we selected earlier based on the most logical direction to pursue to conduct interstellar exploration from Earth
Continuing to take the Hill map at face value, the radiating pattern of "trade routes" implies that Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli are the "hub" of exploration or, in the context of the incident, the aliens' home base. The sun is at the end of one of the supposedly regular trade routes.
The pair of stars that make up Zeta Reticuli is practically in the midst of the cluster of solar type stars that attracted us while we were mapping out a logical interstellar voyage. Checking further we find that all but two of the stars in the Fish pattern are on the table of nearby solar type stars. These two stars are Tau 1 Eridani (an F6 star) and Gliese 86.1 (K2), and are, respectively, just above and below the parameters we arrived at earlier. One star that should be there (Zeta Tucanae) is missing probably because it is behind Zeta 1 Reticuli at the required viewing angle.
To summarize, then: (1) the pattern discovered by Marjorie Fish has an uncanny resemblance to the map drawn by Betty Hill; (2) the stars are mostly the ones that we would visit if we were exploring from Zeta Reticuli, and (3) the travel patterns generally make sense.
Walter Mitchell, professor of astronomy at Ohio State University in Columbus, has looked at Marjorie Fish's interpretation of the Betty Hill map in detail and tells us, "The more I examine it, the more I am impressed by the astronomy involved in Marjorie Fish's work."
During their examination of the map, Mitchell and some of his students inserted the positions of hundreds of nearby stars into a computer and had various space vistas brought up on a cathode ray tube readout. They requested the computer to put them in a position out beyond Zeta Reticuli looking toward the sun. From this viewpoint the map pattern obtained by Marjorie Fish was duplicated with virtually no variations. Mitchell noted an important and previously unknown fact first pointed out by Ms. Fish: The stars in the map are almost in a plane; that is, they fill a wheel shaped volume of space that makes star hopping from one to another easy and the logical way to go -- and that is what is implied by the map that Betty Hill allegedly saw.
"I can find no major point of quibble with Marjorie Fish's interpretation of the Betty Hill map," says David R. Saunders, a statistics expert at the Industrial Relations Center of the University of Chicago. By various lines of statistical reasoning he concludes that the chances of finding a match among 16 stars of a specific spectral type among the thousand-odd stars nearest the sun is "at least 1,000 to 1 against".
"The odds are about 10,000 to 1 against a random configuration matching perfectly with Betty Hill's map," Saunders reports. "But the star group identified by Marjorie Fish isn't quite a perfect match, and the odds consequently reduce to about 1,000 to 1. That is, there is one chance in 1,000 that the observed degree of congruence would occur in the volume of space we are discussing.
"In most fields of investigation where similar statistical methods are used, that degree of congruence is rather persuasive," concludes Saunders.
Saunders, who has developed a monumental computerized catalog of more than 60,000 UFO sightings, tells us that the Hill case is not unique in its general characteristics -- there are other known cases of alleged communication with extraterrestrials. But in no other case on record have maps ever been mentioned.
Mark Steggert of the Space Research Coordination Center at the University of Pittsburgh developed a computer program that he calls PAR (for Perspective Alteration Routine) that can duplicate the appearance of star fields from various viewpoints in space.
"I was intrigued by the proposal put forth by Marjorie Fish that she had interpreted a real star pattern for the alleged map of Betty Hill. I was incredulous that models could be used to do an astronometric problem," Steggert says. "To my surprise I found that the pattern that I derived from my program had a close correspondence to the data from Marjorie Fish."
After several run-throughs, he confirmed the positions determined by Marjorie Fish. "I was able to locate potential areas of error, but no real errors," Steggert concludes.
Steggert zeroed in on possibly the only real bone of contention that anyone has had with Marjorie Fish's interpretation: The data on some of the stars may not be accurate enough for us to make definitive conclusions. For example, he says the data from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Catalog, the Royal Astronomical Society Observatory Catalog, and the Yale Catalog of Bright Stars "have differences of up to two magnitudes and differences in distance amounting to 40 percent for the star Gliese 59". Other stars have less variations in the data from one catalog to another, but Steggert's point is valid. The data on some of the stars in the map is just not good enough to make a definitive statement. (The fact that measurements of most of the stars in question can only be made at the relatively poor equipped southern hemisphere observatories accounts for the less reliable data.)
Using information on the same 15 stars from the Royal Observatory catalog (Annals #5), Steggert reports that the pattern does come out differently because of the different data, and Gliese 59 shows the largest variation. The Gliese catalog uses photometric, trigonometric and spectroscopic parallaxes and derives a mean from all three after giving various mathematical weights to each value. "The substantial variation in catalog material is something that must be overcome," says Steggert. "This must be the next step in attempting to evaluate the map."
This point of view is shared by Jeffrey L. Kretsch, an undergraduate student who is working under the advisement of J. Allen Hynek at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Like Steggert, he too checked Marjorie Fish's pattern and found no error in the work. But Kretsch reports that when he reconstructed the pattern using trigonometric distance measurements instead of the composite measures in the Gliese catalog, he found enough variations to move Gliese 95 above the line between Gliese 86 and Tau 1 Eridani.
"The data for some of the stars seems to be very reliable, but a few of the pattern stars are not well observed and data on them is somewhat conflicting," says Kretsch. The fact that the pattern is less of a "good fit" using data from other sources leads Kretsch and others to wonder what new observations would do. Would they give a closer fit? Or would the pattern become distorted? Marjorie Fish was aware of the catalog variations, but has assumed the Gliese catalog is the most reliable source material to utilize.
Is the Gliese catalog the best available data source. According to several astronomers who specialize in stellar positions, it probably is. Peter Van de Kamp says, "It's first rate. There is none better." He says the catalog was compiled with extensive research and care over many years.
A lot of the published trigonometric parallaxes on the stars beyond 30 light-years are not as accurate as they could be, according to Kyle Cudworth of Yerkes Observatory. "Gliese added other criteria to compensate and lessen the possible errors," he says.
The scientific director of the U.S. Naval Observatory, K.A. Strand, is among the world's foremost authorities on stellar distances for nearby stars. He believes the Gliese catalog "is the most complete and comprehensive source available."
Frank B. Salisbury of the University of Utah has also examined the Hill and Fish maps. "The pattern of stars discovered by Marjorie Fish fits the map drawn by Betty Hill remarkably well. It's a striking coincidence and forces one to take the Hill story more seriously," he says. Salisbury is one of the few scientists who has spent some time on the UFO problem and has written a book and several articles on the subject. A professor of plant physiology, his biology expertise has been turned to astronomy on several occasions while studying the possibility of biological organisms existing on Mars.
Salisbury insists that while psychological factors do play an important role in UFO phenomena, the Hill story does represent one of the most credible reports of incredible events. The fact that the story and the map came to light under hypnosis is good evidence that it actually took place. "But it is not unequivocal evidence," he cautions.
Elaborating on this aspect of the incident, Mark Steggert offers this: "I am inclined to question the ability of Betty, under posthypnotic suggestion, to duplicate the pattern two years after she saw it. She noted no grid lines on the pattern for reference. Someone should (or perhaps has already) conduct a test to see how well a similar patter could be recalled after a substantial period of time. The stress she was under at the time is another unknown factor."
"The derivation of the base data by hypnotic techniques is perhaps not as 'far out' as it may seem," says Stanton Friedman. "Several police departments around the country use hypnosis on rape victims in order to get descriptions of the assailants -- descriptions that would otherwise remain repressed. The trauma of such circumstances must be comparable in some ways to the Hill incident."
Is it at all possible we are faced with a hoax?
"Highly unlikely," says Salisbury -- and the other investigators agree. One significant fact against a charade is that the data from the Gliese catalog was not published until 1969, five years after the star map was drawn by Betty Hill. Prior to 1969, the data could only have been obtained from the observatories conducting research on the specific stars in question. It is not uncommon for astronomers not to divulge their research data -- even to their colleagues -- before it appears in print. In general, the entire sequence of events just does not smell of falsification. Coincidence, possibly; hoax, improbable.
Where does all this leave us? Are there creatures inhabiting a planet of Zeta 2 Reticuli? Did they visit Earth in 1961? The map indicates that the sun has been "visited occasionally". What does that mean? Will further study and measurement of the stars in the map change their relative positions and thus distort the configuration beyond the limits of coincidence?
The fact that the entire incident hinges on a map drawn under less than normal circumstances certainly keeps us from drawing a firm conclusion. Exobiologists are united in their opinion that the chance of us having neighbors so similar to us, apparently located so close, is vanishingly small. But then, we don't even know for certain if there is anybody at all out there -- anywhere -- despite the Hill map and pronouncements of the most respected scientists.
The only answer is to continue the search. Someday, perhaps soon, we will know.
The 46 Nearest Stars Similar to the Sun Name Distance (light-years) Magnitude (visual) Luminosity (Sun=1) Spectrum Tau Ceti 11.8 3.5 .4 G8 82 Eridani 20.2 4.3 .7 G5 Zeta Tucanae 23.3 4.2 .9 G2 107 Piscium 24.3 5.2 .4 K1 Beta Comae - - - - Berenices 27.2 4.3 1.2 G0 61 Virginis 27.4 4.7 .8 G6 Alpha Mensae 28.3 5.1 .6 G5 Gliese 75 28.6 5.6 .4 K0 Beta Canum - - - - Venaticorum 29.9 4.3 1.4 G0 Chi Orionis 32 4.4 1.5 G0 54 Piscium 34 5.9 .4 K0 Zeta 1 Reticuli 37 5.5 .7 G2 Zeta 2 Reticuli 37 5.2 .9 G2 Gliese 86 37 6.1 .4 K0 Mu Arae 37 5.1 .9 G5 Gliese 67 38 5.0 1.2 G2 Gliese 668.1 40 6.3 .4 G9 Gliese 302 41 6.0 .6 G8 Gliese 309 41 6.4 .4 K0 Kappa Fornacis 42 5.2 1.3 G1 58 Eridani 42 5.5 .9 G1 Zeta Doradus 44 4.7 2.0 F8 55 Cancri 44 6.0 .7 G8 47 Ursa Majoris 44 5.1 1.5 G0 Gliese 364 45 4.9 1.8 G0 Gliese 599A 45 6.0 .6 G6 Nu Phoenicis 45 5.0 1.8 F8 Gliese 95 45 6.3 .5 G5 Gliese 796 47 5.6 .5 G8 20 Leo Minoris 47 5.4 1.2 G4 39 Tauri 47 5.9 .8 G1 Gliese 290 47 6.6 .4 G8 Gliese 59.2 48 5.7 1.0 G2 Psi Aurigae 49 5.2 1.5 G0 Gliese 722 49 5.9 .9 G4 Gliese 788 49 5.9 .8 G5 Nu 2 Lupi 50 5.6 1.1 G2 14 Herculis 50 6.6 .5 K1 Pi Ursa Majoris 51 5.6 1.2 G0 Phi 2 Ceti 51 5.2 1.8 F8 Gliese 641 52 6.6 .5 G8 Gliese 97.2 52 6.9 .4 K0 Gliese 541.1 53 6.5 .6 G8 109 Piscium 53 6.3 .8 G4 Gliese 651 53 6.8 .4 G8 Gliese 59 53 6.7 .4 G8
This table lists all known stars within a radius of 54 light-years that are single or part of a wide multiple star system. They have no known irregularities or variabilities and are between 0.4 and 2.0 times the luminosity of the sun. Thus, a planet basically identical to Earth could be orbiting around any one of them. (Data from the Catalog of Nearby Stars, 1969 edition, by Wilhelm Gliese.) .
The View from Zeta Reticuli
The two stars that comprise the Zeta Reticuli system are almost identical to the sun. Thy are the only known examples of two solar type stars apparently linked into a binary star system of wide separation.
Zeta 1 is separated from Zeta 2 by at least 350 billion miles -- about 100 times the sun-Pluto distance. They may be even farther apart, but the available observations suggest they are moving through space together and are therefore physically associated. They probably require at least 100,000 years to orbit around their common center of gravity.
Both Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 are prime candidates for the search for life beyond Earth. According to our current theories of planetary formation, they both should have a retinue of planets something like our solar system. As yet there is no way of determining if any of the probable planets of either star is similar to Earth.
To help visualize the Zeta Reticuli system, let's take the sun's nine planets and put them in identical orbits around Zeta 2. From a celestial mechanics standpoint there is no reason why this situation could not exist. Would anything be different? Because of Zeta 2's slightly smaller mass as compared with the sun, the planets would orbit a little more slowly. Our years might have 390 days, for example. Zeta 2 would make a fine sun - - slightly dimmer than "old Sol", but certainly capable of sustaining life. The big difference would not be our new sun but the superstar of the night sky. Shining like a polished gem, Zeta 1 would be the dazzling highlight of the night sky -- unlike anything we experience here on Earth. At magnitude -9 it would appear as a starlike point 100 times brighter than Venus. It would be like compressing all the light from the first quarter moon into a point source.
Zeta 1 would have long ago been the focus of religions, mythology and astrology if it were in earthly skies. The fact that it would be easily visible in full daylight would give Zeta 1 supreme importance to both early civilizations and modern man. Shortly after the invention of the telescope astronomers would be able to detect Jupiter and Saturn sized planets orbiting around Zeta 1. Jupiter would be magnitude +12, visible up to 4.5 minutes of arc from Zeta 1 (almost as far as Ganymede swings from Jupiter). It would not make a difficult target for an eight inch telescope. Think of the incentive that discovery would have on interstellar space travel! For hundreds of years we would be aware of another solar system just a few "light-weeks" away. The evolution of interstellar spaceflight would be rapid, dynamic and inevitable.
By contrast, our nearest solar type neighbor is Tau Ceti at 12 light-years. Even today we only suspect it is accompanied by a family of planets, but we don't know for sure.
From this comparison of our planetary system with those of Zeta Reticuli, it is clear that any emerging technologically advanced intelligent life would probably have great incentive to achieve star flight. The knowledge of a nearby system of planets of a solar type star would be compelling -- at least it would certainly seem to be.
What is so strange -- and this question prompted us to prepare this article -- is: Why, of all stars, does Zeta Reticuli seem to fit as the hub of a map that appeared inside a spacecraft that allegedly landed on Earth in 1961? Some of the circumstances surrounding the whole incident are certainly bizarre, but not everything can be written off as coincidence or hallucination. It may be optimistic, on one extreme, to hope that our neighbors are as near as 37 light-years away. For the moment we will be satisfied with considering it an exciting possibility.