Date: Tue, 16 Feb 2010 07:42:18 -0500
From: Brad Sparks
Subject: Re: October 11, 1958; Laredo, Texas: RADCAT

I got excited when I saw that this was an MIT Lincoln Lab case.  The radar was the FPS-17 space-track fixed-beam radar (likely an upgrade for the XW-1 Diyarbakir, Turkey, radar or the equipment was being prepped for Shemya Island, Alaska, operational in 1960).  The radar-tracked speed for the first track was a whopping 104,000 mph, which would be something of a record for a UFO!  But then the MIT report states it was likely a meteor.

I tried every which way I could to poke holes in the MIT report.  I recalculated and checked numbers.  But this is a highly competent, well thought out report obviously done by a top scientist who was no dummy.  The name on the report is K B Cross. 

Not only can I not find a flaw or a mistake, but I can now extend the MIT analysis and identify a likely meteor candidate and answer some of their questions on the flight path.

The radar beam volume described in the 0.75-second high-speed track is about 8 x 8 nmi high and wide (the report talks about a +/-5 nmi error which would allow for about a 10 x 10 nmi volume but I am calculating from the +/-0.5 deg beamwidths and the numbers can always be adjusted for 10 x 10).  This allows for a maximum descent angle of about 20 degs and a possible variation of up to 13 degs to one side or the other from the azimuth 313 degree beam direction, which is approximately NW.  The beam was apparently fixed in the direction of White Sands/Holloman for the specific purpose of testing it out on our own missiles before being deployed on the then highly classified mission of tracking Soviet missile and space launches.  This classified mission was not stated in the MIT report, which made it seem as if it was just an accident that the radar happened to be pointed towards Whites Sands/Holloman range. 

Hence we have enough data to estimate the possible radiant for a meteor.  It is very close to the Orionid meteor shower radiant.  Orionids are a remnant of Halley's Comet.  If the object was heading from right to left across the radar beam, then its heading was roughly 300 degs (about WNW), at a descent angle of say 20 degs, and thus a velocity of about 125,000 mph (slightly longer path than assuming it was traveling directly away from the radar).  It would have traversed the radar beam beginning at about 68 nmi altitude, about 6 nmi WNW of Holloman AFB, and dropped out of the beam at about 60 nmi in 0.75 second, leaving an ionized train that lasted another 27 seconds or so.  That projects back to a radiant at about 5.3 hours Right Ascension and -13 degs Declination, or about 10 degs away from the nearest Orionid radiant (there is a random distribution or fuzz factor of +/-10 degs in the radiant) for early October.  As I mentioned above, these numbers can be pushed a little bit further with a more detailed error analysis of the radar beam.

Conclusion:  Most likely an Orionid meteor.  I am removing the case (merely a bare listing entry) from my Blue Book Unknowns Catalog