Friday, December 18, 2015

Unidentified object - Manjimup, Western Australia - 19 October 1938

Hi readers,

As I copy PDF files of articles in the National Library of Australia's TROVE digitised newspapers collection to my laptop, I quickly scan through the details and try and come up with a mundane explanation for what is being reported in the article. As with today's reports of UAP, perhaps nine out of ten of the reports have such a mundane cause. So, it is with pleasure that I come across something which is not immediately recognisable. Today's post is about one such puzzling report.

Strange object in the sky

Image courtesy TROVE digitised newspapers collection
The article appeared in the Friday 21 October 1938 edition of "The West Australian" newspaper on page 26. It read:

"Strange object in sky.
Observations at Manjimup.
Manjimup Oct 20.

A strange object was seen in the sky about 4.45am yesterday by Mr Andrew Muir of Fernbank, near Manjimup. The object was shaped like a banjo case, the head appearing larger than the moon and the tail short and rounded at the head. In spite of the daylight it was luminous.

The object was first seen a little west of south and about ten degrees above the horizon, and unlike a meteor, it moved slowly eastwards and downwards, until lost to sight.

It was witnessed also by Mrs Charles Reeve from a point several miles from where Mr Muir stood to observe it."

The same text also appeared in the "Daily Mercury" Mackay, Queensland Monday 24 October 1938 page 8 edition, with the header "Luminous object. Seen in WA."

Courtesy of TROVE
The same text also appeared in the:

a. "Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser" dated Monday 24 October 1938 page 9, under a heading "Strange form of Astral Visitor."

Courtesy of TROVE
b. "Sunday Mail" Brisbane, Sunday 23 October 1938 page 5. Headed "WA has Strange Form of Astral Visitor."
Courtesy of TROVE

c. "Western Mail" Perth, Thursday 27 October 1938 page 55.

Courtesy of TROVE
My research notes

1. Manjimup is in Western Australia, at latitude 34 deg 14 min south; longitude 116 deg 8 min east.

2. A check of an Australian gazetteer of 370,000 place names failed to locate Fernbank. However, Scottish researcher Martin Shough located details of a photograph in TROVE dated 21 March 1907, which referred to "Homestead and orchard on the farm of Mr Andrew Muir, Fernbank, near Balbarrup, 21 March 1907" Balbarrup is a short distance north-east of Manjimup. Martin suggests, quite rightly, that this suggests that "Fernbank" was the name of a farm.

3. Historical figure. Martin found records of an Andrew Muir who was born in 1873 at Albany, WA, some 190 kms from Balbarrup, and who died in 1957; with this Andrew Muir being one of three Andrew Muirs buried at Balbarrup.

4. I conducted a search through TROVE to find any other articles than those listed above, which might hold additional information. I found none.

5. What astronomical objects were in the sky at the time? A check of two electronic sky charts revealed that:

a. The Sun was 10 degrees below the eastern horizon,. Sunrise was at 0530hrs that morning (UTC plus 8 hrs.)
b. The planets Venus and Jupiter were below the horizon.
c. The planet Mars was just above the eastern horizon.
d. The Moon was at elevation 18 degrees; azimuth was 16 degrees north of east. Crescent Moon.
e. Looking at the object's position, all that was there were the faint stars of the constellation named Pavo.

6. Did the object move due to the rotation of the sky?  I initially thought no. However, Martin Shough points out that an object at 10 degrees elevation "a little west of south" would indeed move downward and eastward.

7. The "head" of the object is said to have been "larger then the moon" which puts its angular diameter as at least half a degree.

8. To get an idea of the shape of the object, the image below is of a typical case which holds a musical instrument known as a banjo.

9. There was no reported associated noise from the object.

10. It is unfortunate, that we do not have an angular size estimate from Mrs Reeve. If we did, we may be able to get some idea of whether or not the object was closer to Mr Muir or Mrs Reeve. The implication of the facts contained in the article was that it appeared roughly Moon sized to both of them. If this is correct, and as they were several miles apart, and if we assume she also saw it ten degrees above the horizon a little west of south, then the object was a distant (and therefore large) one.

11. Weather details.

The "Daily News" Perth, dated Tuesday 18 October 1938 page 4, provides a state forecast (issued at 12 noon) which includes "Fine generally except for a few light showers in the far westerly winds in the far south-west..." The map shows "showery" for Manjimup. In the "Rain gauging" section, for the 24 hours ending at 8am 18 October, Manjimup received 8 points.

The "Daily News" Perth, dated Wednesday 19 October 1938 page 12, provides a state forecast which includes "Fine generally except for a few showers in the far south-west and south. Cool westerly winds on the south coast..." The map shows "showery" for Manjimup. It received no rain in the 24 hours ending at 8am 19 October. The capital city of WA, Perth's maximum temperature yesterday was 66.9 deg F; and the minimum was 47.3 deg F.

12. One thought as to a mundane cause, given the slow movement (although the duration of Mr Muir's observation is not given); and an object which is moving independent of the rotation of the sky, plus the relatively large angular size and mention of a tail, and being luminous, would be a naked eye comet. However, a check of a list of naked eye comets visible from Australia reveals none for 1938.
A list of Australian naked eye comets
13. In summary, I am at a loss to explain this object in mundane terms.  Scottish researcher Martin Shough suggested that "Perhaps the direction of motion was insignificant. Could it have been a drifting meteor trail?" Has anyone else any thoughts as to cause?

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