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ALSACAT:

As its name suggests, ALSACAT is my comprehensive catalog of UFO sighting reports in Alsace, the region is the North-East of France, whether they are "explained" or "unexplained".

The ALSACAT catalog is made of case files with a case number, summary, quantitative information (date, location, number of witnesses...), classifications, all sources mentioning the case with their references, a discussion of the case in order to evaluate its causes, and a history of the changes made to the file. A general index and thematic sub-catalogs give access to these Alsatian case files.

Case of Wittenheim, on November 5, 1990:

Case number:

ALSACAT-1990-11-05-WITTENHEIM-1

Summary:

On November 5, 1990, around 07:01 p.m. to 07:02 p.m., the remains of a Russian rocket burned over the sky of France, including over Alsace. Decades later, there are still many ufologists calling it a "UFO flap", as if each testimony was about a different UFO.

Among those who had observed and correctly identified what was happening, was Daniel Karcher, amateur astronomer from Wittenheim and correspondent to Pierre Neirinck, another amateur astronomer specializing precisely in satellite tracking and reentries of artificial and natural space debris.

Daniel Karcher made his observation from Wittenheim it seems, at 07:01 p.m.. He indicates a direction from the west-south-west to east-northeast, an orbital tilt between 51° and 65°, with about 60° culmination in the northwest,

He indicates the passage near the Northern Star at 7:01:15 p.m. at an elevation of 48° +-2°. He saw it first at azimuth 280° at roughly +-10°, and has lost sight of it at the azimuth 65° +-10° degrees and an elevation of 25°.

He gives the angular velocity as 5 degrees per second.

His report contains almost all the details that one would expect from a good astronomy observer, details that are almost always, and expectedly, missing in reports by "ordinary" people.

He faxed his information to his friend Pierre Neirinck that evening, who in his turn faxed it to the SEPRA, the "Service d'Etude des Phénomènes de Rentrées Atmosphérique" ("The Atmospheric Reentries Phenomena Study Department") from the CNES, "Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales" ("National Center for Space Studies") with the correct explanation: a re-entry of space junk, not a meteor; which would have been much faster. However, it will still take a few more days before the SEPRA gave this correct explanation via the media. This regrettable delay will subsequently cause much debate.

The above observation is what is referred to as a "negative" case in ufology; a case in which the witness himself had immediately found a correct trivial explanation. Is it any wonder that the proponents of the "UFO flap of November 5, 1990" totally ignored this report?

Data:

Temporal data:

Date: November 5, 1990
Time: 07:01 p.m.
Duration:
First known report date: November 5, 1990
Reporting delay: Minutes, hours.

Geographical data:

Department: Haut-Rhin
City: Wittenheim
Place: From Wittenheim, phenomenon in the sky.
Latitude: 47.810
Longitude: 7.337
Uncertainty ratio: 2 km

Witnesses data:

Number of alleged witnesses: 1
Number of known witnesses: 1
Number of named witnesses: 1
Witness(es) ages: Adult.
Witness(es) types: Amateur astronomer.

Ufology data:

Reporting channel: Fax to space junk expert Pierre Neirinck.
Type of location: Phenomenon in the sky.
Visibility conditions: Night
UFO observed: N/A
UFO arrival observed: ?
UFO departure observed: Yes
Entities: No
Photographs: No.
Sketch(s) by witness(es): Yes.
Sketch(es) approved by witness(es): Yes.
Witness(es) feelings: ?
Witnesses interpretation: Satellite reentry.

Classifications:

Hynek: ?
ALSACAT: Space junk reentry.

Sources:

[Ref. pn1:] PIERRE NEIRINCK - DANIEL KARCHER:

SATTRACK
Pierre NEIRINCK 117, Digue de Mer Malo-les-Bains

59240 DUNKERQUE

FAX
28291103

5/6 Nov 1990

The intriguing procession of multicolored lights observed at 7 p.m. over Western Europe was characteristic of the disintegration of an artificial satellite.

My colleague Daniel Karcher from Wittenheim observed it and immediately faxed me the following report.

+2=Brightness of the Northern Star
-1=1st magnitude in Vega
-3=Almost as bright as Venus


Magnitude +1
Brilliant well-defined trail
5+
-5
yellow

Trajectory WSW -> ENE
Orbital tilt between 51° and 65°

=more bright than Jupiter
Culmination at about 60° in the NW

Passes by the Northern Star at 180115.21
(07:00"15s p.m. French time.
Elevation 48° +- 2°

Seen azimuth 280 +-10
Max height before the North
Lost Az 65° +- 10 elevation 25°


He confirms that the angular velocity was close to that I observed during the ten reentry followed since 1960, i.e. 5 degrees per second.

It is easy to differentiate a satellite in disintegration from a fireball: the satellite crosses the sky in just over a minute, the fireball takes only 2 to 20 seconds and rarely has a complete trajectory.

The various colors seen by the public are explained by the variety of materials that make up the satellite.

The satellite was about 110 km altitude in the SW of France and 80 km in Germany.

Please fax any report that would be nearly as accurate as the one above, for the identification and altitude calculations.

Pierre Neirinck
(member of the Tracking Committee of the Royal Society
Honorary Director of the Satellite Orbits Group)

[Ref. dn2:] "DERNIERES NOUVELLES D'ALSACE" NEWSPAPER:

Weird

The mysterious lights in the sky...

Meteorite, satellite fall, UFOs ... Scientists put forward several hypotheses.
The National Space Agency launches investigation

But what has happened the sky of Alsace on Monday night? Did a large meteorite disintegrate on re-entering the atmosphere over France? Did a satellite crash on Earth? Or a piece of rocket? A space station? Or... or did aliens (if they exist - and we do not yet have proof of that) want to impress earthlings by an exceptional luminous "show"? Let's be serious. And keep our feet on Earth.

Still, the UFO of Monday, observed in the Alsatian sky and in several European countries, provides a hard time to scientists. While some experts have a priori plausible explanations, others are less certain and are reluctant to rule in favor of one hypothesis. The least that can be said is that the Alsatian testimonies we gathered all day at the DNA are rather puzzling...

The UFO Monday night was a meteorite that exploded on re-entering the atmosphere, said yesterday a spokesman for the Popular observatory of Munich. The object moved from east to west and was followed by a trail of smoke. Scientists await more detailed information on the luminous phenomenon from 25 automatic cameras installed in southern Germany to watch the meteor appearances. In a few days, experts hope to determine the exact trajectory of the object and locate the point of impact where some fragments of the meteorite of Monday could be found. This is the apparently logical and plausible explanation of the strange phenomenon of the other night.

"Passed by a shooting star"

And the observation of a pilot on the Brussels-Frankfurt route would confirm "the German hypothesis". He asserts [that] shortly after 7 p.m. his plane was passed by "a shooting star" that erupted in a dozen pieces, some of which had the glow of the full moon.

But here it is. The return of a meteorite in the atmosphere is a rapid phenomenon that lasts at most a few seconds. And all the evidence that we collected yesterday in the "Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace" - and there were about twenty - reported a slow process that has lasted, for some, twenty seconds, for others, up to two-three minutes.

"I observed the appearance for 15 to 30 seconds," said Jean-Paul Blind of Valff. "I saw the lights above the Mount Sainte-Odile heading to Strasbourg. It was like two large white lights followed by a big trail and flanked of 8 to 10 reddish lights resembling side lights."

"The apparition lasted 30 to 40 seconds, says Jean-Marie Keller of Batzendorf who saw the phenomenon "moving from the southwest to the northwest in the direction of Germany. The speed of the object was controlled, it has not made a sound. The lights of which one was larger were white. At the back there was another headlight that lit and extinguished periodically. And I've seen a dozen other lights..."

"They were three V-shaped objects that came from Saverne and headed for Germany," says Mr. Ferry of Hochfelden. "Behind, there was a fourth light" and the diamond shape was "followed by at least 9 other bright spots. The object flew over the sky for three minutes before disappearing."

A "large sphere"

Even more fantastic, the testimony of Mrs. Clouet, of Neufgrange, who observed Monday night around 7:05 p.m. a "big dark sphere suspended in the sky, covered of many square illuminated portholes like windows. As the sphere was motionless, 6 to 7 luminous balls followed by a trail moved away in the sky. I was very impressed, so was my 7-year-old son Michael, who accompanied me, but I was not afraid..."

For Pierre Neirinck of Dunkirk, member of the Tracking Committee of the British Royal society, the mystery is explained: "The intriguing procession of multicolored lights observed over western Europe was characteristic of the disintegration of an artificial satellite." The report by Mr. Karcher of Wittenheim (see DNA for yesterday) "confirms the dozen decays followed since 1960. It is easy to differentiate a satellite from a meteor: the satellite crosses the sky in a little more than one minute, the fireball does it in 2 to 20 seconds..." After analyzing several witnesses reports, the fall of a satellite or rocket remains is the most plausible explanation of the phenomenon for Mr. Karcher.

F 117 planes?

Other hypotheses have been advanced such as the overflight of France by a patrol of the famous invisible F 117 aircraft that would have been at the origin of UFOs of Belgium in April...

Mrs. Acker, director of the Strasbourg planetarium, sticks, for now, to scientific explanations, while admitting that the slowness of the phenomenon is intriguing. It is the same with Christian Morgenthaler of the association "Lumières dans la nuit" (delegation for UFOs in North Alsace), who aims to collect a maximum of testimonies about this strange phenomenon, in cooperation with SEPRA (Service of study of the phenomena of atmospheric re-entry) of the National Centre for Space Studies (*).

CNES has by the way also announced last night the opening of an investigation into the luminous phenomenon that seems at least strange. At this stage it is not possible to decide on the exact origin of this event, said a statement from CNES. The sky still keeps its mystery. For how long?

Willy BODENMULLER


(*) Christian Morgenthaler, 3, rue des Pierres, 67520 Odratzheim, phone 88 50 64 26.

[Ref. dn3:] "DERNIERES NOUVELLES D'ALSACE" NEWSPAPER:

Space

The mystery of the "fire balls" solved

The last moments of a Russian rocket

A hundred written testimonies and about as many phone calls - this is the balance of our "Operation UFO" after the luminous phenomenon observed by many people in the evening of November 5 in the sky of Alsace. From Mulhouse to Wissembourg our readers mobilized. Witnesses of this unusual appearance played reporters by telling, sometimes with astonishing accuracy, observations often accompanied with sketches and drawings.

We thank them. All of these documents constitutes an exceptional wealth of information that we transmit to the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES). At the Expertise service for atmospheric reentry phenomena (SEPRA) in Toulouse, these "investigations" of our readers will allow to better describe this phenomenon that was due to the fall of a piece of Soviet rocket (see DNA 11/10/90)*)

Obviously, the Martians have not landed on the evening of November 5 and the aliens have not yet attached us to the Galactic Empire - no offense to Rael, "the messenger of aliens", who participated on Tuesday evening in a TF1 channel program devoted to the UFO of November 5 and the movement held a conference Friday night at the Strasbourg Faculty of Arts to "share a capital message for humanity."

Obviously, the phenomenon was not caused by falling and bursting in the atmosphere of a meteorite. The hypothesis put forward a few hours after the event by German astronomers from Munich was therefore wrong. Note here that it was not professional astronomers who supported this view, but the spokesman of a popular observatory of mostly amateurs and people curious about the sky.

However, Daniel Karcher, Wittenheim, who regularly informs our readers about periods of visibility of satellites and space stations, was right by stating on 5 November that the phenomenon was due to the fall of a satellite or the remains of a recently launched rocket. In the absence of precise information from the authorities or the space centers, there was, however, a degree of uncertainty - and many questions.

From Pau to Strasbourg

On Friday, November 9, CNES issued a press release stating that "the object registered 20925/1990/094, the third stage of a Soviet launcher lying on a waiting orbit fell back on November 5 at 19 pm" and crossed France, in its final phase, on a Pau-Strasbourg line. The same day, the newspaper "Bild" provides the same explanation citing US sources. For US experts, the phenomenon took place at 07:06 p.m., however it was observed over Alsace at 07:01 p.m....

Why this difference? According to Mr. Karcher, who calculated the object re-entry trajectory, 07:06 p.m. corresponds to the moment of impact, the moment when the last remnants (if there were any) hit the ground. The third stage would have indeed flown over the Bay of Biscay at an altitude of 110 km then head towards Royan and Nevers. At 07:01 p.m. the object is vertical of St-Dié, a few seconds later it overflew Geispolsheim south of Strasbourg at an altitude of 83 km, a minute later in Nuremberg (indeed the phenomenon has been well observed in Northern Bavaria). At 07:03 p.m., it passes south of Pragues, at 07:05 p.m. north of Kiev to reach at 07:06 p.m. a region located 450 km south of Moscow.

The object, about the size of a bus, was the 3rd floor of a Proton rocket; which was put into orbit on November 3, to carry the communication satellite Gorizont 21. "The object was a long cylinder of 10 to 15 meters with a diameter of 3 to 4 meters weighing a few tons," explained to us the other day Daniel Metzlé, head of press service of the CNES on the sidelines of the symposium on French space policy at the Sorbonne. "Imagine that since the days of Sputnik there are now 7,500 objects that revolve around the Earth, 1,500 are "active". No wonder that sometimes they surprise us by a fire of celestial fireworks. - Multicolored lights balls, sparks, bright streaks etc., disintegrating in the atmosphere as in the evening of November 5.

First, "we saw a white light," writes Mr I. W, from Wahlenheim who distinguishes moments later "two bright spots on both sides of the white light. These two lights are less intense, one changing toward the blue, the other towards the orange... Then follow other white lights (much smaller than the other three) with streaks." When the phenomenon moves away towards Haguenau, so to the northeast, "we see streaks behind the three big balls, yellow rather than white hue... The whole moved without audible noise at the apparent speed of an airplane on runway approach."

Most of our readers were fascinated by the "magical and supernatural beauty" of the show, the "silence" of this "heavenly fireworks"... soon, we may witness again such a display when on next January the Soviet station Salyut 7 falls on Earth. Provided that the trajectory passes over France...

Willy BODENMULLER

(*) The "Lumières dans la nuit" Association (ufo delegation - North Alsace, Mr. Christian Morgenthaler, Odratzheim, phone 88 50 64 26) also communicated to us the summary of their investigations.

Saliout 7 above Alsace

The Salyut 7 station, unmanned, currently orbits the Earth at a 310 km altitude. It will progressively get closer to our planet: its fall in the atmosphere is expected at the end of January. These days, the station is visible like a shining star in the Alsatian sky. Mr. Karcher just communicated to us the hours of the next passes: Sunday 11/18. 05:51 p.m. at 43° above the North horizon; 19 06:06 p.m., 43° N; 20, 06:21 p.m., 53° N; 21, 06:36 p.m. at the zenith; 22, 04:15 p.m., 48° N; 23, 06:48 p.m., 30° west.

[Ref. ze1:] DADID ROSSONI, ERIC MAILLOT, ERIC DEGUILLAUME:

The authors say they are surprised that SEPRA, the signle service of the CNES, did not identify the cause of the observation of 5 November 1990, when it was their mission, while Pierre Neirinck and Daniel Karcher had identified it without difficulty.

They indicate that these two astronomers had sent a fax of the precise astronomical observation to the SEPRA that very night.

[Ref. ra1:] ROBERT ALESSANDRI:

In a message on the 5 November 1990 event, Robert Alessandri indicates that the observation in Wittenheim by Daniel Karcher was "completely ignored by the saucerists like Franck Marie ... They accept all reports, except those from astronomy buffs who recognize an atmospheric reentry!"

Discussion:

On 5 November 1990, one or two minutes after 07:00 p.m., a very commonplace phenomenon occurred, explained, and devoid of any actual strangeness, but it nevertheless started a UFO delirium of some of the French ufologists.

The sightings started with an explosive decay over the Bay of Biscay in France, resulting in combustion fragments seen from afar, and generally, as they approached, seen as a group of three main lights - hence it was called a "triangle" - of large angular size, and followed by trails of smoke and sparks.

Once over land, the thing was seen from different angles and at various distances by people on the ground, which gives a range of quite diverse descriptions.

The thing crossed France following a line approximately from Bordeaux to Strasbourg, in silence, in a straight line without any maneuver, in two to three minutes, reaching Strasbourg at about 07:06 p.m.

There were also sightings reported from the South of England, London, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, but not beyond.

In the evening, several Gendarmerie brigades contacted the National Center for Space Studies to report what people told them. Gendarmes brigades of Angers and Tulle got the chance to see the display themselves. In the evening, the Press service of the armies, SIRPA, confirmed that military pilots had seen something without being able to formally identify it. Near Paris airports of Orly and Roissy, the luminous phenomenon was seen from the control towers. Hundreds or even thousands of civilians reported their sightings to the authorities, the Press and other media.

Radio stations, television channels, newspapers, talk of a UFO, then a meteor, and finally the correct explanation appeared through information given by NASA: it was the entering in the atmosphere of the remains of a Russian Proton rocket launched from the Baikonur space center to put a Gorizont 21 satellite in orbit. Calculations had predicted the fallout of the rocket debris at its 36th orbit, crossing France from the South West to the North East on November 5, 1990 around 07:00 p.m.. SEPRA, then officially in charge of such matters, provided this explanation to news agencies on November 9, 1990.

In November 5, 1990 already, an amateur expert in satellites and space debris impact trajectory calculations, Pierre Neirinck, had seen himself, and had also identified the phenomenon, independently of NASA, as space junk from the Proton rocket.

Any sensible ufologist should have understood what is was from the beginning, given the descriptions, and at least understand thereafter that it was a classical space junk case. But some ufologists refused to hear anything about a rocket and continued to talk and write about it as a "UFO flap", of "400 UFOs" or even "thousands of UFOs", often mixing other, unrelated sightings that were more or less of the same day, sighting who have other explanations. This resulted in the continuing presence of this explained case as massive UFO sightings in some of the UFO literature, and of course this includes observations made in Alsace.

Evaluation:

Space junk reentry.

Sources references:

* = Source is available to me.
? = Source I am told about but could not get so far. Help needed.

File history:

Authoring:

Main author: Patrick Gross
Contributors: None
Reviewers: None
Editor: Patrick Gross

Changes history:

Version: Create/changed by: Date: Description:
0.1 Patrick Gross May 23, 2015 Creation, [pn1], [dn2], [dn3], [ze1], [ra1].
1.0 Patrick Gross May 23, 2015 First published.

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