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Have you ever seen the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind? There’s a famous scene where a UFO makes the electronics in a car go haywire. As it so happens, that’s not just a Hollywood invention for the silver screen—there’s real-life precedence. In 1957, dozens of citizens of Levelland, Texas, individually reported seeing a rocket or strange lights that interfered with their vehicles: Engines died, lights cut out. Though the police initially thought the reports were a hoax, they, too, saw the mysterious lights, as they investigated the situation.Project Blue Book, a UFO research group created by the Air Force, was assigned to investigate the case. Their findings? It was an electrical storm and ball lightning that caused the lights and the mechanical malfunctions, despite the fact that there were no reported thunderstorms in the area that night.
The September 19, 1976, incident in Tehran, Iran, started much like many others, with phone calls from concerned citizens reporting a bright light in the sky. An F-4 fighter jet was set out to investigate, but as it neared the object, its instruments blacked out, forcing the pilot to return to base. A second F-4 took its place, and as it neared the unusual light, it achieved radar lock. But then, according to the pilot, the UFO released a glowing object—the pilot assumed it to be some sort of missile headed straight for him. As he prepared to fight back, the pilot experienced malfunctions with his instruments, and he witnessed another bright object released from the UFO that headed straight toward the ground. He safely returned to base, despite the faulty equipment.After the incident, Iran contacted the United States to aid them in an investigation. An unclassified memo by U.S. Air Force section chief Lieutenant Colonel Olin Mooy detailed the events of the night: There are explanations for nearly all of them.
First, the bright light seen by civilians (and possibly the pilots) might have been Jupiter, which was visible in the sky that night. Second, as author Brian Dunning notes in a podcast, the second F-4 jet had a long history of electrical problems, meaning that the instrumentation might have failed regardless of a UFO situation. It also could explain the radar lock—it might simply have been a malfunction. The first F-4, reports Dunning, was never turned in for maintenance following the incident, so there’s no official indication that its instrumentation failed. And finally, as for the “alien missiles,” there was a meteor shower that night, which could easily account for the sightings.