(taken by Kyle Kuzzort)


By its very definition, a temperature inversion needs to have its reflecting surface pretty much parallel to the ground. If it were to tilt, the air trapped underneath would escape and the reflecting/refracting/lensing surface would no longer exist. Keep this in mind as I explain this next part.

I've always been interested in focussing things whether it be relating to sound passing through a conical-belled trombone (finding the most efficient instrument and mouthpiece), getting the proper music-reading glasses so I could see those little music notes as they fly by (I've had special reading glasses made with a special focal length that enables me to focus on music a particular distance away from me), and last but not least, learning about building and focusing a telescope when I was younger. Perhaps some of you have also thought about this next part.

Years ago I had purchased a telescope kit, built it and took my son out gazing at the stars using a star chart purchased at a planetarium. (a far cry from the pocket GPS gadgets with automatic star-finding . . and telescopes they have today.) The quality scope we eventually bought was much better. I bring this up because back then I discovered how difficult it was to make a telescope that would focus properly and produce a sharp, clear image throughout the various distances you wanted to see up within the heavens. People that built their own scopes could choose from Refractors, Schmidt Cassegrains, Maksutovs, and Newtonian reflectors. They each focussed the light coming in in a different way; some used concave or convex lenses, polished parabolic mirrors, etc.

Mirror making for the Newtonian, probably the most common telescope built by amateur telescope makers, is quite an art form in itself. The primary mirror has to be carefully ground and polished to an extremely accurate shape, usually a paraboloid. Amateurs over the years tested the shape of the mirror with a Foucault tester. It's a painstaking process involving taking a series of measurements, then reducing them and graphing same against an ideal parabolic curve. There are other intricate processes like getting the coating applied to the mirror perfectly smoothly to keep the light from being bent at crazy angles and dispersed as it comes off the mirror, thus distorting the image and diminishing the brightness of same. Any lenses in the scope usually need to be lined up and parallel to each other or the image will be fouled up.

Since the 1950s most mirror makers have the coating applied by a thin-film deposition processes (work that has to be done by a firm specializing in the process). Originally the coatings were aluminum. Modern coatings usually contain aluminum and other compounds.

Additionally, many of us may remember the large mirror on the original Hubble telescope which was misground before it was sent up via rocket. After spending all that money on the project, the darned thing wouldn't focus properly . . . it was devastating to the scientists. Astronauts had to risk their lives going up there to fix it or they would have had to throw the whole thing out. (up/down, whatever)

Now . . . my point in this last four paragraphs is that . . we know that even focusing light through a fixed tube is not the easiest thing in the world. Therefore, just remember what I said in the first paragraph and picture what Campbell seems to be suggesting concerning focussing light through, reflecting it off, or refracting it between various layers of temperature-inversioned air. The lenses or reflecting surfaces in this case are the temperature inversions, _not_ solid, precision lenses, neatly stacked and parallel with each other in a tube, and. . . . it is possible they might or might not be in the same plane, edge to edge, as shown immediately below. (If it were even possible to have inversions grouped like this.)

- - - - - - - - - - . . . . . . . . . - - - - - - - - - - . . . . . . . . .- - - - - - - - - -
reflecting/refracting surfaces
composed of caustic and thermocline

If not stacked edge to edge, perhaps they might be scattered in various places in the sky. (Again, if even possible?)

. . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . - - - - - - - - - -

- - - - - - - - - - . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .. . . . . . . .- - - - - - - - - -

.. . . . . . . . . - - - - - - - - - -

.. . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . .. . . .. . . . - - - - - - - - - -


I am wondering how the light is supposed to go through each lense or bounce from one to the other to wind up with a sharply focused image and retain it over a large horizontal distance? I could possibly be missing something here but, if I am understanding this correctly, it doesn't seem to me it can really happen.

Since it is difficult enough to make a telescope focus properly with light flowing straight down a fixed tube with precision lenses or mirrors, what are the odds of several temperature-inversioned air masses (if they can even exist like this) being able to pass the light between their lenses which are either edge on edge to each other or spread out in the sky (or even stacked) and amplify the image powerfully enough to create a hard return on a radar scope that could pass for a solid vehicle in this manner, let alone one that would last for any length of time? The odds this could happen are probably a gazillion to one. It seems to me it is most likely impossible. The light can't go through one lense, bend to the right, left (or any side) and then pop up through or reflect/refract through, down or off the next temperature inversion, whether from the ground or above, and still come out amplified and yet continuously, solidly focused.

Therefore, I do have a problem with this particular point Steuart has made regarding the Kenneth Arnold sighting. If someone says it's not impossible for light to jump from one temperature inversion to another, creating solid images which would fool a person into thinking they were real objects, I would like to know exactly how. Then I'd like to see if the majority of atmospheric scientists out there would agree with this reasoning and cite both how and when it was proven and when this was reconfirmed by other scientists.

So folks, let's hear from you. Is it really possible, or is this particular portion of what Campbell said regarding Arnold's sighting just an accidental misstatement?

Click here to E-mail me.

Jerry Cohen


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