Are we alone?


EXTRATERRESTRIAL INTELLIGENCE:Eamonn Ansbro believes we receive regular visits from UFOs, and he claims he can pinpoint where and when they will appear. FIONOLA MEREDITHmeets the astronomer at the research-grade observatory he has built in Co Roscommon

YOU GET THE sense that astronomer Eamonn Ansbro is a man weary of being ridiculed. He does not want to be regarded as a kook, an eccentric, part of a wild-eyed, credulous band of hysterics. He is a serious man, a scientist, and he speaks quietly, with down-to-earth conviction. But what he has to say is deeply controversial, leaving him shunned by mainstream science. Ansbro believes that extra-terrestrial intelligence exists, and that surveillance spaceships regularly visit Earth, travelling on specially programmed orbital tracks.

Governments are aware of these UFOs, he says, but are helpless to intervene. Most challengingly of all, Ansbro claims that, using a theory developed by the British aeronautical engineer Roy Dutton, he can predict where and when UFOs will appear, with 80 per cent accuracy or more. “They are not a million miles away,” announces Ansbro. “They are here in our own backyard.”

Ansbro lives with his wife Catherine on a remote, windswept hillside near Boyle in Co Roscommon, where the skies are large, clear and unpolluted, and Eamonn can get on with his work undisturbed.

Tucked away down a lane, their house looks unremarkable, until you notice the 360-degree sky-scanning cameras mounted on the roof, monitoring the heavens for any unusual activity. Out in the back garden, among the daffodils, and watched over by the couple’s sheep, is Ansbro’s research-grade astronomical observatory: two large robotic telescopes and a range of advanced optical equipment are housed in a series of corrugated iron sheds and containers. This is a home where the solar system is under constant surveillance, where interstellar probes and the limits of astrophysics are the stuff of everyday conversation.

Ansbro chose Boyle as the site for his observatory precisely because there have been so many sightings of UFOs – or Anomalous Observational Phenomena, as Ansbro prefers to call them – in the surrounding area. “Serious people run screaming from the term UFO, it really has become debased,” he says with a wry smile.

He claims that the town commissioner first invited him to Boyle in the mid-1990s to investigate the odd things that local people had apparently witnessed in the night sky. Eighty or 90 residents queued up to describe what they had seen. One couple, both in their 20s, told Ansbro that they had noticed what they first assumed to be a lorry sitting in the middle of a field, and were shocked to see it suddenly start rising up into the air.

Another man, who lives at the edge of Lough Key – by all accounts something of a UFO hotspot – was out on the forested eastern shore of the lake with some friends, just as dusk was falling, one evening in October. Using a pair of binoculars, he says he saw something the size and shape of a bus moving through the sky at roughly double the height of the trees. The man’s two friends took fright and legged it, but he stayed and watched the craft slowly descend towards the lake.

Strange tales indeed. But where is the proof? Ansbro acknowledges that it is vital to begin from a position of scepticism, but – to use the classic X-Files terminology – he evidently “wants to believe”. He insists that there is “compelling documentation” that physical objects, with flight characteristics not yet achievable by known technology, are being routinely reported in our skies. “There have been 3,600 military and commercial aircraft encounters worldwide, most cases corroborated with radar and multiple witnesses both on the ground and in the air. There are over 4,000 landing-trace cases where these UFOs have left physical evidence. There are numerous daytime and night-time photographs of clearly non-human constructs from all over the world; files and video evaluated and deemed authentic by competent experts in optical physics and related fields.”

Ansbro says that these reports often come from exceptionally qualified and unbiased first-hand observers such as airline crews, police officers and military pilots; they aren’t spurious friend-of-a-friend accounts, or the kind of stories that begin, “there was this guy . . .”. As far as he is concerned, they are credible, and worthy of further serious-minded scientific research.

Ansbro first became interested in unexplained flying objects in 1990, when Hermann van Bellingham, an astronomer at Schull Planetarium, mentioned that the planetarium had been receiving phone calls about odd lights in the sky. With his background in meteorology, Ansbro was intrigued. “Restaurateurs, solicitors, farmers – all kinds of people had been phoning in. Over the course of 12 months, I met all of them. I was totally confused by their stories. They just didn’t fit. There were multiple sightings of balls of light, and disc-shaped objects. There was nothing in meteorology or physics that could explain it. I became convinced that we were dealing with something strange that did not fit into our paradigms.”

Ansbro says some people who witnessed these “constructs” found it difficult to cope with what they had seen. “There was one case that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It happened in July 1993 and it concerned two families living about a mile apart in remote west Cork. In one house, a man woke up one morning and found himself lying on top of the bed. The door was open and the room was covered with stones. He knew something extraordinary had happened.

“He went to his sister’s house a mile away and told her what had occurred. His sister then told him that she had got up to go to the bathroom in the night, and had glanced out of the window. She saw a disc shape hovering above her brother’s house. She got her two teenage children out of bed, and they witnessed the disc too.”

Ansbro says the encounter profoundly shocked both families. “It really challenged their whole world view. It affects the whole notion of our existence that we are not alone.”

But Ansbro is ploughing a fairly solitary furrow. He is frustrated that so many mainstream scientists in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (Seti) project refuse to see his work as legitimate. He says that conventional Seti strategies, focusing on distant stars, and working on the basis that other civilizations use an advanced technology that is nonetheless similar to our own, is a logically flawed approach that – despite more than 40 years of effort – has yielded no data. “It’s like trying to find an Italian restaurant at the end of the galaxy – it’s just not going to happen,” Ansbro says impatiently. Instead, he advocates a programme of “rigorous and coordinated Setv [Search for extra-terrestrial visitation] research”, to test the numerous reports of near-Earth visitations.

Putting it bluntly, few people seem to be listening. Presenting his case at a Seti conference in the US, Ansbro was resoundingly snubbed. In his own words, his views “caused ructions”. Fellow scientists stormed out of the room, and Eamonn and Catherine were rather pointedly not invited to the conference dinner. But Ansbro is used to these kinds of reactions. He quotes a line from the 1994 Harrison Ford film, Clear and Present Danger: “I’m afraid if I dig any deeper no one is going to like what I find.”

It’s impossible to tell whether Eamonn Ansbro is a genius pioneer or a deluded maverick. Even he admits that no one knows for sure what the UFOs he has spent decades chasing, recording and researching are. But whatever the truth, Ansbro insists that they present “tangible, mocking proof that the universe is a much stranger place than mankind wants to accept”. In the meantime, the sky-scanning cameras in Co Roscommon maintain their lonely vigil.