What We Know and How We Know It, Part 4
What We Know: Betty and Barney misidentified the moon as a flying saucer.
How we know it: A few minutes after stopping at the foot of Cannon Mountain and about a mile and a half south of the place where Betty and Barney observed their UFO and the lights on the tramway (which we now know was the beacon on the lookout tower on Cannon Mountain and the tramway), the UFO vanished behind the mountain at the same moment the tramway station lights vanished. Betty supposed that the tramway lights had been suddenly switched off, but, in fact, they were hidden at this point by the shoulder of the mountain, as was the beacon. The Hills supposed their UFO was actually flying and thus had flown to a different location. But where had it flown to? Moments later, as they passed the south edge of the cliff where the Old Man of the Mountain rock formation was located and they had a clear view of the western sky, they saw their flying saucer again, this time as a red-orange glowing orb the size of a dinner plate.
That is to say, they looked in the direction of moon set, and saw something that looked just like the setting moon.
Some may object that the moon is not, in fact, the size of a dinner plate. Due to the well-known Moon Illusion (an optical illusion that has been noted and described since antiquity—Google it) in which the moon looks larger the nearer it gets to the horizon, the setting moon can certainly appear to be the size of a dinner plate. A dinner plate is nothing: It can appear to be the size of a wagon wheel.
Why were the Hills unable to recognize the moon, an object they were perfectly familiar with and had been seeing all their lives? A) They were heavily fatigued, and B) they were scared out of their wits.
The Hills expected to see a flying saucer, so they perceived one, so they remembered one. We, knowing that it was really the moon, can calculate from the known time of moon set that they had already lost at least 30 minutes and possibly an hour of the famous missing two hours in their interrupted journey, long before their supposed abduction. Nor is this loss of time surprising: they had stopped at various places along the road to walk the dog and to observe the mysterious (to them) light in the sky, and they reported deliberately driving slowly in order to continue to observe that light during portions of their trip.