The Zeta Reticuli Incident
Astronomy, December, 1974
A faint pair of stars, 220 trillion miles away, has been tentatively identified as the "home base" of intelligent extraterrestrials who allegedly visited Earth in 1961. This hypothesis is based on a strange, almost bizarre series of events mixing astronomical research with hypnosis, amnesia, and alien humanoid creatures. The two stars are known as Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli, or together as simply Zeta Reticuli. They are each fifth magnitude stars - barely visible to the unaided eye - located in the obscure souther constellation Reticulum. This southerly sky location makes Zeta Reticuli invisible to observers north of Mexico City's latitude. The weird circumstances that we have dubbed "The Zeta Reticuli Incident" sound like they come straight from the UFO pages in one of those tabloids sold in every supermarket. But this is much more than a retelling of a famous UFO incident; it's an astronomical detective story that at times hovers on that hazy line that separates science from fiction. It all started this way:
The date is Sept. 19, 1961. A middle aged New Hampshire couple, Betty and Barney Hill, are driving home from a short vacation in Canada. It's dark, with the moon and stars illuminating the wooded landscape along U.S. Route 3 in central New Hampshire. The Hills' curiosity is aroused when a bright "star" seems to move in an irregular pattern. They stop the car for a better view. The object moves closer, and its disklike shape becomes evident. Barney grabs his binoculars from the car seat and steps out. He walks into a field to get a closer look, focuses the binoculars, and sees the object plainly. It has windows - and behind the windows, looking directly at him are... humanoid creatures! Terrified, Barney stumbles back to the car, throws it into first gear and roars off. But for some reason he turns down a side road where five of the humanoids are standing on the road. Apparently unable to control their actions, Betty and Barney are easily taken back to the ship by the humanoids. While inside they are physically examined, and one of the humanoids communicates to Betty. After the examination she asks him where they are from. In response he shows her a three-dimensional map with various sized dots and lines on it. "Where are you on the map?" the humanoid asks Betty. She doesn't know, so the subject is dropped. Betty and Barney are returned unharmed to their car. They are told they will forget the abduction portion of the incident. The ship rises, and then hurtles out of sight. The couple continue their journey home oblivious of the abduction.
But the Hills are troubled by unexplained dreams and anxiety about two hours of their trip that they can't account for. Betty, a social worker, asks advice from a psychiatrist friend. He suggests that the memory of that time will be gradually restored over the next few months - but it never is. Two years after the incident, the couple are still bothered by the missing two hours, and Barney's ulcers are acting up. A Boston psychiatrist, Benjamin Simon, is recommended, and after several months of weekly hypnosis sessions the bizarre events of that night in 1961 are revealed. A short time later a UFO group leaks a distorted version of the story to the press and the whole thing blows up. The Hills reluctantly disclose the entire story. Can we take this dramatic scenario seriously? Did this incredible contact with aliens actually occur or is it some kind of hallucination that affected both Barney and Betty Hill? The complete account of the psychiatric examination from which the details of the event emerged is related in John G. Fuller's 'The Interrupted Journey' (Dial Press, 1966), where we read that after the extensive psychiatric examination, Simon concluded that the Hills were not fabricating the story. The most likely possibilities seem to be: (a) the experience actually happened, or (b) some perceptive and illusory misinterpretations occurred in relationship to some real event. There are other cases of alleged abductions by extraterrestrial humanoids. The unique aspect of the Hills' abduction is that they remembered virtually nothing of the incident.
Intrigued by the Hills' experience, J. Allen Hynek, chairman of the department of astronomy at Northwestern University, decided to investigate. Hynek described how the Hills recalled the details of their encounter in his book, 'The UFO Experience' (Henry Regnery Company, 1972): "Under repeated hypnosis they independently revealed what had supposedly happened. The two stories agreed in considerable detail, although neither Betty nor Barney was privy to what the other had said under hypnosis until much later. Under hypnosis they stated that they had been taken separately aboard the craft, treated well by the occupants - rather as humans might treat experimental animals - and then released after having been given the hypnotic suggestion that they would remember nothing of that particular experience. The method of their release supposedly accounted for the amnesia, which was apparently broken only by counterhypnosis." A number of scientists, including Hynek, have discussed this incident at length with Barney and Betty Hill and have questioned them under hypnosis. They concur with Simon's belief that there seems to be no evidence of outright fabrication or lying. One would also wonder what Betty, who has a master's degree in social work and is a supervisor in the New Hampshire Welfare Department, and Barney, who was on the governor of New Hampshire's Civil Rights Commission, would have to gain by a hoax? Although the Hills didn't, several people have lost their jobs after being associated with similarly unusual publicity.
Stanton T. Friedman, a nuclear physicist and the nation's only space scientist devoting full time to researching the UFO phenomenon, has spent many hours in conversation with the Hills. "By no stretch of the imagination could anyone who knows them conclude that they were nuts," he emphasizes. So the experience remains a fascinating story despite the absence of proof that it actually happened. Anyway - that's where things were in 1966 when Marjorie Fish, an Ohio schoolteacher, amateur astronomer and member of Mensa, became involved. She wondered if the objects shown on the map that Betty Hill allegedly observed inside the vehicle might represent some actual pattern of celestial objects. To get more information about the map she decided to visit Betty Hill in the summer of 1969. (Barney Hill died in early 1969.) Here is Ms. Fish's account of that meeting: "On Aug.4, 1969, Betty Hill discussed the star map with me. Betty explained that she drew the map in 1964 under posthypnotic suggestion. It was to be drawn only if she could remember it accurately, and she was not to pay attention to what she was drawing - which puts it in the realm of automatic drawing. This is a way of getting at repressed or forgotten material and can result in unusual accuracy. She made two erasures showing her conscious mind took control part of the time. "Betty described the map as three-dimensional, like looking through a window. The stars were tinted and glowed. The map material was flat and thin (not a model), and there were no noticeable lenticular lines like one of our three-dimensional processes. (It sounds very much like a reflective hologram.) Betty did not shift her position while viewing it, so we cannot tell if it would give the same three-dimensional view from all positions or if it would be completely three-dimensional. Betty estimated the map was approximately three feet wide and two feet high with the pattern covering most of the map. She was standing about three feet away from it. She said there were many other stars on the map but she only (apparently) was able to specifically recall the prominent ones connected by lines and a small distinctive triangle off to the left. There was no concentration of stars to indicate the Milky Way (galactic plane) suggesting that if it represented reality, it probably only contained local stars. There were no grid lines."