From William R. Corliss' Handbook of Unusual Natural Phenomena (1977)
m.v. British Oak. Teneriffe to Monrovia. Captain A. C. Browne. Observers, the Master and Mr. P. M. Edge, Chief Officer.
27th November 1963. A point of light of about 2nd magnitude with an elliptical glow of approx. 3o diameter and concentric circles of light was observed through binoculars at 1925 GMT. It was first seen bearing 230o at 18o altitude and disappeared 4 min. later bearing 190o, altitude 8o. The sky was cloudless and the atmosphere clear.
Position of ship: 24o 27'N, 17o 14'W.
m.v. Ripon. Captain Smith. On passage to Freetown. Observers, the Master and Mr. G. W. Brown, Chief Officer.
27th November 1963. At 1926 GMT an illuminated body was observed bearing 270o, altitude 30o. It appeared at first to have a suffused glow around it, but as the object moved parallel with the ship's course, the glow assumed the definite form of a tight spiral of blue-white light. The spiral expanded to a maximum radius of about 5o with about 12 turns visible at one time when bearing 200o, altitude 20o. The size afterwards diminished until the body faded from sight bearing 155o, altitude 12o, at 1931. As the object moved in azimuth, it also appeared to be gyrating about a centre in an anticlockwise direction and to vary in brilliance. At its brightest the object had a brilliance less than Venus and greater than Altair; its track passed between these two bodies.
The whole phenomenon gave the impression of looking into a conically formed spring and was indeed a most sensational sight. We can only conjecture that it was an artificial satellite 'gone wrong' or passing through a cloud of meteoric dust.
The accompanying sketches show how the phenomenon appeared to the observers. There was a cloudless sky and bright moonlight at the time.
Position of vessel: 10o 5'N, 15o 59'W.
An example in stone.
Another example from a different part of the World.
m.v. Pennyworth. Captain I. Gault. Middlesbrough to Monrovia. Observers, Mr. J. H. Edwards, 2nd Radio Officer, the Master, Mr. J. Nielsen, Chief Officer, Mr. J. MacKenzie, 3rd Officer, Mr. T. Walker, 1st Radio Officer, and the Chief Enfineer.
27th November 1963. At 1900 GMT for approx. 5 min. a bright object having a magnitude greater than any other star or planet was seen in the sky. It appeared to be stationary in the west at an elevation of 40o, for about 2 min. It then moved off rapidly in a SE'ly direction, disappearing about 2 min. later. The bright light from the object radiated outwards, like the ripples from a pebble thrown into a pond; at first in concentric circles, then in a spiral and finally in concentric half-circles. The general impressions of the phenomena seen are shown in the accompanying sketches. The object was definitely not a meteorite, and the course was too erratic for an earth satellite.
Position of ship: 7o 39'N, 14o 13'W.
Note 1. What was seen by the ships was undoubtedly an American rocket, Centaur 2, launched from Cape Kennedy at 1900 GMT on 27th November 1963. The times and positions indicated by the three ships agree very closely with calculated values. The odd appearance cannot be explained precisely but it is no doubt associated with the fact that the rocket when seen was still under power or had very recently been so. (Marine Observer, 34:181-183, 1964)
Note 2. David W. Hughes reports in Nature, 252 p.191 (1974), that the number of radar echoes from meteoroid particles detected in 1963 was a factor of 1.5 to 2 greater than in previous and subsequent years. This was recorded by a number of disparate monitors, ruling out detector problems and indicating a global phenomenon. Also pertinent is the detection by infrasound of several atypically large bolides around this time period:
On Sept. 26 and 27, 1962, two separate rocks about 25 feet and 20 feet wide entered the atmosphere over the Middle East, producing explosions equal to 30-kiloton and 20-kiloton nuclear blasts.
On Aug. 3, 1963, a rock up to 80 feet wide struck south of Africa and produced a blast equal to a one-megaton nuclear explosion, or one million tons of high explosive.
This was reported in the New York Times (January 7, 1997, Tuesday, Late Edition, Section C; Page 1; Column 3) and was classified information until recently. [bobk]