A fall of web like material near Goulburn New South Wales (NSW) on Monday 4 May 2015 allowed me to revisit a mystery that has haunted me since 1969 - did I interact with UFO related "angel hair" back then at Grafton, my old home town, in the northern rivers district of NSW?
"Angel hair" has been adopted somewhat carelessly as a catch all term for strange falls of web like material that behave in apparently anomalous ways, particularly in connection with UFO events. The usage has earlier origins, but for my purposes I will restrict my discussion to the adoption of the term "angel hair" into UFO lore.
What got me interested in the Goulburn area fall was the chance to carefully assess the nature of the fall, the indication that some of the material may have "disappeared", and to undertake some experiments with the material to see if it at all replicated what I had experienced back in 1969.
From my report:
Report on possible spider web fall (or
“angel hair”?) near Goulburn NSW on Monday 4 May 2015
Prepared by Bill Chalker,
I received an email from Mariana Flynn,
president of UFO Research NSW re “Phone call about “angel hair”" on 4 May 2015:
had a phone call this morning from a fellow called Ian Watson in
Goulburn. When he went outside today the whole area was covered in what
looked like angel hair. To him it looked like more than spider webs. It was all
over the washing line as he hung out washing and when he looked up at the sun,
he noticed a lot of it floating a good 100 metres up in the sky….some of it like
clumps of cotton and others like long thick strands. He said the ants and the
birds seemed hyperactive. He did also notice lots of spiders on his roof
and in his garden but he could not equate that with the amount of fluff
in the air. Some of it landed like bundles of cotton fluff on the ground.
you give me your opinion? I know you have dealt with angel hair before.
such a large quantity of spider webbing be seen in one location? What should
the man do? Collect some of it and freeze it?
Because of my long time interest in UFOs
and possible reports of “angel hair” (see below) I responded immediately:
Watson of Goulburn: sounds like he may have witnessed an impressive
display of nature. Given he saw lots of spiders on his roof, they well
have been spiderlings, young spiders, of the few species that practice web
ballooning. They are often called ballooning spiders. The
spiderlings scatter pretty quickly as riding the web on air currents is they
way of getting about and migrating long distances. If the web material was
unstable and starts to disappear get some of it into a zip lock plastic bag,
put that inside a clean screw top hermetic sealed plastic or glass container.
Pop that inside a large sealable bag, then put that in the freezer.
Video the contents before it goes in to compare qualitatively and quantitatively
with what comes out.
though it sounds like ballooning spider webs did he video it and could I get
his number if he has supplied it. I'm fascinated by this stuff, but of
course would be much more fascinated if it was "angel hair."
I contacted Mariana directly and secured
Ian Watson’s phone number.
I called him and he proved to be very
helpful and interested, irrespective of whether the incident was prosaic or
Based on the information he supplied me
during early evening 4 May, I advised him that I felt that it was most likely a
fall of spiders web due to spiderling (baby spiders) ballooning activity. As
there a only a few primitive spiders (mygalomorphae), but many more modern
spiders (araneomorphae) practice ballooning, I felt it was more likely that it
was due to modern spider activity. He
thought they were huntsman type, but the photo supplied, while obscure on
critical identifying points (underside
and 8 eye format) suggested either large sac spiders or wolf spiders
approximately 21 mm length. Because they
were seen in large numbers and he had young children, I advised him that both
are capable of nasty bits but they were not lethal. Given they had got under eves he was
planning to do some safe pest control activities.
I confirmed to him that the extensive
webbing he observed was most likely due to a very large aerial migration event.
From my preliminary phone call interview I
ascertained the following information:
Ian Watson and his family live on a 500 acre farm on Gurrundah Road,
near Goulburn, NSW (-34.745782, 149.600703) location referred to as Mummel, but
is approx. 7 km west of Goulburn)
Monday 4 May 2015 was the first day of
bright sunshine after about a week of rain and overcast weather. He reported a light breeze from about the
west or WSW but emphasized this was only
an estimate (Weather details for Goulburn from BOM: 9 am – approx. 6km/hr from
WNW temp. 10 degrees C relative humidity 99% 8/8 cloud cover & 3 pm approx.
13 km/hr from NW temp. 21.2 degrees C relative humidity 51% 1/8 cloud cover)
Around 8.30 am Ian noted a lot of bird
agitation, lot more bird singing, agitated parrot calling, and what seemed like
huge numbers of starlings in agitated motions (possible murmuration activity?). Ants were observed in very agitated
swarms. It was a sunny morning. He put out a load of washing on the clothes -line.
Around 11.30 – noon, he was about to put
out another load of washing when he was stunned to see very extensive amounts
of what seemed to be spiders web everywhere, over the washing, house, car,
ground and in the air. Most seemed to be
very fine spiders web, but some seemed to be more distinctively thicker and
like small strands of cotton. Much of it
seemed up around 20 to 30 feet in the air, and he was also able to make out a
lot up much higher floating in the air.
Much of the finer material was in long.
The apparent rough ratio of more obviously
spiders web to the “cotton like” material was about 50:2, but it was the
“cotton-like” material that intrigued him. 2 pieces about 3 to 4 inches long
fell into his hand. He held this material in his hand for about 20 to 30 seconds, quickly examining it and handled it by squeezing it and rolling it between his fingers. To his excited gaze it appeared to "disintegrate", totally disappearing.
Thoroughly intrigued he realised just inside the house he had some zip lock plastic bags. He used one of these to secure a further sample of what he took to be the coarser "cotton like" material.
He then started checking the Internet for information on unusual web falls and came across material on a possible UFO connection. Although he had not seen any unusual aerial object in association with this fall of material he thought it was interesting enough to report it to a UFO group, in this case UFO Research (NSW), specifically its president Mariana Flynn.
Based on the descriptions of the circumstances of the fall from Ian Watson, who I felt was a careful and thoughtful observer, I felt that what he described to me was a spiders web fall.
There was some possible evidence of other "cotton" like material, but this was described as present at the rate of 50:2. It was this material that produced the only really oddity, namely the witness described rubbing one small bit within his thumb & fingers, and felt albeit somewhat vaguely, that the small piece disappeared. And yet he later secured what he thought was an identical bit that fell onto his open hand - "cotton" like again - this remained "stable" and he was near his laundry and there was an available zip lock bag. He popped it into this and it remained unchanged.
Photo courtesy of Ian Watson
This fell way short of the apparent sublimation I witnessed back in 1969, and was insufficient in clarity to convince me that there was anything strange about the fall. The photos of the piece show that it is apparently multi stranded, rather than a thick "cotton like" trend. I was inclined to think the witness was uncertain on the element of "disappearance."
Ian Watson was very helpful and interested in assisting in clarifying the matter. He followed my instructions about packaging up the sample to increase the quality of a possible airtight seal, and forwarded it to me by post. I had instructed him to place the bag with the material, inside another zip bag and place this between 2 sheets of cardboard.
Photo courtesy of Ian Watson
In the interim the photos and discussion exchanged between Ian and Ian further convinced me that we were dealing with a spectacular example of nature in action - namely the "gossamer" webbing and spider ballooning activity, that enables spiders to relocate long distances through the area. While this is relatively common, what is less common it the very large and massive "migrations" and widespread dense falls.
Photos courtesy of Ian Watson
By the time I've received the Goulburn sample and initially evaluated that it appeared to be quite stable, I then undertook some videoed experiments with a subset sample to evaluate stability and whether I could reproduce what the witness described - disappearance. This experiment did not confirm that it was unstable. I still have both samples - the balance of the original and the subset I experimented with, to replicate what the witness reported, albeit, vaguely.
Video image grabs from my experiments with the sample:
I was, of course, also out to try to replicate my own 1969 experience. It certainly didn't replicate my 1969 experience, but rubbing it between the fingers like the witness reported, did ball up the small sample. Here I suspect he ball it up and may have lost sight of the small sample, "disappearing" not via physical disappearance, but from diminishing in length etc, maybe blowing away, as it was harder to see. In my 1969 experience, I had a sizeable balled up sample in my hand and I was intently looking at it, without taking my eyes of it, and it faded away on the palm of my hand. That I found astonishing, because as I had taken to be a fall of ballooning spiders web I was expecting the web to hang about, just get a bit smaller thru balling up etc. Hence the run for my nearby friends place looking for a sample jar.
I have tried this experiment with spiders web in the period from 1969 to now many times with same results, but not often in the context of a web fall where "disappearance" was reported, even if it was vague and uncertain.
In this context I was certainly grateful to get this chance to do the experiment again with the May 2015 Goulburn fall material and to have such a cooperative witness, namely Ian Watson, who all along was intrigued, irrespective of whether it was a striking example of nature in action or less likely something potentially exotic.
I communicated these results to Ian Watson, Mariana Flynn and to Keith Basterfield who has undertaken cataloguing activity and research into these sorts of falls. Keith communicated these results to media in Goulburn, who ran a story, which in turn generated a very widespread media pickup around the world, particularly via the Internet. See Keith reports here
Here is my email reply to Ian Watson:
I received the sample and have had a chance to look at it. I feel certain that it is spiders web. Once I established that the sample seemed pretty stable I separated a relatively small part to undertake a further stability experiment, both to attempt to replicate the indication to you that the "cotton" stuff may have disappeared and also whether I could replicate my own sublimation observations I had in 1969.
You indicated that when you rubbed the first strand between your fingers it seemed to disappear. When I did this and videoed it, I found that it simply balled up a bit, got a little difficult to see, because of compaction etc but it did not disappear. So I was left wondering if the disappearance you observed was more of a case of balling up and compaction, making it difficult to see, and then losing sight of the material in the handling?
In my case back in 1969 at Grafton I made the assumption that it was ballooning spiders web I was looking at. There was so much there that I was able to roll up a fair bit into a ball and it was while I was staring intently at it in my hand it appeared to gas from solid web like material to nothing, that from solid, to presumably gas. In chemistry that is referred to as sublimation. As soon as I made that clear observation I tore of to get a sample jar to preserve what did not behave like spiders web.
I am grateful to you for the opportunity to examine the sample and learn from you about the details of the fall.
I would welcome your thoughts on the web disappearance. Does my suggestion fit with a possible explanation for what you observed.
The thicker nature of the material you described as "cotton" like, appears to be the result of multi-filaments of the finer web strands you also observed.
I think bottom line you have witnessed a wonderful display of nature - spiderlings (young spiders) using one of their amazing ways of getting about - in this case web ballooning.
Photo courtesy of Ian Watson
Given that Ian had a young family and he observed a lot of spiders at the time, and based on his descriptions and the one photo he sent to me of the spiders involved (unfortunately not clear in some critical identifying aspects), I told him the possible species may have a painful bite, but were not known to be lethally toxic and that caution and possible pest control activities might be required. He described lots of spider going under the house eves and potentially into the roof cavity. He was already planning the pest control activity. I would generally let the spiders carry on and move on, but with young kids there was a possible safety factor to consider.
In response to Keith's media activities I wrote:
You have certainly got the media interested. Pity they are now labelling spider web falls as "angel hair" where I would reserve it for a much rarer group of events. Media can't seem to help themselves adding flourishes like "add this to the list of terrifying creatures" in Australia, when its a global natural phenomena - spiders web falls. Plus one has you putting forth the ET was here hypothesis, when you weren't. Overall all though people may take from this the spiders do rain from the sky and that the web falls are called "angel hair." The latter is part of the message I wish they wouldn't get and that they might make a distinction, but clearly not from this publicity. At least the curious might read further and stumble upon better research pieces such as your catalogue review etc
The second season of the "Close Encounters" series made by Newroad media in Toronto included a segment on the famous Oloron France "flying saucer-angel hair" case from 1952. I was involved with Gildas Bourdais in this recreation.
A brief account of the 1952 Oloron & Gaillac event:
On October 17, residents at Oloron saw a long
narrow cylinder in the sky tilted at a 45 degree angle and traveling slowly in
a south-west direction. What looked like
“puffs of white smoke,” appeared to be coming from the top of the
cylinder. Ahead of the cylinder were
about 30 objects which looked like red balls with yellow rings around
them. They appeared to travel in pairs,
often in “short, swift zigzags.” When the pairs of “saucers” moved apart, “they
seemed to be connected by a whitish trail, like an electric arc. All these strange objects left long trails
which disintegrated and drifted slowly groundwards. For many hours afterwards trees, telephone
wire and the roofs of houses could be seen festooned with the remains.” It was the behaviour of this material when
handled that amazed locals, including school science staff. When rolled up it became gelatinous,
vapourise and disappear. This
sublimation process was strikingly attested by many locals. Interestingly one of the Oloron witnesses was
the school local headmaster Yves Prigent who had been trained in meteorology.
Then on October 27 the amazing events were played
out again at the town of Gaillac. This
time apart from the cylinder there were about 20 “saucers.” This time they seemed to come down to a much
lower altitude, estimated to be about 300 to 400 metres. They were observed for
about 20 minutes before the cylinder and “saucers” disappeared over the horizon. “Masses of white threads” again began to fall
and once again the sublimation effect was reported. Unfortunately no one at either Oloron or
Gaillac managed to try to preserve the material in a sealed container or even
the sublimating gas phase. The suggestion that the Oloron and Gaillac
spectacles could be explained away as merely airborne spider web seems out of
courtesy of Gildas Bourdais
My own experience at Grafton on 30 August 1969:
Mid afternoon on found me relaxing on a surfboard in the middle of the
Clarence River. My reverie was
interrupted when I noticed streams of fine white filament coming down over the
river. I was immediately fascinated as this was a great opportunity to directly
sample what I took to be a good example of a fascinating natural
took the streams to be the floating web of migratory balloon spiders. I also knew that in UFO lore exotic material
of a similar appearance was occasionally linked to UFOs - namely "angel
hair" - thought by some researchers to be a by product of whatever strange
processes powered flying saucers. So
that afternoon I paddled over to the riverbank where large amounts of this
"spider web" were coming down.
I thought that getting a good look at this stuff and keeping samples
would be a handy resource or a calibration for the unlikely prospect of coming
across alleged UFO related "angel hair" - an exotic item of UFO
What I was not prepared for was the improbable. There in my hands was material that did not
quite fit into the migratory spider web category. There were no tell-tale baby spiders. As the baby spiders can quickly detach
themselves from the web, the absence of spiders did not in itself intrigue
me. What followed did. I began rolling up a copious amount of the
material in my hands. The filaments
diminished in size (not too unusual given the viscous changes that can occur in
those conditions, particularly with the possible addition of water from my
hands), and then the material eventually dissipated into nothing visible and
leaving no trace. It gave the impression of rapid sublimation
from solid to gas, but no vapours or odour was noticed. The properties of
spider’s web are well known, and apparently disappearing to touch is not one of
With the realisation that that I may be dealing with something
exotic I raced to a nearby friend’s residence to get some sample jars. The fall of filaments had been quite profuse
and much of it had come down along the riverbank. When I returned a few minutes later there
was none in evidence. While only a very
light breeze was apparent, the topography was such that spiders web should have
been still in great profusion. I even
entered the water and investigated the riverbank for a considerable distance in
the direction of apparent travel. There
was no trace of the filament fall. The
material did not seem to be spider’s web.
So called "angel hair" had the reported characteristic of
quickly disappearing. Was this the
apocryphal "angel hair" - the "manna" of the saucers!
I subsequently found out that at the same time, a number of Grafton
people, including my own parents, had seen a possible UFO, described by some as
an elongated white mass", traveling in a trajectory that would have passed
over my river position but in a direction at right angles to the aerial flow of
material I had witnessed. Perhaps the
"UFO" may have been a more compacted mass of the filaments I had seen
traveling in a different direction? I
have since wondered if the “UFO” was even connected with what I saw at low
height above the riverbank. I did some
checking and found that there may have been a HIBAL Ashcan high altitude
balloon launched the day before from Wilcannia.
It may have also been seen at Kyogle, as reports were also made on the
same day or the following day. This may
suggest that the “elongated white mass” could be explainable. What I handled – the web like material that
appeared to sublimate, cannot be as easily explained. While tantalising the experience with this
strange material was ultimately frustrating.
I had it right there in my own hands.
I had one other "close encounter" after the fact with UFO related "angel hair".
“ANGEL HAIR” UFO DISPLAY OVER QUIRINDI
The UFO mystery often delivers great déjà vu moments particularly
for those who are caught up in the seductive embrace of the alien sirens in
deep and compelling ways. One of those
moments came when I learnt of an intriguing event that occurred at the northern
NSW town of Quirindi. Here was a UFO
display strikingly reminiscent of the extraordinary events played out at
Gaillac and Oloron, France, in October 1952.
When two “dumbbell” type cylinders and many smaller spheres along
with falls of “angel hair” type material were seen over the outskirts of
Quirindi on 10 August 1998 by local woman Eunice Stansfield, her husband and daughter
and they reported they had preserved a very small amount of it I was very
excited at the possibilities of examining a situation like my 1969 experience, and even more so like the classic 1952 Oloron-Gaillac events.
29 years I had the opportunity to examine material that might be identical to
my own experience from a local event that in fact better approximated the
extraordinary events that occurred back in 1952 at Oloron and Gaillac in
France. Eunice Stansfield had forwarded
to Sydney area researcher Moira McGhee of the Independent Network of UFO
researchers (INUFOR) the sample in a yoghurt container sealed with cardboard
glad wrap and a rubber band. While this
sounded far less than ideal I was prepared to use my chemistry background to
examine the material and see if it was worthwhile to undertake further
extensive testing. I received the sample
on 15 August.
Critical to my investigation and analysis was the chain of evidence
and the nature of the sampling. I spoke
to Mrs. Stansfield a few days later to get a clearer picture of the
circumstances of the sampling. She said
that she had originally placed 2 strands of the material each about a metre
long into the container with a piece of glad wrap over the top. Because it appeared to become smaller in
size, apparently evaporating or sublimating, Mrs. Stansfield went outside a few
hours after the aerial objects had disappeared to see if any of the white
fibrous material was still around. She
found what she thought was some of the material, however it was no longer
generally evident around the area as it had been immediately in the wake of the
UFO event. Nevertheless she placed this
in the container. The original sample
was apparently nearly gone. This did not
sound very promising in terms of whether any of the original material was still
in evidence when it came to me. Still I
conducted a series of examination and sampling protocols in case I was dealing
with an unstable material that may sublimate, including refrigeration and using
a syringe sampling through the glad wrap to preserve any gas phase
material. The material evident after
getting down below zero degrees centigrade was only about a millimeter in
width. Later I would find that the
material was quite stable and appeared to be identical with control samples of
spider web I hand gathered. This was
confirmed following detailed examination under a video microscope setup.
The Quirindi sample & comparisons with spiders web
- images by Bill Chalker
I presented these finding at the September
1998 UFO conference in Sydney. It
appeared that if there had been “angel hair” material in the container it was
lost in the process of initial re-sampling at Quirindi during the evening of
August 10 or up to receipt in Sydney – an unfortunate lost opportunity but
still an interesting and compelling UFO episode. Later I undertook a detailed on site
investigation at the Quirindi location.
Reference: “Quirindi NSW Angel’s Hair Incident 10.08.0” Reported in the Australian Ufologist, Vol.2 No. 3 & 4, December 1998, pgs 66-70. Investigators: Moira McGhee, Bill Chalker, Bryan Dickeson, Peter Turner, Diane Harrison & Robert Frola.
An often apocryphally caste aspect of the UFO mystery – “angel hair” appears to be a very real aspect of the UFO phenomenon.