LaPaz was an American astronomer
from the University of New Mexico and a pioneer in the study
was born in Wichita, Kansas on February 12, 1897 to Charles
Melchior LaPaz and Emma Josephine (Strode). He earned
his Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics in
Fairmont College (presently Wichita State University)
and also taught there between 1917 and 1920. He earned
his Masters degree via a scholarship
at Harvard University,
completed in 1922. On June 18, 1922, he married
Leota Ray Butler and later had two children, Leota Jean
and Mary Strode. Between 1922 and 1925, he taught at Dartmouth
received his Ph.D. in 1928 at
the University of Chicago, where he instructed
for a short time and acted as National Research Fellow.
In 1930, he was assistant professor
at Ohio State University and became associate professor
in 1936 and finally professor in 1942,
where he helped develop the graduate Mathematics program.
took leave from Ohio State to the New
Mexico Proving Ground during World War
II where he was a Research Mathematician,
and later as Technical Director,
Operations Analysis Section,
Second Air Force. This is where he became interested
in ballistics, as well as meteorites. His work with the
Second Air Force included investigation of Japanese
Fugo balloon bombs that had reached the
1945, he worked at the University
of New Mexico where he founded the Institute of Meteoritics,
where he was Director until 1966.
1945 to 1953, LaPaz was Head
of the Department of Mathematics and Astronomy.
From 1953 to 1962, he served
as Director of the Division of Astronomy
at the university.
ufology, LaPaz's name is often associated with UFO investigations
on behalf of the military during the late 1940s and early
1950s. These include the so-called Roswell
UFO incident of 1947, the New
Mexico green fireballs, that began in late
1948 and continued through the 1950s, and the search for
near-Earth orbiting satellites in 1954 along with fellow
N.M. astronomer Clyde Tombaugh. However, only LaPaz's
association with the green fireball investigations for
the Air Force is thoroughly documented and an undeniable
had two known UFO sightings of his own. The first occurred
with his family on July 10, 1947, only two days after
the infamous Roswell
UFO incident and only 70 miles north of
Roswell near Fort Sumner, N.M. As reported in a LIFE
magazine article on UFOs in 1952, though LaPaz
was not identified at the time, "all four of us
almost simultaneously became aware of a curious bright
object almost motionless" among the clouds. "As
seen projected against these dark clouds, the object gave
the strongest impression of self-luminosity."
It "showed a sharp and firm regular outline, namely
one of a smooth elliptical character much harder and sharper
than the edges of the cloudlets... The hue of the luminous
object was somewhat less white than the light of Jupiter
in a dark sky, not aluminum or silver-colored.... The
object clearly exhibited a sort of wobbling motion ...
This wobbling motion served to set off the object as a
rigid, if not solid body." After remaining stationary
for about 30 seconds, it then suddenly rose. "This
remarkably sudden ascent thoroughly convinced me that
we were dealing with an absolutely novel airborne device."
second sighting was of a green fireball, soon after he
began his investigations into the phenomenon for the Air
Force in December, 1948. The sighting was on December
12, and the phenomenon was also seen over Los Alamos,
enabling LaPaz to perform a triangulation. This showed
the object's path was directly over the very sensitive
Los Alamos. In a classified letter to the Air Force on
December 20, LaPaz wrote that the object moved far too
slowly to have been a meteor and left no "trail
of sparks or dust cloud" as would be typical
of meteors flying at low altitudes. Other anomalous characteristics
were the intense lime-green color, low altitude of only
810 miles yet exhibiting no sound, flat rather than
arced trajectory, and turning on and off like a light
switch. Investigating many other green fireball sightings,
LaPaz reached similar conclusions and decided they were
probably artificial in origin, perhaps Russian spy devices.
LaPaz's green fireball investigations were also mentioned
in the 1952 LIFE magazine
article, and his wife also made a painting of a green
the 1947 Roswell incident, at least three witnesses, including
two involved with Army and Air Force counter-intelligence,
claimed that LaPaz was brought in after the Roswell
UFO incident to interview witnesses and
reconstruct the trajectory of the crashed object.
August 1954, a story broke in the press that Clyde
Tombaugh and LaPaz, working on behalf of
the Army, had found two "natural" satellites
only 400 and 600 miles out that had recently come into
orbit. LaPaz, at first, vehemently denied that he was
involved in any way, and later denied that anything had
been found, as did Tombaugh. However, the fact that Tombaugh
was indeed engaged in such a search was already public
knowledge from previous press releases, as was LaPaz's
knowledge of the search from discussions with Tombaugh,
even if he wasn't directly involved.
1964, LaPaz was also involved peripherally in the investigation
of the famous Socorro
UFO incident, in which a Socorro
policeman named Lonnie Zamora saw a small egg-shaped object
land, saw two humanoid figures near the object, and then
when he approached to within 50 feet, the object blasted
off and rapidly disappeared. LaPaz interviewed Zamora
and vouched for him as a witness.
true beliefs about the origins of UFOs are a bit muddled.
Two witnesses have said that LaPaz told them he was of
the opinion that the Roswell crash object was an unmanned
extraterrestrial probe. The green fireballs he also felt
were artificial in origin because of their anomalous characteristics.
But government documents and public statements make it
clear he thought they were probably Russian spy devices.
last known comments on UFOs and the green fireballs occurred
in 1965 during a visit by astronomer J.
Allen Hynek, a consultant to the Air Force's
Blue Book UFO investigation. Hynek was
also investigating the Socorro incident. According to
Hynek, LaPaz felt the fireballs were the most important
part of the UFO phenomenon. He remained convinced that
the fireballs' anomalous characteristics had never been
adequately explained by the official investigation. LaPaz
continued to think the green fireballs were artificial,
but now believed the fireballs, and also the Socorro craft,
to be highly secret projects of the U.S. government. He
also accused Hynek, Project
Blue Book, and others of being part of
"a grand cover-up for something the government
does not want discussed."
Affidavit of Ed Zimmerman; other witnesses were
M/Sgt. Lewis Rickett of the Army Counter-Intelligence
Corps (CIC), who said he assisted LaPaz in the investigation
of the Roswell object, and Canadian archeologist Boyd
Wettlaufer, once a student of LaPaz's, who said LaPaz
discussed it with him in 1950 while both were working
near the Winslow meteor crater.
Brad Steiger, Project Blue Book, pp. 132, 136