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Mathematician, Meteorite Hunter, Astronomer

Lincoln La Paz was a pioneer in the field of meteoritics. At a time when meteorites were widely viewed as curiosities, he had the vision to recognize their scientific significance. He established active meteorite research programs at the University of New Mexico and described numerous new meteorites, many of which he had recovered. He also, almost singlehandedly, established the outstanding meteorite collection at UNM. His research resulted in the publication of over 120 scientific articles and books. He was a regular contributer to Popular Astronomy and helped establish the journal "Meteoritics" as well as serving as President of the Meteoritical Society.

He was born in Wichita, Kansas on Feb. 12, 1897 to Charles Melchior La Paz and Emma Josephine (Strode). He studied mathematics at Fairmont College (now Wichita State University) where he obtained his B.A. in 1920. He was also an instructor at Fairmount 1917-1920. He then went to Harvard University on a scholarship, obtaining an M.A. in 1922, and then taught at Darthmouth College 1922-1925.

In 1928 La Paz enrolled at the University of Chicago, obtaining a Ph.D. He wrote his thesis on the calculus of variations under the direction of Gilbert Ames Bliss.

After a brief stint as National Research Fellow and as instructor at Chicago, he was hired as assistant professor at Ohio State in 1930. He was promoted to associate professor in 1936 and then to professor in 1942. While at Ohio State, La Paz was very active in developing the graduate program in mathematics, directing Ph.D. students, including Earl J. Mickle.

During World War II, while on leave from Ohio State, he served as Research Mathematician at the New Mexico Proving Ground and as Technical Director, Operations Analysis Section, Second Air Force. The original Proving Ground, which later would become part of Kirtland Air Force Base, was a 19,000-acre cattle ranch. The site grew to more than 40,000 acres as more land was acquired for testing top secret specially equipped shells on dummy airplanes and calculating the burst patterns of the explosives. During his time at the Grounds his interests shifted to ballistics and thence to the study of meteorites.

In 1945, he joined the faculty of the University of New Mexico and founded the Institute of Meteoritics, whose Director he was until 1966. From 1945 to 1953 he also served as Head of the Department of Mathematics and Astronomy and, from 1953 to 1962, as Director of the Division of Astronomy.

Ground level view of Barringer Crater, known as Meteor Crater, in Arizona. Seen from five miles out.

Most of the published works by La Paz specifically involved meteors and meteorites, although he did venture into other related areas. One example being his rather interesting article in Popular Astronomy (v58, 1950) which, although related to meteors, involved archeology as well. In the article La Paz discusses the thousand year-old Native American ruins discovered along the crest of Arizona's Meteor Crater rim and originally thought to be pit houses of some ceremonial nature. The pit house, located 250 feet of the crest of the rim was excavated during the summer of 1950 by Boyd Wettlaufer of the University of New Mexico. La Paz writes the following in the article regarding Wettlaufer's excavation:

"The ruin excavated was found to be a single-room structure with a centralized fire-pit. It contained much ash and many pottery fragments, thereby proving it had been a dwelling. Local stone (blocks of the Coconino sandstone from the crater rim) had been used as building material, and the masonry was very crude, only a few rocks having been purposefully shaped. Since the ventilator shaft constituted the only break in the rock walls, entry into the original dwelling was through the roof, as is customary for dwellings of this type. On the basis of the characteristics of the ruins and associtated artifacts, it is believed the dwelling was built prior to A.D. 1300."

At the time of the article as it is today, the crater was in the hands of private ownership, but, in stark contrast to what one finds now, the site was not a commerical venture with throngs of visitors and tourists. There were references to the crater by members of the indigenous population from very early on, even to the point of using pieces of the meteor for ceremonial and ritual purposes, however the first written report was not made until about 1871 by a man named Albert Franklin Banta, known then as Charley Franklin, who served as a scout and guide for the U.S. Army. The crater is in an area of intense volcanic activity, surrounded by hundreds of cinder cones and similar geological features, so it was assumed to be of volcanic origin, thus attracting little attention. Even with the coming of Route 66 several miles north of the impact site some sixty-plus years later, except for attempted mining operations searching for the main meteor body and a varying number of meteorite hunters ranging from the famous such as Dr. H.H. Nininger to the likes of William Lawrence Campbell, known as Cactus Jack, scrounging through the northeast scatter-field looking for meteorite scraps, most of the crater and the land around it remained untouched. At the time the La Paz article was published the area was still much as it had been when Franklin first wrote his report and any reputed archeological sites were pretty much left untouched or ignored. The crater was neither monitored nor patrolled, quite sparse, and for all practical purposes, remote with poor access from the main road and surrounding areas. While investigating the site La Paz was joined and assisted in his research by a rather notorious Southwest bio-searcher who, along with his curandera wife and a young boy, appeared to be, for unknown reasons, temporarily occupying the site. (see)

La Paz (right) directing recovery of the massive
Norton County, Kansas meteorite, 1948 (UNM)

Interesting as well, on July 10th, 1947, La Paz, who had thousands and thousands of hours of scientific time observing celestial objects, reported seeing a huge eliptical-shaped object flying in the sky near Fort Sumner, New Mexico, while driving by car with his wife and children. He saw a luminous unknown object sort of oscillating beneath the clouds. Its brightness was stronger than the planet Jupiter and its shape regular and elliptical. The nature of this object was unknown to the astronomer.

In a Life Magazine article dated April 7, 1952 La Paz is quoted as saying: 'The object "..exhibited a sort of wobbling motion" and then disappeared behind some clouds. It reappeared and "projected against the dark clouds gave the strongest impression of self-luminosity." The object then moved slowly from south to north and two and a half minutes behind a cloudbank. According to La Paz's calculations, confirmed by his wife, the object was huge, as large or larger than the infamous "Battle of Los Angeles" object as presented in UFO Over Los Angeles seen by thousands in February, 1942, being some 235 feet long and 100 feet thick (NOTE: according to reports as cited in the above link, the Los Angeles UFO was, however, thought to be closer to 800 feet in length). Its horizontal speed ranged between 120 and 180 miles per hour and its vertical rise between 600 and 900 miles per hour.' See: COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE AND ASTRONAUTICS, U.S. House of Representatives, July 29, 1968, Case 21.

Equally interesting, Lewis "Bill" Rickett, formally of the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps, as presented in the Roswell Incident: Updated and the book UFO Crash At Roswell by Kevin D. Randle, recounted that the CIC recruited La Paz in September, 1947, to determine the speed and trajectory of the mysterious craft that crashed near Roswell, New Mexico on July 4, 1947 --- and first reported to the public in the Roswell Daily Record, Tuesday, July 8, 1947. The object, the so-called ROSWELL UFO, was later discovered to have had at least two, possibly three impact points, scattering debris and metal parts over a wide area of the most well known site. In the process of his investigation, with the assist of the mysterious bio-searcher mentioned above and discussed more thoroughly in Frank Edwards, La Paz discovered what he called a "touchdown point" five miles from the primary debris field. According to his report the site contained small amounts of additional debris as well as sand in a long narrow swath that had apparently crystallized from intense heat. The long-way direction of the swath was found to be in perfect alignment with the debris field and the impact site discovered in the Capitan Mountains some thirty miles away.

Roswell Daily Record, Tuesday, July 8, 1947

Two years before Roswell, on July 16, 1945, at 5:29:45 a.m. Mountain War Time, at the Trinity Site, White Sands, New Mexico, the first nuclear explosive device on Earth was set off. Shortly after that test and especially so after the war the general New Mexico area was inundated by "green fireballs." Theoreticians in the Air Force believed the fireballs were propelled objects and not natural phenomena, bearing a very close similarity to the so-called Foo Fighters seen by World War II aviators and flight crews. In late 1948 the fireballs were being discussed by officials formally and by early 1949 La Paz was called in to investigate. In agreement with the theoreticians, he stated that normal fireballs (meteors) are seldom if ever green, their trajectory is forced on them by gravity, and leave meteorites when they plunge to Earth. The green fireballs sighted over New Mexico did none of these things. Neither did they appear to La Paz to be electrostatic phenomena as they moved too regularly and too fast. To this day no truly satisfactory explanation for the phenomenon has been released to the general public.

He married Leota Ray Butler on June 18, 1922 and, as mentioned above, had two daughters, Leota Jean and Mary Strode.

Lincoln La Paz died of natural causes at age eighty-eight October 19, 1985 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.





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ON THE CRATER FLOOR: Meteor Crater, Arizona



Except for where otherwise noted or linked, much of the above was researched and obtained from archived pages and net sources available through the graceful services of the Ohio State University Department of Mathematics

CASE 21. Ft. Sumner, New Mexico, July 10, 1947

A midday sighting by a University of New Mexico meteoriticist, Dr. Lincoln La Paz, and members of his family was summarized by Life magazine years ago (Ref. 87) without identifying La Paz's name. Bloecher (Ref. 8) gives more details and notes that this is officially Unidentified:

At 4:47 p.m. MST on 7/10/47, four members of the La Paz family nearly simultaneously noted "a curious bright object almost motionless" low on the western horizon, near a cloud bank. The object was described as ellipsoidal, whitish, and having sharply-outlined edges. It wobbled a bit as it hovered stationary just above the horizon, then moved upwards, passed behind clouds and re-emerged farther north in a time interval which La Paz estimated to be so short as to call for speeds in excess of conventional aircraft speeds. It passed in front of dark clouds and seemed self-luminous by contrast. It finally disappeared amongst the clouds. La Paz estimated it to be perhaps 20 miles away, judging from the clouds involved; and he put its length at perhaps 100-200 ft.

Discussion. -- This observation is attributed by Menzel (Ref. 24, p. 29) to "some sort of horizontal mirage, perhaps one of a very brilliant cloud shining like silver in the sunlight -- a cloud that was itself invisible because of the darker clouds in the foreground." As nearly as I am able to understand that explanation, it seems to be based on the notion that mirage-refraction can neatly superimpose the image of some distant object (here his "brilliant cloud") upon some nearer object in the middle distance (here his "darker clouds"). That is a fallacious notion. If any optical distortions did here bring into view some distant bright cloud, it would not be possible to receive along immediately adjacent optical paths an image of the intermediate clouds. Furthermore, the extremely unstable lapse rates typical of the southwestern desert areas under afternoon conditions produce inferior mirages, not superior mirages of the looming type here invoked by Menzel. Rapid displacements, vertically and horizontally, are not typical of mirage phenomena. Hence Menzel's explanations cannot be accepted for this sighting.





JULY 29, 1968



Below, for your own edification, is a list of the websites wherein I mention the 1945 U.S. New Mexico nuclear test at Trinity Site in some fashion, most commonly related back to my uncle and thus then, how atomic bombs and atomic bomb tests, German or American, circle back to what I have presented elsewhere in my works: