Now nearly forgotten, one of the most unusual sights to ever grace Earth's atmosphere is an unexplained anomaly that materialized nearly 50 years ago in the skies above Flagstaff, Arizona. Moments before the sun set on the last day of February 1963, residents stepped out onto their lawns to observe an extraordinary, nebulous ring hanging above the city. It appeared to be dozens of miles in diameter and gleamed with a silvery luster — a big, bright loop delineating the city. It was as if the gods had circled Flagstaff for destruction on their celestial telestrator.
Drifting slowly across the sky, the enormous halo continued to glow for nearly half an hour after the sun disappeared. Witnesses described it as having a fibrous, somewhat "wood grain" texture, and from certain perspectives, it demonstrated an iridescent quality that shone with greens, blues and pinks. More an oval than a circle, some described its shape as resembling a horse collar. The more macabre spotters said it looked like a hangman's noose.
The mystery of the ring grew as eyewitness accounts came in from locations hundreds of miles away. Reports arrived from those who saw it in Tucson, 200 miles to the south. Accounts from Colorado and New Mexico followed. A man as far removed as Juárez, Mexico, reported seeing the ring from nearly 400 miles away.
The distance from which it was visible meant the circle must have hovered at an astonishing altitude. Extensive analysis of amateur photographs placed the ring at almost 27 miles above sea level and around 50 miles wide. Though researchers at first believed the feature may have been a meteorological phenomenon similar to the stratospheric clouds found high above the Earth's poles, the object was too high by several miles. The ring was so high in the atmosphere, in fact, it lay in a region in which water can't form drops or ice crystals to even become a cloud.
James McDonald, then senior physicist for University of Arizona's Institute for Atmospheric Physics, investigated several possibilities for the event, but was unable to explain it conclusively. He considered airplane condensation trails, but the highest a contrail could have formed that day was about 15 miles. McDonald also considered both nuclear and conventional explosions at testing facilities upwind of Flagstaff, but no tests had been performed that day. A satellite launched earlier from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California self-destructed after experiencing complications, but data that may have connected it to Flagstaff's ring was questionable. Besides, the rocket's destruction wouldn't have accounted for a second, smaller ring that was later seen to form and dissipate northwest of the first. For as much as anyone could tell, Earth was just a square in an interplanetary game of tic-tac-toe.
One man, however, claimed he alone had the answer. Reverend William Branham, an evangelical minister known for his frequent claims of experiencing prophetic visions, miracles and visitations, insisted that Flagstaff's mysterious toroid was no less than a sign from God. Branham, who was himself once photographed with what appeared to be a halo over his head, said he was in the mountains outside Tucson when he felt a "blast" so powerful it caused boulders to roll down mountainsides. Seven angels then appeared before him in a V formation and told him it was time to reveal the secrets locked in the book of Revelation (which would include the destruction of America and the return of Christ by 1977). Allegedly, a ring-shaped cloud then appeared over him, grew in size and floated up into the sky, though apparently no one else noticed it before it traveled 200 miles north to Flagstaff.
Public proof that the ring was a sign from God came when Branham was studying a picture of the object from Life magazine. A voice told him to turn it clockwise, whereupon he saw the face of Jesus. And just as Revelation 1:14 had predicted, "His head and his hairs were white like wool."
For the rest of us, Flagstaff's ring remains a meteorological enigma.