We are constantly being told that the UFO enigma began in 1947, with the Kenneth Arnold sighting in Washington state and the Roswell Incident a few months later, but any student of ufology will know that the subject has been with us for much, much longer.
The following story dates not from antiquity, but from 1943, yet it demonstrates how unsuspecting folk have been encountering UFO-related phenomena since long before the term ‘flying saucer’ was dreamed up.
John Warren was an armourer serving in the RAF during World War II. At the time of his encounter, he was stationed in Norfolk at RAF Ludham, a radar facility close to the large airfield at RAF Coltishall. What follows is from the archives of UFOData's features editor, Philip Mantle. Philip interviewed Mr Warren back in 1987 and he recounts a fascinating sighting during a late-night walk through the East Anglian countryside.
One night in May of 1943 (John could not give an exact date), Mr Warren had been to North Walsham, a town roughly nine miles from RAF Ludham, and had got a lift in a truck to Catfield, a village about three and a half miles from his camp. Being a little worse for wear, John, who was about twenty-two at the time, decided to sleep under a railway signal box. Some time later, he awoke and made the decision to walk back to the base.
A little over a mile from the camp, he noticed a light in one of the fields that bordered the narrow, country lane. As he drew closer, he saw a figure standing in the field. Not expecting to encounter anybody that late at night, John became a little nervous and quickened his pace slightly. As he drew closer, he noticed that the figure was wearing what appeared to be a greyish-white ‘boiler suit’. Attached to the front of the suit was a box that cast a greenish glow onto the face of the figure. The face was visible beneath the helmet that John likened to an old-fashioned divers’ helmet.
The figure stared at John as he approached, with a smile on its face that terrified the young airman. He said the face was round, without any noticeable cheekbones or chin.
As he passed the figure, which was standing behind the bushes that bordered the field and about thirty to a hundred yards away from John, he saw a large, domed object in the field behind this grinning entity. A second figure was moving around, doing something with the ground, as though taking samples.
The domed object reminded John of a large bell tent. It was stony-grey in colour and gave off no light.
John passed their location and kept on going, walking quickly, terrified, but not running for his life. He glanced back and saw that both figures were now doing something in the ground around the ‘bell tent’. Then he looked forward again and kept going until he reached RAF Ludham.
He wondered if they were German agents that might have landed on the nearby coast. However, he could not imagine what they were doing in those odd suits with the green, glowing light. Also, a structure the size of the dome he saw would have been awkward to carry over the countryside from the coastline, some seven or eight miles distant.
John got back to his camp and the safety of the Nissen huts in which the men were billeted. He settled into bed, wondering about what he had just witnessed, when he was startled by something coming through the window!
Fearful that the entities from the field had come for him, John was relieved to discover that it was a friend of his returning from a late-night romantic liaison. ‘Taffy’, though, looked scared to death when John saw him. He asked his friend if anything was wrong, but Taffy declined to elaborate. He just said that he had an early start and was going to bed.
Taffy was a cook, so the next morning after breakfast, John asked him what had frightened him so much the previous night. Taffy explained that he had seen something outside of Catfield and had run all the way back to the base. John didn’t tell him that he had also seen something. Taffy didn’t go into any details beyond ‘seeing something’.
Before the night he saw the figures and their dome-shaped ‘craft’, John had used that road many times, going to a local swimming spot, but afterwards, he never went along that road alone and never went swimming there again. He confined his drinking to either the NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) or went to the pub in Ludham, which took him along a different road.
Being 1943, John had never heard of flying saucers and didn’t even equate what he saw as having anything other than an earthly explanation, but as the years have passed, John now believes that what he saw was not of this world. This was reinforced when he saw a strange object that was shaped like an ice cream cornet over his home town of Batley, West Yorkshire, in about 1947. He and a friend saw this object in the sky before it simply disappeared in the blink of an eye.
If John Warren did see an extra-terrestrial craft in that East Anglian field in 1943, what were its occupants doing poking holes in the ground? Why did they simply watch him with a fixed grin as he hurried past? If they were German agents, surely they would have stopped this lone airman from divulging their location.
What had happened to Taffy? It seems that he also saw the same thing as John, but it had terrified him so much that he had ran back to the base. If the family of Taffy (John said his real name was Jennings or Jenkins and that he was Welsh) are reading this, perhaps he told them of his wartime encounter. If so, we would appreciate a call, a letter or an email to http://www.ufodata.co.uk
This is a fascinating story from a time before ‘flying saucers’ were the vogue. It demonstrates that the UFO phenomenon did not begin in the United States in 1947.
Below are John's actual sketches of what he saw and a plan of the camp (click the images for full size):
© Steve Johnson - 2006
Deep Sea UFOs
The History Channel, Sunday, 16th July, 2006
After a break of several months, The History Channel’s excellent series, UFO Files, returned to the airwaves with a show about Unidentified Submerged Objects (USOs). This is an aspect of the UFO phenomenon that is rarely reported, yet is more common than one may realise. Only recently, an object was spotted entering the ocean off the South African coast, reinforcing the views of many that UFOs are at home flying either in the sky or under the sea.
As the Earth is 75% covered with water, it makes sense that unexplained objects are seen either on or beneath the sea and this programme explores the possibilities not only of alien activity under the surf, but also of what submersibles we may be able to create that might match the characteristics of the reported sightings.
The Santa Catalina Channel separates mainland California from the island of Catalina. This stretch of water is as deep as Mount Everest is high and objects have been seen both entering the water and emerging.
Preston Dennett is a California UFO researcher who has written several books on the subject (one of which, Extraterrestrial Visitations, will be reviewed in a future issue of UFOData Magazine). He explained that in 1992, hundreds of unexplained objects were sighted near the Santa Monica Mountains. Many of these objects were seen, not descending from the sky, but rising up, as though emerging from the water nearby.
Over two hundred craft were seen emerging silently from the ocean on June 14th, 1992. They hovered for several seconds before shooting off into the sky. Witnesses filed reports with the police as far away as Malibu. The programme then played an actual recording of a phone call by a witness to the police. The caller almost sounded ashamed to be reporting what he had seen. Unfortunately, we did not hear the police officer’s response. The wealth of reports filtered up to the US Coast Guard, but they refused a request to search the area of the sightings.
In 1989, a large object was seen by multiple witnesses (and picked up on sonar) resting on the surface of the water in the Pacific Ocean. It released several, smaller objects before submerging. It was tracked on sonar heading south towards the Santa Catalina Channel before disappearing.
It seems that one thing that USOs do more regularly than UFOs is to ‘split apart’ or release large numbers of smaller craft. UFOs have been known to do this also, but with the underwater variety, it seems more common.
In 1960, the Argentinean Navy tracked two unidentified submerged objects in the Golfo Nuevo, 650 miles south of Buenos Aires. At first it was thought that they were US submarines, but then they appeared to break apart and fly out of the water. Paul Stonehill, co-author with Philip Mantle of UFO-USSR, explained how the objects simply emerged from the water and vanished. Paul went on to tell us that the Soviet leader at the time, Nikita Khrushchev, was so impressed with the report that he ordered his representative in Buenos Aires to find out more about the event.
Sceptics suggest that what was seen were submarines firing torpedoes, but it has been noted that in 1960, the firing of six or more torpedoes simultaneously was not possible.
In March, 1963, American submarines were involved in exercises, with a fleet of surface ships, a hundred miles off the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. One of the subs broke off from its assigned course and began pursuing an unidentified object that their scopes told them was travelling in excess of 150 knots at a depth of 20,000 feet!
Bruce Maccabee told us that such speeds and depths were, and still are, impossible for today’s submersibles, with the crush depth for submarines being about 7,000 feet. The USO was tracked for four days by the carrier group, with the object moving at impossible speeds before stopping. Reports were sent to CINCLANT (Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Command), but no determination was made as to the nature of the unidentified craft.
Stanton Friedman pointed out that when UFOs are spotted in the sky, people see them and report them, but when a deep sea object is sighted, it is usually only the navy that makes out a report and we never learn anything beyond that.
We are then shown a clip from a newsreel, informing us that US Navy experimental balloons are the sole cause of ‘flying saucer’ sightings. Nice try, chaps!
November 11th, 1972, and the Norwegian Navy began tracking a USO for two weeks in the Sognefjord, one of the longest and deepest fjords in the world. A fleet of ships and submarine-hunting helicopters were tasked with locating the object. On November 20th, the object was seen exiting the water. It was described as ‘a massive, silent, cigar-shaped object’.
One of the ships opened fire on the object, but it simply sank back down beneath the waves. Depth charges were dropped to no avail. Then a plan was drawn up to blockade the fjord and trap the USO, but the object disappeared.
On 11th October, 1492, the ship carrying Christopher Columbus, the Santa Maria, passed over what we now know is one of the deepest parts of the Atlantic Ocean. It is also inside the infamous Bermuda Triangle. Strange lights were seen flashing deep under the water. Then a large, disc-shaped object rose out of the water and sped off into the night sky. A few, short hours later, Columbus would discover the New World.
USO researcher, Carl Feindt, explained how Columbus’ log described the object as being like ‘the flickering of a wax candle’, rising and falling. Camp fires on the shore could not be used as an explanation, as land was far beyond the horizon. Indeed, Columbus’ log books describe many bizarre occurrences witnessed during their long voyage to new lands. These included seeing birds that should not have been far from land, yet they were far out to sea, a heavy mast, weighing 120 tons, floating in the ocean (they were the first European ships out there, remember) and stars that danced around the sky.
In 329BC, the army of Alexander the Great encountered two, silver discs that emerged from the Jaxartes River in India. It is said that he was so impressed by this sight that he spent six years exploring the river in the world’s first diving bell! Some suggest, though, that Alexander was not searching for USOs, but for the fabled land of Atlantis.
Over the years, the legend of Atlantis has diversified from being a philosophical tale about the dangers of man’s vanities to becoming a myth of a lost civilisation that utilises advanced technology to survive beneath the ocean. Some even suggest that the Atlanteans themselves were extraterrestrials.
Sticking with the ancient world, Paul Stonehill returned to tell us about inscriptions at Abydos in Egypt that resemble a submarine and a helicopter (he missed out the fighter jet!). Sorry to burst Paul’s bubble here, but those glyphs are what is known as a palimpsest, where hieroglyphics are carved over the top of old ones (after the previous ones were plastered over). Years later, the plaster has fallen off to reveal the mixed-up carvings. Nothing to do with ancient technology, I'm afraid…
In 1067AD, a ‘flaming object’ was seen to enter the sea off the English coast, then it remerged before sinking below the waves once more.
On August 1st, 1904, the cargo ship, Mohican, on its way to Philadelphia, was ‘enshrouded in a strange, metallic vapour that glowed like phosphorous’. Carl Feindt has researched this case and said that the ‘cloud’ approached the ship from across the ocean. As it enveloped his vessel, the captain tried to busy his crew, but nothing could be moved while the vapour surrounded them. The ship’s compass spun wildly and the decks became magnetised.
On October 4th, 1967, at about 11:20pm, one of the most famous USO cases in history occurred in the Nova Scotia town of Shag Harbour. This small community has become known as the Canadian Roswell in recent years and the case is interesting because not only were there multiple eyewitnesses, but there are government documents verifying that something fell into the ocean that night.
Chris Styles, co-author of the book, Dark Object, took up the story. At the time of the incident, nobody thought that what entered the water was a UFO. It was generally assumed that an aircraft had gone down and a search began for possible survivors.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) searched the ‘crash site’ in boats until 3am, finding nothing. Later, Canadian Navy divers arrived and they, too, began searching beneath the water. Eventually, an official report was filed, labelling what had crashed into the sea as a ‘UFO’. The report stated that the object had travelled from south to north along the coastline before entering the water off Shag Harbour.
RCMP officers on the shoreline watched the object travelling under the surface, leaving a trail of foam in the water.
Later, reports emerged that a second craft had entered the water to rendezvous with the first object. Styles claimed that the authorities knew exactly where the objects were and that the second craft assisted the first in moving towards the Gulf of Maine, where they both broke the surface and flew away. In fact, a photograph exists of two objects leaving the water of Shag Harbour and flying off.
The official report clearly states that what crashed into Shag Harbour was ‘no known object’.
The island of Puerto Rico is generally considered to be the Americas’ greatest hotspot for USO sightings. Local group, Project Argus, took us to the Laguna Cartagena, a wildlife reserve in the south-west of the island. It is also a major hotspot for USO activity.
On October 8th, 2002, at about 9:30pm, local police officer and Argus member, Carlos Torres saw a red, glowing USO flash out of the Laguna Cartagena. It then hovered just above the surface for several minutes before crashing back into the lake.
November 20th, 2004, produced what may be a video of the object emerging from the lagoon and flying away. Another Argus member shot the night vision footage of what appears to be a rotating, disc-shaped craft.
Route 303 has officially become Puerto Rico’s ‘Extraterrestrial Highway’. This happened after a 1997 incident in which a UFO was said to crash nearby, leaving scorched ground and many bemused witnesses.
Researchers on the island are suspicious of US Navy research balloons that are launched regularly over the Lajas region. They claim that their real function is to observe UFO and USO activity. Project Argus claim that government documents exist that secret investigations took place into UFO and USO activity in the region, but the conclusions were that the objects posed no threat.
Some researchers believe that a major USO base exists in the deep waters off Cabo Rojo, west of Lajas, with submerged caverns that might reach all the way to the Laguna Cartagena.
In 1969, sailors aboard the USS Calcaterra witnessed a USO that displayed remarkable properties in the frozen waters of Antarctica. They reported a huge, submarine-shaped object burst from beneath the thick ice and rocket into the sky.
Revered Russian researcher, Vladimir Ajaja, told of an incident that happened near Leningrad in the winter of 1976. A USO crashed down through the ice, manoeuvred underwater before breaking back through. Carl Feindt reported that USOs appear to melt the ice they break through, leaving a clean hole, rather than smashing their way, sending chunks flying in all directions, as a meteorite would (plus meteorites don’t generally re-emerge and fly away!).
In 1988, famous (or infamous, depending upon one’s viewpoint) UFO photographer, Ed Walters snapped an image of a USO in Gulf Breeze atop what appears to be a waterspout. This has caused some researchers to suggest that UFOs/USOs use water as a fuel source. There have been other reports of unidentified craft sucking up water from lakes and reservoirs.
Theoretically, electromagnetic propulsion could allow submersibles to travel at great speeds underwater. An EM field around a craft would reduce drag, thus allowing it to perform manoeuvres impossible for traditional submarines. The US Navy actually experimented with an EM sub in the 1960s, with a degree of success.
Marko Princevac, of the University of California Riverside, has created an experiment, devised to prove that supersonic propulsion underwater is possible. He found that a streamlined object would move underwater better than, say, a cube… duh! Princevac’s data shows that, while an aircraft travelling at Mach 1 requires 15,000 horsepower of energy, a submersible travelling at the same speed would require over 1 million horsepower. At the moment we do not have the technology to build such an engine that would work beneath the sea.
Deep Sea UFOs was another great episode from UFO Files, with some excellent graphics and informative interviews. So now, we not only have to watch the skies, we must keep our other eye on the seas!
The images used are the property of the copyright holders and are only used here for review purposes.
© Steve Johnson - 2006
The History Channel, Sunday 12th February 2006
In the latest episode of UFO Files, we are taken on a tour of man-made flying saucers from World War II to the present day and asked to consider the possibility that all UFO sightings are of top secret, terrestrial aircraft.
As defeat loomed for Hitler’s Germany in 1944-45, Nazi scientists were tasked with developing new and exotic weapons that might turn the tide of the war. The most famous of these new super weapons were the V-1 and V-2 rockets developed and launched from Peenemünde on the Baltic Sea.
However other projects were also underway. A man named Viktor Schauberger designed a flying disc-type aircraft. It was hoped that this craft would manoeuvre like a helicopter, using magnetic rotation to create lift, but also be able to travel at supersonic speeds and be undetectable to the enemy. Working with other brilliant engineers and scientists, several disc designs were tested and even flown.
As the war drew to a close, German science worked feverishly to develop these new weapons: flying saucers, rockets, jet aircraft and who knows what else, but time was running out for them. Allied bombing raids were causing great damage and Allied troops were closing in on all fronts.
As Germany surrendered, a frantic scramble between the western powers and the Soviet Union began to capture the brilliant German scientists behind what was at the time the most advanced aviation technology on the planet. The US managed to capture factories that were producing V-2 rockets and men such as Werner Von Braun, while the Soviets got their hands on the latest Nazi jet aircraft and a good number of rocket scientists.
After the war, Schauberger and other flying saucer designers such as Rudolf Schreiver and Walter Meithe ended up working for the Americans, while their former comrade, Andreas Epp, is said to have worked for the Soviet Union. As the struggle for global nuclear dominance intensified, flying disc research continued in secret.
Then in 1947, the UFO sighting of pilot, Kenneth Arnold, made headlines around the world. He described nine, crescent-shaped craft travelling at over twelve-hundred miles per hour, a speed almost unheard of in those days. ‘UFO fever’ gripped America and thousands of reports began to flood in. Military officials appeared on television, calming public fears, but also declaring that they were not testing or flying saucer-shaped rockets or aircraft.
Then in July of that year, a flying disc was reported to have crashed near Roswell, New Mexico. It was quickly explained away as being a weather balloon. In private, US generals were concerned that these UFO sightings could be secret aircraft from the Soviet Union, designed by their captured German scientists.
Many blueprints and plans for Nazi jet aircraft had been captured at the end of the Second World War and one of these was the Horton 229, a flying wing jet that bore a striking resemblance to Arnold’s crescent-shaped UFOs. It was feared that the Soviets had developed a flying, supersonic version of this jet.
As the Cold War evolved in the 1950s, and the Korean conflict brought the world to the brink of nuclear destruction, the public’s paranoia was reflected in popular movies such as Earth Vs The Flying Saucers and Invaders from Mars. The US military used this fear as a smokescreen to hide its top secret projects in places such as Area 51 in Nevada, where tests of all kinds of exotic aircraft, rockets, balloons, high-altitude parachute drops and satellites were performed.
Project Mogul, the use of high-altitude balloons with trains of radar reflectors designed to detect Soviet atomic testing, came out of this era and was the final explanation for what crashed in Roswell.
With the Soviets taking the lead in jet fighter technology in the Korean War, the Americans needed to catch up and radar-invisible, supersonic flying saucers were one avenue of possibility.
In 1952, the US Air Force became aware of a project by the Canadian avionics company, Avro, to build a flying saucer. British designer, John Frost, was the mastermind of the idea, inspired by UFO sightings from all over the world. He learned of Nazi flying saucer projects and eventually met with Walter Meithe., who said he had worked for ten years on German saucers and also showed Frost plans and photographs of his work.
With a $10 million grant from the USAF, Frost set up his special projects division at Avro and began work on a supersonic flying saucer.
The first attempt was with ‘Project Y’, a spade-shaped aircraft that would serve as a tail-less, supersonic, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) jet interceptor. After several failed tests, Project Y was abandoned.
Frost’s next attempt was to create a circular aircraft that utilised rotary engines set along the outside edge of the airframe. This was called ‘Project Y-2’. A test of a 50-foot, six-engined design almost ended in disaster for the entire team when the tethered engines spun out of control, almost destroying the hangar. The supersonic Y-2 project was suspended and a smaller, test design was commissioned. This was to become known as the Avrocar.
The Avrocar was designed to fly forwards at 300 mph at thirty-thousand feet and to land and take off vertically. In 1959, the first two prototypes were rolled out. It was hoped that this design could become a kind of flying Jeep for the US military. Early test flights proved that the craft could fly, although it only moved a few inches above the ground. Problems were also discovered when it flew over grassy areas, with the engine intakes sucking up all sorts of debris. The circular design was also very difficult for the pilot to handle, making the craft unwieldy and problematic to steer. Despite attempts to make the Avrocar more stable, the program was eventually scrapped in 1961.
Forty years ago, Jack Pickett, a publisher of American military magazines, was visiting MacDill AFB in Florida when he saw what appeared to be four flying saucers parked outside in a restricted area. They ranged in size from twenty to a hundred and nineteen feet in diameter and perfectly circular. Pickett was shown photographs of the craft in flight, sometimes with conventional jet escorts. He was told that the craft, which had a large, vertical tail section, were capable of 15,500 mph and had even achieved space flight. Pickett asked why such an amazing project had been discontinued (the craft were in a section for scrapped airplanes) and was told that better, more stable designs had replaced them.
During the 1960s, UFO reports continued to make the news headlines. Alan Brown was the chief engineer of the US stealth project at the Lockheed Skunkworks. He is convinced that all UFO reports can be attributed to secret US military aircraft. He maintains that the amount of testing that went on at Area 51 made it inevitable that people would see strange-shaped aircraft in the skies from time to time.
In 1978, Warren Botz was attending a flight reunion at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, when he saw disc-shaped aircraft parked in a hangar. His description of the craft almost exactly matches that of Jack Pickett’s circular aeroplanes.
In 1988, the USAF revealed to the world the F-117 stealth fighter. Alan Brown said that the only reason that this remarkable aircraft was unveiled was because they had to begin flying it in daylight because of several night-flight test accidents that had resulted in the loss of pilots. It was hoped that confirming the existence of this plane to the world would reduce the number of UFO reports. Not surprisingly, reports of triangular UFOs began to appear in the news.
With the end of the Cold War, it wasn’t until the Gulf War in 1991 that the F-117 saw its first action, impressing the world with its stealth capabilities and accurate bombing power. Despite all of its success, though, the stealth fighter still had to be piloted by a human being.
The next phase of aerial combat will be with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Already, we have UAVs designed for reconnaissance, such as the Sikorsky Aerobot, but the future lies with UAVs that can perform in combat. It is likely that such craft are already in existence and have probably already been used in the ‘War on Terror’.
If supersonic flying saucer technology has been abandoned in favour of triangular stealth aircraft and slow-moving, circular drones, how does this explain the continued raft of UFO sightings that contain disc-shaped objects moving at unbelievable speeds and defying the known laws of physics? Are the US military still developing flying saucers?
This program offered a brief glimpse into the world of secret aviation development and the craft described are incredible feats of engineering, but to suggest that all UFO reports can be explained as test flights of these craft is absurd. What about close-up sightings on the ground where non-human figures are seen? What about sightings in orbit by US astronauts and Russian cosmonauts? If the US military has craft that can achieve orbit so easily, why are we still sending people and equipment up on the top of a gigantic firecracker?
It is clear that the more we try to answer these questions, the more questions we create from the answers.
The images used are the property of the copyright holders and are only used here for review purposes.
© Steve Johnson - 2006
UFOs and the White House
The History Channel, Sunday 29th January, 2006
The third episode of The History Channel’s UFO-based series was entitled UFOS and the White House. It sought to explore the relationship between the subject of UFOs and ‘the highest office in the land’, that of the President of the United States. In fact, every US president has had some involvement with the subject of UFOs, in one form or another since World War II.
Beginning in 1942, with Franklin Delano Roosevelt incumbent in the Oval Office, a radar blip in Los Angeles, California, instigated what has become known in UFO lore as The Battle of Los Angeles. American forces scrambled and thousands of anti-aircraft rounds were fired into the night sky. Yet to this day, nobody is certain as to what they were firing at. In fact, the only damage caused that night was from the AA shells that landed on Los Angeles.
Roosevelt immediately set General George C Marshall the task of explaining just what had happened. Marshall’s report was vague, suggesting that up to fifteen aircraft may have been involved, ranging in speeds from ‘very slow’ to two hundred miles per hour and varying in altitude from nine thousand to eighteen thousand feet. No bombs were dropped and no aircraft were shot down.
The only evidence of anything in the sky that night appeared in the form of a photograph of searchlights illuminated a bright, disc-shaped object. The mystery remained, as more pressing matters for the president, the newly-joined war, came to the fore.
President Harry S Truman succeeded Roosevelt in 1945 and saw the Second World War end in victory for the Allies. Almost immediately, though, a new threat emerged – that of the communist east and particularly, the Soviet Union under Stalin.
In 1947, Truman was informed of the so-called Roswell Incident in New Mexico. Official histories and biographies of the Truman presidency make no mention of UFOs, but the man who briefed the president, General Robert Landry, does reference unidentified flying objects being mentioned in the White House at the time. Landry, who worked closely with the CIA, was tasked to brief Truman orally every three months about the UFO subject. These meetings, perhaps as many as eighteen of them, were not notated, there were to be no records of their ever taking place.
Then, in 1952, UFOs became big news as Washington DC became the centre of a major flap. Objects were seen entering the restricted airspace over the capital, both visually and on radar. Fighter jets were scrambled, but as soon as they approached the invading craft, they vanished, only to reappear when the jets returned to base. To allay public fears, the UFOs were dismissed as temperature inversions and that there was no threat to public safety. Truman appeared on television and genially said that flying saucers ‘were always going on’, but it was no big deal, it seemed.
In 1953, Dwight David Eisenhower began the first of two terms in the White House. While, officially, Truman never had any first-hand knowledge of UFOs, it is said that Eisenhower had a ten minute sighting for himself, while aboard a ship off the British coast in 1952, of a bluish-coloured object. Ike was said to have declared that he would look into the matter further, but nothing of the incident was ever heard again.
The Fifties saw flying saucers enter the popular culture in fabulous movies of alien invasion, but it was this era that saw the real secrecy begin to really enshroud the UFO subject.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s term was cut short, but his legacy was a lasting one. The US space program owed much to the aspirations of JFK and his famous speech vowing that a man would be set upon the Moon and returned safely to the Earth is still inspirational to this day. In 1963, the year he died, Kennedy was sailing on his boat off his Cape Cod home when he and his companions saw a sixty-foot, metallic object. Kennedy decided that nobody should speak of it, so it is something of an unsubstantiated tale.
While JFK appeared to have little interest in UFOs (he had more pressing matters, such as Soviet missiles in Cuba to attend to), his brother, Robert Kennedy is known to have been keenly interested in the subject. He exchanged several letters about unidentified flying objects with researchers and then-Congressman Gerald Ford. It is thought, though, that John F Kennedy was the first president to be kept in the dark by the security and intelligence services about the reality of the UFO subject.
After JFK’s assassination, his vice-president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, became president. As vice-president, he had answered a letter from a member of the public concerning UFOs and suggested that they contact the executive secretary of NASA, Dr E.C. Welsh. This was a puzzling suggestion, as it was generally the US Air Force that dealt with UFO data.
It was during LBJ’s term that the Kecksberg crash occurred in 1965. Officially explained away as a meteorite impact, it was curious to note that, while the president was at his ranch in Austin, Texas, he was joined the day after the crash by the head of NASA, the governor of Pennsylvania and all of the joint chiefs-of-staff. The meeting concerned the Vietnam War – officially – but the fact that they all arrived to speak with LBJ the day after the Kecksberg incident is interesting. What would the governor of Pennsylvania, in which Kecksberg sits, and the head of NASA have to add to a meeting concerning Vietnam?
It is said that President Richard Milhous Nixon possessed a huge collection of books about UFOs. Rumours abound that he wanted to make the truth about UFOs public and that he engineered meetings to promote this agenda.
One step in this program of disclosure was the production of the TV show, UFOs: Past, Present and Future, by Robert Emenegger. This was later re-released as UFOs: It Has Begun, a review of which can be found in the first issue of the UFOData Report. Emenegger was specifically asked by the Republican Party to produce this documentary using only official government people. Emenegger was a friend of Nixon’s chief-of-staff and so was accepted as a trusted confidante. He was told by another party that a UFO had landed at Holloman Air Force Base and the entire incident had been recorded on film. He travelled to Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio and entered a deep bunker, where Colonel George Weinbrenner, the commander of foreign technology, had an office. He asked Weinbrenner about the Holloman landing and instead of laughing, the colonel handed Emenegger a book on UFOs signed by Dr Allan J Hynek. Perplexed, he asked his friend at the White House about the Holloman event, but was told that something might have happened, but he was unsure if the president knew anything about it. Emenegger never received the Holloman footage for his documentary, but it has emerged that at least two former presidents had seen the footage. Was Nixon one of these?
Gerald Rudolph Ford had entered the UFO fray while acting as a congressman in 1966. He helped orchestrate public congressional hearings into the subject in April of that year.
As president, he had people advising him that are still around today – Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George HW Bush, the current president’s father. After leaving office in 1976, Ford replied in a letter to George Filer that during his political career, he had made many enquiries to the Air Force concerning UFOs, but they had always denied any UFO allegations (whatever those allegations might be!).
James Earl Carter’s presidency was described by UFO researchers as a golden age for the subject. In 1969, as governor of Georgia, he filled out a UFO sighting report. To this day, he insists that he saw something that he could not explain, even though the official explanation was that he saw the planet Venus.
Carter had promised to make public everything he could about the UFO subject, but failed to do so. He was said to have contacted the then head of the CIA, George HW Bush, and asked for all the files on UFOs. Bush replied to him that such information was on a ‘need to know’ basis and that the president did not need to know, no matter how curious he was. Despite this stonewalling, however, more than half of all UFO documents released under the Freedom of Information Act over the past thirty years came to light during Carter’s term.
Ronald Wilson Reagan is said to have had at least two UFO encounters in his life before reaching the Oval Office. The first came to light in the biography of actress Lucille Ball, in which she described how Ronald and his wife, Nancy, had arrived late to a Hollywood party. They explained that they had seen a UFO on the drive over there and were very excited about their sighting.
The second incident occurred when he was governor of California. He was flying in an aircraft with his entourage when they spotted a light zigzagging alongside the aircraft. He ordered his pilot to follow the UFO and they did so for several minutes before it shot away at high speed.
Several times during his presidency, Reagan referred to UFOs and aliens in his speeches, most notably in his address to the United Nations in 1987. Presidential speeches are heavily vetted, with dozens of people scrutinizing every word. So for such ‘far out’ subjects to be used on several occasions is an important point to reflect upon. In fact, Reagan’s speechwriter at the time of the UN address took out the ‘alien invasion’ section, but was ordered to put it back in by Reagan himself.
It should be noted that while Reagan was making these speeches that referred to UFOs and aliens, his vice-president was George HW Bush, the former CIA director that had stonewalled Carter about the same subject.
When George Herbert Walker Bush became president in 1989, he became perhaps the best-informed commander-in-chief on the UFO subject ever. He had served as director of the CIA under Carter and had been Reagan’s vice-president. It is likely that he had come into contact with a great deal of UFO-related material over the years.
During his term, though, he only referred to the subject in speeches in a joking manner. Despite this, though, it is thought that he and his staff, especially Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, knew a great deal about the subject and worked to keep the lid tightly shut.
Despite little being available to link Bush Sr. to UFOs, it is generally thought, that with his political, intelligence and even business connections, he is the one president that knows most about the subject.
William Jefferson Clinton succeeded George HW Bush in 1993 and, like the last Democrat president, Jimmy Carter, he did a great deal to declassify UFO reports and get them out in the open.
In November 1995, he gave a speech in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in which he says that as far as he knew there were no alien bodies recovered at Roswell in 1947, but if they did, he wanted to know about it. The Roswell report released in 1994 by the USAF made no mention of any bodies, but the report issued in 1997 tried to explain the bodies away as crash-test dummies dropped from aircraft.
It is thought that in this administration, the person who is in the know about UFOs is vice-president, Dick Cheney. Indeed, when UFO researcher, Grant Cameron, asked Cheney if he had ever been briefed about UFOs during a radio phone-in show, instead of simply saying: “No.” or some other dismissive comment, he said that if he had been briefed about UFOs, that it would be classified and he wouldn’t be able to talk about it. An incredible statement that proves that the UFO subject is still so highly regarded by the US government that it would be classified information!
While presidents come and go, the intelligence agencies remain and they want to keep tight control of official UFO research. Few presidents are really in the loop concerning the subject, but unidentified flying objects are still a cause for concern to this day.
In 2005, an unidentified object was detected over Washington DC. Pandemonium erupted as a terrorist attack akin to 9/11 was feared. People ran for shelter and the president and his staff were whisked to safety. The object was later explained away as a ‘radar blip’.
UFO Files continues to be high quality, serious programming (unlike Discovery’s World’s Strangest UFO Stories, which persists in ridiculing the subject) and this episode was extremely interesting. While little was deduced about the involvement of the office of the president in UFO matters, we got a glimpse into the workings of government and their continued interest in the subject. A subject that, according to Dick Cheney, is still classified.
All images are the property of the respective copyright holders and are used here solely for review purposes.
© Steve Johnson – 2006
The History Channel, Sunday 22nd January 2006
The second episode of The History Channel’s new series, The UFO Files, featured what some believe may be the single most important UFO case in history, most certainly the biggest case in the UK. That event has become known as the Rendlesham Incident, or Britain’s Roswell.
In December of 1980, peculiar lights were reported over the twin RAF bases of Woodbridge & Bentwaters in Suffolk. Many US Air Force personnel reported these objects, physical evidence was found, on-site recordings were made and official documents were filed and classified. Rumours abounded for three years until the famous Halt Memorandum was released through the US Freedom of Information Act, thus crystallizing the Rendlesham Incident in the minds of UFO researchers around the globe.
This program featured many, but not all, of the main players in the story, focussing on the men that were, or claimed to be, there. We also heard from researchers that helped push this startling event into the public domain, although the people that broke the story, to such an extent that it briefly made the front pages of national newspapers, were strangely absent.
We began with an overview of the Bentwaters base. In 1980, it was one of the largest, most important in Europe, with over 12,000 personnel serving and protecting a significant nuclear arsenal. It was the height of the Cold War, with tensions between NATO and the Soviet Union at boiling point. Vigilance was not only necessary, it was imperative.
John Burroughs told of how he and his sergeant saw odd lights in the dense forest that separated the two bases. Alarmed by what they had seen, they headed back to the security point and phoned in their sighting on a secure line. Tech. Sergeant Jim Penniston was dispatched to their position and the group headed out into the forest.
Penniston saw the lights and at first thought he was looking at a downed aircraft. He called in his fears and questioned the two men present. Burroughs and Penniston, along with the sergeant’s driver, drove deeper into the trees to investigate. Burrough’s sergeant was to afraid to assist and he was left behind.
Burroughs and Penniston left their jeep and walked towards the lights. Their radios suffered from strong interference and the closer they got to their goal, the more certain they became that this was no plane crash.
In a clearing, they were illuminated by a blinding light. Penniston approached the light and it dimmed to reveal a large, dark, pyramidal object, roughly nine feet wide by eight feet high. He took several photographs and constantly made notes, but his handwriting became more illegible the closer he got to the object. He saw peculiar symbols on the object and he drew these into his notepad. Other than these markings, he could make out no other features. He reached out and touched the craft, finding it warm to the touch and as smooth as glass. Light emanated from the fabric of the hull.
There was another blinding flash and the men dove for cover. The craft lifted up out of the trees and sped away into the night sky. Penniston said that he had never seen an aircraft move as fast in his Air Force career.
Then they saw another light flashing in the trees, but they almost immediately realised that this was the beam from the Orford Ness lighthouse, some five miles distant. Their radios began working normally and they called in a report.
On returning to the base, they were debriefed, but fearing for their careers, the men gave a ‘sanitised’ report, omitting the more weird aspects to their experience. Their superior officer warned them that ‘some things were best left alone’.
Unable to put the event out of his mind, Penniston returned to the site in Rendlesham Forest the next day and found depressions in the ground where the UFO had been seen. They were in a triangular formation, exactly 9.8 feet apart. He made plaster of Paris moulds of the indentations. He decided not to hand over his moulds to his superiors.
Two nights later, Deputy Base Commander, Lt. Col. Charles Halt, was enjoying a relaxing evening at an officer’s Christmas party when one of his men arrived in an agitated state and reported to Halt that “It’s back!”
Halt was determined to put this nonsense to rest. His men were supposed to be protecting billions of dollars worth of military hardware, not chasing phantom lights through the trees. He organised a security detail and they headed out into the forest. On arriving, Halt found that a security cordon had been set in place and large, mobile units known as Light-Alls deployed, although they would not work properly for some reason.
Although the UFO was no longer visible, Halt and his men headed into the trees, armed with a still camera, a Geiger counter, a night vision scope and Halt’s personal cassette recorder, upon which he captured one of the most amazing pieces of audio footage ever. Halt was certain that he could find a logical explanation for the UFO reports.
Then we were treated to the actual recording Halt made on his recorder (a copy of which can be found on the free CD with the first issue of the UFOData Report).
The Light-Alls refused to work, so they headed into the woods without the illumination afforded by the mobile units. They soon found that their radios became subject to the same interference that had plagued Burroughs and Penniston two nights previously. Halt saw that several trees had been damaged as though something large had moved through the forest, snapping off branches and scouring off bark as it went. He ordered for photographs to be taken. The Geiger counter began registering high levels of radiation on the sides of the trees that had been damaged, the sides that faced the alleged landing site.
Suddenly, the animals on the adjacent farm began making a great deal of noise and a glowing, red light appeared in the trees. Halt described it as looking like an eye winking at them. It moved through the trees towards their position. Halt said that it looked like it was dripping what looked like molten metal. Then it moved out into the farmer’s field and hovered there for about twenty or thirty seconds before silently exploding into multiple white objects that sped away. On investigating the field, Halt’s men could find no evidence of burn marks or debris that might be left behind from what they had witnessed.
The object then reappeared, heading their way from the south and stopping overhead. It shone down what Halt described as a beam that was laser-like in its intensity. Halt’s shock at what he is seeing is clearly evident on the tape. The beam then goes out and the object moves on over the base, specifically, some said, the nuclear weapons storage area, and begins shining its beam down to the ground again. It was here that Halt’s recorder ran out of tape.
With the craft still hovering over the airfield, Halt decided that they should return to the base. They were met by John Burroughs and Adrian Bustinza. Burroughs was concerned about Halt’s men, they seemed very shaken, he said. Then he saw a blue light in the field and pointed it out to the colonel. Halt gave him permission to check it out and he and Bustinza headed into the field, while Halt and his team went back to the base.
Burroughs and Bustinza ran towards the blue glow and just as they reached it, with Burroughs in the lead, it vanished. Bustinza told him that he had seen him enter the blue light and disappear. He could not believe it. Burroughs had more questions than answers.
By January of 1981, the bases were full of rumours about what had gone on just after Christmas. Former head of the MOD UFO desk, Nick Pope, asserted that these men were highly-trained professionals, expert witnesses with many years of experience in most cases. The investigation that followed remains controversial twenty-five years later.
According to the airmen, they became involved, against their will, in a government cover-up. At first, routine was conformed to. Halt debriefed his men, as regulations required, and statements were taken. Penniston claimed that after the meetings with Halt, things ‘began to get heavy’.
Two weeks after the debriefings, Penniston said he was interrogated by high-ranking officials from the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). Georgina Bruni, author of You Can’t Tell The People, explained that the OSI had the power to question anybody. They could walk into a general’s office and arrest him if the liked.
Penniston gave the OSI his statement and offered them the sketches he had made during his sighting. After this, Penniston cannot remember much about the interrogation, but he believes that he may have given consent for truth drugs such as sodium pentathol to be administered.
During the OSI’s investigation, in which more and more people were called in, Adrian Bustinza was questioned so aggressively that he refuses to speak publicly about the incident to this day. Georgina Bruni says she has spoken with him, however, and he told her that the OSI forced him to agree, with a thinly-veiled threat of death, that what he saw was the light from Orford Ness. Other witnesses were also told to drop their stories about a UFO.
A short time later, Burroughs and Halt said that they saw activity going on in the forest, with personnel partaking in covert activities at the landing site. Halt’s and Penniston’s photographs came back from the processing lab completely fogged out. Penniston believes that the photos were intentionally whited-out. Even Halt, the highest ranking eyewitness, believes he was kept out of the loop of the investigation. He was asked to type up a memo describing the incident. He did so, believing it would be shared with the British authorities. The memo was not meant to be a definitive account of the incident and Halt made several mistakes and omissions, but he assumed that it would create enough interest for a proper investigation to be started. The memo was filed away.
Three years later, the News of the World ran a headline story entitled: UFO LANDS IN SUFFOLK And That’s OFFICIAL. The article was based around Halt’s memo that had been released via the US Freedom of Information Act. The programme claimed that the memo was brought into the open by Larry Warren, a former security policeman at the base. Peter Robbins (who co-authored with Warren the book, Left At East Gate) explained how it was Warren’s information that led to the memo being released to the public.
Warren’s story is somewhat different to the one described in the Halt Memo:
On December, 29th 1980, a nineteen-year old Warren was ordered from his security post and told to go into the woods to assist with Colonel Halt’s investigation. On reaching a clearing, he saw a group of military personnel standing around a glowing object.
He described Air Force officers conversing with three, small, child-like figures. Warren said that it seemed like some sort of protocol was being enacted, but before he could witness further, he was dismissed from the scene. The next day, he was taken for debriefing with several other witnesses and shown film footage of military/UFO interactions going back to perhaps the 1940s. Afterwards, Warren’s memories become disjointed. He recalls being in an underground facility with medical personnel and of being in some sort of mess hall all alone. He thinks that these may have been implanted memories, used in an attempt to fog his actual recall of the UFO sighting.
Warren’s pronouncements infuriated the other witnesses. They said that Warren’s story was a pure fabrication and that nothing he said can be believed. Although his story does match with some of the events described by the others, he is the only one saying that he saw aliens. Also, nobody else can recall him being on the scene at the time of the incident. Warren remains firm, however, that what he has told us is the truth.
While the reports from these highly-trained witnesses are compelling, it is, the narrator told us, the discrepancies in their stories that cause concern.
Astronomer and retired Air Force major, James McGaha, was convinced that what the witnesses saw on those nights was the Orford Ness lighthouse. He explained that at night, the beam from the lighthouse can be scattered by the trees, creating weird effects. John Burroughs disagreed and reminded us that in his report, he clearly stated that they saw and quickly recognised the beam from the lighthouse. Georgina Bruni told us that no lighthouse can move through the trees, dart about the sky and shine beams down to the ground. McGaha countered this by saying that on the night of the 25th December, a Soviet Cosmos satellite re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and would have looked like a very bright fireball. He fails to account for the discrepancy in the dates, however, plus the fact that such an event would be transitory and not last for several hours, as described by the witnesses.
In 2002, declassified government files shed new light on what happened that night in 1980. The documents showed that an RAF investigation had taken place in 1981 and that the investigators were happy that what the witnesses described was not the Orford Ness Lighthouse. The files also state that the radar facilities at the time were faulty and that no recordings were made of any radar contacts. In fact, the files say that the radar camera recorder was switched off. Listen to the fascinating interview with Gary Baker on the free UFOData Report CD for more about this amazing statement.
The files also showed that the investigations had been based around Halt’s memo, which stated that the sightings began on the 27th December, when the sightings had begun on the 25th. The programme is wrong here, because the first sighting was after midnight on the 26th December, long after any sighting of the Cosmos satellite may or may not have been made. The only photographs made available show the clearing, but no evidence of a landed craft. According to the investigation, what happened that night was ‘no threat to national security’.
If, Larry Warren asked, UFOs beaming down lights onto a nuclear weapons storage area isn’t of defence significance, what is?
James McGaha responded that if a real UFO had been hovering over the base, shining down beams of light, then everybody would have been awoken and placed on a high state of alert. That didn’t happen, he said.
Nick Pope declared that, as a great many of the key staff of the base were on leave, there was a decision-making vacuum. I find this an astounding statement to make. Lt. Col. Halt was the deputy base commander. He went on to become the actual base commander. If he can’t make the appropriate decisions during an incident of this nature, who can?
The narrator went on to say that the Rendlesham Forest Incident is likely to remain a mystery.
What we are left with are a few government documents that are often contradictory or incomplete, the stories of the eyewitnesses and the physical evidence, like Jim Penniston’s plaster moulds and drawings and Halt’s tape recording.
Nick Pope closed by saying that everybody has heard of Roswell, but only UFO researchers know about Rendlesham. It is time that this case is placed alongside, or even above Roswell, as perhaps the most significant UFO encounter of all time.
Britain’s Roswell gave us a serious, if sometimes incomplete or erroneous portrait of the events during the Rendlesham Incident. No mention was made of researchers such as Brenda Butler and Dot Street, who gathered many eyewitness reports from local people who also saw strange lights in the sky at the same time, and were among the first people to break the story.
That said, the programme did try to focus on the events as reported by the eyewitnesses and any sceptical explanations were addressed, but not allowed to take over the programme, as often happens with this sort of documentary. The ambivalence shown towards the events, though, is infuriating. To simply suggest that the incident ‘will remain a mystery’ is like saying ‘just forget about it and it will go away’.
I agree with Nick Pope that this incident should be elevated high above Roswell and any and all government documents related to this event should be released to the public. I’m sure you all agree. I’m also certain that it ain’t gonna happen! If the base commander can be kept in the dark, then us plebs in the ‘real world’ most certainly can.
All images are the property of the respective copyright holders and are used here solely for review purposes.
© Steve Johnson – 2006
On Sunday, 15th January 2006, two of the top documentary channels on television each launched a brand new series devoted to the subject of UFOs. The History Channel began with The UFO Files at 8pm and at 10pm, the Discovery Channel launched The World’s Strangest UFO Stories.
Both shows picked popular topics for their premieres and both programs had high production values, although World’s Strangest had a jauntier, more humorous approach to the subject. The fact that major ‘real-life’ documentary channels chose to broadcast brand new series of this type clearly demonstrates that the UFO subject is far from dead. In fact the introduction to the Discovery Channel’s effort stated that ‘across the planet, tales of extra-terrestrial encounters appear to be on the increase’.
The UFO Files began with Beyond The War of the Worlds and was less about UFOs than it was about acclimating the general public to the existence of extra-terrestrial life.
We were given a history of science fiction, from the early days of astronomy to the discovery that the planets in the sky were other worlds, separate, but perhaps not dissimilar to the Earth. Nineteenth-century writers such as Jules Verne and HG Wells took the phenomenal advances of science at that time and adapted them into speculative works of fiction and fantasy.
In 1897, Wells published his third book and The War of the Worlds became a popular sensation. Its central idea that Martians invaded England, then the world’s major superpower, and quickly decimated the might of the British Empire sent shockwaves through society. His striding, metal tripods that employed death rays and poison gas terrified the public and the book is just as popular today as it was over a hundred years ago.
A hefty section devoted itself to the infamous Orson Welles radio broadcast of 1938. This adaptation of Wells’ novel had the Martians invading New Jersey and, with its use of the idiom of the ‘breaking news’ format, created panic amongst sections of the American population. Orson Welles made a public apology, but this did not prevent others from trying the same methods and similar broadcasts in Ecuador in 1949, in which rioters killed 15 people, and Buffalo, New York in 1968, still caused a great deal of concern.
With the launch of unmanned probes to Mars in the Sixties and Seventies, humankind got its first close-up views of the Red Planet. What we saw was a world pockmarked with craters and with an atmosphere so thin that life as we know it would be impossible.
Then in 1976, the Viking Orbiter snapped what appeared to be a massive face on the Martian surface. The Cydonia Face caused a sensation and many believed it was an artificial construction. Later, more high resolution images from Mars Global Surveyor seemed to prove that the Face was nothing more than a mesa, a desert hill that simply looked like a face in a certain light. To this day, though, many researchers still believe that the Face is a remnant of some long-gone Martian civilisation.
The Viking landers touched down on the desolate plains of Mars and performed experiments that, at first, seemed to indicate the presence of life. These findings from one experiment were discarded, however, but its designer, Dr Gilbert Levin, stands by the results of the experiment to this day. This was conveniently omitted from the program.
As NASA continues its missions to Mars, building up to manned landings, it has become clear that we are going to find nothing resembling Wells’ Martians there. This has not diluted the love that people have for Wells’ The War of the Worlds in any way, though. This year, Steven Spielberg released his blockbuster version of the novel (although it was in reality a remake of the George Pal 1953 movie) and in 2007, a CGI movie version of the classic 1978 album, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds, is scheduled for release.
While this program provided a fascinating history of the impact of Wells’ novel, its value as a UFO documentary is less impressive. It did show how the population can be manipulated by the media into a frenzy of paranoia and panic with the threat of an alien invasion.
The World’s Strangest UFO Stories began on the Discovery Channel at 10pm with a show entitled Roswell: The Truth. Comedian, Mark Williams, hosted the show and it was a light-hearted affair, despite the fact that it was a serious subject to many of the people involved.
After a history of the Roswell Incident, in which the Roswell Army Airfield (RAAF) issued an official press release stating that a flying disc had been captured on a ranch near the town of Roswell, New Mexico, we were introduced to Stanton Friedman, the man that brought the incident back into the limelight in 1978.
He told how he interviewed the intelligence officer of the RAAF, Major Jesse Marcel, and how he was informed that it was no weather balloon that crashed that fateful day in July, 1947, but a craft from another world. Marcel’s son, also named Jesse and now a flight-surgeon in the US Air Force, also told how he handled pieces of debris from the crash and that it was not from a balloon, top secret or not.
Thus began a rollercoaster ride of theories and speculation and debunking from such people as Nick Redfern, Dave Thomas, Tom Carey, Don Schmitt and even the townsfolk of Roswell themselves.
We heard about Project Mogul, a top secret project using balloons to carry huge trains of sensors into the sky to detect Soviet nuclear tests (even though the Soviets didn’t detonate their first atomic bombs until 1949). We heard about alien bodies being recovered and how the families of those involved were threatened into silence.
We heard about experiments with Nazi technology and poor monkeys being sacrificed in such tests. We heard about multiple UFO crashes on that day. And we heard how UFO researchers are ‘cashing in’ on the story, while sceptics bemoan that they cannot demand a thousand dollars per lecture.
We were treated to footage of Ray Santilli’s alien autopsy film and told how it still cannot be completely debunked.
Two official, government reports explained away the incident in various ways utilising several projects that spanned many years, as proof. It was all a case of mistaken identity, wasn’t it?
The show ended on a positive note. Roswell thrives on the publicity and subsequent tourism dollars. Ultimately, Williams said, if you believe that the Roswell Incident is a load of rubbish, then you have to believe that the people of the town that claim an alien spacecraft crashed there are either terribly mistaken or that they are lying – every single one of them… “and that’s very hard to do.”
For a show called Roswell: The Truth, few truths were uncovered. But that’s hardly surprising as the story has become more and more complex over the years. It did its level best to report what happened in an entertaining format and I think it did a good job. Sceptics and believers alike were given a fair shake of the stick and eventually, we are left to make up our own minds – which is how it should be.
Both series continue on their respective channels and we’ll bring you reviews and comment as they air.
All images are the property of their respective copyright owners and are used here solely for review purposes.
© Steve Johnson – 2006
Danny Wallace may be as annoying as a Big Brother contestant, but at least he gets the UFO subject on our TV screens. For a show titled Interview With An Alien, this hour-long production was peculiarly bereft of the promised ET chit-chat.
What the show did do, though, is take us through some excellent UFO stories, complete with compelling witness testimony and some excellently-made reconstructions.
Using captions and titles utilising Star Trek fonts, it could be argued that the producers are subliminally suggesting that UFOs are the stuff of science fiction, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt as we explore the evidence presented.
Danny Wallace tells us that over 80 million Americans believe that UFOs are extra-terrestrial craft. Our first port of call is Pahrump, Nevada, home of the Art Bell Show, which broadcasts on Coast To Coast AM radio to millions of listeners every night. Art Bell and his wife tell us of his own sighting of a giant triangle that glided over them one night.
On March 13th, 1997, the UFO community was set alight by the Phoenix Lights. We hear from several eyewitnesses, including a policeman, who claim that what they saw were not aircraft flares, as the official explanation informs us. Of course, we have an astronomer who declares that what was seen that night could not possibly have been an alien spacecraft.
We are then presented with an incredible sighting from Lebanon, Missouri, in which six people, five of which are police officers, observed a huge, triangular craft moving across the sky. We hear actual police radio conversations and watch an impressive reconstruction. At first, the police thought that the initial report, from a truck driver, was a joke, until they saw it for themselves. The actual officers appeared on camera to describe what they saw.
It’s this kind of report that is extremely difficult for sceptics to dismiss and the producers of this show didn’t even try. We are told of the event and the programme moves on.
Wallace stands on the Greenwich Meridian and tells us about the famous Kenneth Arnold sighting of 1947, which brought us the term, ‘flying saucers’, even though what he saw was described as crescent-shaped in appearance and only moved ‘like a saucer skipping across a pond’.
This early wave of UFO sightings brought about intense interest from the military, culminating in special projects charged with the task of finding out what people were seeing.
We are reminded of the 1948 Eastern Airlines sighting, in which the pilots and one passenger reported seeing a 100-foot long object with windows travelling at about 700 mph. Such reports from respectable witnesses are also difficult to dismiss.
We are then told of UFO sightings by other pilots, both civilian and military. All of these men are reputable and none of them can explain what they saw. The reports caused such a stir that the US Air Force was forced to admit that they thought that the Earth was being visited by extra-terrestrial spacecraft.
Unfortunately, General Hoyt Vandenberg disagreed and accused the pilots of being ‘oddballs’. The sightings continued, however, and 1952 became the year in which the largest amount of reports ever were collected. We had the famous Washington Flap, which forced the CIA to set up the Robertson Panel, which concluded that UFOs should be stripped of their mystery. This was to be done by marginalising the phenomenon and subjecting it to ridicule to such an extent that people would no longer take reports seriously.
Fortunately this tactic did not work for a minute and reports continued to flood in. The public was still fascinated by the concept of aliens and Hollywood went on to cash in on this buzz by producing classic movies such as The Day The Earth Stood Still, The War of the Worlds, Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers and This Island Earth.
Such interest forced the USAF to set up Project Blue Book to investigate the continuing sightings of unidentified flying objects. Essentially a public relations exercise, Blue Book ran until 1969 and its goal was to debunk UFO reports by any means necessary. One of their top investigators was Dr. J Allen Hynek, an astronomer from Ohio University.
We are reminded of Blue Book case# 12548, in which a UFO was sighted on October 24th, 1968 at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. Airmen on the ground saw a brightly-lit object hovering above the ground. A B52 was flying in the area and was diverted to investigate. The crew clearly saw a structured craft and they appear on camera to describe their experiences. The co-pilot, an Air Force captain, is certain that what he saw was an alien spacecraft. The navigator picked it up on his radar scope and we are shown photographs of the actual blip as it paced the aircraft. When it vanished from the scope, they turned the aircraft in an attempt to locate the UFO visually. They saw it hovering close to the ground. It was described as at least 200-feet in diameter, hundreds of feet long, glowing yellow, with a metallic cylinder that was attached.
The crew of the B52 and sixteen ground witnesses attested that they saw a UFO that night. Blue Book came to the astonishing conclusion that what they actually saw were nothing more than stars!
When the Air Force closed down Project Blue Book in 1969, after the Condon Committee decided that UFOs were of no scientific significance, Dr. Hynek was bemused by their findings. He had become a firm believer that there was something to the UFO enigma that warranted continued study.
Next up is the most famous UFO incident in history – the Roswell crash. We are told of the debris collected by Major Jesse Marcel of the Roswell Army Air Field and how it was decided that it was a crashed flying saucer. Then the story was changed and the world was told that it was nothing more than a downed weather balloon. Marcel, however, was adamant that what he saw and handled was not debris from any balloon.
Wallace, however, seems convinced by the official explanation that what was recovered was from a top secret project, codenamed Mogul. He clearly insinuates that the UFO aspects to the case were part of a huge money-making scam, from books to videos to the townspeople of Roswell themselves cashing in on their city’s new-found fame.
The final segment of the show is devoted to alien abductions. It is obvious that Wallace and the producers have no real interest in this phenomenon and that they think that anybody who says that they have been abducted is suffering from hypnogogic dreams or are victims of unscrupulous hypnotherapists.
Academics such as Susan Clancy pour scorn on Hopkins’ hypnosis methods and tell us that abduction ‘memories’ are nothing more than dreams. They try to dismiss them by saying the experiences are akin to the old tales of incubi and succubi, but our modern minds interpret the imagery as alien in origin.
Of course, the sceptics conveniently forget about abductees that are taken from cars or elsewhere when they are wide awake!
Finally, we talk to astronomers about the possibilities of life ‘out there’ and that most scientist think that there is definitely intelligent life somewhere else in our galaxy. Frank Drake and Seth Shostak discuss their SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) projects. Drake tells us about a signal he picked up that turned out to be an aeroplane. The famous ‘Wow!’ signal doesn’t even get a look-in.
Wallace ends on the positive note that while scientists and believers may be diametrically opposed in their interpretations of UFOs, they both share the overwhelming desire that one day actual, open contact with aliens will be made.
While Interview With An Alien (why the heck did they call it that??) improved greatly on Wallace’s previous excursion into the UFO field in his Conspiracies series, you still got the impression that he thought it was all a load of nonsense. Something to laugh at. Something that doesn’t deserve serious attention. He glosses over the hard-to-explain reports, not even trying to provide an alternative theory, but grabs into the stuff he can easily dismiss and ridicule, such as Roswell and alien abductions.
However, like I said earlier, he gets UFOs onto the TV screens of the nation and he presents them in an entertaining, high quality format, so I really shouldn’t grumble – much.
© Steve Johnson - 2005
All images are the property of Sky Television, Springs Media Inc. and Alfred Haber Distribution and are used here solely for review purposes.
In the mid-Seventies, a documentary appeared that to this day has yet to be rivalled in its scope or magnitude. UFOs: It Has Begun has become legendary, its contents becoming the stuff of myth. It even has its own conspiracy theory surrounding one particular segment.
Originally released in 1976 and hosted by the creator of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling, UFOs: It Has Begun is an almost two-hour exploration of the UFO phenomenon that takes us into the stark halls of the Pentagon, the subdued efficiency of air-traffic control towers, the bleak landscape of the American Mid-West and to Holloman Air Force Base for its puzzling climax. More on that later.
Assisting Serling were two Hollywood greats, Academy Award nominee, Burgess Meredith and Academy Award winner, Jose Ferrer. Also providing input were former officers of the US armed forces and ex-government spokesmen. Last, but not least, the legendary J Allen Hynek made a major contribution.
The film was re-released in 1979 with major segments added that were hosted by renowned French ufologist, Jacques Vallee, in which the US-centric slant of the film was softened by reports from around the world.
The film had incredibly high production standards for the time and included some impressive effects to recreate the various cases it covered. We are also shown actual photographs and little-known footage of UFOs.
I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of the video from a second-hand market a few years ago. It was the 1979 version and it is this that I shall now review.
Walking towards camera amid a swirling vortex of lights, Rod Serling queries the origins of man. Are we the product of natural evolution on Earth, or do we owe our existence to the intervention of beings from another world?
November 2nd, 1967 – At 11pm, two Texans are driving in their pick-up truck when it suddenly stalls and the radio goes haywire. As they get out to investigate, a brilliant, dome-shaped UFO glides above them, casting them with its electric-blue glow. They report their sighting, but the US Air Force debunks the event as nothing more than globular lightning.
So begins the documentary. The animated title fills the screen and we are off and running.
Serling describes other reports from ancient times, from Rome through to Charlemagne.
Jose Ferrer tells of an event in Lyon, France in the 10th century in which several people are seen descending from some sort of flying vehicle. The townsfolk obviously want to burn them at the stake, but they are saved by the intervention of the bishop, who concludes that everybody is lying and that these people could not possibly have descended from a flying craft.
Meredith: November 12th, 1887. The crew of the sailing ship, Siberian watch in amazement as a sphere of fire emerges from the ocean, approaches the ship and then zooms away. The event lasted five minutes.
Serling then describes the Airship Invasion of the American Mid-West during 1896-1897 in which many sightings of these mysterious craft were reported.
Jacques Vallee explains that UFOs are not just an American phenomenon. They have been sighted all over the world. In fact, the first major wave of modern times was in Scandinavia in 1946, the year before ufology was ‘officially’ born in the USA after Kenneth Arnold’s famous sighting. Other major waves have occurred in Africa, Latin America, Mexico, the Soviet Union, China, Australia and New Zealand and many other places.
Next we have a selection of NASA reports:
Gemini 4: James McDivitt sighted an object that he described as having ‘arms and antennae’.
Gemini 5: This mission had a UFO pacing the capsule and was picked up on radar. The astronauts reported that it approached to two thousand metres before disappearing.
The tragic tale of Captain Thomas Mantell is told, with a dramatic reconstruction. On January 7th, 1948, Kentucky police reported seeing a bright object in the sky. Mantell’s flight of P51s was diverted to investigate. They followed the UFO and Mantell described it as travelling at half their speed. As his colleagues descended to land, Mantell ascended to 20,000 feet until radio contact was lost. The wreckage of his plane was found later, with Mantell’s body inside.
Six months later, over an airbase in Georgia, an Eastern Airlines flight sighted a cylindrical object with no wings, travelling at 700mph. It was described as 100 feet long with flames at the rear. Two rows of windows were seen on the object. One of the passengers also witnessed this and he appears on film to recount his observations. In total, three aircraft, the passenger and people on the ground all saw this UFO, which to this day remains unidentified.
Speaking from inside the Pentagon, Colonel Bill Coleman, Chief of Public Information for the US Air Force from 1969-1974, recounts the formation of Project Sign, which would go on to spawn Project Grudge and Project Blue Book. He explained how the authorities at first accepted that UFOs might be extra-terrestrial in origin, before later rejecting this notion completely.
In 1952, Washington DC was the centre of one of the most famous ‘flaps’ of UFO sightings. A spokesman for the US Air Force tells us about what happened during that time. They had definite radar fixes on many objects, with some travelling in excess of 7300mph. The UFOs also invaded the restricted airspace over the White House.
A week later, the UFOs returned and F94 jets were scrambled to intercept. However, as soon as the jets approached the UFOs, all the unknown traffic on the scopes vanished. When the fighter planes turned to leave the area, the UFOs reappeared again.
Because of the public’s interest, the largest and longest press conference since World War II was held at the Pentagon. This was the famous one in which General Samford said that he was happy in the knowledge that the UFOs seen on the radar scopes were nothing more than temperature inversions.
Despite the USAF downplaying the events, the CIA set up a panel of experts to investigate the UFO problem. One of the panel was astronomer J Allen Hynek. He explains how they were shown the Tremonton and Great Falls, Montana films and given the reports by the Air Force that concluded that the objects in the films were not birds, but self-luminous objects. To Hynek’s astonishment, the panel ignored the expert analysis and decided that the objects were, in fact, birds. Hynek felt that the panel intended to do nothing but debunk the footage without giving it the serious, scientific study it clearly deserved.
Rod Serling introduces L Michael Drummond, a man who filmed a UFO in San Francisco in 1965. Drummond explains how, after he reported his sighting (in which others witnessed the object as he filmed), the USAF asked to see his footage. He complied and sent them his 8mm cine film. He then received a letter explaining that the film had been sent to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for further study. Several weeks later, his film was returned. Unfortunately, it was not his original film that he got back, but a poor quality copy. The object he filmed, which was clearly visible in the original, he says, is hardly discernible at all in the copy he got back.
Lt. Col. Robert Friend is a former head of Project Blue Book. In 1969, Friend attended a meeting in which an admiral claimed that a woman in Maine was in contact with alien beings. Two naval officers were despatched to see her. The woman went into a trance and the officers asked her technical questions that she should not know the answers to. She answered them easily, allegedly receiving telepathic assistance from the aliens.
The aliens were willing to communicate directly with one of the officers, a man with the rank of commander. He agreed and went into a trance-state too. He began answering questions about the future of the world and told them that there would be no World War III. When asked for proof, he told the others to go to the window. They did and saw a UFO outside in the sky. The local radar tower was contacted to see if they had a fix on the object, but they reported that that entire quadrant of the scope was ‘blanked out’.
In the presence of Col. Friend, the commander did some automatic writing in a style that was not his usual handwriting. He named some of the aliens:
Serling claims that he has the actual report of the incident in which all of those present are named, but he does not go into the details.
Col. Coleman returns to explain more of Blue Book’s methods.
In 1966, an incident so profound occurred that future president, Gerald Ford, asked that a Congressional Hearing be conducted about the subject. Only three people are called to testify: the Secretary of the Air Force, J Allen Hynek and head of Project Blue Book, Major Hector Quintanilla.
The major describes the report in question in which a police officer reports a UFO near a swampy area in Michigan. This was the case in which Hynek suggested at a press conference that swamp gas might have been the culprit. The press pounced on this remark and Hynek has regretted it ever since.
Socorro, New Mexico – April 24th, 1964. In one of the most famous UFO cases ever, we hear from the actual people present, including the man who saw the UFO, Lonnie Zamora. The despatch officer explains how he received the radio calls from Zamora, while Zamora describes what happened. Hynek and Quintanilla review the evidence, with the major coming to the conclusion that what Zamora saw was some sort of NASA test.
Jacques Vallee returns to recount a tale from 1897. A Kansas farmer and his family are awoken by a commotion and go outside to see a bright airship descending on their farm. One of the farmer’s cows is caught by ‘a red cable coming from the airship’. The next day, he finds the cow’s hide, legs and head many miles away. This is one of the earliest recordings of cattle mutilations connected with a UFO sighting.
In over thirty states (at the time of filming), there have been hundreds of reports of cattle being found dead, with sexual organs, tongue and other organs removed with no signs of struggle. The animals are usually almost completely drained of blood, with none on the ground around the animal.
Bill Jackson, a Colorado reporter, tells us of the cases he has covered and goes into grisly detail. Satanic cults, drug smugglers, UFOs and the government have all been blamed.
Carl Whiteside, of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), claims that 99% of mutilation reports were caused by natural predators. Of the 203 reports he received, his office only got 45 tissue samples. Of those 45 samples, only 2 were found to have been mutilated with a sharp instrument.
Jackson refutes the CBI statement by saying that these ranchers and rural policemen know predator attacks when they see them. A local sheriff and another deputy agree with Jackson. In most cases, predators, such as coyotes, will not approach a mutilated carcass. We are shown in detail, a mutilated cow, with clear incisions and whole organs removed.
As the lights in the sky and mutilations of 1975 continued, the ranchers, dismayed at the lack of interest from officials, began arming themselves. When they saw lights in the sky near their herds, they began taking shots at them!
Dr William Fitzgerald is one of the few vets who is willing to talk about the subject. He performed an autopsy on a mutilated bull and came to the conclusion that no natural predator was responsible for the condition of the animal. He says that the cuts to the carcass were likely done with a very sharp, surgical blade. He describes how it is possible to drain blood from an animal by using a needle through the jugular vein. The animal’s heart will then pump almost all of the blood from the beast, except for the most vital internal organs. He said this could be done if the animal was anaesthetised or restrained.
The animal he autopsied was restrained by something other than rope. It was washed completely clean. Dr Fitzgerald has no explanation.
In Dulce, New Mexico, state policeman, Gabe Valdez calls on the assistance of Howard Burgess, a scientist famous for the development of Kirlian photography, in regard to mutilation cases. When they got the first mutilation report in 1976, Burgess suggested that the cattle may have somehow been marked before the mutilation occurred. Marked with something that would show up in Ultra-Violet (UV) light.
He and Valdez found that out of 80 cattle they inspected, 5 had been marked with a powdery, white substance that, indeed, only showed up under a UV light. They removed hair from the marked areas and also control samples from unmarked cattle. When analysed, it was found that the marked hairs contained high levels of potassium and magnesium. Burgess didn’t really know what to make of it until a UFO was seen over a town in New Mexico shedding what appeared to be an ash-like residue. This substance was also found to contain high levels of potassium and magnesium.
In 1975, deputy Tex Graves took his men out into the countryside around Sterling, Colorado. Bill Jackson went along as they tried to track down the lights in the sky that had been reported. They could not keep up with them, though and any photographs they took did not produce anything significant.
Eighteen months later, the lights returned and the mutilations continued. Jackson loaned a Lentar lens from the Honeywell Corporation and coupled this with some high-speed Kodak film. This time they got some images of the UFOs that defy explanation.
In 1974, Vallee recounts how he received a call from a woman in California. She had been travelling in her car towards Los Angeles when she saw a light in the sky. Thinking it was a helicopter, she and her passengers paid it scant attention. Then the light began moving very strangely. It darted around their car, affording them a closer look. The woman (going under the pseudonym of Helen) described it as being as wide as eight lanes of freeway, brilliant white and saucer-shaped. Four beams of light appeared, struck them and they felt as if they were being teleported out of the car. The next thing they knew, they were ‘beamed’ back into the car and the UFO had gone.
Years later, Helen underwent regressive hypnosis. She recalled seeing a human-looking man in a long robe. They were in a large, white room, with curved walls. She as shown data on various screens and felt very peaceful. The man spoke English, but she said that telepathic signals were used at the same time. He said he and his people were thousands of years old and had influenced many people through history. It was a typical contactee case.
Col. Coleman reported how that in 1969, the Condon Committee concluded that UFOs were of no defence significance and that no further study was warranted. Over twelve thousand case files were placed into storage and official investigations ended with the closure of Project Blue Book.
However, UFO reports continued to appear in the media. By early 1974, there were over one thousand unexplained UFO cases in the United States alone. Jose Ferrer and Burgess Meredith describe some of these cases, many of which are long-duration events and also multiple witness sightings.
Jacques Vallee recounts the case of the Tasmanian pilot, Frederick Valentich, who reported a UFO over the Bass Strait in 1978 before disappearing. He has never been heard from since and no trace of his plane has ever been found.
Vallee also recalls some other cases from 1978 and 1979, including the famous Wellington, New Zealand sighting, which made headlines around the world. He goes on to explain how NORAD and its counterparts cannot track all objects in the sky, as we are led to believe. They can only track objects, says Vallee, which they know about, such as aircraft, incoming missiles and conventional spacecraft.
In 1973, an army helicopter crew had just finished their annual physicals and were declared fit for duty. They took off from Port Columbus airfield in Ohio and a few minutes into the flight, they saw a red light on the eastern horizon. The light paced the chopper to their right. Then suddenly it began to head towards them. The pilot estimated it travelled fifteen miles in almost no time at all. They braced for impact and began to descend in an attempt to avoid the object. The UFO descended with them, still on a collision course. Then the cockpit was washed with a strange, green light for several seconds. They got a good look at the object, describing it as cigar-shaped with a dome and metallic in appearance. It reflected the lights around it. Somehow they found themselves ascending, even though their instruments were still set for descent. The helicopter went from an altitude of 1700 feet to 3800 feet. The men cannot explain their encounter, but filed a report as ordered.
Serling returns and suggests that we should consider that these objects are real, extra-terrestrial spacecraft. Humans have designed many different aircraft configurations in only a few years of powered flight. The same could be applied to UFOs, which are seen in all shapes and sizes.
He then goes on to describe the aliens themselves, based on reports:
“Ashen skin, possible with a protective membrane.
Nose indefinite save for two, small breathing holes.
A slit mouth, opening or no mouth at all.
Behaviour cautious, curious, firm.
Ability to paralyse on touch.
Sounds emitted –mmm – humming.
Oohs in a foreign language or some accent.
Buzzing as if electronic from their head and chest.
Wearing head protection or overall body protection.”
Lt. Col. Friend, Major Quintanilla, Dr Hynek and one other contributor, whose name I did not catch, appear together and muse about the nature of these alien beings. Where are they from? How does their intelligence differ from ours? Can we truly communicate with them? Will we ever find a logical explanation?
Serling asks how would the public react to an open admission about the existence of extra-terrestrials. He calls on an academic to explain. The professor tells us that research has shown that our populace might be worried about an advanced race visiting us, but they would not panic, unless given cause to, say if the race were hostile or threatening in some other way. In fact, such an admission might help unite the peoples of the Earth, especially, if the aliens were indeed an enemy.
Now we come to the climax of the show. The section that has caused the most discussion and controversy.
Serling asks what of the future? It is likely that contact will be made. Take the following scenario that might happen in the future or may have already happened.
On a clear day at 5:32am, at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. A recon plane is on the runway, ready for take-off. Sergeant Mann in the control tower receives a call that a UFO is approaching the base. We hear what sounds like control tower chatter about an approaching UFO, followed by a quick clip of a bright object descending. More names are revealed as a Sergeant Whitmore reports to the base commander, Colonel Horner. He orders a red alert. Alarms blare and emergency vehicles are deployed. Two fighter jets are despatched to escort the UFO out of the area. A helicopter, containing a tech sergeant and staff sergeant, on a routine photographic mission run off several feet of film of the three objects, one of which breaks from the group and begins to descend. A high-speed camera crew on the ground runs off about 600 feet of film. They continue to film the UFO as it approaches. It hovers about ten feet above the ground for about a minute, yawing like a ship at anchor. It then sets down on three extension pads. The commander, two officers and two base air force scientists arrive and wait apprehensively.
A panel opens in the side of the craft and three beings emerge one at a time. They are wearing tight-fitting jumpsuits, are short and have a blue-grey complexion. Their eyes are set far apart and they have a large, pronounced nose. A head piece with a rope-like design is worn. The commander and the two scientists step forward to greet them. Arrangements are made ‘by some sort of communication’ and the group retires to an inner office in the King One area. A stunned group of military personnel are left behind. Who the visitors are, where they are from or what they want is unknown. We are then shown a padlocked gate, as if to affirm the secrecy of the event.
Serling concludes by saying that we have a responsibility to learn what we can about these visitors, as we may discover new energy sources or learn more about our place in the universe.
So ends one of the most amazing documentary films recorded.
It is said that the producers of the film were promised unprecedented cooperation from the US military, and the inclusion of many military reports and interviews seems to confirm that suggestion. It is also said that actual footage from a real incident at Holloman AFB would be provided to them and that this would be used as the startling finale to the programme. Unfortunately, it seems the authorities got cold feet and we ended up with some hastily-prepared footage and artwork. But was it all a fiction? During the segment, we are shown a bright light descending towards the desert. Is this a real UFO, or just an out-of-focus aircraft coming in to land? Why are specific names used, exact times and usage of precise amounts of film? What is the King One area at Holloman AFB? Apparently, in the novelisation of the film, the King One area is described as being on Mars Street in Building 930. I have been unable as yet to find a plan of the AFB with Mars Street or Building 930 noted.
So, was UFOs: It Has Begun simply an impressive documentary about the subject, given incredible access by the authorities? Or was it an attempt at disclosure, hastily retracted before broadcast? We may never know, but it has certainly made for compelling viewing.
© Steve Johnson - 2005
USE AN ALIEN!
A Personal Overview
While the mainstream media keeps sagely informing us that the UFO phenomenon is in decline, it seems that UFO-related advertising is just as much of a money-spinner as ever.
Currently, there are several television advertisements in the UK that utilise UFO/alien imagery to sell their products, such as Alan Sugar’s National Savings & Investment commercial, that shows flying saucers ‘buzzing’ London, or the recent Grolsch beer commercials showing aliens about to abduct a hapless chap until our corporate hero pops up (dressed as a ‘Man In Black’ no less) and persuades them to abduct a train load of beer instead. Then we had the Volkswagen Beetle ad campaign that proclaimed that the new style ‘lovebug’ was “back-engineered from UFOs” and the other car advert in which people speak in hushed whispers about how they all saw ‘it’ in different places at the same time, only to come to the conclusion that “there’s more than one out there”.
Of course, using science fiction imagery to sell products has been around for decades and with the upsurge in sci-fi’s popularity after the release of Star Wars in 1977, such motifs were bound to become ever more widespread. Who can forget the Refreshers advert that proclaimed “May The Fizz Be With You”, or Toot & Ploot (friendly, green aliens from Venus) going on holiday to Butlins?
One of the earliest brands I can recall seeing that openly used the ‘Grey’ alien was the corn snack known as Space Raiders. This tasty, pickled onion flavour treat first appeared on the shelves many years ago (long before series such as The X-Files, Roswell and Dark Skies made the Greys popular) and is still available today.
Some might argue that using such imagery is all part of the great drip-feeding of the public to acclimatise us for ‘the truth’ (whatever that may be), while others would just say that aliens and UFOs are cool gimmicks and kids love ‘em. How kids love National Savings and Dutch lager, though, is another matter! If such advertising campaigns are some part of a larger agenda of disclosure, then I think that they are doing their job nicely. Unless you live in the middle of the Amazon jungle, the chances are that you’ve seen the face of a Grey somewhere during the course of your day. I warrant that a live Grey could walk down the streets of New York, London or Tokyo and barely be noticed!
For many years, the word ‘UFO’ came second only to ‘sex’ as the most searched-for word on the internet (these days, the high scores tend to go to Paris Hilton for some reason, but given her history and appearance, maybe ‘UFO’ and ‘sex’ factor into those hits too – apologies to any Paris Hilton fans out there…) and there are literally millions of UFO websites all over the globe.
These days, you can get almost anything with an alien or a flying saucer emblazoned upon it, from T-shirts to lunch boxes to fridge magnets to entire computer systems. Yes, there’s a computer company called Alienware that manufacture PC systems aimed at gamers and their logo is the head of a Grey. This also highlights the boom in UFO-related video games that have appeared on the market recently, with titles such as Destroy All Humans, Area 51 and UFO: The Aftermath.
It seems there are few areas in which UFOs have not been used as a marketing tool.
Just recently, I came across two news stories on the internet that used the word ‘UFO’ in their headlines. Neither article was about aliens or UFOs nor were those phrases used in the articles in question at all. One was about a Frisbee competition and the other was about a giant pumpkin! Okay, the Frisbee story could be connected in terms that Frisbees resemble flying saucers, although this was not mentioned in the body of the article, but pumpkins? Sheesh!
While we are constantly being reminded that the UFO subject is the domain of the misinformed, the mistaken or the delusional and that UFO reports are in decline (when the opposite is in fact true), we are constantly being bombarded with UFO imagery in order to sell us any number of products. For a non-existent subject, UFOs certainly have major pulling power!
© Steve Johnson - 2005
9pm – Sky One (UK)
Wednesday 19th October 2005
A mere six days after Channel 4 aired UFOs: The Secret Evidence, the UK’s top digital channel, Sky One broadcast The Real 4400. The programme’s blurb maintained that this documentary about alien abduction was produced to accompany Sky’s showing of the hit US TV show, The 4400, but aside from a quick mention at the beginning and the actual name of the programme, the fictional series was never referenced.
Here we had a forty minute documentary devoted to alien abduction and, to be honest, it was very well made. It was beautifully photographed and scored and all sides of the debate were given ample opportunity to air their views.
We started off with a brief overview of the phenomenon, with the narrator, Sean Pertwee, telling us about ‘missing time’ and several experts such as Chris French, Bud Hopkins and Nick Pope popping in a couple of soundbites.
Then we got into the meat of the programme, with Travis Walton, the Arizona woodcutter who was abducted for five days in 1975, making it quite clear that he wished that his experience had never happened to him. He claimed that claims that he had made up the story for financial gain were spurious, as the financial gains from a book and Hollywood movie (Fire in the Sky) were essentially negative. Assertions that he was in it for the fame were countered by Walton with him saying that he was accused at first of avoiding the media spotlight and then when he did give interviews, he was accused of being a publicity seeker, so he couldn’t win! Given what his life had been like since that night, Walton said that he wouldn’t have told anybody about his experience. He just wanted to get on with his life.
After the obligatory inclusion of a few clips from 1950s B-movies pouring ridicule on the subject, we were told that while the scientific community held no interest in the phenomenon, a few academics were trying to get to the bottom of the mystery.
With that declaration, up popped Professor Chris French, hailed as Europe’s leading scientific abduction researcher. With the customary patronising attitude from many in academic circles, French explained that abductees were not ‘mad’, they were simply suffering from a complex psychological delusion.
Bud Hopkins, ‘the Godfather of the abduction movement’, maintained that the phenomenon was real and that it was not psychological.
Nick Pope, former head of the British Ministry of Defence’s UFO desk, said that he had investigated about a hundred claims of alien abduction. He was satisfied that some sort of real occurrences were going on.
Michael Carter, an American hospital chaplain, claimed to have been visited by aliens, who sat on the end of his bed whilst illuminating his room ‘like it was daytime’. He felt physical effects such as temperature changes during his experience and to this day, he sleeps with the light on.
No programme about abductions would be complete without bringing up the sleep paralysis chestnut, and Dr Chris Idzikowski performed his allotted role with aplomb, explaining to us befuddled masses that it’s all in our heads. When sleep paralysis kicks in, we wake up, but cannot move, our heart rate increases, so we think we’re going to die (!), we suffer from auditory and visual hallucinations and, basically, we’re awake, but still dreaming. Of course, Chris French agreed with him.
Professor David Jacobs said that of the 900+ cases that he had investigated, about half of those occurred while the victim was wide awake.
Next, a British case that occurred only three months before the programme aired was explored. A Lancashire family, Rachel Devereaux, Anne, her mother, and Rachel’s two sons were driving home from a local Little Chef restaurant when suddenly a bright light appeared before them. The light was compelling and soothing. It washed them with feelings of love and all the family members said that they wanted to go into it. When it was gone, they all felt a feeling of great loss.
A journey that should have taken twenty minutes lasted for an hour and twenty minutes.
Later in the programme, Rachel underwent hypnotic regression and recounted what happened to her family, describing the bright light and little beings that floated around. Her sons were laughing. Then she felt fear for her children, but a voice told her that they were in no danger. The hypnotist, Steve Burgess, felt that what she had recalled were memories of actual events. While recounting their experiences, both Rachel and Anne were moved to tears.
With this in mind, it was argued that hypnosis can insert false memories into our minds and Chris French gave an amusing story about showing a subject a fictional photograph of a balloon ride during their childhood. He claimed that ‘a sizeable majority’ of people would integrate this false memory into their real memories, completely unaware that it was an event that had never taken place. David Jacobs countered this by explaining that, although memory is not infallible, we tend not to forget major incidents that happen to us. If we did, our judicial systems would collapse.
Sceptics argue that there is no good evidence to prove researchers’ claims of alien abduction. Enter the implantees!
A French air traffic controller, Eric Julien, a man who’s job entails working under great stress and making extremely important decisions in terms of air safety every day, believed he had been abducted by aliens and that they had placed something beneath his skin behind his left ear. He said that once he saw an object on his radar screen moving from east to west at 28,000 kilometres per hour.
A visit to a Harley Street doctor and an ultrasound and x-ray scan later, he was told in no uncertain terms that his implant was nothing more than a sebaceous cyst. Eric was not satisfied with this diagnosis and asked how a rectangular ‘cyst’ could move twelve centimetres in six months!
Bud Hopkins displayed many photographs of abductees showing what are termed ‘scoop marks’. These are, sometimes quite large, indentations in the skin that are said to most closely resemble punctures from biopsies. Hopkins suggests that these marks are where aliens take DNA samples from their victims.
Tracy Taylor claimed that she had been abducted since childhood and became concerned that she might be losing her mind. After a battery of tests by psychologists and doctors, she was given the all clear and told, as the experiences were not negative, to get on with her life. She channelled her experiences into art and we were shown many of her impressive paintings and drawings, including one that depicted strange writing that she said that linguists had said it was related to Egyptian hieroglyphics and ancient Sumerian.
Tracy said that her artistic style changed radically after her experiences and it was asserted that many abductees claimed to have returned with special powers, such as psychic powers, healing abilities or messages for the good of the world. Of course, academia says that no evidence of this has ever been produced under controlled conditions.
Dr Roger Leir, an American podiatrist, has removed many objects from his patients that he claims are possible alien implants. Using the resources of the National Institute of Discovery Science (NIDS), he had some of the implants tested at Los Alamos National Science Laboratory and New Mexico Tech. The samples were found to contain materials that are normally found only in meteorites.
Despite video evidence of Leir sealing his specimens in front of witnesses and not telling the labs of the origins of the samples, academics made the claim that his research is faulty and open to tampering and/or fraud!
Chris French popped up again and said that if implants were found to be made from materials not normally found on Earth, that this would be a tremendous, scientific breakthrough. Erm, Chris, if you’re reading this, look up a couple of paragraphs. Leir’s samples were found to be made from materials not normally found on Earth. Of course, this doesn’t stop the ‘experts’ from sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting: “La La Laaa!”, does it?
The programme draws to a close with academia saying that the evidence does not exist, while researchers say that science is misinterpreting the data. Personally, I think they just ignore the evidence in UFO cases, especially the evidence that cannot be easily dismissed.
Dr Brian Cox was brought in to explain that theoretical physics is entering a new golden age, where the possibilities of multiple dimensions, beyond the four we know about, wormhole travel and even time travel are all becoming theoretical possibilities. This begs the question, of course, that if we, with our relatively new understanding of science and the universe, are just starting to get to grips with this, what about alien civilisations hundreds or thousands of years in advance of us? It makes you think…
So, what are we to make of this programme, the second major UFO-related documentary in the space of a single week?
It is clear that there is still a yawning gap between the sceptics (or open disbelievers) and the believers. My own view is that the term ‘believer’ is used far too often by sceptics as a form of insult. I view the subject from a sceptical viewpoint and there’s nothing wrong with that. Healthy scepticism is good. I like to look at it like this:
People who have not undergone an abduction experience, but are interested in the phenomenon, should be sceptical. Of course, there are always going to be some who fully believe what the abductees are saying, but that is not the same as saying that you are a believer, as in the same way as one might believe in God, say.
People who have witnessed a UFO or have been subjected to alien abduction are not believers in my view. They are knowers! They know that something happened to them. They know that there is ‘something else’ out there. They have no reason to believe because they know!
Again, we have been shown that interest in UFO phenomena is far from waning. If anything, it is gathering pace. The Real 4400 showed that a serious documentary can be made about the subject and rather than poo-pooing the evidence, the producers allowed everybody to have their say, which can only be a good thing.
Like UFOs: The Secret Evidence, this documentary was aired with little fanfare, however. I only caught it because it was on directly after Stargate: Atlantis (I own up, I’m a sci-fi nerd!), so the potential audience had the show been more rigorously advertised could have been much higher than I suspect the figures will show.
I wonder if this trend of UFO programmes will continue. I certainly hope so!
© Steven Johnson – 2005
All images are the property of Sky Television and Unique Television and are reproduced here solely for review purposes.
9pm - Channel 4 (UK)
Thursday 13th October 2005
In UFOs: The Secret Evidence, defence journalist, Nick Cook, embarked upon a globetrotting quest to find answers to an enigma that has puzzled humankind for over sixty years.
Whether one agrees with his conclusions or not, this two-hour documentary, afforded a prime-time airing and pulling in 2.8 million viewers, clearly demonstrates that the UFO subject is far from dead.
From the outset, it became clear that Cook was on a mission to try and prove that the last sixty-odd years of UFO sightings were nothing more than observations of advanced and secret human technologies. He began in the war-torn skies of Europe and sightings of what were to become known as ‘foo fighters’. We were treated to some dazzling visual effects of World War II bombers being ‘buzzed’ by zipping, orange lights.
We were taken to a top secret, Nazi laboratory where, according to Cook, experiments in anti-gravity had taken place. Wartime aerial photographs of the facility were shown, with a structure known as ‘the flytrap’. Cook showed us this enigmatic, ring-shaped construction up close, as well as conduits from where it was said to have drawn power. It was claimed that this was where anti-gravity tests had taken place.
After the war, Operation Paperclip hoovered up many of the scientists from this lab in the Wenceslas Mines of Poland, among others, such as Werner Von Braun from the V-weapon facilities at Peenemünde on the German Baltic coast, and thus began the American technological march into space and its domination of the skies of the world.
No film concerning UFOs would be complete without a mention of Roswell and this one was no exception. Cook interviewed Duke Gildenberg, who had come to the conclusion that the Roswell crash of 1947 was nothing more than a balloon from a project in which he was involved called Skyhook, in which high-altitude balloons with advanced surveillance platforms were sent aloft to check out what the Soviets were up to. Cook was not convinced, however, and his search for evidence continued.
The Washington DC ‘flap’ of 1952 made the headlines of that year, when unexplained lights were seen over the US capital and jet fighters were even scrambled in vain attempts to intercept them. Government and military officials fell over themselves to assuage the fears of the American public by explaining that UFOs were of no defence significance and that there was nothing to worry about.
We were then taken on a whirlwind tour of America’s development of supersonic reconnaissance aircraft, starting with the U2, famously shot down over the USSR with Gary Powers at the controls in 1960, and progressing to the A-12 and its offspring, the SR-71 Blackbird. Cook went to great pains to explain that to the untrained eye, these fast-moving, high-altitude aircraft could quite easily be mistaken for extra-terrestrial spacecraft.
Following the Washington flap, the Air Force instigated Project Blue Book in an attempt to, publicly at least, get to the bottom of the UFO enigma. Cook failed to point out that Blue Book was simply an extension of the earlier Projects Sign and Grudge. Mention was made of J. Allen Hynek’s involvement with Blue Book and clips were shown of him trying to explain away a UFO sighting as meteors, much to the lady-in-question’s amusement.
On April 24th 1964, New Mexico patrolman, Lonnie Zamora, was in pursuit of a speeding vehicle near Socorro when his attention was caught by a bright flash in the sky. Fearing a nearby dynamite shack had exploded, he ceased his pursuit and pulled off the highway.
An impressive CGI sequence showed us what Mr Zamora had seen. Unfortunately, the ‘flying saucer’ they had so expertly recreated bore little to no resemblance to the elongated egg-shaped craft described by the local policeman. The only similarity was the depiction of a pair of white-suited figures beside the landed craft.
Duke Gildenberg, the man who had debunked the Roswell crash as a top secret balloon package popped up and said that what Zamora had seen was in fact a test of a NASA Surveyor space probe set down by helicopter. He told us how the depressions found in the area were the same as those left by the probe’s landing pads. He also explained that the technicians for the Surveyor project wore white tunics. Well, that’s that mystery solved! Not!
Nick Cook hopped on a plane and jetted across the world to Moscow next, to interview a pair of former high-ranking Soviet military officers about the ‘Petrozavodsk Incident’ of 1977. At that time, a Red Army unit described an encounter with a bright object in the sky that flashed beams of light down to the ground and had the appearance of a huge jellyfish. The object then sped away at high speed.
The incident created such a stir in the USSR that KGB chief (and later Soviet premier), Yuri Andropov, ordered all military units to watch the skies and report all UFO activity over the Soviet Union.
Cook’s Moscow contacts, Colonel Boris Sokolov and Dr Yuliy Platov, declared that what those soldiers had seen that night was nothing more mundane than a missile test and the light was the rocket’s fiery exhaust. Sokolov explained that Soviet scientists at the time had been engaged in a great deal of technical research that could account for some of the things seen. Again, Cook tantalised us with the notion that it was American stealth technology behind the Soviet UFO sightings.
Things took a turn towards the macabre next, when Cook briefly examined cattle mutilations. He interviewed Edmund Gomez, who had lost many of his herd over the years and believed that it was not aliens abducting and mutilating his cows, but some secret, human agency using helicopters, disguised as UFOs with banks of lights, lifting the animals to some unknown locations, removing organs and then returning them by literally dropping them out of the sky. Of course, Cook failed to mention that not only cows are mutilated and I’d like to know how a helicopter using straps and chains would lift a field mouse, fox or rabbit, not to mention why!?
A face-to-face interview with Travis Walton followed and we learned about his abduction and subsequent reappearance after several days. After giving Walton a good chunk of the program to recount his experience, Cook waved it aside by comparing it with contactee reports from the ‘paranoid’ 1950s and explaining abductions as some sort of quasi-religious ‘need’ for people to have something to believe in!
Cook rounded off the program by highlighting documents from the McDonnell Douglas Corporation which seemed to indicate that those high-profile defence contractors believe that some UFOs are actually alien craft and that we should attempt to learn how they work.
This led nicely to Tim Ventura’s work with ‘lifters’. These are bizarre, triangular constructions that use high-voltages channelled through wires in the airframe to lift it from the ground. The intent of Cook was clear – that the propulsion experiments of the Nazis in World War II have come full circle and we are on the verge of a great breakthrough in propulsion. The implication, as I read it, was that top secret projects could have utilised such methods of propulsion, even as far back as the 1940s.
Cook left us with Project Aurora and an intriguing satellite image of a contrail leaving Area 51 and heading out over the continental USA and out over the Atlantic, indicating a speed in excess of eight-thousand miles per hour. With this, Cook finally affirmed his belief that most UFO sightings are very terrestrial and not the products of advanced extra-terrestrial civilisations. He had to admit, though, that some UFO cases defied explanation and that, after all, we may not be alone in the universe.
UFOs: The Secret Evidence was a fascinating programme and Channel 4’s decision to allow airtime to a two-hour documentary about what is really a fringe subject proves that the opposite is quite clear. UFOs are not the sole purview of the alternative media. Serious programmes about UFOs can draw good audiences. The UFO phenomenon is far from dead.
© Steve Johnson - 2005
All images are copyright of Channel 4 and Oxford Film & Television Productions and are used here solely for review purposes.
For as long as mankind has lived in communities, he has left remains behind for archaeologists to discover. This might comprise of nothing more than an outline of a hut, ash from a fireplace or pottery remains. The most spectacular remains are the giant ruins left behind by the great builder civilisations of Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Americas.
The pyramids of Egypt (left)are the most famous ancient ruins on Earth, but there are many more ancient sites that tell the story of humanity across the globe. Many of these were only discovered after painstaking archaeological research, but others were in plain sight.
From above, complexes, such as Teotihuacán in Mexico and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, stand out from the surrounding landscape, testaments to humanity's ingenuity and technical prowess. But are they great feats of engineering unique to our planet? Have we discovered ruins elsewhere on the other planets of our solar system?
It seems an insane proposition, but photographs returned from space probes offer tantalising glimpses that our earthly relics may not be totally without precedent. Join me as I voyage through our sun's family and explore some of the most intriguing images ever captured by science.
The nearest body to Earth is the Moon and it is here that we shall begin. This is the last place you would expect to find ancient ruins. Everybody knows that the Moon has no atmosphere and, as far as we know, it never has. How, then, can it contain structures that seem to indicate the presence of a long-gone intelligence?
In the mid-Sixties, the Lunar Orbiter probe snapped many images of our only natural satellite. One in particular attracted the attention of anomalists (those who seek anomalies). In one photograph, there appeared to be an object sticking up from the lunar surface to a height of seven miles! Dubbed The Shard or The Tower, it has become a subject of great controversy.
It is a genuine feature, of that there is no doubt, you can see its shadow casting to the right, but is it an artificial structure? There are other explanations, of course. It may be some sort of outgassing from the Moon (although if it were, it would be a unique phenomenon) or could it be a plume of dust from a meteorite impact?
Another unusual feature on the Moon is known as the Blair Cuspids. These intriguing structures are located on the western edge of the Sea of Tranquillity and are 'officially' explained as boulders that cast long shadows because of the terrain and the low angle of the sun. Independent researchers, though, claim that the official explanation does not answer all of the 'problems' with the Cuspids and that they actually are tall, spire- or tower-like structures on the Moon.
If The Shard and The Blair Cuspids are artificial structures, who built them and why? There are other features that anomalists have claimed depict artificial constructions, such as glass domes, geoglyphs, a suspended castle-like structure and even a huge bridge, but the photographic evidence for these is open to much interpretation, in my opinion. The features I have focussed on are there, clear and tangible, for all to see.
Our next stop is the planet Mars, a world long thought to contain life. Wells' invaders hailed from the Red Planet and the respected astronomer Percival Lowell had claimed that he had glimpsed canals criss-crossing its russet surface.
When the Mariner probes arrived in orbit of Mars in the mid-Sixties, hopes of finding complex life were dashed. A cratered, lunar-like landscape disappointed many, but the story hadn't ended when it appeared that Mars was a dead world.
Some of the Mariner images seemed to show what looked like pyramids on Mars. Even the late, great Carl Sagan referred to them as pyramids and compared them with those of Sumer and Egypt. Not only that, the probes also found evidence that great rivers had once flowed across the surface. Perhaps Lowell had not been so wrong after all!
Perhaps the most famous anomalous feature on Mars is the Cydonia Face. This enigmatic structure was first found on low resolution images taken by the Viking orbiters in the 1970s. It captured the imagination of the general public and seemed to many to conclusively prove that there had once been intelligent life on Mars. Facial symmetry was noted, even though half of the face was cast in darkness, and some enthusiasts even claimed to be able to make out an eyeball, nostrils and even teeth in the mouth.
When the Mars Global Surveyor probe parked itself in orbit in 1997, the anomalist community held its breath. Would the higher resolution cameras on MGS prove that the Face was a huge sculpture, or just a normal hill, a mesa with human-like features caused by tricks of light and shadow, as the experts claimed.
The first image emerged in 1998 and caused howls of derision from face enthusiasts. Dubbed 'the catbox', because of its similarity to a cat's litter tray contents, the image was possibly the worst that could have been released to a hungry public.
We had to wait three more years for a better, high resolution image. This one split opinions right down the middle. Many claimed that this new picture proved that The Face was nothing more than a mesa, bearing no resemblance to a humanoid visage, while others said that it still showed features present in the old Viking photos i.e. an eyeball, a nostril and teeth in the mouth. The previously dark right side of the feature could now be seen and even this divided opinions, with some saying that the symmetry still worked.
The latest image from Cydonia, taken by the THEMIS camera aboard the orbiting Mars Odyssey probe, shows The Face in context with nearby structures. Here we can see The Face, the five-sided D&M pyramid (named after its two discoverers, Vince DiPietro and Greg Molenaar) and the area known as The City, where researchers claim they have found geometry that could not have happened by the chance of nature.
Mars is replete with anomalies and it seems that every new image throws up something new for everybody to scratch their heads at. Below are a few for you to ponder about:
Even the moons of Jupiter have been scrutinised by anomalists, with icy Europa drawing most attention. This body is one of the best candidates for life in the solar system. beneath a thick, ice crust, it is believed that a deep ocean exists and life may dwell in those murky depths. It's the fractured surface, though, that has attracted attention. Some have claimed that geometric shapes can be seen in the cracks, shapes that cannot occur in nature.
Beyond Jupiter lies Saturn and its splendid system of rings. This gas giant has more moons than any other planet in the solar system and its family are amongst the most intriguing and mystifying.
Titan is the only moon in the solar system with a dense atmosphere. A recent landing by the Huygens probe found a freezing, snowy surface, but no oceans of hydro-carbons, as posited by some, optimistic boffins.
Mimas looks like the Death Star from the Star Wars movies, with its huge impact crater, Herschel.
Enceladus appears to clean its landscape every so often, suggesting that an internal heat source causes liquid to erupt through its icy surface.
Of all the Saturnian moons, though it is Iapetus that has caused the most intrigue. Its discoverer, Giovanni Cassini, deduced way back in the seventeenth century that one side of this moon was darker than the other, as he could only see it on one side of Saturn (tidal locking causes most moons to keep one face towards their parent planet at all times). When the Voyager 2 probe passed Iapetus in 1981, it confirmed Cassini's observations. In fact, the dichotomy between the two hemispheres was so marked that it became known as the Yin-Yang Moon!
What the new images showed stunned scientists and explanations are still being sought today. Towering twelve miles above the surface, a huge ridge spans the entire dark hemisphere of Iapetus. It follows the equator perfectly and maintains a regular width along its length.
While scientists attempt to explain it as an unusual, yet natural, feature, some researchers are suggesting that Iapetus may in fact be an artificial structure in itself, perhaps a massive, ancient space station from a long-lost civilisation. Indeed the images from Cassini do seem to show that Iapetus is less spherical and more polyhedral in shape, with its horizon appearing to consist of straight edges rather than graceful curves.
If Iapetus does turn out to be an artificial construct, it would be the greatest discovery of all time, but I suspect a natural explanation will be found.
We have taken a tantalising glimpse through some of the anomalies within our solar system, but we are left with more questions than answers. If these are ancient ruins, who built them? Was there an ancient Martian civilisation that built pyramids? If so, what does this mean for us on Earth? Did these Martians realise that their planet was doomed and relocate to a nearby planet that could sustain them? A blue-green planet that we call Earth? Did they send out explorers to the far reaches of the solar system, building colonies as they went? Is Earth the last remaining colony? Are we the descendants of Martian refugees?
Or was there an advanced civilisation from Earth that travelled into space, building these structures as it went, only to die out or slip back due to some great cataclysm?
Or are the ruins, if that is what they are, remnants of completely alien origin from beyond our solar neighbourhood?
Or is it all wishful thinking?
© 2005 Steven Johnson
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Updated 18th July 2006