A new TV series on NBC, Debris, follows the exploits of two government operatives who try to recover pieces of a crashed alien spacecraft. Each piece seems to have special powers that affect humans in various ways, and the race is on to find and contain all the chunks before more havoc reigns on Earth.
The plot is very loosely based on the claims by various ufologists and UFO fans that actual pieces of UFOs have been recovered. Why an advanced technology that can navigate interstellar space can be destroyed by a lightning bolt (as suggested by Roswell advocates), or be vulnerable to strafing by terrestrial military planes (as another story goes), is not up for discussion, apparently.
So, over the past few years, ufology has been abuzz with vitriolic discussions — no, more like knock ‘em down arguments — regarding the acquisition and testing of materials thought to be from alien spacecraft. In July 2018, the much-celebrated To The Stars Academy (TTSA) announced the ADAM (Acquisition & Data Analysis of Materials) Research Project, “an Academic Research Program Focused on Exotic Materials for Technology Innovation.”
“From time to time, various sources have collected material samples reported to have come from advanced aerospace vehicles of unknown origin (popularly known as UAP — Unidentified Aerial Phenomena — or UFOs),” TTSA’s website explains. Furthermore:
Given the potential significance of such findings, To The Stars Academy has made it a Tier-1 priority to use its resources to subject these materials to detailed and rigorous scientific evaluation whenever feasible. As soon as TTS Academy is notified that materials are available, a thorough effort will be made to document their origin and credibility, followed by the establishment of chain-of-custody procedures and ownership protocols. In addition to reviewing the materials for their potential significance as evidence of exotic origin, the analysis will evaluate materials for such characteristics as exceptional strength, lightweight build and any unusual advanced properties that potentially could contribute to the development of exciting new technologies in the future.
Supporting this remarkable announcement was an article in The New York Times which noted that a classified program at the Pentagon received a “congressional appropriation of just under $22 million beginning in late 2008 through 2011. The money was used for management of the program, research and assessments of the threat posed by [UFOs].” This funding went to billionaire Robert Bigelow, whose company Bigelow Aerospace “modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials” which, according to purported program participant Lou Elizondo, “had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena.”
Finally, some tangible evidence from UFOs would be studied by reputable scientists in laboratories!
Except … do such artifacts really exist?
Suspected UFO artifacts
A number of ufologists have presented details of known “artifacts” from UFOs, showing that materials suspected as being made somewhere other than Earth have been known for many years. Jacques Vallee, for example, has shown a list of such objects in his lectures.
The first problem to note is that of the 15 “alleged ejected materials,” 11 were labeled “No sample available.” In other words, there’s nothing to examine and independently test, let alone store in Bigelow’s warehouse. One of these is a set of fragments from Ubatuba, Brazil, obtained in 1957, following a claim that a UFO exploded in the sky. Published results of tests have shown the fragments to be made of very pure magnesium, with various other trace elements.
Another problem, which flies completely against the TTSA mandate about chain-of-custody protocols, is that no one really knows the provenance of the Ubatuba fragments. There are no known witnesses to the UFO that dropped them, and the pieces were mailed by an anonymous source. Even the date of the UFO event is not known, although Vallee puts it at September 7, 1957.
An item not on Vallee’s list, called “Art’s Parts” because it was anonymously sent to radio host Art Bell in the 1990s, also has a cloudy provenance. Engineer Harold E. Puthoff, co-founder and Vice President of Science and Technology with TTSA, described the artifact thusly:
This is an open source sample. It was sent anonymously to talk show host Art Bell. The fellow claimed to be in the military. He said that this sample was picked up in a crash retrieval, and so he sent it by email. So what does that mean? Chain of custody non-existent. Provenance questionable. Could be a hoax. Could be some slag off of some foundry floor or whatever. However, it was an unusual sample, so we decided to take a look at it.
… when we talked to people in the materials field who should know, they said we don’t know why anybody would want to make anything like this. It’s not obvious that it has any function.
Linda Moulton Howe, a regular on on Bell’s Coast to Coast AM, advocated the scientific analysis of the artifact, but an expert in thin film technology who tested it stated explicitly:
At the most basic of levels, we would freely state that the artifact portion provided by [Howe] does NOT seem to be composed of elements or compounds which are unknown. Nor is it composed of alloys that appear to be of a purity or combination beyond the scope of current material science. The artifact bears a strong resemblance to irregular layered residue often found in large physical vapor deposition (PVD) coaters.
After starting his job as Assistant Professor of Earth Science at the New Mexico Military Institute, Frank Kimbler spent time combing the area near the suggested Roswell UFO crash site (more than 60 years after it supposedly happened), and discovered several very small pieces of metal that he had tested by a laboratory. Kimbler announced that the results showed the magnesium isotope ratios in the sample were different than those of terrestrial samples, proving extraterrestrial origin. A review of the results by another lab disagreed, noting that the anomalous result was not as significant as stated, since error bars of the analysis were not taken into account.
Musical entertainer Bob White similarly hit the magnesium mother lode when he picked up his “feathered” material following a UFO sighting in 1985, near Grand Junction, Colorado, only about 100 miles away from (where else?) the infamous Skinwalker Ranch. White says he was driving late at night when an odd light seemed to approach his car. After stopping to get a closer look, the light shot up into the sky, dropping a separate, orange light toward the ground. After the object stopped glowing, White retrieved it with a glove from his trunk.
The piece of metal is about eight inches long and looks like a large, silver, “scaly” carrot. White insists Los Alamos National Laboratory told him, after analyzing the sample, that it’s “definitely extra-terrestrial [sic],” but retired steel foundry quality control supervisor Ean Harrison says he’s used several such objects as garden ornaments — because they’re “made of accreted grinding residue. It forms in a manner similar to a common stalagmite when metal castings are ‘cleaned’ on large stationary grinders.”
Maybe check again
The admirable goals of the ADAM Project, under the TTSA’s oversight, seemed pretty good. But even within ufology there are debates as to whether the tested materials are really getting looked at objectively, with concerns that the scientists doing the testing might have a pro-alien bias. Skeptical researcher Jason Colavito is less charitable:
Puthoff talks about the allegations that so-called “meta-metals” have been recovered that were beyond human technology. “I’d love to talk about really fancy materials, but they’re classified,” he said. Oh, but of course. The existence of non-human spacecraft isn’t a secret, but the fact that they are made of fancy metals is both a secret and one that can be openly admitted in public so long as he doesn’t provide any details at all. That’s some very selective classification.
“There are databases of all known phases [of metal], including alloys,” Oregon State University chemist May Nyman told Live Science, throwing into question the very idea of “unidentifiable” alloys. Those databases include straightforward techniques for identifying metal alloys, and if an unknown one appeared, Nyman said, it would be relatively simple to figure out what it was made of.
“These are all very standard techniques in research labs, so if we had such mysterious metals, you could take it to any university where research is done, and they could tell you what are the elements and something about the crystalline phase within a few hours,” Nyman said.
AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.
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