On a warm spring night in April 1975, an electrician and former RAF engineer was walking across an old railway bridge in Stockport, Cheshire, close to the large brickworks at Adswood.
Suddenly, as ‘Keith’ reported later: “I saw this green streak of light heading along the railway track and, before I knew where I was, there was a very strange thing right next to me on the path illuminated by a nearby streetlamp.”
The ‘thing’ was about 2 ft long, sleek and black and rather akin to a cruise missile. On its side it had an aperture like a large eye; a slit over this opened to reveal a greenish glow that seemed to be staring at Keith.
He stood transfixed; forever afterwards he would regret that he didn’t walk underneath and reach up to touch the UFO, as he believes he could easily have done.
Instead he merely gaped in shock as the ‘iris’ closed and the now barely discernible small object shot away across the brickworks heading south towards Macclesfield.
In an interview with our Manchester UFO team, Keith told us he had a strong feeling that he was being observed, possibly photographed, and wondered, wearing his engineer’s hat: “What was powering and controlling this thing?”
Of course, these understandable responses show the human tendency to presume order behind a UFO sighting and seek the intelligence within. But there cannot have been any ordinary alien at the helm of the Adswood UFO – not unless it was a very little green man. However, as you will see, this baffling case is not unique, and other miniature UFO cases do exist.
A FEELING OF BEING WATCHED
Though she was completely unaware of the above case, a woman who’d seen me being interviewed on television contacted me and wanted to describe what had happened to her and her husband (a civil engineer) on the Spring Bank Holiday weekend of May 1980.
It was a bright sunny day with high patchy cloud, she explained, as they scrabbled about some rocks on the Cumbrian fells between Langdale and Coniston, close to a spot called Wetherlamb.
Suddenly, the woman felt as if someone was watching them, and had the urge to look upward. She also experienced a sensation of heavy pressure, as is sometimes felt when a thunderstorm is nigh – but there was no such weather that day, only the still calm air.
However, on the slope above them was the presumed source of the sensation – a small object about 2 ft in diameter, plainly visible in the bright afternoon light. It was, she said: “like a steel kettle in colour and shaped like a ball bearing but with striations on the surface”.
No pattern was discernible but “It looked as if someone had gone over the surface with steel wool.” The thing was a dark bluish grey and very definitely solid and heavy – yet apparently flying just above ground level heading straight for the couple.
At close proximity, they could even see what looked like a heat haze encircling the object to the depth of an inch or two, but it was not hot enough for this to be caused by the weather.
During the encounter, the object stopped still and hovered and the couple heard a “very low almost sub-audible humming” coming from it, below the threshold of normal sound and almost a feeling rather than a noise; it seemed to trigger a sense of apprehension that stopped the witnesses from approaching the object.
After seeming to watch them for two minutes, the thing accelerated rapidly upwards and disappeared.
“I was extremely glad when it was gone,” the woman added. Her husband confirmed that he too had seen it, but the matter was not discussed until she contacted me eight years later.
As an interesting aside, the hill slope in question has iron ore beneath, and when she lived in the area as a child the witness remembers it was struck by lightning several times, with the ore being locally blamed for this frequency.
These two cases have fascinating similarities and appear to describe miniature ‘metallic objects’, but these are not the only type of mini-UFO in the records.
The next episode happened on 26 August 1989, and I interviewed the witness a few months later. It was a fine evening and he was out beside a nature reserve in Sedgeley, West Midlands.
The reserve had just closed for the day, but he was exercising his dog in a sloping field alongside, with the surrounding area otherwise deserted and clear views in several directions over uncultivated land.
The object first appeared in the near distance looking, in size and shape, like a floating golf ball. It was perhaps 12ft off the ground and floating with the wind, even dropping down at one point as if caught in a downdraft.
Curious as to the origin of what he guessed to be a “soap bubble” – there was no other person for hundreds of yards in any direction – the man clambered onto a style for a better view.
Suddenly, the thing changed direction, sped up and headed straight into the stiff breeze, coming right for him. It did not deviate and seemed very controlled, climbing over a wire fence and stopping just inches from the man and giving him a perfect view as it appeared to study him. “It was looking at me – surveying me – there’s no two ways about it,” the witness insisted to me later.
He describes the ‘bubble’ as opaque with a white surface residue resembling a feather or cotton wool. Its surface was reflective and he could even see his own image as a dark patch as he bent forward. At that point, he felt the urge to try and ‘burst’ it.
However, almost as if sensing his thoughts, the object kicked up to top gear and shot away at great speed; it covered 40ft in about a second and was soon lost to view.
THE PONG FROM SPACE
For sheer strangeness, this case is hard to beat. It occurred on the evening of 2 March 1988 near Godmanchester in Cambridgeshire.
Pauline, then 14, was mucking out her horse while listening to music on the radio. Suddenly, this cut out and instead of music she heard a faint vibrating noise that grew in intensity. It was accompanied by a vile smell – like rotten eggs – filling the air.
Moments later, an object approached from a roughly south-easterly direction and continued north-west. It was about 3ft long and square but extremely thin and jet-black in colour.
Little “antennæ” emerged, one from each corner, and the whole surface was covered in small “perforations”. The noise was boring into her skull as it passed over, and at that point Pauline ran screaming indoors.
Her parents attested to her hysterical state as she appeared. They had not seen a thing, being indoors, but had heard the noise and although the radio was working again the terrible odour was still lingering inside.
They added that the house shook briefly as if hit by an earthquake and that they also felt the air being sucked out, making it hard to breathe for a few seconds. Going outside shortly afterwards, they found the horse was cowering by the wall in obvious distress.
Pauline was so upset that she was treated by her GP and even spent a few days in hospital after her hysteria intensified and she refused to go outside. She also suffered blurred vision and enlarged pupils. None of this was helped when the media picked up the story and made jokes about her seeing a flying tea bag!
This teenager was so deeply affected that she remained off school for weeks. I later talked to her education welfare officer who was asking for advice on what to do. Everyone involved with this case was of the opinion that Pauline was a sincere and genuine witness and had been deeply traumatised by a genuine experience.
While it was quickly noted that RAF Alconbury – rumoured to be the first UK home of stealth aircraft – was only three miles away, and something connected with that airbase was always viewed as a possibility, precisely what was never clear.
These four very different cases appeared to share some interesting features, and yet it was frustrating to find so many witnesses physically so close to these mini-UFOs, yet not quite close enough to reveal what they were.
But then on 2 July 2000 I received a call from south Manchester via the Jodrell Bank science centre, which then, as now, put witnesses in touch with me when they report a UFO. A young man taking the air on a warm night after watching a football match claimed to have seen a red mini-UFO come from the sky and hit him on the side of the head, setting his baseball cap on fire.
He rushed inside, put out the flames and next morning went into the garden to seek the cause. He found a small rock that was very heavy and seemed sulphurous.
Did we have the Holy Grail of an actual mini-UFO to investigate, as well as the physical traces on the cap? To cut a long investigation short, the answer is no. After numerous tests by scientists at Manchester University and assessment from astronomers at Jodrell, our initial thought (that the rock might be a meteorite) was eliminated.
The trade-off between momentum and heat meant that it was very unlikely that the impact and fire were created this way. The damaged cap was assessed, and while it could have been struck by a mini-UFO, similar damage might have been caused in other ways, such as contact with a poker.
As for the rock, it turned out to be lead sulphide, and had traces of gum that suggested it was a sample that had been on display somewhere or attached to something. As it was found near the garden fence, it could easily have been tossed over by a passerby at any time in the past.
However, there were some interesting clues offered by the witness to this case. He described the weather that night as hot and oppressive. There had been a thunderstorm locally, and next day an engineer had to be called to look at the witness’s malfunctioning TV set. The TV engineer confirmed that he had visited a nearby house that was struck by lightning around the time of the mini-UFO sighting and where the TV and VCR had been fried.
According to this evidence, mini-UFOs clearly exist, and it is worth asking what might lie behind them. There are intriguing clues, not least the heavy atmosphere mentioned in several of the cases and suggestive of ionisation and local pressure changes. The oppressive ‘sense of sound’ might also be indicative of these forces at work.
Could some of these cases be a form of ‘super ball lightning’, where a natural but unusual atmospheric phenomenon is the source of the UFO? This makes sense in a case such as the Manchester 2000 incident (above) or the Sedgeley 1989 event (FT261:29).
Ball lightning has been described as resembling a ‘soap bubble’ by other witnesses and can follow electrical currents rather than air currents, making it seem to travel against the wind.
What about the apparently structured ‘craft’ in cases such as Adswood 1975 (FT261:29) and Godmanchester 1988 (above)? Thoughts here certainly turn to modern-day mini-surveillance drones – in which the UK has been a pioneer for some time.
Could these witnesses have seen early test devices? One could perhaps envisage such a scenario in the area of an air base such as Alconbury – indeed, in April 1984 such a drone got out of control near the base at Lakenheath, causing at least one UFO report.
But a district of suburban Stockport seems a far less likely location. And, of course, some of the extreme effects that seem to be connected with these mini-UFO incidents would be hard to square with 21st-century UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) or surveillance drones, let alone prototypes from decades ago.
It is likely that, as with the rest of the UFO evidence, there will not be a single all-embracing answer to these five cases (or indeed the many others I could have included). There are probably several different causes, perhaps some being triggered by forms of UAP – naturally occurring Unidentified Atmospheric Phenomena – and others being actual devices manufactured for a purpose, of which military applications seem one likely source.
As to whether any of them are UFOs in the traditional sense – supposed alien craft piloted by beings from elsewhere – it would seem wise to eliminate the other possibilities before we start the hunt for those extremely little green men.
Could Extraterrestrials Really Invade Earth, and How?
Published: 29 April 2010
By Karen Rowan, Staff Writer
The human race could be devastated if aliens were to learn of our existence and venture to Earth, warned British scientist Stephen Hawking on Sunday. But how could extraterrestrials really invade Earth?
Aliens have already viciously attacked our spacecraft, savagely kidnapped us, heartlessly conducted experiments on us, and mercilessly aimed their death-rays at us, but of course, all of these crimes have been committed only in novels and movies.
Other experts who, like Hawking, have devoted their careers to thoughtful exploration of the possibilities of alien contact say that we don't have anything to fear.
"In movies, aliens only come here for two reasons," Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) told Life's Little Mysteries, SPACE.com's sister publication. "They either come here to find some resource they don't have on their own planet, or they want to use us for some unauthorized breeding experiment." These scenarios play on our most primal human fears of losing the resources we need to survive or not being able to reproduce, Shostak said.
In reality, it isn't logical to think that aliens would want to do either of those things, Shostak said. Space travel is expensive and requires an enormous investment, he said.
"Anything that we have here, they could find where they live," Shostak said. If there was a resource found on Earth that did not exist on the aliens' home planet, there would certainly be easier ways to get or make the resource than coming here.
And if an alien civilization was advanced enough to engage in interstellar travel, they would also probably have very advanced robotic machines, Shostak said. If they wanted to research our planet, they would be more likely to send those machines here than to come here themselves.
"It's not like, the hatch will open and we'll see a strange, alien paw coming out," he said. "It's more likely to be a robotic arm."
Contact with aliens is extremely unlikely, agrees David Morrison, Director of Space at NASA-Ames Research Center. Any communication that may occur would likely be in the form of radio waves sent from one civilization to another, he said.
"We're listening for radio signals," Morrison said, "And we can assume that any civilization that we receive a signal from is more advanced than we are."
We have only had the technology to listen and send radio waves for the last century, so if an alien radio signal reaches us from a distant planet hundreds or thousands of light-years away, that civilization would have to be more advanced than ours, Morrison said.
Morrison doubts that an advanced alien civilization would come here to harm us.
"Someone once suggested that if a civilization can last for hundreds of thousands of years, it almost surely has solved the problems we have. I would hope so," Morrison said.
Even if aliens existed, knew about us, and could travel here, they wouldn't be likely to send an army or the equipment needed to launch an attack on the Earth, said science fiction writer Jack McDevitt.
"Imagine putting together an invasion force, only to stick them in containers to travel here for years," McDevitt said.
Although contact between humans and aliens has been a key part of many of McDevitt's books, he doesn't think that it's likely to actually happen. It would take a great amount of time for aliens to reach Earth, and any civilization capable of this feat would not want to delegate its fighting force to the task, he said.
We have bigger problems to worry about, McDevitt said.
The road to Area 51 - After decades of denying the facility's existence, five former insiders speak out.
Area 51. It's the most famous military institution in the world that doesn't officially exist. If it did, it would be found about 100 miles outside Las Vegas in Nevada's high desert, tucked between an Air Force base and an abandoned nuclear testing ground.
Then again, maybe not -- the U.S. government refuses to say. You can't drive anywhere close to it, and until recently, the airspace overhead was restricted--all the way to outer space. Any mention of Area 51 gets redacted from official documents, even those that have been declassified for decades.
It has become the holy grail for conspiracy theorists, with UFOlogists positing that the Pentagon reverse engineers flying saucers and keeps extraterrestrial beings stored in freezers. Urban legend has it that Area 51 is connected by underground tunnels and trains to other secret facilities around the country.
In 2001, Katie Couric told Today Show audiences that 7 percent of Americans doubt the moon landing happened -- that it was staged in the Nevada desert. Millions of X-Files fans believe the truth may be "out there," but more likely it's concealed inside Area 51's Strangelove-esque hangars -- buildings that, though confirmed by Google Earth, the government refuses to acknowledge.
The problem is the myths of Area 51 are hard to dispute if no one can speak on the record about what actually happened there. Well, now, for the first time, someone is ready to talk -- in fact, five men are, and their stories rival the most outrageous of rumors.
Colonel Hugh "Slip" Slater, 87, was commander of the Area 51 base in the 1960s. Edward Lovick, 90, featured in "What Plane?" in LA's March issue, spent three decades radar testing some of the world's most famous aircraft (including the U-2, the A-12 OXCART and the F-117). Kenneth Collins, 80, a CIA experimental test pilot, was given the silver star. Thornton "T.D." Barnes, 72, was an Area 51 special-projects engineer. And Harry Martin, 77, was one of the men in charge of the base's half-million-gallon monthly supply of spy-plane fuels. Here are a few of their best stories--for the record:
On May 24, 1963, Collins flew out of Area 51's restricted airspace in a top-secret spy plane code-named OXCART, built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. He was flying over Utah when the aircraft pitched, flipped and headed toward a crash. He ejected into a field of weeds.
Almost 46 years later, in late fall of 2008, sitting in a coffee shop in the San Fernando Valley, Collins remembers that day with the kind of clarity the threat of a national security breach evokes: "Three guys came driving toward me in a pickup. I saw they had the aircraft canopy in the back. They offered to take me to my plane."
Until that moment, no civilian without a top-secret security clearance had ever laid eyes on the airplane Collins was flying.
"I told them not to go near the aircraft. I said it had a nuclear weapon on-board."
The story fit right into the Cold War backdrop of the day, as many atomic tests took place in Nevada. Spooked, the men drove Collins to the local highway patrol. The CIA disguised the accident as involving a generic Air Force plane, the F-105, which is how the event is still listed in official records.
As for the guys who picked him up, they were tracked down and told to sign national security nondisclosures. As part of Collins' own debriefing, the CIA asked the decorated pilot to take truth serum.
"They wanted to see if there was anything I'd forgotten about the events leading up to the crash."
The Sodium Pentothal experience went without a hitch--except for the reaction of his wife, Jane.
"Late Sunday, three CIA agents brought me home. One drove my car; the other two carried me inside and laid me down on the couch. I was loopy from the drugs. They handed Jane the car keys and left without saying a word."
The only conclusion she could draw was that her husband had gone out and gotten drunk. "Boy, was she mad," says Collins with a chuckle.
At the time of Collins' accident, CIA pilots had been flying spy planes in and out of Area 51 for eight years, with the express mission of providing the intelligence to prevent nuclear war. Aerial reconnaissance was a major part of the CIA's preemptive efforts, while the rest of America built bomb shelters and hoped for the best.
"It wasn't always called Area 51," says Lovick, the physicist who developed stealth technology. His boss, legendary aircraft designer Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson, called the place Paradise Ranch to entice men to leave their families and "rough it" out in the Nevada desert in the name of science and the fight against the evil empire.
"Test pilot Tony LeVier found the place by flying over it," says Lovick. "It was a lake bed called Groom Lake, selected for testing because it was flat and far from anything. It was kept secret because the CIA tested U-2s there."
When Frances Gary Powers was shot down over Sverdlovsk, Russia, in 1960, the U-2 program lost its cover. But the CIA already had Lovick and some 200 scientists, engineers and pilots working at Area 51 on the A-12 OXCART, which would outfox Soviet radar using height, stealth and speed.
Col. Slater was in the outfit of six pilots who flew OXCART missions during the Vietnam War. Over a Cuban meat and cheese sandwich at the Bahama Breeze restaurant off the Las Vegas Strip, he says, "I was recruited for the Area after working with the CIA's classified Black Cat Squadron, which flew U-2 missions over denied territory in Mainland China. After that, I was told, 'You should come out to Nevada and work on something interesting we're doing out there.' "
Even though Slater considers himself a fighter pilot at heart -- he flew 84 missions in World War II -- the opportunity to work at Area 51 was impossible to pass up.
"When I learned about this Mach-3 aircraft called OXCART, it was completely intriguing to me -- this idea of flying three times the speed of sound! No one knew a thing about the program. I asked my wife, Barbara, if she wanted to move to Las Vegas, and she said yes. And I said, 'You won't see me but on the weekends,' and she said, 'That's fine!'"
At this recollection, Slater laughs heartily. Barbara, dining with us, laughs as well. The two, married for 63 years, are rarely apart today.
"We couldn't have told you any of this a year ago," Slater says. "Now we can't tell it to you fast enough." That is because in 2007, the CIA began declassifying the 50-year-old OXCART program. Today, there's a scramble for eyewitnesses to fill in the information gaps.
Only a few of the original players are left. Two more of them join me and the Slaters for lunch: Barnes, formerly an Area 51 special-projects engineer, with his wife, Doris; and Martin, one of those overseeing the OXCART's specially mixed jet fuel (regular fuel explodes at extreme height, temperature and speed), with his wife, Mary. Because the men were sworn to secrecy for so many decades, their wives still get a kick out of hearing the secret tales.
Barnes was married at 17 (Doris was 16). To support his wife, he became an electronics wizard, buying broken television sets, fixing them up and reselling them for five times the original price. He went from living in bitter poverty on a Texas Panhandle ranch with no electricity to buying his new bride a dream home before he was old enough to vote.
As a soldier in the Korean War, Barnes demonstrated an uncanny aptitude for radar and Nike missile systems, which made him a prime target for recruitment by the CIA --hich indeed happened when he was 22. By 30, he was handling nuclear secrets.
"The agency located each guy at the top of a certain field and put us together for the programs at Area 51," says Barnes. As a security precaution, he couldn't reveal his birth name -- he went by the moniker Thunder. Coworkers traveled in separate cars, helicopters and airplanes. Barnes and his group kept to themselves, even in the mess hall.
"Our special-projects group was the most classified team since the Manhattan Project," he says.
Harry Martin's specialty was fuel. Handpicked by the CIA from the Air Force, he underwent rigorous psychological and physical tests to see if he was up for the job.
When he passed, the CIA moved his family to Nevada. Because OXCART had to refuel frequently, the CIA kept supplies at secret facilities around the globe. Martin often traveled to these bases for quality-control checks.
He tells of preparing for a top-secret mission from Area 51 to Thule, Greenland. "My wife took one look at me in these arctic boots and this big hooded coat, and she knew not to ask where I was going."
So, what of those urban legends -- the UFOs studied in secret, the underground tunnels connecting clandestine facilities?
For decades, the men at Area 51 thought they'd take their secrets to the grave. At the height of the Cold War, they cultivated anonymity while pursuing some of the country's most covert projects.
Conspiracy theories were left to popular imagination. But in talking with Collins, Lovick, Slater, Barnes and Martin, it is clear that much of the folklore was spun from threads of fact.
As for the myths of reverse engineering of flying saucers, Barnes offers some insight: "We did reverse engineer a lot of foreign technology, including the Soviet MiG fighter jet out at the Area" -- even though the MiG wasn't shaped like a flying saucer. As for the underground-tunnel talk, that, too, was born of truth. Barnes worked on a nuclear-rocket program called Project NERVA, inside underground chambers at Jackass Flats, in Area 51's backyard. "Three test-cell facilities were connected by railroad, but everything else was underground," he says.
And the quintessential Area 51 conspiracy -- that the Pentagon keeps captured alien spacecraft there, which they fly around in restricted airspace?
Turns out that one's pretty easy to debunk. The shape of OXCART was unprecedented, with its wide, disk-like fuselage designed to carry vast quantities of fuel.
Commercial pilots cruising over Nevada at dusk would look up and see the bottom of OXCART whiz by at 2,000-plus mph. The aircraft's titanium body, moving as fast as a bullet, would reflect the sun's rays in a way that could make anyone think, UFO.
In all, 2,850 OXCART test flights were flown out of Area 51 while Slater was in charge.
"That's a lot of UFO sightings!" Slater adds. Commercial pilots would report them to the FAA, and "when they'd land in California, they'd be met by FBI agents who'd make them sign nondisclosure forms."
But not everyone kept quiet, hence the birth of Area 51's UFO lore. The sightings incited uproar in Nevada and the surrounding areas and forced the Air Force to open Project BLUE BOOK to log each claim.
Since only a few Air Force officials were cleared for OXCART (even though it was a joint CIA/USAF project), many UFO sightings raised internal military alarms. Some generals believed the Russians might be sending stealth craft over American skies to incite paranoia and create widespread panic of alien invasion.
Today, BLUE BOOK findings are housed in 37 cubic feet of case files at the National Archives -- 74,000 pages of reports. A keyword search brings up no mention of the top-secret OXCART or Area 51.
Project BLUE BOOK was shut down in 1969 -- more than a year after OXCART was retired. But what continues at America's most clandestine military facility could take another 40 years to disclose.
ANNIE JACOBSEN is an investigative reporter who sat for more than 500 interviews after she broke the story on terrorists probing commercial airliners. When she isn't digging into intelligence issues for the likes of the National Review, she's snapping together Legos with her two boys.
The topic of UFOs is quite an unauthentic one. Their very existence is under question and seems like a con to everybody.
But one thing is for sure that there have been numerous claimed sightings of the UFO by the Arizonans (Arizona UFO) and many more from all over the world also claim of similar sightings and have some video proofs to support their claims.
A rememberable event took place in July, 1947 when a most prominent sighting of the UFO was there, when during a deluge near Roswell New Mexico, an air force experiment (involving weather balloons) went all wrong. The word went around that the balloons fell to the earth due to some glitch in the experiment but many people viewed it as an outcome of some sort of alien activity.
Another chaotic incident occurred when some naive news channel claimed that the US air force has got some alien tech in their hands in the form of an alien space craft (flying saucer). The whole world was stunned by this news but later on it was revealed that it was merely a weather balloon and nothing more than that.
But still many people believed that the government officials are hiding the truth and are just making up a false story of weather balloons to hide the truth.
Many zealots are still clinging to the fact that the incident of July, 1947 did happen and an alien flying saucer did crash there and many of them consider themselves auspicious enough to see the “Phoenix Lights” (a factual concept that will make you believe that UFOs do prevail here on earth).
For the non-believers of the UFO concept, it is suggested that they do watch some real video clippings of the UFO sightings. It will make them believe that UFOs do exist in reality. To add to all these there are innumerable stories of UFO sightings by many people who are ready to bet on them with whatever they have got.
But to many others these people are either psychos or misleaders.
The alliance of these UFO sightings goes side by side to the sightings of alien life forms. People openly declare to be kidnapped by these aliens on one occasion or the other after they have seen a UFO. Non-believers do counterclaim their authenticity but the truth is these victims were frightened like hell after these experiences and were forced to take the counsel of expert psychologists to overcome from this shock.
Other places in Arizona where such sightings occurred included- Tempe, Mesa, Gold Canyon, Superior, Tucson, Flagstaff, Phoenix, Scottsdale and many other. The list is endless.
It’s up to you to decide that you want to believe in the concept of UFOs or not but it is a fact that there are enough believers of this concept to keep this idea animate for the time.
Ignoring Stephen Hawking, NASA Will Search for Extraterrestrial Life
Published: April 28, 2010
Where is all the extraterrestrial life? NASA scientists are currently considering a list of 28 future science missions that could help discover signs of said extraterrestrial life.
By Clara Moskowitz, Space.com senior writer
Scientists haven't found E.T. just yet, but they may be pinning down the best places and ways to look for alien life during future space missions, NASA researchers said Wednesday.
Stephen Hawking aliens alert: a premature or primitive fear? Stephen Hawking: Aliens may not come in peace Stephen Hawking aliens warning: Should we hide? Experts on the search for extraterrestrial life spoke to reporters from the Astrobiology Science Conference near Houston to celebrate 50 years of astrobiology research.
Scientists there said they are still eager to find life elsewhere in the universe despite the firestorm this week kicked off by famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who suggested that perhaps humans shouldn't be so eager to find aliens since there's a chance they would want to colonize Earth or strip it for resources.
"We're interested and prepared to discover any form of life," said Mary Voytek, astrobiology senior scientist at NASA Headquarters, during the teleconference.
The lure of new missions
Cornell University planetary scientist Steve Squyres, principal investigator of the Mars Exploration Rover project, said NASA scientists were currently considering a list of 28 future science missions that could help discover signs of extraterrestrial life.
"Astrobiology and the search for life is really central to what we should be doing next in the exploration of the solar system," Squyres said.
He mentioned a host of possible robotic missions, including visits to Mercury, Mars, the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and even distant outer solar system flybys. In particular, the Saturnian moons Titan – with its lakes of methane and ethane – and Enceladus, with its plumes of water vapor, seem like possibly habitable sites.
Squyres also said NASA is considering an ambitious three-part mission to Mars that would return samples of rock back to Earth for scientists here to study in person.
This mission "might reveal a great deal about whether Mars once harbored life," he said.
Other scientists on the panel agreed that a Mars sample return mission would be invaluable.
"I personally think if we're ever going to be able to show that there was past life on Mars – if there was past life on Mars – I think we're going to need to study the samples here on Earth rather than robotically," said Bill Schopf, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. "I think if we had the rocks back tomorrow and I had them in my lab, I think we could solve this problem."
Schopf and another researcher, Jack Farmer of Arizona State University, announced the results of a recent study in which they found that a type of mineral deposit called sulfate can harbor fossils of ancient organisms.
Although the scientists studied samples of sulfate from Earth, this material is also present in large quantities on Mars. The fact that they found fossilized life in Earth's sulfate means that Mars' sulfate would be capable of storing a record of life, too, if that life existed. Thus, collecting samples of sulfate on Mars would be a good place to look for Martian life, they said.
Another possible place to look for life in the solar system is asteroids. Researchers announced for the first time Wednesday that they'd found direct proof of frozen water and organic compounds – which could include the ingredients for life – on a space rock in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Both water and organic materials are considered necessary to make a place habitable.
"Any time you have materials like that present you have a candidate that is worthy of study," Squyres said. "We should go where the data lead us."
On Friday 16th September, at approximately 10:15, 62 children from Ariel School, a private primary school in Ruwa (about 20 km from Harare), were in their playing field for the mid-morning break.
Suddenly, they saw three silver balls in the sky over the school. These disappeared with a flash of light and then reappeared elsewhere.
This happened three times and then they started to move down towards the school with one of them landing (or hovering) over a section of rough ground made up of trees, thorn bushes, and some brown-grey cut grass with bamboo shoots sticking up out of the ground.
The children are not allowed in this area although it is adjacent to their playing field and is not fenced off, because of snakes, spiders and perhaps other harmful creatures. One can soon disappear from view while walking here, and there is only one very rough track used by tractors in an attempt to clear this area.
There is a line of electricity pylons and according to one boy, the object followed along this line prior to landing. There is also some controversy as to whether the object landed on the ground or hovered above it.
On Tuesday, 20th September, I went out to the school with a BBC reporter and their television equipment, as well as my son and Gunter Hofer, a young man who builds his own electrical equipment, a Geiger counter, a metal detector, and a magnetometer, to try and see if the object left any traces behind.
The headmaster of the school is Mr. Colin Mackie, who was most co-operative, and although he had never been involved with UFOs or a believer in them, said that he believed the children had seen what they said they saw.
I was able to interview about 10 or 12 older children and this was recorded for BBC television.
One eyewitness, Barry D., said he had seen three objects flying over, with flashing red lights. They disappeared, and reappeared almost immediately, but somewhere else. This happened about three times.
Then they came and landed near some gum trees; Barry said the main one (object) was about the size of his thumb nail held at arm's length.
The reports were similar, although some children were more observant than others.
The consensus of opinion was that an object came down in the area where they indicated, about 100 metres from where they were at the edge of the school playing field.
Then a small man (approx 1 metre in height) appeared on top of the object. He walked a little way across the rough ground, became aware of the children and disappeared.
He, or someone very like him, then reappeared at the back of the object.
The object took off very rapidly and disappeared. The little man was dressed in a tight-fitting black suit which was 'shiny' according to one observant girl (11 years of age). He had a long scrawny neck and huge eyes like rugby balls. He had a pale face with long black hair coming below his shoulders.
I had suggested to Mr. Mackie prior to visiting the school and before the children had been interviewed, that he let the children draw what they had seen and he now has about 30-40 drawings, some of which are very explicit and clear, although some are rather vague.
The childrens' ages vary from 5/6 to 12 years. I have 22 photocopies of the clearer drawings as Mr. Mackie kindly allowed me to page through the pictures and choose those I wanted.
Most of the descriptions are similar but some of the craft are very obviously 'flying saucers', and I wonder how many of these children have had access to the media. Others are crude but more or less in this saucer shape.
The children vary in cultures: there are black, white, coloured and Asian children. One little girl said to me, 'I swear by every hair on my head and the whole Bible that I am telling the truth.'
I could see the pleasure on her face when I told her that I believed her. The smaller children from 5-7 years were very frightened at the time and ran shouting 'Help me, help me.'
When the older children asked why they were saying this, the reply was, 'He is coming to eat us.' I should think this applied more to the black African children who have legends of tokoloshies eating children.
Their teachers were in a meeting and did not come out. When I queried the headmaster about this he said the children always shouted and yelled during their playtime and no one thought there was anything unusual going on. The only other adult available at the time was one of the mothers who was running the tuckshop.
When the children came to call her, she did not believe them and would not come out: she was not prepared to leave the tuckshop with all the food and money.
Gunter and the men thoroughly examined the ground around where the children had seen the object, but could get no reaction on the geiger counter or any other equipment. If the object was hovering perhaps nothing would show.
I walked, on my own, along the electricity pylons for quite a away, caught up in thorn bushes, trampling blithely over snake holes and discarding all caution. I found no place where some object could have landed and pressed down the foliage. In fact, I should think the bamboo stumps would have been a deterrent. The day was hot, around 33 C (91F)...
Dr John Mack was visiting Zimbabwe at the time of the event, and he spent two days at Ariel School with the children. He also spoke to the Headmaster, Colin Mackie, the teachers and some of the parents. John and his fellow researcher, Dominique Callimanopulos, were able to get through to the parents and teachers and convince them that even if they did not believe the children, it was counter-productive to accuse them of lying.
Listen and think about what they were saying, he advised.
His particular interest in child psychiatry was also of great use during the questioning and many former hidden memories came to light, something John is sure to make public when he has had a chance to reassess his interviewing.