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UFOs: The Physical Evidence - Overwhelming – But As Elusive As Ever

Michael Jordan, Journal of Alternative Realities, Volume 10, Issue 1, 2002

original source |  fair use notice

Summary: Any scientific study of the UFO enigma seems inevitably to result in frustrating ambiguity and contradiction. Really worthwhile UFO reports are frequently characterized by high strangeness, evasiveness, resistance to scholarly investigation and a seemingly unavoidable, bewildering array of conclusions. It would appear that the best prospect for achieving a meaningful evaluation of relevant hypotheses is likely to come from the examination of physical evidence.

Any scientific study of the UFO enigma seems inevitably to result in frustrating ambiguity and contradiction. Really worthwhile UFO reports are frequently characterized by high strangeness, evasiveness, resistance to scholarly investigation and a seemingly unavoidable, bewildering array of conclusions. Writer K. Phillips, in an essay on The Psycho-Sociology of Ufology, notes that in addition to this elusiveness, "it can be shown that the UFO phenomenon has a religious, historic and folkloric dimension, the implications of which are only just beginning to be appreciated by those who are willing to sift the evidence.... moreover, by inspection of the tens of thousands of reports from all over the world, it would seem that ¾ paradoxically ¾ while the UFO phenomenon gives every indication of being impossibly remote from us, at the same time it displays facets that indicate that it is intimately close."

We may well ask the question: why is it, if UFOs leave real, quantitative physical evidence, as many cases seem to indicate, that there is still little understanding of their physical qualities? One explanation is that the irregularities and seeming inconsistencies of these many reports have not come under the scrutiny of cross-disciplinary study until relatively recent times. Of course any such study is beset by the differences in the way that physical and social scientists tend to view the application of scientific methods in their respective fields. The special nature of the UFO subject raises subtle and often unique problems that members of either group might see in differing perspectives.

So, does this mean that our hunt for explanations and solutions ends in smoke? Hardly, as we shall see. Where possible, the separation of physical evidence into defined categories, followed by interdisciplinary examination, slowly but inexorably yields a degree of clarity to our still murky understanding of what it is we are dealing with, or more correctly, is dealing with us. After many years of bitter experience, we know that, as far as this subject is concerned, recorded data of an event, even from an official source, is simply not acceptable. An accumulation of such evidence has had little impact on the sceptics. Again, a large part of the problem is brought about by the only filters and hurdles acceptable in the eyes of orthodox science. In order to be convinced of the reality of phenomenon, science requires that it should be capable of reproduction and prediction in a laboratory. We all know that there are many aspects of our world which cannot be understood within accepted terms of reference.

In this context, UFO historian Richard M. Dolan, in his monumental UFOs and the National Security State, writes, "Not only must we ask what constitutes proof, but who is authorized to deem it so. This is not so easy to determine. Certainly, an acknowledgment of aliens would have to come from a major spokesperson of official culture ¾ the President, perhaps. The matter is more political than scientific. UFO evidence derived from a grass roots level can never survive its inevitable conflict with official culture (fifty years of failure have borne this out). An acknowledgment about the reality of the UFO phenomenon will only occur when the official culture deems it worthwhile or necessary to make it. Don’t hold your breath. As a result, the easiest thing to do with UFO evidence is to ignore it, which is what most people do."

It would appear that the best prospect for achieving a meaningful evaluation of relevant hypotheses is likely to come from the examination of physical evidence. Setting out with this objective in mind, a review panel composed of nine scientists of diverse expertise and interests, convened a four day workshop in New York, from 30 September to 3 October, 1997. More on this undertaking later, but for now let’s look at the categories of physical evidence that were presented to these scientists by UFO investigators. The evidence was associated with particular UFO reports and included: photographic evidence; luminosity estimates; radar evidence; interference with both automobile and aircraft functioning; apparent gravitational or inertial effects; ground traces; injuries to vegetation; physiological effects on witnesses; and analysis of debris. An American space science textbook in use at the Air Academy up to 1970, listing classification systems common to UFOs, included : electro-magnetic effects; radiation; ground disturbances; sound; vibration; smell; debris; inhibition of voluntary motion by observers and the sighting of creatures or beings.

One can only wonder why the category of ‘debris’, was left out of the material presented to the 1997 panel. According to Timothy Good in Beyond Top Secret, Canadian government official and engineer Wilbert Smith, admitted that a number of fragments from UFOs had been recovered and analysed by his research group, including one that had been shot from a UFO near Washington, DC, in July 1952. Smith reported that, "A glowing chunk flew off and the pilot saw it glowing all the way to the ground. He radioed his report and a ground party hurried to the scene. The thing was still glowing when they found it an hour later. The entire piece weighed about a pound [454 grams]. The segment that was loaned to me was about one third of that. It had been sawed off.... There was iron rust... the thing was in reality a matrix of magnesium orthosilicate. The matrix had great numbers ¾ thousands ¾ of fifteen-micron spheres scattered through it." Smith was asked if he had returned the piece to the US Air Force when he had completed his analysis. "Not the Air Force. Much higher than that," he replied. "The Central Intelligence Agency?" asked the interviewers. "I’m sorry gentlemen, but I don’t care to go beyond that point," said Smith.

Good writes that according to information supplied to science journalists, NASA may be in possession of physical evidence relating to extraterrestrial materials. In 1974 a Polish biophysicist and engineer contracted to NASA, was a member of an international team of English, French and Italian scientists which was given some odd metallic and plastic-like material, supposedly originating from the Soviet Union, to analyse. Under analysis with an electronic microscope, the team found small pyramid structures in the nanometre range (ie: one thousand millionth of a metre), showing a kind of super reflectivity. They found alloys that could only have been made in conditions of weightlessness. Other tests showed traces of unusual Kapton and Kevlar-type synthetics. This was in the early 1950s and those materials had not existed at that time. The melting point of the metal samples was above two thousand degrees centigrade, and tests using helium, neon and ruby lasers had no effect. The foil seemed to possess a ‘memory’, like current memory metals, but to a factor of one thousand or better. (Several witnesses of the Roswell crash described a metal with similar qualities.)

So much for alleged debris. Rather than looking at UFO cases highlighting individual categories of physical evidence, let us instead move on to look at three of the best documented and researched events, each involving not one, but a number of physical effects. Let’s begin with one of ufology’s classic cases, that of fifty-two year old mechanic and quartz prospector, Stefan Michalak, who, just after noon on 19 May 1967, saw two cigar-shaped objects, glowing red and flying at high speed above the wilderness of Falcon Lake in Manitoba. The objects became more disc-shaped as they came closer, when suddenly one stopped in mid-air, before departing towards the west, while the other landed behind some bushes at a distance of about 160 feet [fifty metres] from Michalak. Assuming it to be an experimental American aircraft, he estimated it to be about thirty-five feet [ten metres] in diameter and about twelve feet [three and a half metres] high. He observed the object through welding goggles for a period of about half an hour, noting a smell of sulphur. He then decided to approach closer and at sixty feet [eighteen metres] distance heard the muffled sound of voices and the sounds of a motor and a rush of air. He first called out in English, but when there was no response, Michalak, who was multilingual, tried Russian, German, Italian and French and Ukrainian without any success. He decided to look inside the craft. In his own words, "the inside was a maze of lights. Direct beams running in horizontal and diagonal paths and a series of flashing lights, it seemed to me, were working in a random fashion, with no particular order or sequence. I took note of the thickness of the walls of the craft. They were about twenty inches [fifty centimetres] at the cross section." Suddenly the opening was sealed by three panels, so Michalak began to examine the craft’s exterior.

He noticed no welding joints and that the surface was highly polished like glass. When he touched the surface with his glove, he found that the rubber coating melted. Suddenly the craft changed position slightly and a blast of hot air struck his chest, setting his shirt and vest alight and causing severe pain. He tore these off and the object began to ascend in a rush of air, leaving a fifteen foot [four and a half metre] diameter circle on the ground. Michalak felt dizzy and vomited for a number of days and lost twenty pounds [nine kilos] over the next few weeks. Admitted to a hospital in Winnipeg, he was treated for minor burns to his face and severe burns to his chest. His hands swelled considerably and he experienced intense headaches and rashes. Tests by the Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment showed no radiation above the background level.

For several days after the incident, Michalak was unable to eat, his blood lymphocyte count was down from twenty-five to sixteen per cent and he continued to feel weak, dizzy and nauseous. Timothy Good reviewing the case in Above Top Secret, writes that, "A haematologist’s report indicated that Michalak’s blood had ‘some atypical lymphoid cells in the marrow plus a moderate increase in the number of plasma cells’." Altogether Michalak was examined by a total of twenty-seven doctors, most from official sources including the departments of Health and Social Welfare and National Defence. They were unable to offer a full explanation for the cause of his symptoms.

An investigator for the Department of Health and Social Welfare found a small contaminated area at the landing site, no larger than one hundred square inches [twenty-five centimetres square], that gave a significant level of radium 226. On 30 June, Michalak, searching with another person, found the landing site complete with outline of the landed object and the remains of his shirt. When the Royal Canadian Air Force searched the site on 28 July to collect samples, their representative described ‘a very evident circle’. They also found a high level of radiation in some samples, considering the site to be ‘a possible health hazard.’

In March 1983, GEPAN, France’s equivalent of NASA, submitted a sixty-six page report put together by a committee of seven scientists on a UFO landing near the village of Trans-en-Provence, on 8 January 1981. This proved over time to rank as one of the most convincing physical evidence cases ever studied. Not only were physical traces collected by the gendarmerie within twenty-four hours, but several government laboratories were involved in their examination.

Farmer Renato Nicolai saw a flying object making a whistling sound descend rapidly to land in his yard. Shortly afterwards the object rose to tree height, emitting a whistling sound and headed in a north-easterly direction. Nicolai, who was close to the site, saw four small openings on the underside of the object, which had been on the ground for some ten seconds. He examined the landing spot and noticed a six foot [1.8 metre] diameter circular imprint, with several abrasion areas prominent in the circle. He noted that the object was metallic grey in colour, had a thick band around it and had a diameter of eight feet [2.4 metres] and a height of six feet [1.8 metres].

The gendarmerie in Draguignan took photographs and samples on the morning of 9 January. The French National Centre for Space Research was immediately alerted and the samples delivered to GEPAN, while samples of vegetation from the landing area and surroundings were sent to the National Institute for Agronomical Research. It is important to know that, as the taking of samples is naturally critical to any study. In this case GEPAN had been able to provide law enforcement officers with detailed instructions for the gathering of samples, which were then divided amongst several French laboratories for double-blind study. Their tests included physico-chemical analysis, electron diffraction, mass spectrometry by ion bombardment and biochemical analysis of vegetable samples.

The summary of these analyses confirmed that strong mechanical pressure had been applied to the soil by a heavy weight, causing erosion, striation and heating (not exceeding sixty-six degrees centigrade) and chlorophyll pigment in the leaf samples was weakened from thirty to fifty per cent. Importantly, the GEPAN result stated that attempts to duplicate these changes were unsuccessful. A strange result of the analysis of alfalfa leaves at the landing site prompted INRA to report: "From an anatomical and physiological point, they had all the characteristics of leaves of an advanced age ¾ old leaves! And that doesn’t resemble anything that we know on our planet."

Beyond the effects of the phenomenon on soil and plants, scientists are left to consider the impact on human witnesses. In the case of Stefan Michalak we looked at the dramatic physiological effects that he suffered as a direct result of his close encounter. Our final case, which Jacques Vallee described as, "the best-authenticated close encounter incident in continental Europe", includes not only hard traces, botanical data and physiological data, but detailed descriptions of beings associated with the UFO. It came to be known as ‘The Valensole Case’. Not only is it one of the most thoroughly investigated close encounters on record, but examination by French government agencies began on the day of the event.

During early morning of 1 July 1965, Maurice Masse, a French lavender farmer, was working in his field in the village of Valensole, near the lower Alps, when he suddenly noticed an object that had landed in his lavender field. At first glance from a distance, he thought that it was a helicopter or some sort of experimental prototype, but as he approached closer to the object, he saw that it was oval shaped and rested on six curved legs and some type of central pivot. Through an opening in the craft he thought that he could see two back-to-back seats. Suddenly he saw two beings, less than four feet [1.2 metres] tall, wearing grey-blue-green suits but without any type of breathing devices. One of them pointed a small tube at the farmer, which immediately paralyzed him. Although lying on the ground, he remained fully conscious, noting that as they looked at him, with what he later described as ‘concerned expressions’, they made strange gurgling sounds from deep within their throats as they communicated with one another. Masse saw that the two beings had large hairless heads, smooth white skin, large eyes that slanted away, pointed chins and small mouths without lips. After their brief dialogue, they entered the craft through a sliding panel and the object took off, leaving a deep crater and an area of moisture that later became as hard as concrete.

After about twenty minutes Masse was able to move his arms and legs, but four days after the incident he collapsed and his sleep pattern was dramatically altered for several months. Rather than his usual five or six hour sleep break, he was sleeping for periods of twelve hours or more and his wife and father noted distinct behavioural changes. Masse was a former Resistance fighter, an astute farmer and regarded as ‘absolutely trustworthy’ by police investigators. Lieutenant-Colonel Valnet, Maitre Chautard, leading the gendarmerie and the Mayor of Valensole, in fact everyone who investigated the case, concluded that Maurice Masse was telling the truth.

Investigators found that the ground where the craft had landed was soaked with moisture, although no rain had fallen. Geometrically spaced indentations covered the area and the plants were affected by the proximity of the phenomenon, appearing to decay in direct proportion to their distance from the central column of the craft. The calcium content of the soil at the landing site was found to be much higher than in samples taken from other areas in the field.

Famous UFO writer and researcher Dr Jacques Vallee, returning to the scene of the incident in 1979 and meeting with Maurice Masse and two of his close friends, makes a number of interesting observations. He notes that Masse was reluctant to give all the details of his experience to investigators as well as to his own family at the time, including the fact that he believed that some type of silent communication took place between himself and the beings. From the beginning he wanted to minimise the impact of the experience, not wanting publicity, amongst other reasons. Like many experiencers of this phenomenon, he had changed in many ways as a result of the experience, including the belief that some form of contact, once established, continued in subtle forms. Vallee concludes, "Throughout these discussions with Mr Masse I had the feeling that I was in the presence of a very intelligent man, capable of deep emotions and rational thought. He is also quite humble; he has declined to appear on a television documentary with a nationally known journalist.... I had brought with me a photograph of similar traces left after another case. Mr Masse looked at me with a mixture of amazement and relief that someone else was aware of these particular marks. He told us that he sometimes found them in his field; that’s how he knows that ‘they’ have come back. He always erases the traces immediately."

As promised, let us now return to the 1997 workshop, with a panel of nine scientists reviewing purported physical evidence associated with UFO reports and funded by Mr Laurance S Rockefeller. Unfortunately the panel was extremely limited by the time allocation of just three days. Compare this with, for example, the two year long Colorado Project that was supported by both the Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency. Chairperson Professor Peter Sturrock quite rightly points out in his report, with respect to the limiting time allocation, "It would certainly be highly unreasonable to expect such a panel to solve, in only a few days, a problem that has remained unsolved for fifty years."

Time was only one of the limitations that the panel faced that would hinder their progress in reviewing evidence in this whole area. UFO research teams have long been familiar with these difficulties. For example, with respect to photographic evidence, the panel noted, "photographic evidence can contribute to a better understanding of the UFO phenomenon.... it is highly desirable that the photographic evidence be accompanied by strong witness testimony, but it is very difficult to meet these requirements (as in the case of remotely operated scientific monitoring stations) because of the unpredictable nature of UFO events." Again, on the subject of radar records, "the panel concludes from these presentations that the analysis of radar records requires the service of radar experts. The panel also notes that information from military radar can be obtained only with the cooperation of military authorities, and that most military authorities do not offer this cooperation." Surprise surprise!

On the subject of cases involving vehicle interference, the panel found, "these reports to be intriguing. In order to contribute to the analysis of such cases, however, scientists would wish to have available evidence of a variety of types, certainly including narrative accounts, but also involving more concrete information such as radar records, tape recordings, etc." One can only ask the obvious question, as these records exist in enormous quantities, why were they not made available?

As a final example of the difficulties inherent in marrying UFO events to the requirements of orthodox science, we note the panel’s report on one of the better documented cases involving a helicopter of the US Army Reserve en route to Cleveland, Ohio, on 18 August 1973 at 11.00pm. The four man helicopter crew were returning from Columbus at approximately 10pm on a clear, calm night with fifteen mile [twenty-four km] visibility. The helicopter was cruising at ninety knots at an altitude of 2500 feet [760 metres]. Suddenly the crew saw a single, steady red light which appeared to be pacing the helicopter. The light continued its approach and the commander took over the controls from his copilot and put the helicopter into a powerful descent of approximately five hundred feet per minute. He made contact with Mansfield control tower but, after initial radio contact, the radios malfunctioned on both VHF and UHF. When the red light increased its intensity and appeared to be on a collision course at a speed estimated to be above six hundred knots, the commander increased the rate of descent to 2000 feet per minute.

With a collision seeming imminent, the light suddenly decelerated and hovered in front of the helicopter. The crew reported seeing a cigar-shaped grey metallic object that filled the entire windshield. It had a red light at the nose, a white light at the tail and a distinctive green beam that shone from its underside. This light swung over the helicopter bathing the cockpit in green light. There was no noise or turbulence from the object. Suddenly the object made a forty degree course change and left. While the object was still visible, the crew noted that the altimeter read 3500 feet with a rate of climb of 1000 feet per minute, despite the fact that the main power control was in the full down position. The commander raised the controls and the helicopter climbed nearly another three hundred feet before positive control was regained. Radio contact was then immediately resumed. In other words the helicopter ascended from 1800 feet to 3800 feet even though its controls were set to descend.

The Mansfield helicopter case involved not only the testimony of the helicopter crew but that of five ground witnesses, plus related evidence from an airline pilot, who before the event, reported unidentified traffic and a strong blue-green light source. The panel’s comment: "The panel finds reports of this type quite interesting, but without any existence of any solid physical evidence (such as analysis of the magnetic compass might have provided), it is difficult for a panel composed of physical scientists to draw any conclusions." The panel also found it curious that the commander did not know where to report such an extraordinary event. Yet again, we see how another strong case with impeccable witnesses, can be dismissed by some scientists because they will always find some filter through which it will not fit.

Despite the enormous limitations imposed by the brevity of its meeting time, Professor Sturrock and his panel of scientists were introduced to enough evidence to induce them to make a number of recommendations and suggestions in their Summary Report which are of extreme importance to UFO research. Some of these suggestions are: that the UFO problem is not simple and should receive more attention, with an emphasis on physical evidence; that regular contact between UFO investigators and the scientific community would be helpful, as also would institutional support; and that the possibility of health risks associated with UFO events should not be ignored.

The panel was greatly impressed by the work of GEPAN and there is no doubt that the best prospects for real advance in our understanding of the UFO problem would be the creation of similar projects in other countries. The most important change that could be made by scientists is to become curious. In view of the fact that modern UFO reports began in 1947, in view of the emergence of clear patterns in UFO reports and in view of great public interest, it is remarkable that some members of the scientific community have exhibited so little curiosity in the past.

It is likely that more scientists at universities would take an interest in the problem if they felt that their activities would receive the same recognition and level of support as their more conventional research. Moreover, students would become better informed if there were occasional lectures or seminars on this subject. Investigators could help this process by developing resource material for such seminars.

The UFO problem is very complex and it is impossible to predict what might emerge from research into this area. But the same is true of any real and exciting area of scientific research. As the panel remarked, "Whenever there are unexplained observations, there is the possibility that scientists will learn something new by studying those observations." What is learned may bear no relation to the concepts that were entertained when the research was undertaken. We venture to hope that more scientists will take an interest in this curious subject so that there will be more progress in the future. There could hardly be less. In conclusion, one can only applaud the panel’s recommendations, but also wonder how they could be so unaware of the fact that many scientists, mostly connected to secret programmes, have indeed been closely involved with the UFO phenomenon since early July 1947.


Barclay, David & Therese. (1993) UFOs: The Final Answer. London: Blandford.

Dolan, Richard M. (2000) UFOs and the National Security State. New York: Keyhole Publishing.

Fowler, Raymond E. (1979) UFOs: Interplanetary Visitors. New York: Prentice-Hall.

Good, Timothy. (1996) Beyond Top Secret. London: Sidgwick & Jackson.

Saunders, David R. & Harkins, R. Roger. (1968) UFOs? Yes! Where the Condon Committee Went Wrong. New York: Signet Books.

Spencer, J. (1994) Gifts of the Gods. London: Virgin.

Sturrock, P.A. Physical Evidence Related to UFO Reports. Available at:

Vallee, Jacques. (1990) Confrontations: A Scientist’s Search for Alien Contact. New York: Random House.

Vallee, Jacques. (1991) Revelations: Alien Contact and Human Deception. New York: Ballentine Books.

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