Considering the amount of ground covered in each 1-hour Chasing UFOs episode, it isn’t always possible to present the science of each investigation in a comprehensive way. So, for those who wish to learn more about the science behind Chasing UFOs, read on!
As lore imparts it, there’s more to the triangular craft observed in the Fresno area than even meets the eye (or camera). Indeed, specific allegations surrounding these sightings are that the triangles are experimental military air (space?)-craft endowed with conventionally impossible flight capabilities derived from reverse-engineered extraterrestrial technology recovered by the Air Force at Roswell and other places.
So, for those inclined to believe that 1) Earth has been visited by aliens, 2) there has been a government cover-up, and 3) the proof is in the sky, the “triangle craft” UFO tradition presents a case of having your cake and eating it too; these craft are alleged to be both alien and top-secret military in nature.
Well this extraordinary claim involves an interesting assumption that I wanted to examine in greater detail: the premise that we would be capable of interpreting or extracting anything useful at all from technology generated by a truly foreign civilization. To my knowledge, this assumption had yet to be critically considered by scientists who actually specialize in foreign cultures and technology. So, with this in mind, I sought out an expert in interpreting ancient, foreign, and technological (Cold War) cultures to see what she had to say about our potential ability to reverse-engineer E.T. technology in the first place.
Dr. Colleen Beck, Alien Cultures, and Cargo Cults
This brings me to an interview with anthropologist, industrial archaeologist, and friend, Dr. Colleen Beck. The crux of our discussion was to explore just how likely it was that we, humanity, would be able to glean something useful from truly alien technology – and more specifically, anything of potential technical or military application.
Frankly, her salient points were haunting.
First, she pointed out that there are artifacts left behind by our own species that are highly difficult or perhaps even permanently un-translatable, such as much prehistoric rock art. Therefore, with such a problem interpreting remnants from foreign human cultures, our ability to elicit meaning from artifacts of a truly alien species with no context is therefore even less likely.
If we are not able to extract specific meaning from alien technology, what about our ability to reverse-engineer strict physics principles or discoveries from alien technology? Dr. Beck suggested that unless there was a highly unlikely cosmic coincidence between the development level of alien technology and our own (the equivalent of within a hundred-years or less), we may be strictly incapable of reverse-engineering. Worse, due to a lack of context or understanding (see the first point) we may not even be able to understand why we can’t reverse-engineer something useful. She used Cargo Cults as a poignant example:
During the Second World War, many isolated island cultures were exposed to Western civilization for the first time when the military used remote islands as staging grounds. To the native inhabitants, modern clothing and technology was all-but magical, and religions were inspired concerning what was left behind after the war effort concluded. The native cultures attempted to replicate the clothing and equipment to the best level of their technology (e.g., making mock dirt landing strips, radio headphones out of coconuts, jeeps and airplanes out of wood), in order to summon additional “cargo.” They do not currently understand why their efforts do and will not work, they are skeptical of conventional explanations (see point one again), and they do not recognize the failings of their technological attempts to replicate the more advanced (i.e., alien) technology.
So, the implication here is that with more than very little developmental difference between our technology and that of a potential visiting extraterrestrial intelligence, which seems likely if hypothesizing practical interstellar travel, our attempts to replicate alien technology may be the equivalent of attempting to make circuit boards out of strips of wood. It seems possible that we would not even recognize the nature of our technological failings… which I find profoundly disturbing.
In all, this certainly casts doubt on the plausibility that the military has not only successfully reverse-engineered alien spacecraft but also applied alien technology to our own aircraft.
Crash Location Difficulties, Part One
A struggle we faced while in the field during this episode was that of correctly identifying from a great distance the site of an alleged hillslope crash of a triangular craft, a very non-trivial task. When we reached the slope and eyewitness testimony did not, to my eyes, appear to match the site landscape, I stressed the reality that orienteering is extremely difficult at a distance without firm landmarks. A tight schedule and approaching night didn’t help, either.
To the point: our sighting location from the witnesses’ house was three to five miles from the hillslope. The reality, then, is that at a distance of three miles away, being just 10-degrees off in sighting a position (just under the width of a fist at arm’s length) equates to being nearly a half-mile off-target on the mountainside. At five miles away, the same error equals being nearly a mile off-target on the hillside. (Note: this is a potential error nearly 132 times the width of the alleged crashed craft!)
James did not necessarily agree with my view that we were off-target and, fighting sunlight, we took our best shot and ended up staying where we were, eventually ruling out that anything apparently unusual had occurred at that location, which became our survey site. However, after we completed the survey, we brainstormed ways to verify right then and there where we actually were compared to where we wanted to be. Which led to…
Crash Location Difficulties, Part Two – Flare Test
…A nighttime flare test!
Using high-intensity flares, Ryder and James highlighted the survey site location and paced off a distance approximating the size of the craft described, while I returned to the witnesses’ house to verify their location from afar using an infrared camera.
As I suspected, the test suggested that we were quite a ways to the north and a bit down-slope compared to where I think the witnesses described the alleged crash site. While not necessarily conclusive, this helped to illustrate not only the harsh reality of navigating by sight in a world now dominated by GPS satellites and navigation software, but it also definitely indicated the possibility of future survey locations farther to the south.
During our interview with Jeffrey Gonzalez of the Sanger Paranormal Society, Jeff suggested that several large, apparent flood control or tunnel projects near the San Joaquin Gorge and river system, such as the Big Dry Creek dam and reservoir, were actually covert in nature. According to his allegation, they are far more expansive than they “need” to be and are used either to shield or contain experimental aircraft activities relating to restricted airspace to the north and east.
Being that I worked for multiple years as a front line hydrogeologist on large water resources projects, I am quite familiar with what composes usual or unusual hydrological structures. Frankly, I will admit that many of these sorts of constructions appear over-engineered, and in the case of flood control features, typically sit empty. This leads many to raise an eyebrow and allege that there is more going on than meets the eye. However, an important point to make here is that these dams, berms, and levees are designed to manage “century floods,” or storms of such unusual intensity that they only happen once every hundred years or so. Therefore, it’s actually a very good thing that they’re sitting empty – they stand ready to protect the population in the event of unexpected downbursts and flash floods, etc.
To this end, I suggested as our night investigation concluded that the tunnel Jeff and James described could have been a seal door or bulkhead/plug for an underground hydrology project – Proximity to the river was a big clue.
Indeed, with this in mind, the identification of the feature as a power supply tunnel from the hydroelectric Kerckoff No. 1 Powerhouse was not necessarily a surprise to me. (Note the electrical hum audible during the time James/Jeff spend in the tunnel.)
But admittedly, the feature did look ominous!
Geiger Counters, Terminology, and Units!
As a science stickler and being that there is so much misinformation out there regarding radiation, I want to make a quick point about radiation equipment and scientific units that was a little befuddled in this, and other, episodes.
During the nighttime “tunnel” scene and in others, the radiation instrument James (and earlier, Ryder) is holder is referred to as a “Geiger Counter” – well, that isn’t technically correct. While culturally the term is used as a catch-all to mean “radiation detector,” there are in reality multiple types of radiation detectors that do truly different things. A so-called “Geiger counter” refers to one specific type of instrument – what we call a “count rate” meter – that typically uses a gas-filled Geiger-Mueller (G-M) tube in combination with electronic processing to literally count the number of radiation rays and particles traveling through it. These meters deliver numbers with units of (unsurprisingly) radiation “counts-per-minute” and are good for detecting contamination, that is, radioactive material where you don’t want it.
This is different than the instrument depicted above which, while similar, has no “wand” as is typically seen with Geiger counters and uses an alternative detection method. In this case, instead of a G-M tube, this instrument uses a scintillating sodium-iodide crystal and essentially measures the general radiation field as a human body experiences it, detecting only “rays” of radiation as opposed to heavier neutron, alpha or beta particles. This produces readings in separate units, such as “microrem-per-hour,” and as such, these instruments are typically called “exposure meters” or “exposure ratemeters.” These are good for getting a feel for the general strength of a radiation field in an area, not necessarily hunting for contamination.
Punchline: I just wanted to drive home that not all radiation meters are Geiger Counters, and depending on the type of detection method your meter uses, can measure fundamentally different things with separate ultimate purposes.
Just How “Bad” Was the Radiation in the Mystery San Joaquin Tunnel?
Now, with the above clarifications in mind, the background radiation numbers James is reading off in the tunnel in this episode are in microR/hr. Natural background radiation levels on Earth tend to hover from 10-20 microR/hr. However, to put these numbers in context, light radiation sickness doesn’t begin until a person is exposed to levels upwards of 50,000,000 (that’s fifty-million) microR/hr.
So, while James and Jeff expressed concern at the increased background radiation level of 35 microR/hr, up from about 15, this is merely geologically-intriguing, as natural radioactive material in the surrounding rock is the likely culprit. A level of 35 microR/hr is still more than a million times less than the radiation intensity that would pose an imminent danger to them.
So, while I did tell James and Jeff that ordinary background radiation levels hovered around 15 microR/hr, their interpreting that to mean that “Ben said anything over 15 would be not good” was something of a misstatement. They could likely have lived out the rest of their lives in the tunnel and not suffered any detectable health effects due to the increase in radiation!
Fresno Yosemite Int’l Airport and Lights in the Sky
A reality of television is that sometimes sequences are displayed in a different order than they were shot. Our nighttime sky-watching excursion at the perimeter of the Fresno-Yosemite International Airport, which is also home to the California Air Nat’l Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing, was such a case.
While the existence of the base was not revealed until later on in the episode, we actually utilized the presence of the military facility during our “stake-out” to collect a library of footage of air traffic in the region, both military and civilian, for the purposes of comparing to witness “sightings” videos.
With this in mind, our survey was a complete success, as we were able to capture footage not only of the International Space Station and Jupiter with the Galilean moons but also of multiple types of government and commercial aircraft from oblique or unusual angles. In many cases, these appeared to be strange, occasionally silent, triangular-shaped craft much like what were being described in the area.
As I am given to repeat, the assumptions underlying extraordinary claims, such as our basic ability to interpret or reverse-engineer alien technology, are worthy of serious scrutiny. In scientifically seeking the truth to any fantastic allegation, one must resist the temptation (if one can) to jump to conclusions, and one must be dogged and relentless about ruling against conventional explanations first, yet still keep an eye out for what I like to call the “option D.” It sounds counter-intuitive, but bias goes both ways. While I do believe that less exotic explanations will likely be found for most if not all unexplained sightings, in the grand scheme preconceptions about extraterrestrial visitation it might actually be too simple and unfairly limit our thoughts on the matter.
I like to remind people of the possibility of true discovery: That relative to any phenomena that persistently appear to be unexplained, the universe could actually be stranger than we have yet imagined.
Ben McGee is a member of the Chasing UFOs team. A true skeptic by nature, Ben is Chasing UFOs’ resident scientist.
Get to know Ben and the rest of the Chasing UFOs team, Fridays at 10P et/pt. And be sure to check back to the blog Friday night for Ben’s post-show wrap-up.