The Science of Chasing UFOs: “UFO Landing Zone?”

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!

Survey grid at Frank Kimbler’s Roswell, NM “skip” debris site. (Credit: Ben McGee)


Roswell, Legends, and the Argument from Ignorance

Attempting to separate the fact from the fiction surrounding the famed “crash” incident at Roswell, New Mexico is fun as well as treacherous, culturally-speaking.  Peering into the mythos, it quickly becomes clear that many aspects of the story have come to take on a life of their own, which hints at the idea of the common fallacy, the “argument from ignorance.”

For those who are unfamiliar, understanding this type of fallacious argument is very important when it comes to dealing with unknowns and explaining the difference between a compelling narrative and a scientifically-conclusive statement. 

For example, in this context if someone sees a strange light in the sky and assesses that it does not appear to be any known aircraft, it is tempting to then conclude something based on this assessment.  Such a conclusion could be (and often is) that, “If it isn’t ours, it must be someone else’s.  Therefore, this strange light is evidence in support of visitation from another world.”  However, this is not a scientific statement.  Failing to know something does not conclude anything.

The farthest anyone could scientifically take this scenario is to (presuming there is hard evidence to analyze) say that the light does not appear to relate to known aircraft based on movement or physical attributes.  However, this is far from demonstrating that alien life has evolved, created spaceflight technology, crossed the gulf of space, and entered our atmosphere.  The next step would be to see if the phenomenon repeats itself and collect additional hard evidence. 

Questions that must be relentlessly addressed and pursued before scientifically even entertaining the notion of ET are:

  • Can the light be related to an aircraft we are familiar with in an unfamiliar scenario or context, (e.g., thrust diamond patterns in rocket or jet exhaust as seen at night)? 
  • Can it be aircraft we are simply unfamiliar with? 
  • Can it be atmospheric in nature? 
  • Can it be astronomical in nature? 
  • Can we rule out recording equipment malfunctions?  
  • Could the apparent light be hoaxed? 

If any of the above answers are “Yes,” one cannot scientifically proceed to the so-called “extraterrestrial hypothesis” until completely ruling them out, especially considering that the existence of extraterrestrial life of any sort has yet to be scientifically demonstrated (see: astrobiology).  If one does, they’ve just committed an argument from ignorance.


Screen-grab of Ted Lohman's "UFO" video, as featured in the Chasing UFOs episode, "UFO Landing Zone?"


Analyzing Ted Lohman’s “UFO Crash” Video

When viewing the (literally) spectacular video featured at the beginning of this episode, several features stand out: 

  1. Perhaps the most important feature is that the apparent “object” is glowing.  This is deserving of specific mention.  We aren’t aware of many things that glow in broad daylight and fly.  However, there are a few, and the most likely candidate is a rocket, which emits glowing plasma as a result of the combustion of propulsive fuel.  In this view, the apparent object is actually the exhaust plume itself being emitted from the back of a missile or rocket, which is being “washed out” by the brightness of the flame.  (This is doubly true if the camera is sensitive to infrared wavelengths, as military officials have claimed.)
  2. The presence of a faint exhaust contrail is visible being left behind the object, which is also strongly suggestive of a rocket. 
  3. Upon close inspection the “object” expresses some asymmetry.  It narrows and is fairly blunt on the left side as opposed to the right, which is also consistent with something being emitted from a nozzle, left to right.
  4. The object’s dimensions and shape subtly change over time, which an exhaust plume would do as a rocket travels through, and the plume interacts with, the atmosphere.
  5. The absence of any audio is conspicuous, where the familiar roar of a rocket motor might be immediately conclusive.  (Was it left out on purpose to inspire mystery?)
  6. After the object impacts the second time and comes apart, glowing debris is scattered, which is consistent with burning fuel.

In short, there is no reason to question the rocket hypothesis until the object bounces.  Admittedly, rockets aren’t typically designed to bounce.  However, that doesn’t mean that a bounce is impossible and certainly doesn’t eliminate the rocket possibility outright.

As is featured in the episode, James and I had a spirited debate regarding whether or not a bouncing ballistic object could be cylindrical, or if it needed to be disk-shaped.  This was amusingly abbreviated as the “pencil versus pancake” argument.  Particularly if under their own power with an appreciable degree of momentum, cylindrical objects do and have bounced, whether planes or rockets.  Now, it is also true that “pancake”-shaped objects might also bounce, as people are familiar with in the context of skipping stones, yet this is an anecdotal rather than scientific statement. 

Again, in light of the evidence as detailed above without additional compelling evidence to the contrary, there is no scientifically compelling reason to question the hypothesis that the object captured on film is likely a rocket exhaust plume as viewed during an unusual missile or rocket bounce and crash.  (To claim otherwise and invoke extraterrestrial technology is, again, to commit an argument from ignorance.)


Geologist Frank Kimbler displaying recovered metal fragments and analytical results to the Chasing UFOs team. (Credit: NGT/Dave West)


Frank Kimbler and the Planetary Fingerprint

During the course of conversation about the metal fragments Frank Kimbler discovered at his proposed “crash site,” one of the aspects mentioned regarding his analysis was a possible chemical irregularity in the metal’s composition. 

Without delving too deeply into planetary geochemistry, each chemical element found in nature comes in multiple forms, called “isotopes.”  Different isotopes of a chemical element relate to the number of neutrons in an atom’s nucleus.  While the presence of protons determines what element an atom is, (for example, oxygen versus iron), adding or subtracting neutrons creates lighter and heavier versions of that same element.  This may be familiar in the context of “Carbon-12” versus “Carbon-14.”  They are both Carbon, yet Carbon-14 has two extra neutrons as compared to Carbon-12, making it radioactive and useful for age-dating of archaeological sites. 

In any case, the relative amounts of isotopes for a given element can be unique from planet to planet in the solar system, (and by extension, possibly even between solar system to solar system.)  This may be thought of as a sort of planetary “fingerprint.”  Analyzing these isotopic ratios is the method by which planetary scientists can help to determine whether a meteorite came, for example, from Mars or the asteroid belt. 

With this in mind, when subjected to an initial test, the magnesium isotopes found in one of Kimbler’s metal fragments appeared to indicate a non-terrestrial isotopic fingerprint.  However, without further testing, such results could also have been the result of natural and statistical variability in the laboratory analytical process.  So, while ultimately not conclusive of an extraterrestrial “find” without further analysis, communicating the idea of elemental isotopes and their role in helping scientists currently determine geological material of extraterrestrial origin makes this segment an important one!


Thermal Infrared Surveys and the “Witching Hour”

I’d like to offer a quick note on our evening infrared surveys in this and other episodes.  As was also the case during our Fresno FLIR investigation (“Dirty Secrets”), the logic behind such surveys is that impacts or other terrain disturbances often affect the vegetation in a given area, either by removing plants (scraping/scouring) or by crushing them.  These changes can be persistent over decades and even centuries, as evidenced in one example by altered plant growth along wagon tracks that remain visible to this day in the Great Basin region of the United States. 

Different plants and plant densities release heat to the environment at different rates, meaning that as an area transitions from day to night, the difference in heat loss between plant types when looking in thermal infrared may reveal patterns of ancient disturbances.  This is one of the reasons, (which did not receive much attention in a given episode,) why our surveys often continued from daylight into night.  We were seeking to be present for the “witching hour,” when differences in heat loss rates might reveal patterns indicating historical disturbances of the terrain.


Yellow pin-flags mark survey grid square corners at Frank Kimbler’s UFO “skip” crash site debris location. (Credit: Ben McGee)


Rebar Find in the Roswell Survey Grid

One of the most significant discoveries during the Roswell field investigation (that did not ultimately appear in the episode) was that of finding a vertical piece of oxidized rebar driven into the ground in our survey grid.  Those who are familiar with professional land surveying will recognize that driven rebar is highly suggestive of benchmarks and survey markers, which surveyors use to mark reference points in the environment.  In these cases, the rebar is intended to prevent the marker from moving around with time, and an identifying cap is often affixed to the top of the pipe or pole with a unique alphanumeric identifier. 

Unfortunately, any benchmark cap was no longer present in the case of our rebar discovery, making definitive identification impossible.  However, while not conclusive of anything extraordinary, that the area was important enough for someone to survey is coincidental and at the very least intriguing – not to mention the whole-in-one serendipity of having placed our own survey grid in exactly the same location! 


Military uniform button recovered at geologist Frank Kimbler's suspected Roswell debris-field location. (Credit: NGT/Dave West)


The Air Force Button

Doubtless the most sensational discovery during the Roswell investigation was the late-night unearthing of a military coat button.  I’ll admit – the find was very exciting, particularly considering how many hours we’d been outside that evening. 

Upon reflection and further analysis, however, it turns out that while the presence of a military button agrees with both the extraordinary allegations as well as the official military account of the event (see: Project Mogul), the button’s characteristics also conflict with a couple of key elements common to all versions of the Roswell story: 

  1. Buttons of this nature were included on more formal uniform coats, which don’t necessarily make sense under a “hands-and-knees” recovery operation scenario.  Field recovery personnel would not have been wearing more formal uniforms.
  2. The button was sent to an expert historian from the National Button Society during post-production, who concluded that the button (based on the manufacturer and button-backing) was at earliest from the year 1949.  This is a full two years after the alleged Roswell crash and recovery.

The presence of nearby tin, as seen in the episode, is indicative of more conventional (likely farming) activity in the area.  With this in mind and due to the age mismatch and condition of the button, the possibility of a provincial explanation, such as it having been deposited much more recently from the likes of a surplus coat worn by a civilian, cannot yet be ruled out.


Wrapping Up Roswell

Ultimately, determining any truth to the more exotic allegations at Roswell will only become more difficult with time, either because the simple reality is increasingly obscured by entrenched, fantastic lore or more exotic truths are increasingly hard to verify as witnesses die and memories change with age. 

Even to those who find the “weather balloon”-style explanation of the Air Force’s Project Mogul untenable, (which is a difficult argument in its own right), ruling out more extraordinary but terrestrial explanations for the crash and recovery are essential prior to entertaining any extraterrestrial hypotheses.  If not a weather balloon, why could the event have not been a rogue rocket from a test gone awry at nearby White Sands Missile Range, a downed aircraft with an atomic weapon aboard, or even a crashed test of classified supersonic aircraft employing breakthrough materials technologies?  At least as far as scientific conclusions are concerned, definitive answers to these questions based upon physical evidence are in my opinion required before warranting a gaze up toward the stars in search of answers.


Semper Exploro!

Ben McGee


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.


  1. Jerry Seevers
    Dallas TX
    July 17, 2012, 9:14 pm

    My first comment about the show is that they need to change the name to Chasing F_____g UFO’s. We have to cast members who can’t seem to complete a sentence without the “f” word. Real great examples of educated researchers.
    My second comment is that these idiots go into the Rocky Mountains in search of mutilated cattle at night in the wilderness without a weapon and act like they totally surprised when they realize they might just be watched by an animal who could shred them with one blow.
    Both of these comments indicate that I wouldn’t let these people walk my dog. If this is a NG quality program, then let me out of the NG world. Who everut this program together must have also done Sponge Bob……….

  2. Kevin D. Randle
    July 18, 2012, 8:18 pm

    The rocket footage has been around the Internet for a long time and basic research would have lead to White Sands and an explanation for it.

    The site that Frank Kimbler took you to was the same site that Bill Brazel showed Don Schmitt and me back in 1989. I have a picture of him standing next to his truck telling us that it was where he had found a couple of little scraps of material including the metal that would unfold itself.

    Had anyone asked, there are many of us who could have told you the button was irrelevant. The Air Force didn’t exist in July 1947 and if a button had been lost from a Class A uniform, it would have been an Army button. I would have mentioned that it looked too good for having laid out in the desert for 65 years and wondered who had planted it there and when.

    While it is nice that you have provided all this additional information, it would have been nice had it been added to the program. Many will never see this and believe that a UFO crashed into the ground at White Sands based on the video and that an Air Force button was found on the Debris Field.

    BTW, and not wanting to get into a long explanation, you realize that the Air Force explanation fails because Flight No. 4 was cancelled.

  3. Darren Perks
    Shropshire, UK
    July 19, 2012, 6:33 am

    It’s always good to see new style shows on the UFO subject but unfortunately NatGeo have again gone wit the easy option and only covered a selct few cases form only the US. There is nothing really new here in this series and the people who feature as presenters are not really from the UFO community. For a show like this to have effect, then we need to see cases from other countries like the UK and with real life UFO Investigators who do this kind of thing week in week out and have real experiences themselves. Surely they have the budget to do this and until this happens them I’m afraid these kind of shows will just be ‘yet another same old ufo show’.
    Sorry but things need to change…

  4. Kay Keenan
    July 19, 2012, 7:53 pm

    For the UFO Landing Zone episode, please spell Ted Loman’s name correctly.

  5. Stevie
    July 19, 2012, 11:58 pm

    @ Darren, I agree with you on the poor selection of the cast members. There are hundreds of better qualified UFOlogists better suited for this role than James Fox. Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if they chose James Fox because he looked better when he drops his jaw in the face-cam shots. NatGeo completely dropped the ball on this production: it looked like they are treating the subject matter akin to shows like “Ghost Hunter”.

  6. Steven
    July 20, 2012, 12:56 am

    Why is the show covering the Roswell incident? No new evidence has been uncovered, and it has been researched to the point of exhaustion. What does this guy Ben and the other two charlatans think they can bring to light that everyone else has not, over the course of a weekend? Aside from manufacturing camera footage, and fabricating evidence, and splicing interviews out of context — there will be nothing worthwhile except maybe a good tan, when they decide to scour the desert in vain for “evidence” from over 50 years ago. i wouldn’t be surprised if that fouled-mouth lady on the show brings a piece of a rusted pick-up truck and plants it somewhere where someone on the team can find it, and then she can drop her jaw on those ridiculous face cams, and proclaim “@#$@%##%^ !!!”. Don’t put this past her, she seems to miraculously capture UFOs on her camera reach night she makes the attempt. Where others are lucky to spot a UFO in their lifetime, she can accomplish in an hour or two scanning the skies — or perhaps an hour or two with video editing software that she brings to the field pre-loaded in her camera.

    I call shenanigans on this show.

  7. clyde roesch
    flagler co. florida
    July 20, 2012, 11:30 pm

    do these people on the show know they are being filmed, can they not speak without profanity? I tried to watch the program but gaveup for another channel. suprises me that ng would stand for it.

  8. Frank Kimbler
    Roswell, NM
    July 21, 2012, 8:49 pm

    Ben did a good job explaining the science behind the program. I enjoyed being on the show. Try not to beat up the Chasing UFO team too bad. Ben is a good scientist and knows what he is doing. James Fox has produced several good UFO documentaries so he is about as qualified as any UFOologist. Erin Ryder is a rough and tough actress, and my wife said ” she is really beautiful”. I certainly won’t disagree with that observation. Erin if you read this blog then remember to turn the map the other way. I like the show; it has entertainment value; to quote from the LA Times ” too much Mulder and not enough Scully”, just about sums it up though.

  9. Erich Kuersten
    Brooklyn NY
    July 22, 2012, 9:09 pm

    Ben I hate to break it to you but no one watches UFO shows to see you discredit and pee on the parade and crash everything down to science and blah blah it’s all atmospheric disturbances. It’s easy to dismiss all witness testimony as worthless but don’t be surprised if you’re left defying Occam’s Razor and picking the most abstract unlikely ‘logical’ choice because you can’t admit and allow the simpler one. Why the reality of alien visitors should be so hard to allow for defies other areas of science especially interdimensional physics. The fear you feel validates the govts. decision to keep it under wraps, holding back any conclusive evidence but letting us fumble in the dark like parents who wont tell their kids where babies come from, but occasionally drop a few cryptic hints. It seems far less likely that aliens would never have come here, considering the vastness of the universe.

    Science has done wonderful things but when it demonizes and dismisses all firsthand testimony, dreams, intuition, hypnosis recovery, etc. etc. as too subjective, it does a left brain dis to the right brain intuitives, a dis we’ve been taking from you guys for far too long. But don’t be fooled into thinking you’re being analytical and open minded, you’re being disrespectful to eye witnesses, who include govt. officials who we should hope know the difference between a balloon and a UFO. Of course sometimes a bright Venus is mistaken for a UFO, but I bet there’s plenty of times a UFO is mistaken for Venus, too.

    Because once you accept the aliens as fact, the next question is what do they want, and that’s when the fear beings. It’s clear you never want to get there, never want to even entertain the very real terrifying possibility that a race of beings is treating us the way we treat animals on a nature preserve, occasionally whisking us off for experiments or ‘tagging’ but otherwise just observing.

    It’s not fun to think you might not be the apex predator of your planet… and that’s your problem, not ours. If you want to keep your head in the sand, stay off of UFO TV!!

  10. CDA
    United Kingdom
    July 23, 2012, 6:46 am

    Re Roswell:
    The answers to the questions you raise in your last paragraph are given in the press reports at the time. It was not a downed aircraft with atomic weapons on board. It was not a stray rocket from White Sands. It was not a classified supersonic aircraft “employing breakthrough materials technologies”. No such “breakthrough” technologies were found anyway.

    None of these remotely fits the descriptions of what was found. Also, no stray rockets or missing atomic weapons were reported at the time, or at any time since then. So your suggestions are worthless. Do you really suppose such things can, or could, possibly account for what was actually discovered?

    And no, you do not have to look for or at the stars for the answer either.

  11. LBK
    United States
    July 23, 2012, 12:48 pm

    This show seemed to have some decent “buzz” before it premiered. Now that it has, it is stunning how it panders to the worst stereotypes of UFOlogy. I devour most everything I can on the subject, but Chasing UFOs is a bridge too far even for me. Besides the lame-brained production cliches others have addressed, (night-vision metal detecting… huh?) there is an outright shoddiness even to the paper thin narrative of the night’s subject. My favorite was the team “sneaking up” on an airport and “discovering” some military activity there! But wait – “the next day we found out the base is used by the California Air National Guard.” This show is setting back serious back the public perception of UFOs by decades.

  12. […] The Science of Chasing UFOs: “UFO… Jul. 16, 2012 (11) Nat Geo TV Blogs » […]

  13. Chris
    July 23, 2012, 4:34 pm

    Horrible show. That foul mouthed girl (Riley?) is more interested in showing off for the camera than anything else.
    Its like they make up some excuse every episode to do something physical like rappelling or skydiving or whatever. Also, hey lets look for evidence of something that happened 15 years ago…..AT NIGHT!

  14. Men in black agents are real
    Columbia Missouri
    July 27, 2012, 9:40 pm

    Dear cast, if you are reading these I must inform you my personele experiences are in fact true, if you so would like to follow through be e-mailing me. I would like to offer the extensive detail that I can recall with my six sightings, and follow through happenings; the harassment of the government agents who “do not exsits.” I can show you actual extraterestrial crafts. Supported by any person that you ask. Please give my case a chance, I am Christian, my grandmother, who you can look up, Margie Bridgford, said she saw Heaven, so I do not lie for no reason. I am honestly frightened from what happened I had posted my sightings amongst via messages with my friends. Then after the fear of what each “ship” would do. I can personelly describe what others have described from my own witness accounts.

  15. Jack Nardozza
    All Shows
    July 31, 2012, 7:17 am

    Is Erin Ryder’s Father the vice president of NG. How can you continue to let a show like this stay on the air? On most networks it would have been long gone. Has anyone at NG read all the blogs about this show? Obviously not.

  16. […] a "clarification". Uh, huh. So we could say, "Roswell Button: Case Closed". The Science of Chasing UFOs: “UFO Landing Zone?” – Nat Geo TV Blogs A Different Perspective: Chasing UFOs – Part […]

  17. […] from Earth.” Ben McGee, a research scientist and team member on Chasing UFOs, explained in a NatGeo blog post: [W]hen subjected to an initial test, the magnesium isotopes found in one of Kimbler’s metal […]

  18. Rob
    August 10, 2012, 9:42 pm

    Jerry in Tx… They can’t get through a sentence, without saying the F word, anymore than you can get through a sentence without a misspelling a word. You’re a grown man, and offended by a swear word? I’m watching the show right now, and haven’t heard a single curse word or bleep.

  19. Jeriel
    October 27, 2012, 12:20 am

    Why did National Geographic only air the UFO guy’s side? Plenty of people who watch that nonsense show and not read this article. National Geographic is turning into a joke channel.

  20. John Moylan
    Rep. of Ireland
    November 15, 2012, 5:45 am

    I saw the show the other night about the Roswell site. Ok a man shows the team metal fragments he found at the site… so what do the team do. They check out some rusty piece of tin and a button they found. There no mention of the metal fragments, isn’t that the bit they usually put at the end of these kind of shows to keep you watching to the end. Even if the results proved the metal was nothing unusual, why the heck could they not fit the into the show? not enough time? Well if they cut back on the “Blair witch people wandering around not really doing anything“ look I’m sure they could have someone say what the results were. Very bad documentry too heavy on the reality Tv look and not enough on the substance if evidence.

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