Thursday, January 01, 2015


The myth of radioactive UFOs? Part 3: The origin of the myth

In the first two parts of this discussion, I showed how none of the classic UFO cases said to have associated radioactivity have been established as such without dispute. Further, there are many cases in which observed effects of UFOs are assumed to have been caused by radiation, without any detection of this mechanism. Most UFO stories involving radiation are simply anecdotal, without any evidence or factual details to back up the claims.

In the few cases where there were actual radiation measurements taken, the results are apparently in some doubt due to equipment failure or operator error.

If this is all true, then why do many UFO buffs assume that UFOs are radioactive? It's common for UFO groups' field investigators to be versed in the use of Geiger counters, but why, if radioactivity is a non-issue?

It may have all started with Ruppelt.

In his classic seminal work The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, published in 1956, Edward Ruppelt has a chapter titled The Radiation Story.

In it, he described how (as he called it) a "rumor" changed the direction of military saucer research in the USAF. He wrote:

In the fall of 1949, at some unspecified place in the United States, a group of scientists had set up equipment to measure background radiation, the small amount of harmless radiation that is always present in our atmosphere. This natural radiation varies to a certain degree, but will never increase by any appreciable amount unless there is a good reason. According to the rumor, two of the scientists at the unnamed place were watching the equipment one day when, for no apparent reason, a sudden increase of radiation was indicated. The radiation remained high for a few seconds, then dropped back to normal. The increase over normal was not sufficient to be dangerous, but it definitely was unusual. All indications pointed to equipment malfunction as the most probable explanation. A quick check revealed no obvious trouble with the gear, and the two scientists were about to start a more detailed check when a third member of the radiation crew came rushing into the lab. Before they could tell the newcomer about the unexplained radiation they had just picked up, he blurted out a story of his own. He had driven to a nearby town, and on his return trip, as he approached the research lab, something in the sky suddenly caught his eye. High in the cloudless blue he saw three silvery objects moving in a V formation. They appeared to be spherical in shape, but he wasn't sure. The first fact that had hit him was that the objects were traveling too fast to be conventional aircraft. He jammed on the brakes, stopped his car, and shut off the engine. No sound. All he could hear was the quiet whir of a generator in the research lab. In a few seconds the objects had disappeared from sight. After the first two scientists had briefed their excited colleague on the unusual radiation they had detected, the three men asked each other the $64 question: Was there any connection between the two incidents? Had the UFO's caused the excessive radiation?

And that was how it started. The time of the radiation anomaly and the passing of the saucers were closely correlated. Ruppelt notes that it would have all ended there, except that he tracked down the witnesses and the scientists and learned more details. The result was that considerable time and money and personnel were commissioned to investigate the saucer/radiation correlation, even to the point of setting up observation posts. And in July of 1951, there was a simultaneous radar/visual observation of some saucers that was also coincidental with a bump in radioactivity. 

And yet, even with the instrumented data collected by the military operation, the project was shelved because:

No one could explain the sudden bursts of radiation, but there was no proof that they were associated with UFO's.

And that was it.

Support for Ruppelt's story can be found in the Blue Book archives. In the Maxwell AFB Blue Book files, MAXW-PBB1-738, there is a reference to an event at Mt. Palomar in October 1949, where a saucer was seen and radiation detected. 

The incident was investigated thoroughly by the Navy and the conclusion was that it had just been a coincidence combined with equipment failure.

There are many more references to "radiation" and "radioactivity" in the Blue Book files, many pages of which detail Ruppelt's investigation of the reports.

And one page in particular may shed the most light, MAXW-PBB7-930:

It's important to remember that the original event occurred in 1949, only a few years after Hiroshima. And nuclear research was well underway at Los Alamos and other nearby military installations. The possibility that UFOs were nuclear powered military aircraft flown by other countries was considered very great.

In fact, in 1946, the USAF created the Nuclear Energy for the Propulsion of Aircraft (NEPA) project, which was replaced by the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion (ANP) program in 1951 but closed down in 1961. A nuclear powered aircraft was never successfully tested during the project run. 

(It's interesting to note that this project was one of the first assignments for ufologist Stanton Friedman as he began his career as a nuclear physicist.)

So it would appear that the use of Geiger counters by military UFO investigators was more for the detection of Russian nuclear aircraft rather than anything extraterrestrial. And so, the continued use of Geiger counters by ufologists today may be irrelevant to the subject.


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