What are the flying saucers, the luminous fuselages, the foo fighters and the green fireballs? The answer – if any answer at this time is possible – lies in the field of logic rather than of evidence. What the things are may be adduced partially by reviewing what they are not.
THEY ARE NOT PSYCHOLOGICAL PHENOMENA.
Although the Air Force cheerily wrote off its 34 unexplained incidents with this pat theory, the explanation does not hold up. There is no evidence, beyond textbook speculation, for such a supposition, and there is the direct evidence already cited against it. To doubt the observers in the foregoing cases is to doubt the ability of every human being to know a hawk from a handsaw.
THEY ARE NOT THE PRODUCT OF U.S. RESEARCH
LIFE investigated this possibility to exhaustion. Not fully satisfied by the public denials of President Truman, Secretary Johnson and others, the investigators put the question directly to Gordon Dean, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. He said: "There's nothing in our shop that could account for these things, and there's nothing going on that I know of that could explain them." Still unconvinced, LIFE checked the whereabouts and present business of every scientist who might have anything to do with the development of superaircraft. All were accounted for in other ways. Careful feelers through the business and labor world encountered no submerged projects of the immensity necessary to build a fleet of flying disks. And there is still the conclusive fact: U.S. science has at its command no source of power that could put a flying machine through such paces as the saucers perform.
THEY ARE NOT A RUSSIAN DEVELOPMENT
It is inconceivable that the Russians would risk the loss of such a precious military weapon by flying a saucer over enemy territory. No man-made machine is foolproof; sooner or later one would crash in the U.S. and the secret would be out. Nor is there any reason to believe that Russian science, even with German help, has moved beyond not only the practical but the THEORETICAL horizons of U.S. research.
THEY ARE NOT DISTORTIONS OF THE ATMOSPHERE RESULTING FROM ATOMIC ACTIVITY
To quote the answer David Lilienthal, former AEC commissioner, once made to that suggestion: "I can't prevent anyone from saying foolish things." Nor are they aberrations of the northern lights. Magnetic disturbances cannot account for them and neither can a notion (recently fathered by Dr. Urner Liddel, the Navy physicist) that they are "vertical mirages" – reflections from a vertical (instead of a horizontal) layer of heated air.
THEY ARE NOT SKYHOOK BALLOONS
This was the original Liddel explanation, and in a few instances it may have been correct. But not many. They could scarcely be "fireflies in the cockpit," as one Air Force colonel suggested, since most of the observers were not in a cockpit when they saw their saucers. And it is hard to believe that saucers could be the reflections of automobile headlights on clouds, when they are seen in daylight under cloudless skies. These being the dead-end alleys of negative evidence, is there hope of an explanation on the open avenues of scientific theory? The answer is yes.
The rank of science has taken the saucers far more seriously than the file of laymen and, after five years of close watch on all reports, a number of scientists were ready with some conclusions. One of these was Dr. Walther Riedel, once chief designer and research director at the German rocket center in Peenemunde, now engaged on secret work for the U.S. Dr. Riedel has never seen a saucer himself, but for several years he has kept records of saucer sightings all over the world. He told LIFE: "I am completely convinced that they have an out-of-world basis."
Dr. Riedel has four points to his argument: "First, the skin temperatures of structures operating under the observed conditions would make it impossible for any terrestrial structure to survive. The skin friction of the missile at those speeds at those altitudes would melt any metals or nonmetals available.
"Second, consider the high acceleration at which they fly and maneuver ... In some descriptions the beast spirals straight up. If you think of the fact that the centrifugal force in a few minutes of such a maneuver would press the crew against the outside, and do likewise to the blood, you see what I mean.
"Third.... There are many occurrences where they have done things that only a pilot could perform but that no human pilot could stand.
"Fourth, in most of the reports there is a lack of visible jet. Most observers report units without visible flame...and no trail. If it would be any known type of jet, rocket, piston engine, or chain-reaction motor, there would be a very clear trail at high altitude. It is from no power unit we know of..."
Dr. Riedel's arguments are reinforced by those of Dr. Maurice A. Biot, one of the leading aerodynamicists in the U.S. and a prominent mathematical physicist. From an aerodynamical viewpoint, says Dr. Biot, the saucer shape makes very little sense if the machine is to travel in the atmosphere. A disk has a high drag and is a poor airfoil unless stabilized; when whirled at high speed through the air, it "wobbles" distressingly – a movement observed in several of the saucers sighted. However, for space travel, where there is no atmosphere to oppose, the disk has significant advantages. The sphere, theoretically better, presents several difficult problems of construction and utilization. The disk, easier to build, has almost all the virtues of the sphere and some of its own. Reviewing the evidence presented here, Dr. Biot said: "The least improbable explanation is that these things are artificial and controlled. . .My opinion for some time has been that they have an extraterrestrial origin."
WHO? WHAT? AND WHEN?
There, at least, is a plausible explanation of the disk shape. But the real depths of the saucer mystery bemuse penetration, as the night sky swallows up a flashlight beam. What of the other shapes? Why do the things make no sound? How to explain their eerie luminosity? What power urges them at such terrible speeds through the sky? Who, or what, is aboard? Where do they come from? Why are they here? What are the intentions of the beings who control them?
;Before these awesome questions, science – and mankind – can yet only halt in wonder. Answers may come in a generation – or tomorrow. Somewhere in the dark skies there may be those who know.
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