Friday, March 10, 2006

The interview of Jacques Vallée by Marie-Thérèse de Brosses Summarized By Gildas Bourdais
- Part Three -

Vallée & Brosses
The interview of Jacques Vallée by Marie-Thérèse de Brosses On the radio " Ici et maintenant " in Paris, Tuesday February 14, 2006

By Gildas Bourdais

This is a summarization with some comments, along with an Annex on Ubatuba; first written in French, and then translated in English, by Gildas Bourdais. The interview was conducted by telephone, with Jacques Vallée at his home in San Francisco.

See Part One

See Part Two

Annex: UfO fragments at Ubatuba?

Gildas Bourdais (sml)     One of the arguments endlessly repeated by the skeptics is that researchers have never put their hands on the faintest material from a UfO. But, how could they do it, if they are suppressed when they are discovered? There exists at least one outstanding case of alleged UfO fragments, those found near Ubatuba in Brazil, in September 1957. Several laboratories, mainly in Brazil and in the United States, studied them without reaching a final conclusion about their origin, terrestrial or extraterrestrial, but we are going to see that some aspects of the story remain obscure, even today.

On September 14, 1957, the Brazilian journalist Ibrahim Sued received a letter with an unreadable signature, together with three samples of a substance, apparently metallic. The witness says that he watched with friends, near the ocean, the explosion of a saucer in flight, fragments of which fell, burning, in the water like fireworks, and that he was able to retrieve a few of them on the beach. The physician Olavo Fontes, a well-known Ufologist, reads the article, and soon obtains the three fragments from the journalist. A first fragment is cut in several pieces, and is studied at the Mineral Production Laboratory, depending from the government. Several tests establish that it is made of extremely pure magnesium, a first very curious result, knowing that magnesium, a very reactive element, is not found pure in nature and is never used in the building of vehicles. At the time, the astronomer Donald Menzel, the father of all debunkers, supposed that it was a fragment of meteorite; but the idea of a meteorite made of pure magnesium is completely unconceivable, and nobody was satisfied with that explanation.

Let’s summarize the main points of a long story, which will pass, notably, by the Condon commission. The American physicist Paul Hill has given a very clear and convincing analysis of it in his remarkable book Unconventional Flying Objects. A Scientific Analysis, written in 1975 but published only in 1995, after his death. It must be noted that Paul Hill made his entire career at NASA, where he reached important posts of responsibilities. He was personally interested in UfOs after seeing them twice in 1952 (a great year). With humour, he recalls how he had been instructed by his hierarchy to keep silent, when he was at NACA, the predecessor of NASA, and how, having studied UfOs during all his life personally, he wrote this book of reflexions on the physics of UfOs. He became interested in the affair of the debris of Ubatuba when reading the report of Dr Olavo Fontes, published in 1966 in the book The Great Flying Saucer Hoax, of Coral Lorenzen, director of APRO with her husband Jim Lorenzen. The Lorenzens have played an important part in that story, Fontes being their correspondent in Brazil.

By reading Paul Hill, one understands how certain mistakes allowed to seed doubt. The analysis of the first sample, he explains, gives an astonishing result. Not only the magnesium is of very high purity (with only weak superficial traces of magnesium hydroxide caused probably by a reaction when falling in the sea water), but the density (or specific gravity) of this sample, of 1.866 g/cc, is 6.7% heavier than the one of ordinary pure magnesium (1.741 g/cc). On the other hand it is almost exactly the one of the isotope 26, rare on Earth, of which Paul Hill gives the detailed calculation: 1.861, a very small difference, of only 0.005%, explainable by the limits of precision of the measurements. According to him, this difference cannot be caused by the presence of traces of magnesium hydroxide, the density of which is 2.36, because it would have required the presence of a lot of it. Besides, the measure of density had been made for a piece carefully polished, taken from the center of the fragment in order to avoid contamination. That piece of metal, explains Paul Hill, could be obtained only by isotopic separation, a process that exists, to this day, on Earth, only for the difficult separation of uranium isotopes!

The continuation of the story becomes incredible. The laboratory, although quite competent, does not consider verifying this extraordinary result on the two other fragments, and destroys the first one in other tests, of lesser importance. Dr Fontes, who kept a second piece of the first fragment, has given it to the military laboratory of the Navy, which had requested it; but it destroys also that piece! It becomes thus impossible to pursue the study of this first fragment, and especially to perform a decisive test of the isotopic composition with a mass spectrometer. Dr Fontes then sends the two other fragments to his colleagues and friends of APRO, Coral and Jim Lorenzen, in the United States. They are cut in several pieces, and some are provided for analysis to American laboratories.

In the United States, the trace of the samples becomes more difficult to follow, explains Paul Hill. Analyses made at the laboratories of Oak Ridge and Dow Chemical reveal a density close to normal, with a certain number of impurities, but with still a curious result: an important part of aluminium, which does not exist in current products (it may be noted here that, if those fragments did come from a UfO which had exploded, we may suppose that they came from different parts made of different materials). Then, another piece given by APRO to the Air Force is destroyed mistakenly, without results (Oh the naivety of the first Ufologists!)

The Lorenzens also try to get ATIC interested, but to no avail. The last fragment falls in the hands, if we may say, of the Condon commission of the university of Colorado. It is tested in a laboratory of the FBI, after having been rendered radioactive in an atomic pile. This time, they find an important proportion of Zinc and strontium. But the Condon commission then discovers that Dow Chemical had tested, during the war, very pure magnesium with a part of strontium; this is judged sufficient to discard the whole affair, even if it is impossible to explain how such a product could have ended up in Brazil. As for the measure of density made in Brazil, the “explication” by the presence of hydroxide is adopted without problem.

This Ubatuba affair has provoked a long polemic. Of course, the possibility of a hoax cannot be completely excluded, considering that the first witness remains unreachable (and got no benefit from the story), but one still wonders how he could have obtained a piece of magnesium of such a high purity. The story of Ubatuba does not end there. Other studies have been made, presented in an issue of the Journal of UFO Studies in 1992 (New series, vol. 4), comprising a study made in 1969-70 by physicists Walter Walker and Robert Johnson, which had not been published yet. This study of 36 pages exposes the analyses already achieved, and a new study by Dr Walker. In 1969, APRO had entrusted him with one of the pieces, and he made non-destructive tests on its crystalline structure. He discovered that this material had been manufactured by a process of directional growth of the crystals, which allow increasing their solidity, a technique that was actively researched at the time. Dr Robert Johnson, of the Material Research Corporation, has validated this finding, co-author of the article. In brief, this is a new bizarre twist in this mysterious affair. On the other hand, Dr Walker seems to accept the measures of density made in the Unites States. He remarks that, to obtain the results found in Brazil, it would have required that the fragment contained 21% of magnesium hydroxide, an explanation that seems conceivable to him. However, he remains open, with this personal opinion at the end of his report:
“In summary, after all these years, I consider the Ubatuba magnesium fragment as unusual material of still unknown origin”.
The debate has started up again with the book of Paul Hill published in 1995. As we have seen, it is on the question of the famous measure of density made in Brazil that Hill departs completely from the “official” analyses made in the United States, although even Dr Fontes had more or less accepted them, as well as Dr Walker. However, that question of density is going to be closed again. Two years later, it is mentioned, very briefly, by Jacques Vallée, at the famous meeting of Pocantico, held in 1997 at the invitation of Laurance Rockefeller and led by physicist Peter Sturrock, professor at Stanford University. He has published the communications in his book The UFO Enigma, in 1999. Vallée does cite the study made by the Mineral Production Laboratory in Brazil, which found extremely pure magnesium, but, curiously, he does not mention the measure of density, corresponding precisely to the isotope 26 of magnesium. On the other hand, he recalls further studies in this paragraph, quoted here entirely:
“Subsequent work under the direction of Peter Sturrock has been conducted at Stanford University and at various laboratories in France, including Orsay University, confirming that the material was magnesium and magnesium oxide, but with substantial impurities (Sturrock, 1984), primarily aluminium, calcium, and iron. Analysis of this sample is still ongoing, with an effort to measure isotopic ratios that might help establish the origin of the material (Lorin and Havette, 1986).

The date of this event, often quoted in the literature as 1957, is actually imprecise. Dr. Pierre Kaufmann of São Paulo believes the original incident took place in 1933 or 1934, when a bolide indeed passed over Ubatuba and crashed at a nearby beach. The only aerial event to occur at or near Ubatuba in 1957 was the crash of a DC-3.”
Here is another curious development, this time on the “UFO Updates” forum. Canadian Ufologist Nick Balaskas revealed, on April 6, 1999, that Dr Peter Sturrock had entrusted a piece of one of the fragments to Dr Sam Wang, of Vancouver in Canada, in order to determine the isotopic ratios. According to Balaskas, “The results of this test showed that the Magnesium isotope Mg24 (which makes up nearly 80 percent of terrestrial Magnesium) was nearly absent in the Ubatuba UFO piece that was tested”.

Have there been other tests of the last pieces of Ubatuba still available (we don’t know exactly which ones, and where they come from)? I have not heard of it. On the other hand, another, very interesting document was partially published in the 80’s, which is related to Ubatuba. It is the long letter that Dr Fontes wrote to Coral Lorenzen, dated February 27, 1958. It was supposed to remain confidential, but it was leaked somehow from the archives of APRO, and a large excerpt of it was published in at least two books (UFO Crash at Aztec by William Steinman, and Above Top Secret by Timothy Good). In this letter, Dr Fontes told how he had received several times the visit of officers of the Brazilian Navy, who had insisted gravely that he should give them the fragments. Upon his refusal, they had revealed to him some secret information about UfOs, in order to make him understand the importance of doing it. They mentioned several UfO crashes, and failed attempts to intercept UfOs, some planes being shot down, to the point that these attempts had been stopped.

Presumably, this source of information is definitely closed, Dr Fontes having died from cancer in 1968, only 43 years old. Jim Lorenzen died in 1986, Coral in 1988, and the archives of APRO are apparently not accessible today.

See Also: Part One

See Also: Part Two


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