Traces au sol – Rapport Sturrock

13. Analysis of Debris

Vallee reviewed several cases in which material samples were reported to be associated with unexplained aerial events. Vallee specified four criteria that led to his selection: the documentation of witness testimony; the circumstances surrounding the recovery of the specimen; evidence linking the specimen to the reported object; and laboratory analysis of the samples.

Vallee devoted most time to a case that occurred at Council Bluffs, Iowa, on December 17, 1977. Several residents of the town observed a bright flash at 7.45 p.m. The flash was followed by flames 8 to 10 feet high. When the witnesses reached the scene of the event, they found a large area of a dike at Big Lake Park, on the northern city limits, covered with a mass of molten metal that glowed red-orange and had ignited the grass.

Police and firefighters reached the scene within minutes of the event. One law-enforcement officer described the molten mass as boiling and running down the edges of the levee over an area of about 4 to 6 feet in extent. The central part of the material remained warm to the touch for another two hours. There were 11 witnesses in all. Two of the eleven witnesses had observed a lighted object in the sky prior to the fall of the material.

The sample recovered from the event was analyzed at Iowa State University and at the Griffin Pipe Products company. It was found that the metal was mainly iron with small amounts of alloying materials such as nickel and chromium. The analysts concluded that the material was similar to carbon steel. However, they eliminated the following four possibilities:

  1. An unknown person poured molten metal on the ground as a hoax;
  2. An unknown person created molten metal as a hoax by using thermite and ordinary metal;
  3. The material came from equipment from an aircraft; or
  4. The event was due to a meteoritic impact.

The origin of the sample therefore remains unidentified.

Vallee also discussed the following cases:

Maury Island, Washington, June 21, 1947. Debris that was claimed to be associated with an aerial explosion appeared to be similar to debris from a Tacoma slag mill, leading the authorities to conclude that the case was probably a hoax. However, some aspects of the case have never been fully elucidated.

Campinas, Brazil, December 14, 1954. An object, described as disk-like, was said to have wobbled and lost altitude and to have emitted a thin stream of silvery liquid that was subsequently determined to be tin.

Vaddo Island, Sweden, November 11, 1956. Witnesses found a shiny "rock," hot to the touch, near the landing site of a strange object. The "rock" was found to be composed of tungsten carbide and cobalt.

Vallee also gave brief mention of the following cases: Aurora, Texas, April 17, 1897; Washington, D. C., 1952; Ubatuba, Brazil, date on or before September 1957; Maumee, Ohio 1967; and an event that occurred in Bogota, Columbia either in 1975 or in 1976.

The panel found that reports of unusual metallic residue following the observation of an unexplained aerial phenomenon are detailed enough for comparative studies to be undertaken. The Council Bluffs case is notable since the conditions of witness availability and reliability, on-site testimony from law-enforcement officers, and rapid analysis, appear to have been satisfied. Some of the other cases, such as the Bogota case and the Ubatuba case, are sufficiently intriguing to encourage investigators to expand their field investigations.

None of the cases presented provide clear proof of a sample that is outside present scientific knowledge. Nevertheless, the panel encourages the search for further cases for which Vallee's four conditions are met, and urges that the associated material samples be subjected to careful analytical studies of elemental and isotopic compositions, etc. For further information about the analysis of debris, see Section 15.

14. Recommendations Concerning Implementation


The purpose of this section is to summarize ideas of what might be done to implement the panel's suggestions that were presented in their Summary Report (Section 1). The panel's observations and recommendations may perhaps be summarized very briefly as follows: The UFO problem is not simple and should receive more attention, with an emphasis on physical evidence; regular contact between UFO investigators and the scientific community would be helpful, as also would institutional support; and the possibility of health risks associated with UFO events should not be ignored.

The panel was greatly impressed by work reported from GEPAN/SEPRA, the French project originally GEPAN and now known as SEPRA (see Appendix 1), and there is no doubt that the best prospect for real advance in our understanding of the UFO problem would be the creation of similar projects in other countries, for the following reasons:

  1. Such a project could be mandated to obtain access to relevant data such as police records, radar records, etc.
  2. The project could organize and draw upon a network of laboratories and consultants.
  3. The project could set up and maintain a central database.
  4. The project could construct and operate one or more mobile "observatories" that would include a number of cameras and other detectors including, as a minimum, optical, infrared, spectroscopic, acoustic, magnetic and radiation instruments.
  5. New cases could be investigated from the outset purely on the basis of data collected by official channels and procedures.
  6. If there is indeed a health hazard associated with some events related to the UFO problem, some government office should offer a response to this hazard.

Even the most speculative hypotheses could be evaluated by a well conceived and well supported project. For instance, an analysis of the isotopic composition of material specimens could provide evidence that a specimen is probably of extraterrestrial origin, and analysis of the spectra of stationary objects, if it were to yield evidence of red-shifts or blue-shifts corresponding to a fraction of the speed of light, could indicate that some extraordinary physical process is involved. However, material specimens are rare, and it would take special equipment (that does not now exist) to obtain high-resolution spectra of transient and unpredictable sources.

We realize that not every country could duplicate GEPAN/SEPRA, since not every country has a national police force similar to the French gendarmerie. Furthermore, the creation of any such project would represent a political act that can be taken only by a national government for its own reasons or in response to public pressure.

For these reasons, it is necessary to be realistic and look for more modest approaches that could be initiated without government action. It would appear that progress is most likely to come about through incremental changes in institutional support and incremental changes in level of interest, these changes occurring symbiotically. We therefore inquire into what small positive changes could be made by scientists and by private institutions such as societies, journals, universities and foundations.

The most important change that could be made by scientists is to become curious. In view of the fact that modern UFO reports began in 1947, in view of the emergence of clear patterns in UFO reports (as was established some time ago by Poher [1973] among others), and in view of great public interest, it is remarkable that the scientific community has exhibited so little curiosity in the past.

There is no doubt that this lack of curiosity is due in part to a lack of reliable and accessible information. When Sturrock carried out a survey of members of the American Astronomical Society in 1975, he asked if members would like to obtain more information about the UFO problem, and most respondents replied that they would (Sturrock, 1994; 1994b; 1994c). Sturrock also asked whether members would like to acquire this information from lectures, symposia, books, or journal articles; most respondents wanted only journal articles. At that time, most editors of most scientific journals would not consider accepting an article on the UFO problem. Since that time, the Society for Scientific Exploration has been founded, and its journal is now in its 12th year of publication. However, the journal can be found in only a few university libraries. Hence the situation persists that it is not easy for scientists to obtain information about the UFO problem by the normal process of going to the library and looking up journal articles.

Clearly, there is a need for a change in policy on the part of journal editors. The scientific community would become much better informed if the major multi-disciplinary scientific journals were to carry occasional review articles that could guide readers to the specialized journals where more detailed information could be found.

Similarly, it would be very helpful if the major scientific societies were occasionally to include a review lecture or a review session containing several lectures devoted to the UFO problem. Specialized societies could also play an important role. For instance, a meteorological society could review those meteorological phenomena that are most likely to be responsible for UFO reports.

It is likely that more scientists at universities would take an interest in this problem if they felt that their activities would receive the same recognition and level of support as their more conventional research. Moreover, students would become better informed if there were occasional lectures or seminars on this subject. Investigators could help this process by developing resource material for such seminars.

However, even without waiting for such a change in policy of journals, societies and universities, scientists could exhibit a great deal more curiosity than they do now. Of course, it must be professional curiosity if it is to lead to professional results. It is not enough for a scientist to occasionally pick up a tabloid at the supermarket check-out stand. To become at all knowledgeable about the subject, a scientist should read the Condon Report (Condon & Gillmor, 1969), the report of the UFO Subcommittee of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (Kuettner et al., 1970) and its supporting articles (MacDonald, 1971; Thayer, 1971), and obtain as much information as possible about government-sponsored studies such as U. S. Air Force projects Sign, Grudge and Blue Book. [See, in particular, Blue Book Special Report No. 14 (ATIC 1955).] Jacobs (1975) remains an excellent introduction to the history of this topic. He or she would then be well advised to read some of the reports of GEPAN/SEPRA, the French official study group. (See Appendix 1.)

Study of the material mentioned in the preceding paragraph may arouse sufficient interest that a scientist would wish to become involved in actual research. Unfortunately, it would be far more difficult for a scientist to plan effective research on the UFO problem than in his or her main research area. The scientist would therefore be well advised to collaborate with one or more investigators with experience in field work or some other aspect of UFO research. Such collaboration would be greatly facilitated if, as the panel recommended, there were "some form of formal regular contact between the UFO community and physical scientists." Such contact could help acquaint a broader spectrum of UFO investigators with the normal procedures, protocols and standards of scientific research.

The proposed further contact could take the form of workshops similar to that held at Pocantico: such workshops could focus on some more limited aspect of physical evidence, or they could deal with quite different aspects of UFO research. The panel recognized the importance of "strong witness testimony," but of course physical scientists have no expertise relevant to that aspect of the problem; it might therefore be very helpful to hold a workshop dedicated to the collection and evaluation of witness testimony.

In the absence of government funding for UFO research, foundations and corporations can play an important role. It is likely that significant progress would be made if funds were to be made available for the support of (a) further workshops similar to the Pocantico workshop, (b) a few research projects that might be identified during the workshops, and (c) one or more symposia at which the results of these research projects would be presented and discussed.

The UFO problem is very complex and it is quite impossible to predict what might emerge from research into this area. But the same is true of any really innovative and exciting area of scientific research. As the panel remarked "Whenever there are unexplained observations, there is the possibility that scientists will learn something new by studying those observations." What is learned may bear no relation to the concepts that were entertained when the research was undertaken. We venture to hope that more scientists will take an interest in this curious subject so that there will be more progress in the second half century than there has been in the first half century. There could hardly be less.

15. Supporting Documentation

The following documents may be found on the JSE website (

Section 3. Photographic Analysis

Haines, R. F. (1987). Analysis of a UFO photograph. J. Scientific Exploration,1, 129.

Haines, R. F., & Vallee, J. F. (1989). Photo analysis of an aerial disc over Costa Rica. J. Scientific Exploration, 3, 113.

Haines, R. F., & Vallee, J. F. (1990). Photo analysis of an aerial disc over Costa Rica: New evidence. J. Scientific Exploration,4, 71.

Section 4. Luminosity Estimates

Vallee, J. F. (1998). Estimates of optical power output in six cases of unexplained aerial objects with defined luminosity characteristics. J. Scientific Exploration,12 (in press).

Section 7. Vehicle Interference

Rodeghier, M. (1981). UFO Reports Involving Vehicle Interference. Evanston, Illinois: Center for UFO Studies. Section 9. Apparent Gravitational and/or Inertial Effects

Zeidman, J. (1979). A Helicopter-UFO Encounter over Ohio. Evanston, Illinois: Center for UFO Studies.

Sections 10, 11. Ground Traces, Injuries to Vegetation

Bounias, M. C. L. (1990). Biochemical traumatology as a potent tool for identifying actual stresses elicited by unidentified sources: Evidence for plant metabolic disorders in correlation with a UFO landing. J. Scientific Exploration, 4, 1.

Vallee, J. F. (1990). Return to Trans-en-Provence. J. Scientific Exploration,4, 19.

Velasco, J-J. (1990). Report on the analysis of anomalous physical traces: The 1981 Trans-en-Provence case. J. Scientific Exploration, 4, 27.

Section 12. Physiological Effects on Witnesses

Schuessler, J. F. (1996). UFO-Related Human Physiological Effects. LaPorte, Texas: Geo Graphics Printing Co.

Section 13. Analysis of Debris

Vallee, J. F. (1998). Physical analyses in ten cases of unexplained aerial objects with material samples. J. Scientific Exploration, 12 (in press).