The Sunday Times
May 07, 2006
Sorry ET, you're just a puff of plasma
They didn't come from outer space: UFOs crash on Planet Sceptic
BRITAIN’s defence intelligence chiefs have come up with a
detailed scientific explanation to solve the mystery of
unidentified flying objects. After a four-year inquiry, they have
concluded that most sightings can be explained by a
little-understood atmospheric phenomenon.
Scientists at the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) describe how
glowing “plasmas” of gas are created by charges of electricity.
Air flows then sculpt the plasmas into aerodynamic shapes which
appear to fly at extraordinary speeds through the sky.
The document is emphatic that UFOs do not come from alien
civilisations or hostile powers, but equally it does not dismiss
those who claim to have seen them as fantasists or hoaxers.
Instead, the scientists say such plasmas can play tricks on the
mind, creating vivid impressions. They note that “local
[electromagnetic] fields . . . have been medically proven to
cause responses in the temporal lobes of the brain”.
As a result, UFO witnesses may not be mad but instead suffering
from “extended memory retention and repeat experiences” induced
by the plasmas.
Their report says that, though UFOs have “defied credible
description” as to their cause, they are confident that they now
have “a reasonably justified explanation”.
It goes on to recommend that the findings on UFOs — of which more
than 100 are sighted in most years — could be developed for
“novel military applications”, adding that Russia is already
investigating such weapons.
The report has been released under the Freedom of Information Act
following an application by Dr David Clarke, a lecturer at
Sheffield Hallam University, and Gary Anthony, a fellow
researcher. The pair will give a presentation on the results this
It has been a bad year for conspiracy theorists. Last month, the
“Roswell incident”, another favourite, was debunked. John
Humphreys, a special effects expert behind the television
cyber-presenter Max Headroom, claimed he was one of the hoaxers
behind grainy black and white footage supposedly showing an
autopsy on alien corpses in 1947. He said the bodies were latex
Files released last year under freedom of information laws showed
that the Ministry of Defence maintained a special unit, named
S4F, responsible for logging sightings of UFOs by the public and
the military, which numbered 88 in 2004.
Those files gave detailed accounts of sightings but did not
indicate that the intelligence services were using the
information as the basis of an inquiry codenamed Project Condign.
They began their inquiry in 1996, apparently without the
knowledge of Michael Portillo, who was then defence secretary and
responsible for the DIS.
The project was intended to assess any military danger UFOs might
pose to Britain (it concludes they pose none).
The investigation by the DIS’s section DI55 was completed in 2000
under Geoff Hoon, now Europe minister, when other branches of the
same agency were busy trying to find Saddam Hussein’s weapons of
The document, marked UK Eyes Only and entitled Unidentified
Aerial Phenomena in the UK Air Defence Region, analyses 30 years
of evidence on UFOs. Only 11 copies of the report were made.
“Credited with the ability to hover, land, take off, accelerate
to exceptional velocities and vanish, they can reportedly alter
their direction of flight suddenly and clearly can exhibit
aerodynamic characteristics well beyond those of any known
aircraft or missile,” states the report.
While some non-hoax sightings of UFOs may be caused by wrongly
identifying aircraft, various optical illusions or obvious
natural phenomena, the most common explanation, the report
concludes, is “several types of rarely encountered natural events
within the atmosphere and ionosphere”.
It describes how an “electrically charged . . . gaseous mass” can
form in the atmosphere which is often invisible to radar but
resembles the bright, fast-moving, round or cigar-shaped objects
typically reported by UFO spotters. Although the plasmas share
the characteristics of reported UFOs, they remain a mystery. “The
method of formations of the electrically charged plasmas . . . is
not fully understood,” the report finds.
Many of the other phenomena reported by UFO spotters can be
explained by plasmas. For example, the report says the space
between two plasmas sometimes “forms an area . . . from which the
reflection of light does not occur”, giving the impression of a
“black ‘craft’, often triangular and even up to hundreds of feet
In addition, the report finds that because plasmas are
electrically charged, they can change shape or colour if hit by
another energy source, such as a radio signal sent by a UFO
spotter. “This has led ‘ufologists’ to imagine that an ‘alien
response’ is being given to their signals,” the report says.
Additional reporting: Tom Baird