MYTH: a flying saucer landed at Roswell, New Mexico
Back in 1947 when rancher Mac Brazel found mysterious debris (including rubbery material, sticks, and metallic-looking fabric) in his field, he showed it to the sheriff, who called the nearby Roswell Army Field. An investigator from the base called the crashed object a “flying saucer,” which got printed in the local newspaper and jump-started conspiracy theories that are still debated today. The next day, the War Department in Washington published a statement calling the object a weather balloon, but UFO buffs were skeptical, and they weren’t wrong that the government was covering something up – though it wasn’t an extra-terrestrial visit. In 1994, the Pentagon finally declassified its files on an initiative called Project Mogul, an effort to spy on Soviet nuclear tests that involved sending 213-metre-long balloons high into the atmosphere equipped with radar reflectors and sonic equipment – and that’s what landed in Brazel’s field near Roswell more than 70 years ago. Many UFO enthusiasts still don’t believe it: “Prosaic stimuli can trick people’s brains into perceiving really weird things,” says James Oberg, a space journalist, and historian and former NASA engineer (and self-proclaimed “lifelong space nut”).
MYTH: but, wasn’t there a film of scientists conducting an autopsy on an alien from the Roswell crash?
In the mid-1990s, a 17-minute film surfaced that was said to show an autopsy of one of the aliens retrieved from the 1947 crash near Roswell. Most people were sure it was a hoax at the time, and eventually, the special effects artist who created it admitted as much.
MYTH: there was a mass sighting of a UFO flying over Arizona in 1997
For sure, hundreds of people saw an unusual pattern of lights over Nevada, Arizona and Mexico on a spring night in 1997. They were described as forming a V shape and hovering or floating overhead for five to ten minutes. Over the next few months, as the ‘Phoenix Lights’ story gained steam, with photos and videos making their way into the national media and UFO enthusiast circles, the Air National Guard spoke up, saying it had dropped flares during night-time exercises. “Human perceptual processes react to sudden unusual visual stimuli by pulling up past experiences and filling in the gaps,” Oberg says. That’s why so many people were unwilling to believe they’d seen flares – their brains had already turned the unusual sight into a V-shaped UFO.