; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Ubatuba, Brazil UFO Fragments

Preamble: On September 14, 1957, Ibrahim Sued, a columnist for the Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Globo, printed a letter which he had received, concerning a UFO incident. Accompanying the letter were three small pieces of white metal. The writer of the letter described an event in which a "flying disk" exploded over the beach at Ubatuba, in Sao Paulo Province. Some of the metal, which had "rained down" from the exploding disk, was collected, and three small pieces were included in the letter to Sued.

Unfortunately, the signature on the letter was illegible. Furthermore, the identity of all witnesses to the original seaside event at Ubatuba remains unknown, despite extensive searches by the Brazilian representative of the AERIAL PHENOMENA RESEARCH ORGANIZATION (APRO), Dr. Olavo FONTES. This lack of witnesses is one of the greatest weaknesses of the Ubatuba case.

Dr. Olavo Fontes

Mr. Sued gave all three pieces of metal to Dr. Fontes, who in turn had one of them analyzed at the Mineral Production Laboratory of the Department of Mineral Production in the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture. Dr. Fontes personally delivered the samples to the chief chemist, Dr. Fiegl, an internationally known specialist.

A qualitative, phosphomolybdic acid test was first made on a small chip, which showed that the fragments were truly metallic.

One of the original fragments, designated Sample No.1 by Dr. Fontes, was subdivided into several pieces and two of the pieces were submitted to the Spectrographic Section of the Mineral Production Laboratory Semi-Quantitative Emission Spectrochemical Analysis.

One of the pieces was analyzed by Dr. Luisa Maria A. Barbosa. The analysis surprisingly revealed that the sample contained only the element magnesium.

A second fragment of Sample No.1 was submitted to a separate spectrographic analysis by Mr. Elson Teixeira of the Mineral Production Laboratory. Mr. Teixeira confirmed Dr. Barbosa's finding that Sample No.1 was pure magnesium.

Further tests were run on fragments of Sample No. 1. These included Debye-Scherrer-Hull powder pattern X-ray diffraction analysis, density measurement, and radiation tests. The interatomic spacings (d-spacings) of the samples closely matched those cited for magnesium metal by ASTM 4-0770. Six faint lines on this diffractogram could not be connected with known lines for magnesium, but were successfully related to magnesium hydroxide, Mg(OH)2. A white powder had been observed on the surfaces of the metal sample which was identified as Mg(OH)2.

The density of Sample No.1 was found to be surprisingly high: 1.866. This greater than normal density has also been cited as evidence of extraterrestrial on the assumption than an abnormal isotopic ratio was present. It should be noted that entrained magnesium oxide can explain the abnormally high density without involving unusual isotopic ratios.

The two other portions of Sample No.1 were given to the Brazilian Army and Navy respectively, but results of their analysis (if any) were never released.

Since the two small fragments analyzed by Dr. Barbosa and Mr. Teixeira were destroyed by their analytical procedure, no further portions of Sample No.1 are available for further verification of the original results.

The significance of Dr. Barbosa's and Mr. Teixeira's findings is that it is impossible to produce any element, terrestrially, that is absolutely spectrographically pure. These results, therefore, are often cited by proponents of UFO extraterrestriality as proof that the Ubatuba material must be EXTRATERRESTRIAL. Unfortunately, this supposition cannot be proven, due to the lack of any further Sample No.1 fragments for verification analysis.

The two other fragments received by Mr. Sued (Samples No.2 and No.3) were sent to APRO in Arizona and have been the subject of continuing analysis by various scientists. In the mid-1960s, Sample No.3 was loaned to the University of COLORADO UFO PROJECT for analysis. Dr. Roy Craig, a physical chemist, had it subjected to a neutron activation analysis at the National Office Laboratory, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division, Internal Revenue Service, which determined that its purity was not as high as that which had been reported in Brazil. The CONDON REPORT failed to mention, however, that high purity had only been reported for Sample No.1, which had been consumed in Brazil, and had not been available to the University of Colorado. The analysis also determined that the sample contained an unusual amount of strontium, an impurity not present in conventional magnesium. The sample was thus subjected to metallographic and micro-probe analyses at Dow Chemical's Metallurgical Laboratory, which confirmed the finding.

In 1969, APRO loaned the fragments to this writer, who conducted nondestructive structural analyses. It was found that the material had undergone a directional crystal growth type of manufacture. Directional crystallization can add strength to materials and was being actively researched at the time (1969). However, the process was unknown when the fragments were recovered (1957). Unfortunately, it was not possible to conclusively prove directional crystallization for the main structure from which the fragments came, due to their small size. These findings were validated by Dr. Robert W. Johnson, of the Advanced Materials Division, Materials Research Corporation, who reviewed the writer's analytic report.

The Ubatuba magnesium was reportedly submitted to laser impact studies at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in the early 197Os and to mass-spectrographic studies at Stanford University in the mid-197Os. No results are available.


The Ubatuba Incident - Analysis by the Condon Committee

A sample of the Ubatuba debris (below) examined under a microscope (above) revealed a higher level of purity than occurs in nature.

One case described at great length in UFO literature (Lorenzen, 1962) emphasizes metal fragments that purportedly fell to earth at Ubatuba, Sao Paulo, Brazil from an exploding extra-terrestrial vehicle. The metal was alleged to be of such extreme purity that it could not have been produced by earthly technology. For that reason, this particular material has been widely acclaimed as a fragment of an exploded flying disc. Descriptions of the material's origin and analyses occupy 46 pages of the Lorenzen book and the material is referred to in a high percentage of UFO writings. These fragments of magnesium metal -- undoubtedly the most famous bits of physical evidence in UFO lore -- were generously loaned to the Colorado project by Jim and Coral Lorenzen of APRO for analysis.

The story which associated these fragments with an UFO is even more tenuous than most UFO reports, since the observers could never be identified or contacted because of the illegibility of the signature on the letter which described the event. According to the account by Olavo T. Fontes, M.D., a Rio de Janeiro society columnist wrote, under the heading, "A Fragment From a Flying Disc"

We received the letter: "Dear Mr. Ibrahim Sued. As a faithful reader of your column and your admirer, I wish to give you something of the highest interest to a newspaperman, about the flying discs. If you believe that they are real, of course. I didn't believe anything said or published about them. But just a few days ago I was forced to change my mind. I was fishing together with some friends, at a place close to the town of Ubatuba, Sao Paulo, when I sighted a flying disc. It approached the beach at unbelievable speed and an accident, i.e. a crash into the sea seemed imminent. At the last moment, however, when it was almost striking the waters, it made a sharp turn upward and climbed rapidly on a fantastic impulse. We followed the spectacle with our eyes, startled, when we saw the disc explode in flames. It disintegrated into thou sands of fiery fragments, which fell sparkling with magnificent brightness. They looked like fireworks, despite the time of the accident, at noon, i. e. at midday. Most of these fragments, almost all, fell into the sea. But a number of small pieces fell close to the beach and we picked up a large amount of this material - which was as light as paper. I am enclosing a sample of it. I don't know anyone that could be trusted to whom I might send it for analysis. I never read about a flying disc being found, or about fragments or parts of a saucer that had been picked up. Unless the finding was made by military authorities and the whole thing kept as a top-secret subject. I am certain the matter will be of great interest to the brilliant columnist and I am sending two copies of this letter - to the newspaper and to your home address."

From the admirer (the signature was not legible), together with the above letter, I received fragments of a strange metal.....

Following the appearance of this account, the claim was published that analyses of the fragments, performed by a Brazilian government agency and others, showed the fragments to be magnesium of a purity unattainable by production and purification techniques known to man at that time. If this proved to be true, the origin of the fragments would be puzzling indeed. If it could then be established that the fragments had actually been part of a flying vehicle, that vehicle could then be assumed to have been manufactured by a culture unknown to man.

The first step in checking this claim was independent analysis of the magnesium fragments, and comparison of their purity with commercially produced pure magnesium. A comparison sample of triply sublimed magnesium, similar to samples which the Dow Chemical Company has supplied on request for at least 25 years, was acquired from Dr. R. S. Busk, Research Director of the Dow Metal Products Dept., Midland, Mich. Since it was assumed that extremely small quantities of impurities would need to be measured, neutron-activation analysis was selected as the analytical method. The samples were taken to the National Office Laboratory, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division, Bureau of Internal Revenue, at which the personnel had no special interest in the UFO question. The neutron irradiation and gamma spectrometry were personally observed by this writer. The analysis was performed by Mr. Maynard J. Pro, Assistant Chief, Research and Methods Evaluation, and his associates. Original irradiation data and gamma-spectrometer read-out tapes are preserved in project files.

The material irradiated was a chip broken from the main fragment. It was immersed in HCl to remove surface contamination. After washing, the sample presented a bright, shiny, metallic surface. The absence of chlorine emissions in the gamma-ray spectra after neutron activation showed both that washing had been thorough and that chlorine was not present in the sample itself. The concentrations of eight impurity elements were measured. Results are given in parts per million parts of sample, with limits of error estimated on the basis of greatest conceivable error.


Dow Chemical and the Scientific Analysis of UFO Debris

by Joel Carpenter

Most students of the history of UFOs are familiar with the famous Ubatuba, Brazil case of 1957, in which metallic debris said to have been retrieved after the explosion of a UFO was determined to be magnesium metal of unusual composition. Few researchers are probably aware of another, surprisingly similar incident that occurred in the US at the dawn of the modern UFO phenomenon. This incident directly or indirectly involved a host of people and organizations that were later to have a major impact on the study of UFOs in the United States, and points out that there is still much to be learned concerning the early investigation of the phenomenon by the military, the intelligence community and even, perhaps, by the corporate world.

Project Blue Book's detailed case file on the second incident tells a weird and fascinating tale. According to Dow documents preserved in the file, the event began just after 5:00 on the afternoon of July 9, 1947, when a forty-five year old electrician named Raymond Lane and his wife were picking huckleberries near Midland, Michigan. A strange sizzling noise abruptly drew their attention to a bizarre mass of bright white, fiery sparks hovering about a foot above the ground and about a hundred feet away. It reminded them of a Fourth of July sparkler, but it was much bigger -- the size, as they later put it, of a bushel basket. The fireball burned brilliantly for about fifteen seconds before dying out. When the smoke drifted away, there was nothing left except some hot, light-and-dark-colored metallic-looking debris on the sandy soil. Lane collected fragments of the material in a tin can and considered whom to tell.

The mysterious fireball had appeared in a uniquely appropriate place. Midland happened to be the home of one of America's most well-equipped materials analysis facilities: the laboratories of Dow Chemical company, well known for its metallurgical expertise and a world leader in magnesium technology.

Shortly after World War I, Dow metallurgists had developed an alloy that the company called "Dowmetal" -- refined magnesium to which was added about six percent aluminum and one-half percent manganese. Dowmetal was widely promoted for automotive and aviation uses and was highly profitable for the company, eventually giving it a virtual monopoly on magnesium production in the US. In 1933 the company was approached by Belgian scientist Jean Piccard with a request to design and build a Dowmetal cabin for a record-setting high-altitude balloon flight. The design was highly successful and eventually enabled flights to over 70,000 feet. During World War II Dow's extremely lightweight, strong magnesium alloys became an indispensable ingredient of aircraft and missile structures. The company also became a contractor for an unusual flight test program that had a direct link to Project SIGN, the Air Force's 1948 UFO research establishment.

One of the most significant figures behind Dow's success was a chemist named John Josef Grebe [pronounced "gree-bee"]. Born Hans Josef Grebe in Uerzig, Germany in 1900, he emigrated to Ohio in 1914 and became a US citizen in 1921. Grebe graduated from the Case School of Applied Science in 1924 and was immediately hired by Dow. Considered a genius by his colleagues and known as the "Idea Man," Grebe was given free rein to work on projects of his own devising. He established the company's Physical Research Laboratory, an organization that produced a steady stream of valuable inventions, particularly in the field of plastics. Chemists under his direction were responsible for the discovery of several now-universally used plastics, such as styrene, Styrofoam, and polyvinyl chloride, and also developed a synthetic rubber that was vital to the US military in World War II.

Grebe even perfected a method of extracting magnesium from sea water, a process that became Dow's main source of the metal. After Japan's surrender Grebe was assigned to work with the Oak Ridge nuclear laboratory, and in 1946 he was an observer at the Operation Crossroads nuclear tests. He also worked closely with the US Army's Chemical Corps on the highly classified toxicological and radiological warfare programs (in fact, by 1948, Grebe would be named the Chemical Corps' chief technical advisor).

The morning after the fireball incident, Lane took his can of sandy debris to Robert S. Spencer, a senior researcher in Grebe's laboratory, whom Lane had met when he was a Dow employee some years before. Spencer contacted Edward Fales, the company's internal security chief, and together the men went to the site to investigate. Lane told the Dow officials that he thought the object had been a flying saucer, or possibly a meteorite, and that some small lumps of silvery metal in the debris he had scooped up might be platinum. (Ironically, there is no evidence that he or anyone else ever reported seeing an object in flight prior to the appearance of the fireball). Spencer immediately arranged to have the material analyzed. The Spectroscopy Laboratory quickly reported that the shiny pellets in the material were largely silver mixed with a few percent silicon, which probably came from the sand on which the molten material had solidified. The sample was checked for radioactivity, but did not blacken photographic plates. According to a report by Fales,

Preliminary tests of the material show the contents to be as follows: ordinary sand, not radio active [sic], but giving off an ammonia gas. A silver nugget, almost pure except for sand mixed in it, not radio active. Melted or fused sand which gives off ammonia, has little droplets of silver melted in the sand and some other material which is not radio active. The fused sand has some characteristics of the Los Alamos sand [i.e., the glassy material created by the Trinity nuclear explosion] but is not believed to be the same.

By the end of September the Lab had run more spectrographic tests on a small quantity of a fine, light, ash-like powder laboriously sifted from the debris. The powder turned out to be a material called thorite, which was discovered to be somewhat radioactive. The remaining portion of the debris yielded traces of iron, aluminum, magnesium, and other metals. There was also evidence of a significant amount of magnesium hydroxide, which some analysts took to be the remains of the combustion of a sizable amount of magnesium.

Interestingly, Dow handled the case as a purely internal matter at first. Fales' inquiries concerning Lane led him to conclude that he was a somewhat peculiar individual who was known to have basic technical expertise. On balance, the incident seemed likely to be the result of some kind of home-made fireworks experiment. The FBI was eventually contacted and an agent conducted a basic inquiry. As will be seen, there was no Air Force involvement with the case in 1947.

Activity surrounding the Midland fireball incident became dormant by the autumn of 1947 but was revived dramatically a year later, when on September 17, 1948, Grebe, then working with the Chemical Corps at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, requested an update on the investigation from Dow. An examination of Fales' dossier set him to speculating. In an October 11 memo to one of his Army superiors, he wrote that

The only technical point that would tend to discredit the report in a very slight way is that the particular spectrum analysis that was made of the sand that was supposed to have been picked up with the sample of the fused mineral matter, which contained nuggets of silver, had a different analysis from the sand picked up in the general area. It had rained, however, in the meantime, which would remove any magnesium hydroxide that might have been around.

As a whole, it would appear to me that, every bit of evidence found should be considered seriously as an indication that a self-consuming missile capable of producing a considerable amount of smoke and fire and leaving behind only the minimum residue required to produce a battery and radio transmitter is feasible and was probably observed.

This concept - that the small Midland fireball had represented the self-destruction of some kind of instrumented projectile - marked a drastic change in the official approach to the incident, bringing it in line with the fears in 1946 and 1947 that some anomalous meteor-like events were actually a type of "self-consuming missile" experiments.

It is not apparent from the available source material exactly why Grebe chose this juncture to reopen the case, but there are indications that similar studies were being performed at the time on other samples of apparent UFO debris that were considered to be possibly the remains of missiles. For example, on November 26, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sent a memo to the Air Force's Director of Special Investigations (IG), concerning a case similar to the Midland incident.

Just two days before Lane's 1947 experience, a group of people near the village of West Rindge, New Hampshire had been surprised by the sudden appearance of wisps of smoke and flame rising from nearby lawns and fields. Many small burned areas were discovered to be scattered in a 200-foot diameter circle and seemed to have been caused by hot fragments of metal that apparently had fallen from the sky. A witness turned several of the fragments over to a Professor "Rentges" of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for analysis. (This was typical phonetic FBI spelling -- "Rentges" was apparently J. Francis Reintjes of the MIT Servomechanisms Laboratory where Project Whirlwind, a powerful digital computer that would become the prototype for the SAGE national air defense network, was under development at the time). Reintjes expressed the opinion that the material, which had obviously been subjected to "terrific heat," resembled the lining of the rocket engines of German V-2 ballistic missiles he had seen in New Mexico. Four of the collected fragments, when pieced together, appeared to have been part of a hollow cylinder eight inches in diameter and having a wall thickness of three-sixteenths of an inch. The West Rindge material had been subjected to spectrographic analysis recently, Hoover reported, and was determined to be ordinary cast iron that "had been subjected to a very high degree of heat."

Additionally, in a letter titled "Flying Object Incidents in the United States", dated November 3, 1948, Col. Howard McCoy of Air Materiel Command's Technical Intelligence Division informed Chief of Staff General Hoyt Vandenberg that his Project "Sign" flying saucer analysts had interviewed Dr Irving Langmuir of General Electric concerning the possible origin of the objects, and that "it is planned to have another interview with Dr. Langmuir in the near future to review all the data now available, and it is hoped that he will be able to present some opinion as to the nature of the unidentified objects, particularly those described as 'balls of light.'"

Study of this particular type of flying object - apparently a tiny, remote-controlled or internally-guided probe - had gained urgency after the October 1, 1948 incident in which an Air National Guard pilot had engaged in a long nighttime dogfight over Fargo, North Dakota with a small, fast-moving blinking light that was apparently under intelligent control. It seems probable that this effort to carefully analyze fragments of suspected flying saucers was part of the escalating attempt to establish whether there was any credible evidence of a foreign terrestrial origin of the objects - an approach that achieved its highest expression with the publication, on December 10, 1948, of the Top Secret Air Intelligence Division Study 203, "Analysis of Flying Object Incidents in the US". This study examined the possibility that flying objects reported over the continental US represented Soviet reconnaissance, training or provocation missions.

Meanwhile, John Grebe had taken his theory about the Midland case to the highest levels of Army missile research. In the middle of October he met with Col. Holger Toftoy, Army Ordnance, the commander of Project Hermes, the Army's multifaceted guided missile program based at White Sands, New Mexico. Shortly after the Nazi surrender Toftoy had supervised the removal of some one hundred V-2 missiles from underground factories and had them transported to White Sands. Under Project Paperclip, the German rocket engineers who had created the V-2, including Wernher von Braun, were moved to Fort Bliss to work with Toftoy's Ordnance team and General Electric, the contractor for Project Hermes, in reconstructing and launching the missiles.

Toftoy's log for October 18, 1948 records Grebe's surprising presentation:

Conference attended by Cols Toftoy, Roberts & Bainbridge (CC), Maj J.F. Gay & Dr. J. J. Grebe, (Chemical Corps), and Dr. Mugson. Chemical Corps reported analysis of fragments picked up from '"flying saucer" which vanished with a brilliant flash and bang near Midlin [sic], Michigan. Sand and clinker recovered from the locality contained nuggets of fairly pure silver and some thorium. The thorium was sufficient to give radio activity [sic] approximately 10 times natural background which could possibly be ascribed to thorium coated filaments in electronic equipment, although the quantity seems excessive. There was evidence also of mechanism [magnesium] which had been completely oxidized. Dr. Grebe advanced his hypothesis that small missiles of the order of 1 to 3 feet in diameter might be responsible, coming from distant sources. He considered that a rapidly rotating disc of mechanism [magnesium] and/or aluminum might have enough energy if properly utilized to propel the disc several thousand miles, and might be completely destroyed by burning in air. Remaining traces of silver and thorium might be ascribed to electronic control system. After discussion, it was agreed that Col Roberts should request the Bur of Standards group to investigate some of the mechanisms which might conceivably propel discs of this general type and TU will keep in close touch with these calculations (CMH). A meeting next Monday, 25 Oct, can be arranged with Dr. Grebe if indications are favorable. Dr. Grebe also briefly described a theory of his that a fish-shaped object with a modified tear-drop cross section would take off along the long axis and change position in flight to fly at an angle more like a flying wing. No wings or other aerodynamic surfaces that produce drag would be required.

Grebe clearly envisioned the Midland object as a small, unmanned vehicle containing 1940s state-of-the-art vacuum tube based electronic equipment, and given that he specified its range as "thousands of miles," he apparently believed that its source was the Soviet Union. The intriguing vision of a fast-spinning, flywheel-like object that would destroy itself at the end of its trajectory was novel, to say the least, but Grebe had a good reason for this idea. One of Dow's most secret and most vital wartime projects had been the development of a structural housing for the miniature radio transmitter that formed the heart of the "VT" - the proximity fuse.

The radar like VT fuse was designed to detonate an artillery shell at the exact moment that it passed within lethal range of its target, such as an aircraft or missile - or in anti-personnel applications, just as it descended to within a few yards of the ground. To do so, it incorporated a tiny radio transmitter and receiver built from highly miniaturized and ruggedized vacuum tubes. These tubes had to survive shock and acceleration amounting to thousands of g's when fired from a heavy gun, as well as the enormous centrifugal force of the shell's stabilizing spin. Dow's contribution was the design and production of a special plastic housing for the tiny tubes, and the project was carried out in such secrecy that most of the technicians on the project only learned of its exact function at the end of the war.

(The proximity fuse design effort was headquartered at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland and was directed by Merle Tuve, whose administrative assistant was an astronomer named Josef Allen Hynek.) Grebe's saucer concept amounted to something much like an artillery shell, possibly combined with an aerodynamic shape that would allow a degree of flight after the device arrived in the vicinity of its target. The VT shell had incorporated a novel battery that was energized when its chemicals mixed due to the shock of launching, and Grebe believed that the disc-missiles used something similar. Presumably the self-destructing feature would prevent US analysts from recovering intact specimens of the vehicle.

The "Bur of Standards group" referred to in the memo was the National Bureau of Standards' Ordnance Development department, a secret guided missile research establishment operating within the weights-and-measures agency, which had worked closely with the Army and Navy during WWII under the direction of Harry Diamond and Dr. A. V. Astin.

The Ordnance department's first products were highly classified miniature radio components for the proximity fuse. Diamond's group, along with Hugh Dryden, from the Bureau's Mechanics and Sound department, also developed some of America's first "smart weapons" during the war, including the "Robin," a television-guided bomb, the "Pelican," a passive-radar-homing glide bomb, and the "Bat," a 1,000-pound radar-guided anti-ship glide weapon.

To help pack more and more electronic components into missiles, the Bureau had perfected increasingly miniaturized vacuum tubes, and by the end of the war, its technicians helped invent a process for literally painting circuitry onto insulating substrates, the forerunner of modern printed circuits.

The Director of the Bureau of Standards since November 1945 was Edward U. Condon. The New Mexico-born physicist had been J. Robert Oppenheimer's roommate at the University of Göttingen, Germany, in the 1920s. He co-founded the MIT Radiation Laboratories and did fundamental work on radar theory and application at Westinghouse. When General Leslie Groves set up the Los Alamos laboratory of the Manhattan Project in 1943, he had asked Condon to be associate director under Oppenheimer. Later Condon had been a member of the executive committee of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), the forerunner of NASA.

When Condon left the Bureau of Standards in 1951, it was to become head of research and development at Corning Glass Works, a corporate relative of Dow (via the Dow Corning partnership). In light of the Air Force - sponsored University of Colorado UFO study in the 1960s which Condon directed (and during which his personal antipathy to the subject became legendary), it is tempting to speculate that Condon's involvement with UFOs actually might have begun a decade and a half earlier.

Unfortunately, there is as yet no evidence that the Bureau of Standards "disc propulsion study" that Toftoy advocated actually was undertaken. Interviews with several surviving members of the Bureau's Ordnance and Electronics departments have uncovered no recollection of any such project. Grebe's theory did, however, make enough of an impression at senior military levels that a report quickly reached General Vandenberg's office. Vandenberg cabled Project Sign on December 2 inquiring about Sign's investigation of the case. Project Sign admitted in a December 21 teletype that it had no details on the Midland incident and sheepishly requested copies of Grebe's report from the Chief of Staff.

Interestingly, there is some evidence that the Bureau of Standards was involved with yet another case concerning magnesium from a UFO. In 1952, five NBS scientists allegedly analyzed a fragment of metal supplied by Cdr. Alvin Moore, USN, who said that it had fallen on his property during the July 1952 "Washington, DC Invasion". The scientists subjected the material to a battery of tests, including spectrographic analysis, and concluded that it was an artificially produced artifact. It was composed mostly of magnesium, had a specific gravity of 3.48 and was filled with millions of microscopic iron particles. Like the West Rindge fragments, it appeared to be a section of a cylinder, which when complete would have been 10.4 inches in diameter. Cdr. Moore decided that Project Blue Book should know about the discovery. He mailed it to Captain Edward Ruppelt, who sent it on to the Battelle Memorial Institute, where Howard Cross gave it a cursory examination.

There are hints that Harry Diamond Laboratories, which eventually spun off from the Bureau of Standards to become part of the Army Research Laboratories, conducted a study of radar UFOs at some point in the early 1960s, but hard evidence is unavailable to date.

Dow's 1947 analysis of magnesium debris from a suspected UFO crash near its own headquarters foreshadows the company's involvement with the far more famous Ubatuba material. These fragments first surfaced in September 1957 (although other accounts exist - see Sources), when they were mailed anonymously to a reporter for a Rio de Janeiro newspaper, who in turn passed them to Dr Olavo Fontes, the Brazilian representative of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO). Coral and Jim Lorenzen, APRO's directors, were impressed by an analysis performed at a laboratory in Brazil, and upon obtaining the samples, Coral Lorenzen arranged to have Dow's magnesium experts study them.

The fragments probably reached the US immediately after the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik on October 4, and it seems likely that there was suspicion in some US circles that the Ubatuba episode could be related in some way to Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile experiments. Soviet Premier Khrushchev had boasted in August that his new ICBM could strike any point on earth, and now it had been used to launch a globe-circling satellite. In the feverish atmosphere of the post-Sputnik US defense community, no one could afford to overlook intelligence leads -- even tenuous ones. On December 1, 1957, US Army ground search parties were called out in Alaska after sightings of unusual meteors raised suspicions that part of the Sputnik launcher rocket had entered the atmosphere there.

The unusually high purity of the UFO-related magnesium detected by the Brazilian laboratory may have set off alarms in the US, and part of the debris was conveyed to Dow for analysis. Similar searches for fragments of downed Soviet spacecraft became quite frequent in the 1960s and 70s and would become known as "Moon Dust" events.

In 1967, under the auspices of the Air Force-sponsored UFO study based at the University of Colorado and headed by Edward Condon, investigator Dr. Roy Craig obtained a portion of one of the Ubatuba fragments in order to subject it to neutron activation analysis. Since the Brazilian analysis in 1957 had indicated that the material was extremely pure magnesium - purer than terrestrial technology could produce, according to APRO - Craig contacted Dr. R. S. Busk, head of Dow's Metal Products Department.

During or shortly after World War II, Dow had developed a sublimation refining process under which magnesium was heated to vapor and condensed in a vacuum chamber. After three such cycles, the material, for all practical purposes, was pure magnesium with only the most minute residue of other elements. Busk supplied Craig with triply-sublimed material as a reference sample, and while doing so, mentioned Dow's earlier test of the Ubatuba material. In a letter to the author, Craig recalled that

[P]ersonnel at the Dow laboratories were interested in UFO-related materials. They were most cooperative in furnishing pure magnesium samples and doing whatever analytical work I requested relating to the Ubatuba magnesium samples. I was surprised to learn that, years previously [possibly as early as 1958 - JC], they had done metallographic studies of the very samples of Ubatuba magnesium I was then asking them to analyze. They showed me the results of their earlier work, which they still had on file, and repeated the work for me.

Interestingly, Craig himself had worked for Dow for eight years at the Atomic Energy Commission's Rocky Flats Weapons Plant in Colorado, which was a Dow-managed facility that John Grebe had helped establish. Craig did not know Grebe, but they had mutual friends. He had never heard of the Midland case, and, perhaps not surprisingly, has no recollection of Condon describing any earlier involvement with UFO research.

The neutron activation analysis Craig oversaw showed that, in contradiction to the Brazilian claims, the Ubatuba sample contained more impurities than the triply-sublimed sample, and could in fact have been made by terrestrial technology. Controversy over the significance of the particular constituents of the Ubatuba sample continues, as does analysis of the material using the latest techniques.

Grebe continued to work on nuclear projects at Dow until he retired. He died in Sun City, Arizona in 1984. His younger brother Carl, a scientist himself, recalls discussing flying saucers with John in the 1940s, and though they never discussed the Midland incident in detail, he agrees with John's former Dow colleagues that the spinning, self-destructing missile described in the Toftoy memo is exactly the kind of idea that Grebe's fertile mind would produce. The parallels between the Midland and Ubatuba incidents, separated by a decade and by thousands of miles, are striking. Were both incidents simply hoaxes, or is there still more to be learned about Ubatuba? Even Dr. Olavo Fontes observed, in his report on the Brazilian analysis of the Ubatuba fragments, that

The mystery of that sudden explosion probably will never be solved. It may have been produced by the release of some self-destructing mechanism to prevent the machine from falling into our hands and thus giving us the chance to learn its secrets.


Date: Wed, 20 Jan 2010 23:19:09 +0100
Subject: Ubatuba Incident / Analysis of the Metal
To: NICAP A-Team, Current-Encounters

To simplify the matter, a simple exercise in order to understand the percentages of the three earthly Magnesium isotopes: Magnesium 24 has a percent abundance of 78.99%, Magnesium 25 has 10%. What is the percent abundance of Magnesium 26 ? Assuming we have no other isotopes, the total must be 100%, and we have: % of Mg24 + % of Mg25 + % of Mg26 = 100. Therefore, we obtain a percent abundance of Mg 26 = 100 ­ (78,99 +10)= 11,01% .

In the Ubatuba sample, the result obtained shows a percent abundance of Mg 26 equal to 14,3 % ( it appears that ­as it was not quite clear and even rather unclear in the article, the left page giving the value of 14.3- that concerning the Ubatuba sample, it turns out that the sample’s percent abundance was effectively of the exact value ­see right page-of (0.4085x100 / 2.842)= 14.37368 ) plus or minus 0,7%, value which is statistically significant and indicative of the existence of a sample notably different from the earthly one. Strangely enough, neither Dr Craig nor the Colorado project did take this into account, writing “it should be noted that the statistical counting error (0,7%) does not include other analytical errors such as relative counting geometry or neutron thermalization due to the relative sample sizes. It is felt therefore that the abundance of the Mg26 in sample 4527 is in reasonable agreement with the Mg26 abundances shown in the literature”.

Some biased judgment thanks to the “other analytical errors”(sic)? Why? Asking the question is giving the answer, as recognizing the true nature of Ubatuba sample would have been an implicit recognition, an implied acceptance of the strangeness of this sample, of its unearthly origin to say it bluntly. Note the fast neutron thermalization implies a slowing down of the neutrons becoming slow neutrons when the sample size is big enough, according to the fact that the neutron energy distribution is a Maxwellian distribution (Maxwell-Boltzmann molecular speed distribution ) like a thermal motion.

Ray Boundy and J. Lawrence Amos - A History of the Dow Chemical Physics Lab: The Freedom to Be Creative. New York: Marcel Dekker - 1990