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Earth Science

Experts Cast Doubt on 'Alien Alloys' in the New York Times' UFO Story (scientificamerican.com) 206

What to make of a Las Vegas building full of unidentified alloys? The New York Times published a stunning story last week revealing that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) had, between 2007 and 2012, funded a $22 million program for investigating UFOs (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). The story included three revelations that were tailored to blow readers' minds: 1. Many high-ranking people in the federal government believe aliens have visited planet Earth. 2. Military pilots have recorded videos of UFOs with capabilities that seem to outstrip all known human aircraft, changing direction and accelerating in ways no fighter jet or helicopter could ever accomplish. 3. In a group of buildings in Las Vegas, the government stockpiles alloys and other materials believed to be associated with UFOs. From a Scientific American report: Points one and two are weird, but not all that compelling on their own: The world already knew that plenty of smart folks believe in alien visitors, and that pilots sometimes encounter strange phenomena in the upper atmosphere. Point No. 3, though -- those buildings full of alloys and other materials -- that's a little harder to hand wave away. Is there really a DOD cache full of materials from out of this world? Here's the thing, though: The chemists and metallurgists Live Science spoke to -- experts in identifying unusual alloys -- don't buy it. "I don't think it's plausible that there's any alloys that we can't identify," Richard Sachleben, a retired chemist and member of the American Chemical Society's panel of experts, told Live Science. "My opinion? That's quite impossible." Alloys are mixtures of different kinds of elemental metals. They're very common -- in fact, Sachleben said, they're more common on Earth than pure elemental metals are -- and very well understood.
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Experts Cast Doubt on 'Alien Alloys' in the New York Times' UFO Story

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  • Wanna bet? (Score:5, Funny)

    by meglon ( 1001833 ) on Saturday December 23, 2017 @08:12AM (#55795289)
    Clearly these so called "experts" haven't ran their little tests on Twinkies or Mountain Dew... there's nothing in either of those that can be identified.
    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      sugar in both

      and dew is mostly orange juice

      • sugar in both

        and dew is mostly orange juice

        I promise you, Mt Dew is less than 5% orange juice, probably less than 2%. It is mostly water, with a bunch of sugar.

    • Twinkies have been thoroughly deconstructed and analyzed. [amazon.com]

    • Even if the components of an alloy can be identified, that doesn't mean the alloy was one of those made on Earth. For example, aluminum and iron cannot be alloyed on Earth because of different densities of the two metals. But they can be alloyed in space, microgravity, just fine. Except no Earthlings are doing anything like that....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 23, 2017 @08:20AM (#55795315)

    I do not see any contradiction in those statemenst. As an example IF I analyze graphene with an AAS (a techniques for knowing the element of your sample) or with an XPS or with secondary scatter emission or with XRD (powder not monocrystal) I would find that graphene is made of C and this is correct. That won't explain ANY of its unusual and wonder properties.
    So you can have an alloy with known element with unknown properties. If you gave graphene or even a metamaterial to a scientist to analyse to a scientist 20 years ago he would have probably said "these are unknown materials". it does mean:"we do probably know how they look and what are their elements but we do not know how they made it or what are their properties".
    So some people seem to read and understand only what want to see and understand...

    • I come bearing praise instead of mod points, but What an insightful viewpoint!

      Any technology far enough beyond our civilization's current level of understanding might well be disregarded as a compass to a troglodyte.

      • by Altrag ( 195300 )

        Its a bit deeper than that, in the sense that stuff is changing so fast that the guy on top of everything today might be the troglodyte literally tomorrow because something happened somewhere else and he wasn't aware of it.

        Today's "unknown alloy" may well be something Dupont or 3M just figured out how to synthesize last year and by next year will be the building material of choice after they've ramped up production and marketing.

    • by pollarda ( 632730 ) on Saturday December 23, 2017 @09:53AM (#55795651)
      You are right on point. A friend of mine designs reactors for a company that figured out a way to make carbon nanotubes en mass. (Many tons / month). Apparently if you mix them into iron (in a vacuum), you get a steel with some pretty magical properties. If someone had looked at this steel only 10 years ago, theyâ(TM)d really have been confused. Even today, I bet most metallurgists probably donâ(TM)t know about it let alone how to make it. Iâ(TM)d bet there are plenty of metals that are similar Perhaps the elements are identifiable but how it is made would be a totally different matter. Or just think what someone would think of a modern CPU given to a physicist from the Manhatten project. Itâ(TM)s just a piece of silicone after all.
      • Or just think what someone would think of a modern CPU given to a physicist from the Manhatten project. Itâ(TM)s[sic] just a piece of silicone after all.

        Yes. Yes. It's difficult to stay abreast of all the enhancement technologies. Even those of us who are not fans of silicone enhancement will agree that analysis would find it different from NaCl-infused H2O enhancement, but this would be very confusing to analysts of yore.

        Yore with me on this, right?

        • Exactly. Just imagine if the silicone enhancements were applied to steel. It's something right out of Wonder Woman.
          • Yeah, steel mosquito bites... or were you referring to Linda Carter?
          • I totally support this idea; it'll come to fruition sooner or lacer, we'll simply have to take the plunge. Our cup will truly runneth over. When historians discuss among themselves of when metallurgy went all soft and rounded, they will naturally cleave to our age, +5 insightful, politely asking each other, "a nipple for your thoughts, good sir?" It is virtually certain that some will make some excellent points, erecting fine impressions upon the cloth of history.

            I have to go take my meds now, sorry.

      • Please turn off smart punctuation in your keyboard. Poor doddering Slashdot can't cope.

    • I'm still kinda convinced this is all a big fascinating hoo-hah over nothing. But if we humor the idea for a bit , its perfectly possible to see how "Strange alien metals' could puzzle the science folks.

      Lets assume our saucer boys are doing something nifty with relativistic travel, and have a 'warp drive'. Ie something that warp space to abuse the fact that a pocket of space can travel away from another pocket of space faster than light. Now our best guess at how this could works the Alcubierre warp drive.

      • I'm still kinda convinced this is all a big fascinating hoo-hah over nothing.

        You didn't grow up around naval aviators. The folks who land on the decks of carriers are literally the most cool, calm and collected motherfuckers on the planet. If any of them says they were outperformed by an artifact with an otherworldly nature, it happened.

        • Nah. I've known fighter pilots; some of them believe crazy shit and are prone to flights of fancy, juts like anyone else. You're making gross generalisations based on stereotypes.

        • by geekoid ( 135745 )

          Hello! I have worked around Naval and AF aviators. Yes, they are but I'm going to let you in in a secret: They're human, and can be trick by optics just like any other human.

          Happen all the fucking time.

          Oh, and what you saw in the film? It looks suspicious what a broken reflectors on a camera shows.

      • by Altrag ( 195300 )

        we can make minescule amounts of negative energy

        No. We can make systems that behave like they have negative mass. But that's not the same thing. Here [youtube.com] is a layman-level video about it.

        Energy is easier to think about in a way since we have a defined ground state to work from -- a vacuum at absolute zero. Normal energy of course is any deviation above that state. Negative energy would be a deviation below that state. How can you get below a ground state? Well the only real way is if the ground state is not an actual ground state. In calculus terms,

      • What if the "stange alloys" where baffling scientists because the material was showing negative mass

        That would be easily recognised due to it bein stuck, hard, against the room's ceiling. This is a property which does not require sophisticated measurement devices or interpretation.

        Or perhaps dense beyond how we normally pack our atoms together.

        Equally, it's stuck to the floor, more so than anything well-known and that small. This property does require slightly more complex measurement - two weighings and a

    • If there's any truth to these reports - big"if" - these would almost definitely be previously unknown "stable island" elements with higher atomic weights than anything we've come across before.
    • And i think they is a problem with some scientists the media talk to. They dont word things correctly, or they are so full of themselvs and their knowlege, they forget that another civilization out there maybe hubdreds of years more advanced than we are and can make thibgs that we cant even dream of yet, or have a fundamentaly different view of physics and math than we do. Look at how much we have advanced in the last 100 years. And how our ubderstanding oh physics and chemistry etc has evolved and change

    • > If you gave graphene or even a metamaterial to a scientist to analyse to a scientist 20 years ago he would have probably said "these are unknown materials".

      Philip Russel Wallace published a thorough analysis of the properties of graphene in 1947. Others discussed it as early as 1856. In 1948 Ruess and Vogt published electron microscopy images of proto-graphene a few molecules thick. What was new 15 years ago was an efficient method of producing it (the scotch tape method).

      Someone analyzing grap

    • Furthermore, if they discovered some graphene 20 years ago (from an acquired Russian object, meteor) it could easily sit in a secure location for decades before proper research results go public and it could sit decades afterwards as a forgotten item.

      They could also just sit on the item for historical purposes because of related secrets still being kept. Some old Russian spy plane bits which no longer hold meaning, for example. Government over classifies and many times it is just to cover up possible mistak

    • I do not see any contradiction in those statemenst. As an example IF I analyze graphene with an AAS (a techniques for knowing the element of your sample) or with an XPS or with secondary scatter emission or with XRD (powder not monocrystal) I would find that graphene is made of C and this is correct. That won't explain ANY of its unusual and wonder properties. So you can have an alloy with known element with unknown properties. If you gave graphene or even a metamaterial to a scientist to analyse to a scientist 20 years ago he would have probably said "these are unknown materials". it does mean:"we do probably know how they look and what are their elements but we do not know how they made it or what are their properties". So some people seem to read and understand only what want to see and understand...

      So you're saying graphene is an alloy? They are not talking about "unknown materials" made using techniques that they don't understand. I thought this was about alloys that they supposedly couldn't determine the composition of, which seems unlikely.

  • by mikael ( 484 ) on Saturday December 23, 2017 @08:34AM (#55795373)

    Look at the uses for high-temperature alloys like Inconel and Hastelloy. Everything from cryogenic conditions to rocket engine parts and nuclear reactors. Just the things you would want from a UFO

    https://www.hpalloy.com/Alloys... [hpalloy.com]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    But rocket motors are already beyond alloys. They also require ceramics and other materials based on silica
    https://www.extremetech.com/ex... [extremetech.com]
    https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/... [nasa.gov]

  • by mark_reh ( 2015546 ) on Saturday December 23, 2017 @08:41AM (#55795403) Journal

    that they can make unidentifiable alloys, how come they can't keep pieces of their space ships from falling off? How come so much of the stuff falls off that it takes "a group of buildings" in Vegas to hold all of it?

    I'd expect this sort of BS from Fox News "science" reporting (like the mystery planet that was supposed to crash into earth about a month ago), but NYT?

    • If these aliens are so advanced that they can make unidentifiable alloys, how come they can't keep pieces of their space ships from falling off?

      "I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of 2 million parts — all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract."
      John Glenn

    • Was that the primary buffer panel?

    • that they can make unidentifiable alloys, how come they can't keep pieces of their space ships from falling off? How come so much of the stuff falls off that it takes "a group of buildings" in Vegas to hold all of it?

      Think "alien grad students" looking for something new for their theses on the primitives living on that planet "Dirt", or "Mud", or whatever they call it...'

    • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Saturday December 23, 2017 @10:22AM (#55795795)
      Imagine you are a tour bus driver that shuttles tourists to amazon forest to look at gorillas. You take steps to minimize disruptions to gorillas as you want to be able to come back, and you very obviously appreciate that they could be dangerous. However, making sure that no garbage ever gets thrown away is just not a priority for you.
    • by Xyrus ( 755017 )

      An advanced alien civilization capable of interstellar travel wouldn't have ships that crash, or even be detectable by our primitive technology. Your talking about a race that has mastered physics. They wouldn't even need to come within the Earth's atmosphere. They could do everything, including collecting surface samples, from a million miles away.

      So the question really is, why would they come down here? And how in $DIETY's name can a civilization that advance make ships that crash and fall apart to the po

      • by sinij ( 911942 )

        An advanced alien civilization capable of interstellar travel wouldn't have ships that crash, or even be detectable by our primitive technology.

        It is illogical to assume that if you look at our technological progress. Lets compare a tribe of Australian Aboriginals and a modern military base. There is difference of about 4,000 years of technological progress. Australian Aboriginals, using their own technology, have no hope of recreating technology. Does it also means that modern technology never fails? Not at all, it is a lot more complex but I would be willing to be it is at the same level of reliability as Aboriginal technology. This is because 'g

      • by hey! ( 33014 )

        Even presuming they are objects (as opposed to optical or mental phenomena), and even presuming an extraterrestrial origin, why assume they are ships? Why couldn't they be organisms? Is that any less plausible?

        Our experience with terrestrial organisms show that discarding bits -- like an outgrown carapace -- is a viable evolutionary strategy.

        As for why they're here, our experience with life on Earth is that organisms tend to find uses for places, even if they don't spend most of their lives there: sea tur

    • When director Robert Wise test screened his classic movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still, he was mortified when the audience laughed at certain scenes. Then he realized what they were laughing at: the futility of the military sending tanks to confront something so obviously beyond them. It was the dawn of what people were calling "the Atomic Age", and it didn't feel like a pinnacle in human history. More like standing for the first time on the shore of an ocean you hadn't realized existed.

      Now let's imag

    • The New York Times does this kind of stuff all the time. It's just that nobody calls them out on it, and anyone who does is ignored. It's part of how they keep their reputation. The New York Times lied about the Tesla car. "When the facts didn't suit his opinion, he simply changed the facts," Musk wrote. [teslamotors.com] All backed up with telemetry from the car.

      A Times spokeswoman reiterated that its story was "fair and accurate."

      Glenn Thrush, the former senior staff writer at Politico who found himself in hot water

    • that they can make unidentifiable alloys, how come they can't keep pieces of their space ships from falling off? How come so much of the stuff falls off that it takes "a group of buildings" in Vegas to hold all of it?

      I'd expect this sort of BS from Fox News "science" reporting (like the mystery planet that was supposed to crash into earth about a month ago), but NYT?

      Yeah, ever since I was about 6 years old, I've thought that if we can figure out interstellar space travel and how to do it in a reasonable amount of time, we wouldn't F-up the landing all the time. Keeping amazingly capable starships from disintegrating while moving relatively slowly through the atmosphere shouldn't be the hard part.

  • FTA:

    Here's the thing, though: The chemists and metallurgists Live Science spoke to -- experts in identifying unusual alloys -- don't buy it. "I don't think it's plausible that there's any alloys that we can't identify," Richard Sachleben, a retired chemist and member of the American Chemical Society's panel of experts, told Live Science. "My opinion? That's quite impossible." Alloys are mixtures of different kinds of elemental metals. They're very common -- in fact, Sachleben said, they're more common on Earth than pure elemental metals are -- and very well understood.

    Just because you know the composition of something doesn't mean you know how to make it. Nobody knows how to make real Damascus steel anymore. There are still discoveries being made about new crystal structures, compounds and alloys. That is before you get into the many different ways to temper or treat metals in the process of creating a particular alloy. Even if you can find one way to create a particular alloy, does the process scale to industrial levels? Creating a few molecules in a lab with

    • by tsa ( 15680 )

      I like your signature!

    • by tsa ( 15680 )

      That story about FOGBANK is interesting. I remember seeing it at the Philips Research Laboratory in Eindhoven, the Netherlands in the mid-1990s. Strange stuff; if you don't know what to look for you hardly see it even if it's right in front of you. I always wondered what happened with that stuff because it's not used anywhere I know.

    • FTA:

      Just because you know the composition of something doesn't mean you know how to make it. Nobody knows how to make real Damascus steel anymore. There are still discoveries being made about new crystal structures, compounds and alloys. That is before you get into the many different ways to temper or treat metals in the process of creating a particular alloy. Even if you can find one way to create a particular alloy, does the process scale to industrial levels? Creating a few molecules in a lab with special equipment and processes is a very different thing than creating it by the ton in high speed processes. Even using the same recipe with different equipment can potentially produce different outcomes.

      Consider FOGBANK [wikipedia.org]

      Nobody knows how to make Damascus steel!?!? What are my kitchen knives made out of then, alien alloys?

      • I forgot to add that the FOGBANK example is a poor one. The problems in replicating the material have been addressed, and the manufacturing process is better than the original. The difficulties on the second go-round were due to an initial lack of understanding of the effects of an ancillary process, and have been resolved.
      • by e3m4n ( 947977 )

        nobody actually knows how to remake damascus steel. What is made today is something made to LOOK like damascus steel. In fact, Damascus steel is vastly inferior to current metallurgy techniques. In its day it was amazing. And the art of actually making it is definitely lost. But there are far stronger and better steel out there like T10, 1095, 8Cr13MoV comparitively. It does highlight a great example of how we can discover a material and be unaware of how to recreate it.

  • Humanity knew properties of graphite, but graphene (which should be same thing) turned to be very different.
  • Never seen one (Score:5, Informative)

    by tsa ( 15680 ) on Saturday December 23, 2017 @10:07AM (#55795703) Homepage

    I've worked as a research scientist in research groups that belonged to the absolute top of the field for over 15 years and I never saw any influence of aliens into our field. I worked for many years in nanotechnology, a field in which if the story about those alloys is true you would expect aliens to meddle. I am very sure that every high-tech thing on this planet is conceived and built by people, whether in the past (pyramids, the tomb of Tutanchamon) or now.

    • Same for modern electronics. Some crazies think that aliens gave us transistor technology, or that it was harvested from a crashed UFO. However, you can clearly see that HUMAN researchers were working on that technology YEARS before the purported crash. Sorry, E.T. didn't make your iPhone. It's just plain old human ingenuity.
      • The first transistors were in the size of milli meters.
        Quite unlikely they came from outer space.
        Current chips use quatum effects in their transistors.
        50 years ago under the best microscopes no one would have figured what it is or how to make one.

  • Aliens have superior technology, obviously. So why would they cast doubt when 3-D printing doubt would be much more effective?
  • 19th century was the one we developed new alloys.
    20th century we found new elements.
    21th century looks to be the age of the layered metamaterials - computer chips, radar reflecting, hydrophobic sprays, that kind of thing.

    I would expect aliens tech to be composed of elements we understand in peculiar manners.

  • I bet some of it is a "diverted" shipment from the naquadah mines on P3X-4C3.
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Saturday December 23, 2017 @11:42AM (#55796175)
    It's not just the elements you combine [wikipedia.org] which matters. The amount of each element you add can change the final alloy's characteristics [unitedaluminum.com]. For example, steel (alloy of iron and carbon) becomes stronger as you add carbon. The carbon atoms wedge themselves in between the crystalline iron grains, making it harder for them to slide around (sliding is what gives metals their malleability), thus making the steel stronger (less bendy) than iron. But if you add too much carbon, you reduce the malleability so much that it becomes brittle. The microscopic structure continues to become stronger (the iron atoms don't slide against each other making it almost diamond-like in toughness), but the macroscopic structure now fractures - the crystalline metal grains which used to absorb energy by sliding around now absorb it by separating. And the combined result is weaker than iron in practical applications. Where the steel falls along this spectrum depends on the amount of carbon you add.

    If it were just a simple combination of elements, then there would be a limited number of alloys, and an "unidentifiable" alloy would imply an unknown/undiscovered element. But because the amount of each element matters, there are literally an infinite number of possible alloys. And some of them may have a "sweet spot" in their desirable characteristics (like carbon does with iron to create strong steel). Not enough or too much of the alloying material and you've completely missed the sweet spot. (And there may even be multiple sweet spots - it all depends on how the half dozen elements you're alloying together interact with each other.)

    So of course the DoD is going to be running experiments combining all sorts of different materials in different combinations and concentrations in search of possible alloys we've overlooked or haven't stumbled upon yet. And if they're smart they'd be cataloging their findings and storing the resulting alloys in a warehouse in case it's ever needed for future testing (so they don't have to create it again). And if they've got a particular combination and concentration of elements nobody has tried before, that would make it an "unkonwn" or "unidentified" alloy. Unknown until they make it and test it, that is.
  • I thought this was going to be an article about how easy it is to break all those Harbor Freight tools made out of Chineseum.

  • Consider these are journalist and not scientists. In fact journalists are about as far as you can get from scientists. Consider how they hype 'global warming' and 'climate change' and then blame hurricanes on them (even though NOAA will say the two are not related every time there is a bad one). They use doomesday language like the world has 3 years to reverse course before total annihilation. So, as a researcher, you try leaking info to your friend at the times, how are you going to describe the research y

  • If you gave someone a modern processor chip in 1950's. I expect that they would see it as an alloy of silicon and a bunch of other strange elements, embedded in plastic. I can well believe that a more advanced civilization could build devices atom by atom, and we would just see those devices as a alloy.
  • I call bullshit on storing alien parts. Around 95% of all contemporary spacecraft are built around a General Products hull, and they don't fall apart. Puppeteers don't build bullshit
    • Unfortunately, General Produce hulls are useless against strong gravitational tidal stress forces such as near a black hole's even horizon. No wonder they are gradually being replaces by quantum temporal-spatial displacement bubbles -- "be there then while being here now"!

  • If we actually had the technology to take any 'unknown' substance of any kind and tell exactly what it's physical properties were, then we'd be living in a very different world. The only way I'd start believing that someone had something of extra-terrestrial origin, is if the analysis of it indicated elements that don't occur in nature, and that our species does not have the technology to synthesize. Even then I'd sooner believe in there being a 'mad scientist' somewhere on this planet who'd found a way to
  • Of course it's impossible that there's an unidentifiable alloy. Any alloy we can't identify will be given a new name, like X2, identifying it.

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