In the 1940s, Allied pilots during the Second World War reported being hounded by fast-moving blobs, which they dubbed “foo fighters”.
Shaped like clouds, donuts, balls and spheres, and often glowing or translucent, the strange entities have fuelled conspiracy theories that Earth was being visited by advanced civilisations.
Now a paper suggests the phenomena are in fact plasmas, or ionised gases, which are drawn to the electrical charge of aircraft, spacecraft and satellites.
Plasmas behave like living organisms
Experts from the universities of California, Arizona and the Harvard-Smithsonian argue that the strange properties of plasmas make them appear to behave like living organisms, even though they are not alive.
Plasmas can grow in size and replicate, make contact with each other and may “feed” off the electromagnetic radiation of satellites and spacecraft, they argue.
Huge glowing masses of up to a mile wide, which behave similarly to swarms of living organisms, have been filmed by 10 Nasa space shuttle missions, while astronauts have reported strange phenomena since the 1960s.
Astronauts Ed White and James McDivitt spotted a huge “metallic object” approaching the Gemini 4 orbiter, in June 1965, while James Lovell reported a “Bogey at 10 o’clock high” on a mission six months later.
Strange ‘L-shaped’ object
Buzz Aldrin also said he and his crewmates had seen a strange, L-shaped object which was “very big and coming closer” during the Apollo 11 Moon landing, although later said it was a booster panel.
The team believe that plasmas in the thermosphere – 66 to 372 miles high – may descend into the lower atmosphere, and account for reports by pilots.
Co-author Dr Rudolph Schild, of the Centre for Astrophysics, Harvard-Smithsonian: “These plasmas are electromagnetic entities that have a variety of shapes and sizes. They have repeatedly approached spacecraft and the space shuttles and are attracted to electromagnetic activity including thunderstorms.
“They have been filmed from space, descending into the lower atmosphere and appear to be attracted to airplanes, fighter jets, nuclear power plants, and “hot spots” of radiation, such as Hiroshima, which was destroyed by an atomic bomb.
“Based on video, photographic and computerised analysis, including reports by military officers and astronauts, we believe these plasmas account for at least some of the numerous reports of UFOs and Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon over the last several thousand years including the ‘foo fighters’ observed by German, Japanese and Allied pilots during WWII.”
“Foo Fighters” were first reported by Royal Air Force personnel in March 1942, and several US pilots saw glowing lights over Germany throughout the war.
New kind of weather phenomenon
The sightings were largely dismissed as German weapons or flight fatigue, although some speculated at the time they may be a new kind of weather phenomenon, such as St Elmo’s Fire, a plasma effect that makes aircraft wings glow.
Plasma represents the fourth state of matter distinct from solid, liquid and gas, but its properties are still being uncovered. It is responsible for lightning and phenomena such as the Northern Lights, when plasma from the Sun interacts with Earth’s magnetic field.
Plasma-like entities have been filmed congregating in their hundreds, particularly around satellite tethers which generate electromagnetic activity.
They have numerous shapes, travel in different directions, with some moving quickly while others hover in place. They even appear to target or follow each other and sometimes collide, leaving what resembles a plasma-dust trail in their wake.
Co-author Dr Christopher Impey, of the department of astronomy at the University of Arizona, said: “This does not mean these plasmas are alive, or engaging in intelligent purposeful behaviour.
“Rather, as documented experimentally, these upper atmospheric electromagnetic plasmas may be engaging in ‘energy cannibalism’ and behaviours referred to as ‘collisionality’ in which they turn, follow, collide, intersect, and, possibly exchange energy.”
Plasmas may represent ‘an alternative form of life’
Some of the authors believe that the plasmas may even represent an alternate form of life that is not carbon-based, although others are sceptical.
The team has called for more research studying the plasmas, including sending up satellites which generate electromagnetic pulses equipped with infrared and X-ray cameras to capture the phenomena.
Commenting on the research, Daniel Mitchard, a lecturer at Cardiff University’s School of Engineering said: “It’s not surprising that previously unknown charge-based phenomena exist at this altitude, and that they exhibit behaviour that we don’t yet fully understand.
“It’s also likely that they will be attracted to, or repelled from, satellites and the Space Shuttle, which can build up static charges of their own.
“Even at ground level, glowing balls from thunderstorms that behave strangely are occasionally reported, often called Ball Lightning, and no one knows what these are either – they may be the same as ‘foo fighters’. It’s definitely interesting research.”
‘Relatively unknown to public’
He added: “There’s a whole world of lightning science which is relatively unknown to the public, even though we try to get it out there.
“There are giant structures called Sprites, which look like jellyfish 25 miles (40km) tall, Elves, which are giant disks that can spread to 250 miles (400km) across, and upward lightning bolts from clouds called Jets which are three or four times longer than anything we can see from the ground.”
The new research will be published in the Journal of Modern Physics.
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