It’s November 2018, and NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) is ready to go live. But rather than showing the galaxies or nebulas that typically wow stargazing enthusiasts around the world, this image features something almost too incredible to believe: the mangled remains of a spacecraft that crash-landed on Earth.
Ever since mysterious flaming discs were apparently spotted in the skies above ancient Egypt, humankind has been recording cases of unidentified flying objects. Down through the centuries, strange aerial phenomena have been sighted across the globe – from the ominous shapes that loomed over Nuremberg in 1561 to the mysterious “foo fighters” reported by pilots during World War II.
As the 1940s drew to a close, the idea of the flying saucer had become firmly implanted in the popular imagination. And as the shadow of the Cold War fell across America, such unidentified objects began to be considered a potential threat to security. So it was that in 1952 the United States Air Force launched Project Blue Book – an official investigation into the strange sightings.
Then, in 1953 Project Blue Book’s chief Captain Edward J. Ruppelt came up with a new term for flying saucers. The apparent objects were, after all, reported in a number of different shapes and sizes. And this led the military to adopt the catch-all name Unidentified Flying Objects – otherwise known as UFOs.
Today, UFOs are often widely thought of as being manned by lifeforms from extraterrestrial worlds. There are, of course, countless movies and TV shows that have evoked this idea – ensuring that it’s likely to remain popular for many years to come. But have aliens ever really used a flying saucer to visit Earth?
Amazingly, perhaps, many people believe that they have. And arguably the most famous incident to support such a claim is the one that took place in Roswell, New Mexico, in mid-1947. The truth about what actually happened back then remains murky to this day. However, media coverage at the time suggested that the military had salvaged a mysterious crashed flying disc from the desert.
Over the years, various elements have been added to the Roswell story. For example, some believe alien lifeforms were discovered at the scene of the crash, while others claim that advanced technology was recovered and adapted by the United States military. Moreover, in most interpretations of the events, the authorities are said to have been involved in covering up the truth.
The U.S. military in fact released an official account of the incident in the 1990s, explaining the Roswell finds as the remains of a high-altitude balloon that had been used for nuclear-test monitoring. But many still refuse to accept this version of events. And to some of those people, extraterrestrials have been with us for decades – and it’s only a matter of time before the truth comes out.
Others, of course, find such outlandish theories somewhat difficult to swallow. And yet it has recently emerged that a so-called flying saucer really did crash-land – in the desert near Salt Lake City, Utah, back in 2004. What’s more, NASA experts have confirmed that the object did indeed come from space.
On November 4, 2018, NASA released a startling photograph as part of its APOD initiative. Launched by professional stargazers Jerry Bonnell and Robert Nemiroff back in 1995, the APOD project draws upon a huge database of astronomical images to deliver a daily glimpse into the wonders of space.
Most of the time, the APOD features impressive pictures of far-flung stars and galaxies that are often mind-boggling in their detail. However, this time the subject was something altogether closer to home. Captioned “Flying Saucer Crash Lands in Utah Desert,” the photograph showed exactly that.
The image had been captured during daylight hours and features a strange-looking metal craft lying mangled and half-buried in the desert floor. In the background, two helicopters are visible flanking the mysterious object. And at first, the accompanying text appeared to shed little light on the compelling incident.
“A flying saucer from outer space crash-landed in the Utah desert after being tracked by radar and chased by helicopters,” read the description. Furthermore, the incident had apparently taken place in 2004. So why hadn’t this amazing event hit the headlines back then? Was its absence another sign of a government cover-up? Well, sadly, the explanation is a little more prosaic.
According to the APOD post, “No space aliens were involved.” The saucer was, you see, actually part of Genesis – a NASA-built craft designed to help scientists take a closer look at the Sun. Sent into space in August 2001, the probe spearheaded a mission dedicated to collecting and returning samples. In this way, the mission was similar to the Apollo program, which had successfully brought Moon rock back to Earth.
In order to pick up solar wind for study, Genesis traveled outside our planet’s magnetic field and maintained its own orbit around the Sun for almost 30 months. The craft employed equipment constructed from durable precious materials, including gold and sapphire, to collect samples – and then protect them on the journey back to Earth.
Come April 2004, the automated mission was complete, and Genesis was ready to come home. Now this homecoming might seem to have been a simple undertaking. After months of travel back to Earth, during re-entry, a parachute was supposed to deploy in mid-descent, slowing down the craft as it fell through the atmosphere. Subsequently, a second landing aid in the form of a parafoil was programmed to open up, theoretically easing the return capsule gently towards terra firma and allowing it to be scooped up in midair.
However, something went wrong. On September 8, 2004, the capsule was on its way down through the Earth’s atmosphere when a technical oversight prevented the parachute from deploying. With nothing but the drag from air resistance to slow it down, the module thus hurtled towards the surface at more than 190 mph.
As a result, the capsule crashed into the desert at the Utah Test and Training Range – a military facility to be found some 80 miles outside Salt Lake City. But even though the module was smashed open, there was also good news. Apparently, mud at the crash site had partially absorbed the huge impact, meaning some of the samples had miraculously survived.
In fact, despite the dramatic and unplanned crash-landing, the material collected by Genesis has been responsible for some fascinating revelations in the years since the craft made its breakthrough voyage. For example, subsequent studies have revealed new information about what makes up the Sun – as well as the distribution of different elements throughout our solar system.
According to AOPD, “These results have provided intriguing clues into details of how the Sun and planets formed billions of years ago.” And although dedicated alien-hunters might have been a little disappointed by the real story behind NASA’s crashed spacecraft, in its way the truth is perhaps just as fascinating as the presence of some little green men.