Thursday, August 29, 2013

Area 51 and Element 115 Officially Confirmed!

By Glenn Campbell

This has been a big week for Area 51 fans, with two major announcements in the news. The U.S. Government has officially acknowledged Area 51 (sort of), and the existence of Element 115 has been formally proven by scientists. Although my own interest in Area 51 waned long ago, as a supposed Area 51 "expert" in the 1990s I feel obligated to say something about these milestones. If you care about Area 51 and the UFO claims there, they are actually big news!

Did the government really "reveal" Area 51? Well, not in the way they reveal things in Hollywood movies, with a big press conference. As far as I can tell from the press accounts, the only thing that happened a few days ago is that one office of the government released a previously classified history of the base. While most of the information in the report was already publicly known, the fact that the government itself was releasing this information implies a deliberate declassification of certain aspects of the base's history. In essence, Area 51 was "officially acknowledged" for the first time, but it's not like anyone was actually announcing anything. (I should confess that my own interest in the topic is so low that I haven't even bothered to click on the URL to pull up the report itself, because that takes too much energy.)

While making things secret is relatively easy, declassification is hard, in part because you have disentangle the stuff it is okay to release from the stuff you still need to keep secret. (For example, the fact that a bomb was dropped on Hiroshima is obvious to everyone, but the exact way the bomb was dropped might reveal something about how atomic bombs are made, so how much of the mission do you declassify?) For all we know, the releasing of the Area 51 history now could have been the result of a declassification request made back in the 1990s, and it just took the bureaucrats this long to decide that it was okay to reveal things that were largely known to the world anyway.

People may ask, "Why now?" What is the government's plan? There may not be any. The timing could essentially be random. There are certain procedures involved in releasing any previously classified document. These procedures take time, and they end when all the hoops have been jumped through. It's like a very slow wagon train arriving at its destination. It just happens when the journey is over.

Of course, the released report says nothing about UFOs (according to press accounts about a report I haven't bothered to look at myself). It only talks about known aircraft programs like the U-2. The report also doesn't say what is going on at Area 51 right now. So if you want to believe in aliens at Area 51, there is still plenty of room to do so. Obviously, the UFO involvement must still be classified, and even people who wrote the report and who worked on conventional planes aren't privy to it. If you need to believe in something, there is always a way to believe in it.

The old guys who worked on the U-2, SR-71 and other formerly secret aircraft at Area 51 seem to have no problem talking about their projects now. (They even meet every year at the public Roadrunners convention.) Even if their projects are still technically classified, there is little the government can do to shut them up. (Seriously, how can you threaten an old guy?) Having met dozens of former Area 51 workers myself, I know that their UFO beliefs pretty much mirror the general population. Some believe and some don't, but no one I have talked to has actually seen anything themselves. (It's always in the next hangar, the one you haven't seen, where the alien craft must be stored.)

The only "former workers" making specific UFO claims about about Area 51 (or vicinity) are those who can't even prove they have ever visited the base—like Bob Lazar, who claimed to have flown into Area 51 on his way to a secret flying saucer facility nearby. Sure, the government can purge their records, but these people should still be able to describe the base cafeteria or what you see when you first get off the plane. (Lazar couldn't!)

No matter how much of the base you declassify, there will always be a closet someplace where the aliens could be kept. And of course, they could be underground, too, where the real estate is virtually unlimited, but by that logic, aliens could be underground anywhere—even under your feet right now—not just Area 51. Human technology has its known limits, but when you talk about alien technology, there is no end to what might be possible.

TV shows desperately want you to believe in UFOs at Area 51 to pump up their ratings, so they will always construe ambiguous evidence to favor an alien presence. Nothing in recent news will slow them down. Especially don't trust any TV show that I have been on! (TV Interviewing 101: If I talk for three hours about the history of the base, making a lot of skeptical statements about UFOs, and I say one sentence that suggests UFOs may be possible, TV shows will use that sentence and discard the rest of the interview.)

Hard core believers will also be unconvinced. No matter how much information you release about Area 51, there will always be some way to rearrange the game board to believe that aliens or alien technology are in government hands. Even if you open the base to journalists and let them go anywhere, it will be obvious to believers that the flying saucers have been moved. In the case of the Lazar story, the saucers weren't even at Area 51 itself but at the ostensibly empty Papoose dry lake just to the south. There is no evidence of anything at all there, but it is always "possible".

You can never prove aliens don't exist—at Area 51 or even in your own backyard. The best you can do is prove or disprove specific physical claims... which brings us to Bob Lazar and Element 115.

In his flying saucer claims, Lazar said that the craft he worked with were powered by Element 115, a theoretical superheavy element that human scientists had not yet synthesized but that aliens had mastered. Element 115, when it decayed, supposedly emitted some sort of gravity wave which was harnessed to distort physical space and displace the craft. Lazar described wedged-shaped hunks of the stuff, stable enough to hold in your hand.

A part of the Lazar story that is not widely known is that he even smuggled some Element 115 out of the base to Las Vegas, where he formed a corporation with New Age philanthropist Robert Bigelow to study it. So this "flying saucer fuel", probably the most precious substance on Earth, was housed in one of the world's most secure facilities, and yet this rookie technician was someone able to grab some of it and abscond with it. Credible? You can doubt this smuggling took place, and you can even doubt that Lazar made such a claim, but the corporation was definitely real: the "Zeta Reticuli 2" Corporation registered with the State of Nevada, with Lazar and Bigelow as officers.

The confirmed existence of the corporation (now defunct) leads me to my own personal theory about Lazar: that his story was a deliberate fraud intended to obtain money from Robert Bigelow. "Fraud" is a harsh word, and I hate using it, but keep in mind this is just a theory. This theory just happens to explain nearly all of the facts except for Lazar's apparent sincerity and/or extraordinary acting ability. (See my article on this theory.)

Under my theory, the "Element 115" part of Lazar's story came from a Scientific American article on superheavy elements that came out just before Lazar made his claims. At the time (early 1989), scientists had not yet synthesized Element 115 or neighboring elements and could only theorize about them. There was some suggestion that these elements could be stable, so if Lazar was in a fraudful state of mind, Element 115 would be a good element to choose. I have no direct evidence that Lazar ever saw the Scientific American article, but as an intelligent guy in the pre-internet era (when people read physical objects called "magazines"), it's a fair assumption that he did.

Back then, Lazar could make any claim he wanted about Element 115, because no one had ever seen the stuff, so no one could prove him wrong. Things changed this week. Now human scientists have synthesized enough Element 115 to formally announce that it is real and to confirm its basic characteristics. (Please, please, can we call it "Lazarium"?)

The main problem for Lazar supporters is that the Element 115 discovered by Earth scientists is highly unstable. They have created only a few atoms of it, which decay almost instantly. There is no way you can hold a hunk of it in your hand or smuggle it in your coat pocket. It would be gone before you got to the door. (And I assume you'd be gone too!)

The solution, of course, is that Lazar was talking about a different form of Element 115, one that is stable and transportable at room temperature. Sigh! There is always way to come to Lazar's defense. There is no end to the rationalizations you can come up with if you truly want to believe in something or someone.

What is my own position on all of this? I am agnostic. I stop short of calling Lazar a liar, because I just can't say for certain. I don't know if UFOs are real or not real. I can't say whether an alien visitor has ever set foot on this planet or whether just one UFO sighting might be real. (All you really need is one, right?) Agnostic means "I don't know," and I am comfortable with that. I realize that I am going to live and die without knowing a lot of things. That's just the nature of knowledge.

The only thing I can say with confidence is that investigating UFOs is not the best use of my time compared to other things I could be doing. The truth is, I'm dying! I have only a few decades left on this planet and I want to make the most of them. Chasing UFOs with little chance of reward isn't completely meaningless to me; it's just not high enough on my current priority list to actually spend my time on. (See My Position on UFOs and Area 51.)

Those who have chosen to dedicate their lives to UFOs have made a religious choice, based on their own emotional needs, and it is not my place to question people's religion. Everyone has to find their own source of meaning. They just shouldn't expect to make any actual progress in the investigation. Since the 1950s, a whole generation of UFO believers has lived and died without making the slightest movement toward proving that UFOs are real.

Being a supposedly superior race with advanced technology, any aliens will reveals themselves when they choose to. I say, just accept it and move on with your life on Earth.


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