As the shadow of the 20th century loomed large, enigmatic scientist Nikola Tesla claimed to have received the most amazing message in human history.
Tesla had just set up in Colorado Springs, where he built a large magnifying transmitter to further his investigations into the wireless distribution of electricity.
Soon after he began to receive mysterious signals on the equipment, that seemed to be coming from space. Three impulses, one after the other at fixed intervals. One…two…three.
Tesla was entranced. After carefully dismissing all known natural phenomena, he believed he may have received a signal from intelligent life on another world.
Some today suggest that Tesla had picked up signals from pulsars — spinning neutron stars that emit radio waves, although it remains unknown exactly what it was he observed.
At around the same time, Italian radio pioneering Guglielmo Marconi was experimenting with using radio to transmit morse code signals. To his amazement, he found some of his morse code messages returning back to him, sometimes years later.
These discoveries caused a major stir in the press at the time, with talk of aliens from Mars trying to contact the Earth. However, the strange signals were soon relegated to a curious scientific footnote, not to be revived for nearly 30 years.
In 1927, Jørgen Hals, a civil engineer in Oslo, was using an early commercial radio receiver to listen to shortwave transmissions from a station in Eindhoven when he noticed something extremely odd.
The signals were been reflected back by something. These echoes came at irregular intervals, sometimes 3 seconds, sometimes 15 seconds. Hals had discovered what would later be known as LDEs - Long Delayed Echoes.
The LDEs so intrigued scientists that from 1928 to 1930, a huge experiment was conducted into the phenomenon. The echoes were certainly real, but nobody had any idea what was causing them.
Further experiments in France and the UK in the 1930s left scientists equally baffled. To this day, there is no agreement on what is behind LDEs, although few scientists believe they have anything other than natural origins.
But could Tesla’s speculation back in 1899 be correct? Was there some intelligence behind the echoes? Were they even a message from aliens?
In 1954, an amazing story appeared in technology magazine Aviation Week and Space Technology that suggested exactly that. The U.S. military had discovered 2 mysterious satellites in Earth’s orbit.
The Pentagon was reportedly furious about the story. They had not wanted the discovery to be made public. An explanation was quickly put out that the satellites were actually asteroids.
Whilst it is possible for Earth’s orbit to capture an asteroid, it’s extremely rare and only happens under certain unusual circumstances. Many scoffed at the Pentagon’s explanation and the widespread belief at the time was that they were artificial.
Had the Russians managed to secretly get something into orbit 3 years before Sputnik, the first publically acknowledged satellite? Or were the objects from further afield in the universe?
By late 1957, the Soviets had just launched their second satellite — Sputnik II, carrying a passenger, a small dog called Laika. But it also had a more mysterious passenger, because it was been tracked in space by an object and neither the Russians or Americans had any idea what it was.
In 1960, the U.S. Navy’s Dark Fence radar system made an even more spectacular discovery. They had detected a large black object in polar orbit around the Earth, possibly weighing as much as 15 tons.
What was particularly odd about this was neither the U.S. or the Soviets had the ability to put objects in polar orbit in 1960, and the purported weight was far beyond what either country were capable of getting into space.
Like the incidents in 1954, press reports of the discovery caused a major splash with the public. And like 1954, the Pentagon quickly stepped in to kill the story — it was just space debris from a Discoverer rocket launch, a suggestion that did not convince many.
Whatever it was in Earth’s orbit had also acquired a name — the Black Knight satellite. The origins of the name are unclear, but it may have been based on an inchoate satellite launching rocket the British had developed called Black Knight.
The object would continue to be seen, but it was very unpredictable. It would vanish for long periods before reappearing years later. What could it be?
The most intriguing idea came from an eminent Stanford space scientist, Ronald Bracewell, and his theory for how an alien civilization might communicate with Earth.
Bracewell proposed such a civilization may send a probe out into the universe looking for planets that could evolve intelligent life. They would lie dormant in orbit around the planet until the occupants were advanced enough to send radio signals into space, at which point it would send a signal back.
Was the object found by Dark Fence a ‘Bracewell probe’? Fascinated by the possibility, Scottish science writer and amateur astronomer Duncan Lunan decided to go back and reexamine the data produced by the LDE experiments in 1928.
What Lunan says he found was absolutely astonishing. The Scot had a hunch that the seemingly random delays observed in the echoes from 1928 might be significant. He mapped them on a graph and was staggered to discover they formed the pattern of a constellation.
It was Boötes, a constellation in the northern sky home to many bright stars. One, a binary star system called Epsilon Bootis was central to Lunan’s theory. Amazingly, he claimed to have decoded a message from it’s inhabitants.
Had the Black Knight satellite finally revealed its purpose? Was an alien civilization from deep space trying to communicate with the Earth?
In 1998, compelling visual evidence for the existence of the mysterious satellite finally emerged. The crew of the space shuttle, Endeavour managed to take dozens of clear high-resolution photographs of a strange black object near their craft.
As in 1960, the object was dismissed as space debris — a thermal blanket that had come loose during the construction of the International Space Station.
But the photographs just fueled more speculation about what was in the skies. The old stories of Tesla, the LDEs and Duncan Lunan’s star map were revived.
After more than a century of speculation, the big question still remained. Are there ancient alien satellites in Earth’s orbit?
Following the radar sightings in the 1950s and 60s, both the Soviets and the Americans would start to send men into space. If there was something alien up there, it surely wouldn’t be long before one of them encountered it.
In 1963, astronaut Gordon Cooper was orbiting the planet in his Mercury space capsule. He reported seeing an object near his craft, that glowed with a greenish hue.
Back on Earth, this UFO was seen by dozens of witnesses on the radar screens at NASA’s Muchea Tracking Station in Australia, and the news was widely reported in the press.
NASA’s reaction was odd. They forbid reporters from asking Cooper about the UFO. Later, they would put out a story that a carbon monoxide leak in the capsule had caused Cooper to hallucinate the sighting.
2 years later, Major James McDivitt, passing over Hawaii in Gemini 4, saw a long, white cylindrical object with protruding angular arms flying close to his capsule.
1968s ‘Condon Report’, widely seen as a government attempt to debunk the UFO phenomena, was unable to find a rational explanation for McDivitt’s sighting, describing it as ‘especially puzzling’.
Some critics of McDivitt’s UFO have suggested it was the discarded second stage of the Titan rocket. But after seeing a photograph of the second stage, McDivitt dismissed the possibility — “I am sure that this is not a photograph of the object which I described many times”, he told UFO sceptic Philip Klass.
There was something out there, close enough to be observed, and what could it be?
In 1969, the astronauts of the most famous space flight of all — Apollo 11, saw something strange out of the module’s window. Early in their journey, Buzz Aldrin described a glowing object outside that appeared to be tracking Apollo’s path.
At the time, NASA kept the encounter secret, and the astronauts only make an oblique reference to it in their communications. “There was something out there, close enough to be observed, and what could it be?”, Aldrin said in 2005.
“Now, obviously the three of us weren’t going to blurt out, ‘Hey, Houston, we’ve got something moving alongside of us and we don’t know what it is, you know?’”
Were the objects encountered by the NASA astronauts Bracewell probes or even the fabled Black Knight satellite?
According to Gordon Cooper, one of America’s pioneering early astronauts, encounters like these are common and well documented at NASA but are always kept secret.
“For many years I have lived with a secret, in a secrecy imposed on all specialists in astronautics. I can now reveal that every day, in the USA, our radar instruments capture objects of form and composition unknown to us”, Cooper said in 1981.
“And there are thousands of witness reports and a quantity of documents to prove this, but nobody wants to make them public”
Epsilon Boötis calling
START HERE.OUR HOME IS EPSILON BOOTIS.WHICH IS A DOUBLE STAR.WE LIVE ON THE 6th PLANET OF 7 — CHECK THAT, 6th OF 7 — COUNTING OUTWARDS FROM THE SUNWHICH IS THE LARGER OF THE TWO.OUR 6th PLANET HAS ONE MOON,OUR 4th PLANET HAS THREE,OUR FIRST AND THIRD PLANETS EACH HAVE ONE.OUR PROBE IS IN THE ORBIT OF YOUR MOONTHIS UPDATES THE POSITION OF ARCTURUS SHOWN ON OUR MAPS.
This is the amazing message science writer and amateur astronomer Duncan Lunan claimed to have decoded from the long delay echo data gathered in 1928.
The message, according to Lunan, originated from a stable point between the orbits of the Earth and the Moon called the L5.
Along with this, Lunan found the varying delays shown in the echos, when mapped on a graph, formed a map of the Epsilon Boötis star system. Lunan made his discovery in 1972, but the star system he saw was not how it looked in the skies then.
Lunan was puzzled, but he had a hunch. If this really was an alien probe, it must have taken many years to reach Earth, perhaps thousands of years. Could the map be how the constellation looked sometime in the past, a time that would reveal when the probe was launched?
The hunch proved to be correct, the map matched how Epsilon Boötis looked some 13,000 years ago. If Lunan was right, the implications were staggering. A satellite from a far distant alien civilisation had been orbiting the planet since pre-history.
Professor Bracewell, who coined the idea of alien satellites, was convinced Lunan had proved his theory. Lunan’s findings were also validated by the prestigious British Interplanetary Society, the oldest space advocacy body in the world.
But a few years later, Lunan withdrew his findings. Not because the message wasn’t there, but because he no longer believed Epsilon Bootis could sustain intelligent life.
This seems a somewhat odd position. The information he found in the LDE data was either there or it wasn’t and it seems staggeringly unlikely the message could have occurred by chance.
Lunan hasn’t given up on Epsilon Bootis altogether, however. His latest research suggests the star system’s location is also coded into ancient monuments on Earth like Stonehenge and the Pyramids.
Even if the probe wasn’t from Epsilon Bootis itself, was someone, somewhere, trying to point mankind’s attention to this mysterious star system 103 million light years away?
The Dark Knight
It is often suggested that the sightings of strange objects in Earth’s orbit are space debris. This explanation is routinely used whenever news of such discoveries reach the press.
Back in 1960, when the U.S. Navy radar system Dark Fence spotted a huge object in polar orbit, it was quickly dismissed as space debris from the Discoverer program.
However, the object Dark Fence observed seemed to be too large and heavy to be space debris. It was estimated to be as much as 15 tons, far in excess of what any country in the world was capable of getting into space in 1960.
The Russians had the most powerful rockets at the time, but the heaviest payload they could manage was just over 2000 pounds.
The UFO was incredibly erratic, its orbit was hard to predict and studying it proved difficult. But the Grumman Aircraft corporation in New York managed to get a photograph of it and it was apparently orange.
Nothing on the Discoverer, a program which was actually a cover for the then secret Corona spy satellite, was orange. Clearly, whatever Dark Fence had spotted was not space debris.
The most detailed ever pictures of a UFO in space were taken by the space shuttle Endeavor in 1998. These are the images most often cited as proof of the Dark Knight’s existence.
NASA, however, dismissed the object as a thermal insulation blanket accidently dropped by an astronaut whilst constructing the International Space Station.
Again, like the 1960 explanation, this doesn’t quite fit the facts. Although in most of the photos it's hard to determine the scale of the object, one image does show it some distance below the Space Shuttle.
Even without taking perspective into account, the object appears to be as long as the Shuttle’s cargo bay door, which was 60ft long. This would make it at least 10 times larger than the insulation blankets used on the ISS.
Joining the dots
Critics of the Black Knight satellite theory point out that much of the evidence cited in its favour is actually unconnected.
Of the many Black Knight candidate objects purportedly observed over the years, no two appear alike. The size, color, shape and appearance vary each time. Some have polar orbits, others are equatorial.
And Duncan Lunan’s proposed alien satellite wasn’t in Earth’s orbit at all, but the Moon’s.
Some of the sightings also appear not to be genuine. The reports from 1954 about 2 unknown satellites been observed in orbit seems to have originated from articles written by UFO proponent Donald Keyhoe.
It has been suggested that Keyhoe’s speculations about alien satellites got conflated by the press with real army space tracking experiments conducted by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, to create a completely fictitious story that the army had found UFOs in orbit.
Gordon Cooper’s reported sighting of a green UFO in 1963 seems solid enough, but even ardent UFO believer Cooper later denied he had made any such observation, attributing it to over-imaginative reporters.
As for Tesla, whilst accounts of the Black Knight satellite often begin with the famous inventor, his presence in the story doesn’t seem particularly warranted other than to add an extra layer of mystery.
The signals he observed, whether they were pulsars or not, were quite different to the LDEs and appear to have little or nothing in common with Bracewell probes and the Black Knight Satellite.
Spies in the skies
The curious phenomena of long delay echoes are pivotal to many of the Black Knight satellite theories. LDEs are reflections of radio signals that return to the observer at random intervals, usually between 3 and 15 seconds.
If Black Knight was a Bracewell probe, as is often suggested, it would send some kind of signal to alert us to its presence. Are those signals the mysterious LDEs?
One of the many curious aspects of LDEs is that they were far more common in the early days of radio communications, especially the 1920s and 30s, than they are today.
If there was some intelligence behind these signals, could it be of a more earthly origin? One suggestion is the signals were part of a top-secret military experiment to piggyback covert signals inside conventional radio station broadcasts.
A spy could set up his equipment close to a radio tower and rebroadcast its signals with varying delay times, the delays spelling out a message in a similar manner to the dots and dashes of morse code.
Scandinavia, the source of many of the early LDE observations, was gripped by a puzzling phenomena in the 1930s involving ‘ghostfliers’, strange unidentified aircraft spotted over the countries.
Accompanying the ghost planes were numerous signals, piggybacked on top of commercial radio broadcasts. Some of the signals were messages in broken Swedish and mentioned the aircraft.
Around the same time, similar accounts appeared in other countries and it’s now believed the ghostflier phenomena was actually part of an early military spy plane program.
Could a secret military program like this be the true source of the LDEs? Rather than messages from the stars, were these messages from spies?