As Y2K approached, an ominous substance slowly descended from the Western Australia sky. A man recorded to history only as Peter reported seeing oodles of white threads floating down and covering power lines, trees, and digeridoo-playing kangaroos. Similar to how extraterrestrial visitors to the U.S. always vacation in the Nevada Desert instead of on the Boston Common, these aliens chose the Outback while eschewing the Sydney Opera House during their 1999 sojourn.
In his report to the Australian UFO Registry, the mononymous Peter explained that the threads were not webbing nor a sticky substance. But that only tells us what it wasn’t. As to what it was, UFOlogists consider it the remnant of ionized air that peels off an alien spacecraft’s electromagnetic field. However, there exists a more Earthly explanation.
Before $800 hammers and toilet seats, wasteful military wasteful spending was focused on UFOs. In 1968, a resulting report described these threads as “a fibrous material which falls in large quantities, but is unstable and disintegrates and vanishes soon after falling.”
The report noted that the composition and origin was sometimes uncertain, but we now have a good idea of what it is. In the case Down Under, an entomologist reported that his car had been covered with the same mystery silly string that had perplexed Peter. The bug scientist further noted that his vehicle was inundated by hundreds of baby spiders, confirming his suspicion that the thread was the result of an arachnid migration. The entomologist deduced the substance to be siliceous cotton, better known as angel hair. He said that through a common phenomenon called ballooning, the eight-legged beasts disperse cotton when hatching from their cocoon. The wind catches the angel hair and carries it away, where it quickly disintegrates.
Less frequently, atmospheric electricity may cause floating dust particles to become polarized, and the attraction between these particles forces them together and this produces a substance sometimes mistaken for angel hair. In any event, the substances have a rational explanation, which means that iconoclasts need to rear their contrarian heads.
Some UFOlogists see an extraterrestrial connection and there have been reports of angel hair from the sky for at well over a millennium. The better known manifestations include an appearance at Nuremberg in 1561 and in Portugal in 1917 as part of the Miracle at Fatima. The latter marked a period unusual solar activity that credulous Catholics took to be Jesus and friends dropping by for hot chocolate. There is no way to examine these claims, making them more appealing to those who use them as part of their proof.
UFO researcher Brian Boldman cited 225 cases of angel hair between beginning in 679 CE, and he says 57 percent also featured a UFO. With a percentage that significant, he asserts there may be a connection. Correlation yes, causation no. Believers may see what they consider a strange craft hovering one night, which prompts them to suspect they are observing angel hair remnants the next morning. Or they may come across angel hair and begin to suspect that the seeming helicopter from last night may have been something from much farther away.
Whenever the substance is reported, it tends to soon disappear, which is consistent with the siliceous cotton that is associated with migrating spiders. At the same time, this short existence means there are few chances to analyze it. Therefore, those who like speculating that it is instead something more interesting can do so because there’s no way to test against their idea. Sure, the spider substance secretion disintegrates quickly, but maybe so too does the ionized air created by a UFO’s magnetic field.
Like their conspiracy theorist and cryptozoologist brethren, alien hunters sometimes paint themselves as curious individuals who are “Just Asking Questions.” But I have found that they are seldom interested in receiving an answer.
Consider what happened this week when the British tabloid The Sun reported that the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle may have been solved. Let me first interject that this is an example of Tooth Fairy Science, where someone attempts to determine WHY something is happening before establishing that it IS happening.
The Sun article read, “Strange clouds forming above the Bermuda Triangle could explain why dozens of ships and planes have mysteriously vanished in the notorious patch of sea. A new theory suggests the clouds are linked to 170-mph air bombs capable of bringing down planes and ships.”
The truth is, the number of craft lost over the last several decades is what would be expected of a heavy shipping lane in a hurricane-prone area. Bermuda, Miami, and Puerto Rico were subjectively chosen and these points and resultant Triangle are no more valid than any other shape one could concoct from various locales. The list of ships and planes that supposedly disappeared in the area include some that vanished literally halfway around the world but had previously passed through the Triangle. Further, some of the alleged disappearances were of ships and planes that were reported missing but eventually found.
But even if there was a mystery, paranormal believers don’t want it solved, especially not by mainstream media or the government. After the story ran, theorists pounced. A man with the somewhat presumptuous moniker Jean-Pierre proudly appealed to personal incredulity, announcing, “Most of the disappearances, if not all, happened on clear skies. I’m not buying this theory one bit and it remains a mystery.” Next up was Olli, who was at least honest about his motivation: “I’ll take the myth and mystery over explanation. 170 mile per hour winds do not explain why a formation of planes disappear just off the coast while on radio contact, nor other disappearances.” Finally, Carol insists no answer will ever be found, declaring, “This is a mystery that will never be solved.”
And for her, it won’t be. The Bermuda Triangle, along with Atlantis, Bigfoot, angelic intervention, and alien visitors give some people more meaning in their lives. Whether they possess a desire to believe in something beyond the five senses or crave for something vaguely spiritual, they find it in these kinds of phenomenon. The world can be a scary, depressing place and we all need outlets. For some people, music, novels, and books are enough of an escape, but others seek something still deeper, and seeming mysteries can oblige.
I can relate to some degree. Now that I know who Deep Throat was, I don’t care who Deep Throat is. Now that the Red Sox have won the World Series, I don’t care if the Red Sox can win the World Series. Mysteries like Jimmy Hoffa, Jack the Ripper, and the Lost Colony of Roanoke are fascinating to contemplate, and while 80 percent of me wants to know the answers, the rest of me acknowledges that the appeal of those things would dissipate if the answers were revealed.
But I wouldn’t be looking for ways to counter what researchers announced unless I had good reason to suspect their evidence was fabricated, incomplete, or misinterpreted. Finding the truth must always be paramount. I could never let the love of a good mystery stand in the way of valid solutions.
Besides ionized air, UFO lovers also suggest the angel hair may be excess energy converted into matter. No testing done on the angel hair or any research supports either of these conclusions. A third suggestion is offered by Diane Tessman at ufocasebook.com. She suspects that the beings piloting the flying saucers are plasma life forms and that the angel hair is left behind by “plasma activity,” not explaining what that is, how she knows it’s happening, or how we would know what it should look like.
She does relate an experiment during which “Plasma electromagnetic heat and radiation coupled with water and dust created a substance like angel hair.” Perhaps it did, but that is insufficient reason to presume angel hair follicles are leftovers from the plasma activities of the Thing From Zontar.
It is no coincidence that UFOs were never sighted before the advent of Earthly flying machines. There were no flying saucers observed by contemporaries of Lafayette, Francis Bacon, or Eric the Red. This strongly suggests that all the crafts observed over the last century are terrestrial.
Moreover, the gaping problem with the entire UFO field is that virtually all of the reported sightings come from inadvertent witnesses. If campers, motorists, and hikers had combined to see thousands of alien spacecraft, there should be upwards of a million sightings from professional astronomers and amateur stargazers.