james oberg logo



space shuttle



How to Prove You're an Alien

by James E. Oberg

(appeared on OMNI magazine home page, 1998)

The alien visitor to the new world was faced with the challenging task of convincing the natives of his superiority. It would have done little good to expound on topics such as religion, esoteric philosophy, homeland geography, or even the techniques of navigation, which had brought the visitors across such great distances in the first place. The natives had no way of verifying such testimony, however impressive the words. So the visitor pointed to the skies and displayed his truly advanced powers.

He made the heavenly bodies obey him, and thus made his point. The natives finally showed him the respect he demanded. And they obeyed him, too, at least at first.

The visitor was Christopher Columbus, and the astronomical knowledge that convinced the Carib tribesmen he possessed superior powers was the prediction of a lunar eclipse. It occurred on schedule, on February 29, 1504, as predicted by European astronomers of the day.

This seemingly advanced knowledge helped Columbus achieve his goal: Extorting provisions from natives on the island of Jamaica, where he was temporarily shipwrecked. Terrified when Columbus threatened to make the Sun go out altogether, Indians gave him all he requested. Stranger in a strange land, Columbus was able to return safely from his fourth and last voyage to America.

Half a millennium later, the "New World" explored by Columbus is supposedly the subject of fresh visitations by a new variety of aliens, this time from distant worlds in space, time, or dimensional reference. But in establishing their identity, these new visitors face a far more difficult task than any teenager in a bar, or any hobo trying to negotiate a cashier's check, or any refugee seeking asylum in an embassy. For these extraterrestrial aliens, there is no passport, birth certificate, fingerprints in an FBI file (or even fingers), or driver's license with two major credit cards. These creatures exist, if at all, completely outside the everyday earthside paper trail.

How, then, can they establish their bona fides as tangible, matter-based alien visitors instead of mirages, fantasies, tall tales, pranks, or confabulations in the minds of man? The answer seems clear: Like Columbus, they could do so by demonstrating verifiable superior knowledge to the backward humans they meet. These contactees, in turn, could use the info to convince other mere earthlings of the reality of the encounter.

In truth, if abductees came back with superior knowledge our scientists could later verify, that would go a long way toward proving the existence of an advanced race of extraterrestrials and their interstellar ships. What sort of information should abductees be on the lookout for? What might constitute evidence of visitation from the skies? Is there any way abductees can manipulate the conversation or glimpse alien documents to come back with the proof our scientists need? For those in search of evidence, just knowing what to scout for might increase the chance they will succeed.

For instance, in the 1950's and 1960's, space visitors might have imparted a host of astronomical facts to establish their extraterrestrial origins as real. Earth's space probes, together with ground based astronomy, have unveiled a multitude of unexpected marvels of the Solar System, which any alien space visitors would have known, and which any genuine visitors could have told their earthling contacts. Wow, those volcanoes on Io are spectacular! Boy, do ever your astronomers have the spin rate of Mercury wrong, and wait until you notice its polar ice caps! All your outer planets have rings, don't you know? Venus spins backwards in resonance with Earth's opposition, that sure is strange. You mean you haven't spotted Pluto's moon yet? Any of those comments would have been extraordinary and unexplainable except as information imparted by space-farers.

What would really be useful in the 1990s is a simple jot list of useful questions to ask an alien visitor. If there really are thousands of such contacts occurring in the United States every year, hundreds of OMNI readers will be picked up in coming months. What is clearly needed for them is a pre-defined list of astronomical unknowns, which, when possessed by a UFO abductee and later authenticated by scientists, will provide convincing proof of a genuine conversation with an intelligent extraterrestrial visitor. If an alien tries the "Columbus Gambit" today, we have to be ready to verify it.

Empty Words

Speak to mainstream scientists, and they will tell you they have not yet heard the whispers of E.T., nor seen the "fingerprints" of an alien in the messages of abductees. Indeed, though humans have reported conversations with extraterrestrials since the 1950's, most offer nothing a scientist could really sink his or her teeth into to establish empirical proof.

"Radiation is the work of diabolical forces," one UFO contactee reported he was told. "Fight back with light." The problem is, light is also radiation, and even atomic radiation springs from natural forces. Further, this alien reportedly explained, "Our spaceships, though physical, become living flames in flight. When you fly the astral plane, both sides are pure." It's difficult to imagine a Nobel Prize in Physics hidden in this mumbo-jumbo.

"People of Earth!" proclaimed another alleged alien to a UFO witness, "you are becoming fourth dimensional whether you are ready or not! At the present time, Earth, Venus, and Jupiter are in an esoteric trine which allows the birth of Christ Conscious souls to the physical plane." Something must have been lost in translation, since this wouldn't check out in the Nautical Almanac.

The list of such informational tidbits goes on and on:

-A visitor named Orlon (the inventor of the miracle fabric?) tried to teach some basic physics: "Due to the high velocity waves reaching your planet from the Central Sun, imminent change or breakthrough of consciousness can occur at any time to any individual. At the same time, there are tremendous energies pouring in, in what you most probably would speak of as an ultraviolet radiation belt." This message looks like the classic kidnapper's note where they paste selected words cut out of a newspaper, only in this case somebody sneezed before the glue set.

-A centuries-old beauty from the Pleiades named Semjase advised a Swiss contactee: "Pyramid energies balance the human body when it is under stress. Those who utilize pyramid energies will be better able to survive the dramatic Earth changes that began in 1958 and will continue to the year 1998." Maybe their fruits won't rot and their razors will grow sharper, but no almanac in the library could verify any such "dramatic changes."

-An old contactee described the homeland of his alien friends as "the constellation Ganymede."

Since Ganymede is a moon of Jupiter, this and similar nonsensical ravings led some serious UFO theorists to suggest that the aliens were trying to deceive earthlings and retard our planet's progress by providing false astronomical data. But that silly explain-everything hypothesis is meaningless --under its umbrella, every ridiculous utterance would prove the aliens real.

Such pseudo-poetic, pseudo-scientific gibberish clearly aims at bad metaphysics, not good science. And not a single bit of it can be checked out for validity against what can be found out from the real world, through experimentation, exploration, or observation. The technological superiority of the aliens is not immediately obvious from these quotations. So the evidential value of the verbal data is nil.

Star Maps from Beyond

Through the years, however, there have been a couple of near-misses --reportedly alien messages that seemed solid enough to give some serious scientists pause, causing them to wonder whether genuine alien encounters had in fact occurred. Two tantalizing tales --one from West Africa and one from New England-- seemed to suggest that genuine, unavailable astronomical knowledge might have fallen into the hands of earthmen who had no way of learning it themselves.

The first such evidence came from Betty and Barney Hill, whose story has often been told. One night in 1961, the tale goes, the couple encountered a UFO on a lonely New Hampshire road. After months of nightmares, details were finally extracted under hypnosis. Though the tale that emerged is long and fascinating, most germaine here is a "star map" Betty said she observed aboard the alien ship. Indeed, under hypnosis, she sketched a pattern of spheres, dots and lines and got the impression the depiction represented the corner of the cosmos the aliens called home. What information might be hidden there? Were the aliens depicting their own star system, in another part of the sky? For many UFO researchers with a scientific bent, the race to analyze this so-called star map was on. Pundits even identified the alien home sun as the Zeta Reticuli system, today a popular piece of UFO lore integrated into numerous other accounts of alien encounters.

For a few years, attempts to decipher the map failed. But then, some star positions were rectified in a new astronomical catalog by human astronomers here on earth. With the change, one human star map came to resemble Betty Hill's, suggesting confirmation of unknown astronomical knowledge the alien starmap contained.

This evidence, however, is tainted because of several other interpretations possible for Betty Hill's dots and lines. Embracing the Hill depiction as proof also depends upon a questionable re-interpretation of the original testimony, especially that all the circles -- including the two large ones with vertical lines-- were stars. The way Hill originally sketched them, these looked like planets! This problem is often covered up in later ufological accounts by blackening in all the circles, conveniently obscuring the damning lines on Hill's original sketch.

In the final analysis, the Betty Hill star map, while suggestive, remains ambiguous.

The second "near-miss" consists of the legends of the Dogon tribe in Mali, West Africa. Based on transcriptions of their oral legends made by anthropologists in the 1920s, these Africans knew far more about some astronomical objects than any such technologically primitive society had any right to.

For instance, the tribesmen spoke about an invisible companion to the star Sirius, the center of prayer for many primitive farming cultures. As described, in fact, this companion had many of the characteristics of the real white dwarf star Sirius-B, discovered in Europe only in the 19th century. The Dogon tribesmen talked about Jupiter's four companions; yet how could they have known about the four Galilean moons? They talked about Saturn's ring, and even described the gap between the ring and the planet. How did they know these things?

Other observers were skeptical that clearcut astronomical knowledge could be distilled from the myths. Noted the British astronomy author Ian Ridpath, "The Dogon legend connected with Sirius is riddled with ambiguities, contradictions, and downright errors, at least if we try to interpret it literally." For instance, the Dogon tend to draw lop-sided circular boundaries around sacred symbols, but it's probably going too far to interpret such ovals as "elliptical orbits".

One non-alien alternate hypothesis is particularly plausible. Many young men from French West Africa served in World War I, and spent years in France. Some of them could have pursued their celestial curiosity while in Europe, swapping legends about favorite subjects such as Sirius with acquaintances from the West. They could easily have viewed Jupiter's moons and Saturn's rings through any of thousands of small telescopes scattered across France (a four-inch reflector, weighing no more than twenty pounds, would have been more than adequate).

Indeed, one aspect of the ring story points positively to an earthside origin: There is no mention in the myths of other planets having rings. Any true spacefaring visitor would have noticed that attribute of all the outer planets --not just Saturn, but also Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune, which have ring systems as well. Yet humans didn't discover them until the 1970s, with ground based telescopes and with the Voyager probes. Whoever told the Dogon didn't seem to know about them, either. It thus stands to reason they were probably earthmen, too.

In short, the Dogon legends of astronomical lore could reasonably be recent additions to an older, general body of myths. A clearcut pedigree to extraterrestrial contact is not provable.

Ask the Alien

Both these "near-misses" provide intriguing suggestions. Though, in the end, neither meets the standard of proof science demands, both offer some useful hints as to how genuine alien contact might be confirmed.

So what kind of information would truly be persuasive? What verbal reports would really be as convincing as the Zeta Reticuli and Dogon tales were supposed to be, but weren't?

The requested information must be unambiguous and readily verified. It must be impossible for earthbound science to know the answers in advance. On the other hand, garnered information must be verifiable within a time span of one to two years. That's the part that's going to be tricky.

Predicting near-term discoveries of space probes could be one possibility. When will Voyager-2, long past Neptune, find the edge of the Solar Wind? What is the shape of the most striking topographical feature on Pluto, or on the asteroid Ceres? Where will the Mars Surveyor find more stone faces on Mars? Which gamma-ray bursters are short-term repeaters? Stay just one step ahead of human space discoveries, and you can prove your friends are more than human.

The late Dr. Harlan Smith, while director of the McDonald Observatory in Texas, enjoyed speculating on such extraterrestrial hints. For instance, he wanted to know where to point his telescope in search of "Planet-X", the hypothetical "tenth planet" beyond Pluto. Given a reasonably limited area of the sky to concentrate telescopes, a search could find it within a year or two.

Alternately, one might require advance knowledge of some impending astronomical phenomenon, just as Columbus predicted the lunar eclipse. When and where will we spot the next supernova in our galaxy? It has already occurred and the light wavefront is moving toward Earth. Star voyagers would have known about it for centuries and put it on their navigation charts. When will the next non-periodic comet appear this side of Jupiter? Predict the appearance within human telescopes of the next near-Earth asteroid. Specify what kind of sunspots are right now forming on the opposite side of the Sun? For true spacefarers, this should be trivial.

Astronomy enthusiast and UFO skeptic Robert Sheaffer has a simple request: "Tell us the direction, time, wavelength, bandwidth, plane of polarization, and other technical parameters that will enable us to detect signals originated by extraterrestrial intelligence. " That is, give us the answer to the decades-long quest for the SETI -- the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence -- grail.

To find even more specific questions, I recently conducted a poll among space scientists at a conference in Houston. Past space data was being discussed, as well as the kinds of mysteries which probes such as Magellan, Galileo, and the Hubble Space Telescope could be expected to solve.

One scientist asked for a description of the composition of interstellar dust, easy enough for star traipsers who can just wipe it off the windshield. Once the chemical compounds were listed, astronomers could check their reflective characteristics in laboratories and see if they matched the observed spectral data from the still-mysterious dust.

Astrophysicist Don Hale, meanwhile, wants aliens to describe other physical constants: Tell us where to find the nearest "brown dwarf" stars, if any exist, and specify the existence of any dust belts around Earth and the Solar System. Planetary geologist Ed Cloutis wants a description of the surface material on different types of asteroids, so he can match them with laboratory tests. Spaceflight specialist Fred Becker wants a list of any extraterrestrial artifacts on the Moon, along with the locations of any naturally-occurring ice deposits.

All these items would be easy enough for genuine space travelers.

If current literature is to be believed, thousands of new encounters between humans and aliens will be occurring in the future. You may be among the chosen. Be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity by memorizing your favorite questions and seeing if any discoveries worthy of the Nobel Prize in Physics come your way. At the very least, if you tap this technique to "discover" a supernova or a comet or an asteroid, they ought to name it after you.

And never forget the dark side of the "Columbus gambit." That particular alien visitor did not use his advanced knowledge to uplift civilization he visited. In fact, the visits he pioneered soon led to its extinction. Advanced knowledge has never been a guarantee of superior morality, anywhere on Earth. . . or off it.


The OMNI Challenge: What Would YOU Ask an Alien?

In one classic fairy tale, a princess is asked to sleep on a pile of mattresses under which has been placed a single pea. It she's a /ft2/real/ft1/ princess, the story goes, she'll feel the tiny lump --only a princess could be as sensitive as that. As a test for royalty, the technique works only in fairy tales.

But the concept --developing a test to separate the authentic from the pretender, the wheat from the chaff-- is useful when hunting for aliens as well. And the truth is, we have within our grasp a sure fire test for extraterrestrials. The requirement: Delivery of an unambiguous techological or scientific assertion that is either currently unknown or generally not believed, but which can be verified by observation or experiment within the next few years.

The notion makes sense. Earth's history shows that contact between civilizations of vastly different technological levels always results in some information flow. Often the transfer is narrow in scope but profound in impact, as when intoxicating chemicals or narcotics cause widespread addiction. Sometimes the impact is overwhelming: The scientific method developed by the Greeks, afterall, ultimately engendered the explosion of medicine, chemistry and electronics sweeping the world today. Sometimes the demonstration of a new device or procedure even causes a civiliation to attempt replication; even if unsuccessful, such efforts can generally be recognized in the traces of folklore that remain.

How about an extraterrestrial contact now, at the close of the Twentieth Century? Assuming a super-high-technology civilization is interacting with our own, what sorts of knowledge might be imparted? What sort of information could be explained by alien contact and in no other way?

So far, we've focused on questions in astronomy. But many other fields offer candidate questions as well. Here are a few:


What are the electromagnetic signatures of rock under extreme tension? That is, how can earthquakes be predicted?

When and where will the next major Earthquake strike?

When will Earth's next magnetic polarity reversal occur?


Provide a short proof of Fermat's Last Theorem.

Develop a rational expression for computing pi.


Explain the dominant "left-handedness" of Earth's organic compounds, and compare these to samples from other biospheres.


Describe the most promising crystallization techniques for zero-G factories.

Provide guidance to achieve room-temperature superconductivity.


Describe the proper chemical species for clearing CFCs out of the upper atmosphere, where they are attacking the ozone layer.

How can jet streams, hurricanes, and El Nino be artificially steered?

How do you kill a tornado?


What is the atomic number of the first stable trans-uranic element (some people already claim it will be 115)?

What's the trick to building a workable neutrino telescope?


How can metallic hydrogen be created, and then preserved at low pressure?

What's going to be the most valuable but as yet unknown application of recently discovered carbon buckminsterfullerenes ("Bucky Balls")?

In order to prepare potential contactees for making the most of their experience -- and for bringing back indisputable proof at last -- this list needs to be expanded further. We invite OMNI readers to help. If you have a scientific question you'd like to ask E.T., just jot it down. But remember the criteria: We seek an unambiguous technological or scientific assertion that is either currently unknown or generally not believed, but which can be verified by observation or experiment within the next few years. And remember, too, that an abductee will probably have to memorize the answer under duress: Anecdotal reports suggest that notebooks, tape recorders and laptaps are not beamed up along with the humans themselves.

Send your suggestion to "Ask the Alien," OMNI Magazine, 324 West Wendover Avenue, Greensboro, NC 27408.

We will print the best questions in subsequent issues of OMNI. And of course, it goes without saying that if anyone comes back with the goods --the answers, alien style-- Project Open Book will investigate as well.


oberg corner piece

home | profile | articles | books | lectures | jim speaks | humor
links | email

Copyright 2010 James Oberg. All Rights Reserved
Site Designed and Maintained by YoeYo.com

oberg corner piece