Since 1983, scientists and journalists from across the world have been converging on Norway’s Hessdalen Valley to document nocturnal displays of mystery lights whose erratic behaviors and anecdotal origins trace back to the 1930s. Using cameras and an eclectic range of instrumentation, researchers have discussed their findings in peer-reviewed journals and the popular press alike. In fact, the puzzle is so universally acknowledged, students joining “science camps” have taken week-long treks into the remote region to gather data in hopes of solving this thing.
So far, the evidence seems to suggest the Hessdalen lights, which technically qualify as UFOs, or UAP, embody a terrestrial phenomenon, maybe some weird convergence of geological and meteorological forces, who knows? Next month, Erling Strand – a computer sciences professor at Norway’s Ostland University College and a Project Hessdalen leader since 1993 – will bring the latest news to the Florida MUFON symposium in Orlando. And he’ll be joining a 15-speaker lineup over which co-organizer Morgan Beall has already taken considerable grief.
A little background first. The Mutual UFO Network, founded in 1969 by volunteers to conduct field investigations, has a following so diverse, it’s almost like a major-party convention. At one end is the alien-abduction crowd engaging all manner of interpretation and speculation; on the other are wonks panning for gold amid the thankless tedium of government archives. Beginning in 2014, MUFON and executive director Jan Harzan attempted to broaden the spectrum with two seasons of a critically panned History Channel spinoff called “Hangar 1.” Scrambled with hyper-caffeinated special effects, sensationalized out the wazoo, “Hangar 1” served up a case study on what happens when an organization surrenders creative control to TV producers chasing Fruit Loops and Count Chocula with a 5-Hour Energy bottle.
But here’s what’s a little weird. Harzan says the formula worked like a charm.
“We got a large jump in membership from the show,” he states in an email. “Approximately 60% growth from the 2500 members to 4000 members … We have also seen a large increase in case leads and people reporting what they’ve seen in the past, as well as current sightings. We generally average between 500-1000 UFO reports a month. At the peak of the show we were getting as many as 1200-1400 reports a month, almost double our usual numbers.”
Go figure. Anyhow, Beall tries to be circumspect in describing the fine line he had to walk in order to appease MUFON’s big tent. To recap, Beall is the investigator who cobbled together the team that published an exhaustive analysis of a UFO videotaped in Puerto Rico by federal Customs agents; in fact, two of those fellow researchers will speak at the symposium on Aug. 26-28. And perhaps fittingly, considering how big media refuses to press Hillary Clinton on how she hopes to reconcile her announced interest in declassifying UFO records with her equally provocative disclaimer about backing off “if there’s some huge national security thing,” MUFON’s keynote speaker will be UFOs and Nukes author Robert Hastings. Over four decades, Hastings has built a powerful case for the national-security angle by getting more than 150 military veterans to share information about UFO incursions over America’s nuclear weapons facilities. Earlier this year, he released a significant but overlooked documentary based on those veterans’ eyewitness testimonies.
No doubt hardcore UFO buffs checking out the symposium roster will notice the slightly mixed bag of speakers. Beall is declining to enter that debate. What he doesn’t mind airing out is his exasperation over the feedback he’s heard over the inclusion of folks like Erling Strand.
“People have said, well, Hessdalen, that’s not alien, but I’m like, so? It’s still UAP. Is that what it’s all about? To exclusively investigate what we think are aliens? No,” says Beall. “What I’m trying to show is, there’s a lot of things we can learn about our own planet through this type of research, which is what Erling Strand is doing, looking at something that we have zero explanation for in our own known field of physics. And they’re finding some very intriguing things.”
But will anyone show up to hear what’s new with frontier science, ET or otherwise? Beall’s media invitations went out at around the same time a crazy man shot up more than a hundred people at an Orlando night club. Between that and a Disney World alligator devouring a 2-year-old kid and a contestant from “The Voice” getting mowed down moments after finishing a concert at a stage downtown, Central Florida media has been a tad distracted.
“So we’re up against a tragic event,” Beall says. “That’s a real challenge.” As for figuring out exactly what the public wants to hear about UFOs, that’s a challenge, too, and he’s totally stumped. “I know I’ve become a lot more cynical about people and what they respond to. Because so much of what they respond to is garbage.”