What to make of a Las Vegas building full of unidentified alloys? The New York Times published a stunning story Saturday (Dec. 16) revealing that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) had, between 2007 and 2012, funded a $22 million program for investigating UFOs. The story included three revelations that were tailored to blow readers' minds: 1. Many high-ranking people in the federal government believe aliens have visited planet Earth. 2. Military pilots have recorded videos of UFOs with capabilities that seem to outstrip all known human aircraft, changing direction and accelerating in ways no fighter jet or helicopter could ever accomplish. 3. In a group of buildings in Las Vegas, the government stockpiles alloys and other materials believed to be associated with UFOs. Points one and two are weird, but not all that compelling on their own: The world already knew that plenty of smart folks believe in alien visitors, and that pilots sometimes encounter strange phenomena in the upper atmosphere - phenomena explained by entities other than space aliens, such as a weather balloon, a rocket launch or even a solar eruption. Point No. 3, though - those buildings full of alloys and other materials - that's a little harder to hand wave away. Is there really a DOD cache full of materials from out of this world? One of the authors of the Times report, Ralph Blumenthal, had this to say on MSNBC about the alloys: "They have, as we reported in the paper, some material from these objects that is being studied so that scientists can find what accounts for their amazing properties, this technology of these objects, whatever they are." When asked what the materials were, Blumenthal responded, "They don't know. They're studying it, but it's some kind of compound that they don't recognize." Here's the thing, though: The chemists and metallurgists Live Science spoke to - experts in identifying unusual alloys - don't buy it. "I don't think it's plausible that there's any alloys that we can't identify," Richard Sachleben, a retired chemist and member of the American Chemical Society's panel of experts, told Live Science. "My opinion? That's quite impossible." Alloys are mixtures of different kinds of elemental metals. They're very common - in fact, Sachleben said, they're more common on Earth than pure elemental metals are - and very well understood. Brass is an alloy. So is steel. Even most naturally occurring gold on Earth is an alloy made up of elemental gold mixed with other metals, like silver or copper. "There are databases of all known phases
, including alloys," May Nyman, a professor in the Oregon State University Department of Chemistry, told Live Science. Those databases include straightforward techniques for identifying metal alloys.
If an unknown alloy appeared, Nyman said it would be relatively simple to figure out what it was made of.
Read More: Scientific American
The auction has been closed.