The mystery of the Black Knight satellite

There are millions of people out there who believe aliens have visited earth. Whether it's seeing a UFO, hearing secret messages, or a full-on alien abduction complete with anal probes, there's a conspiracy theory for everyone. One of the craziest is about the Black Knight satellite. According to this conspiracy, aliens managed to put a jagged, black device in orbit around Earth 13,000 years ago when we sad little humans were still just figuring out how to domesticate sheep (perhaps so aliens could later kidnap those sheep). But since then, believers point to various sightings and unexplained noises as proof that extraterrestrials have found a way of communicating with us through the Black Knight.

First sighting

The first "official" sighting of the Black Knight was so shocking it managed to make the New York Times. In 1954, the Times ran an article saying that a Dr. Lincoln LePaz had discovered two satellites orbiting the Earth. Seems normal so far. The only problem was that in 1954, no country had managed to launch any satellites yet. Whatever LePaz saw, it was enough to worry the Pentagon for a while that the Russians might have beaten America into space; conspiracy theorists think aliens are the real answer. (Duh.) It didn't help matters that the Army Office of Ordnance Research, whose job it was to search for satellites, claimed it hadn't found any yet. Additionally, Dr. LePaz later claimed the story in the original article had been made up. Even the New York Times said it was possible the O.O.R. was withholding its findings of the satellites until there was more evidence. Heads up, government agencies: the possibility of the government "withholding findings" is just the sort of thing that leads to conspiracies.

The Tesla connection

Nikola Tesla is the internet's favorite scientist and is famous for lots of other things, too, like inventing the eponymous Tesla coil, his dislike of women, and his strange obsession with pigeons. However, he probably thought he'd be remembered as the first man to hear signals from aliens. In 1899, Tesla was in Colorado doing some experiments with electric currents. (His station is pictured above.) For some reason, he kept getting interference from a different electric signal. After a while, he came to the conclusion that any good conspiracy theorist would: the signals must be from aliens. 

Even though he couldn't actually figure out what the ETs were trying to tell him, that didn't stop him from writing an article for Collier's Weekly subtly titled "Talking with the Planets." In it, he assured readers that the signals were not "entirely accidental," and while he couldn't be sure, they probably came from Mars. These days, no self-respecting conspiracy theorist would believe in Martians, so many believe Tesla was getting messages from the Black Knight satellite.

The next communication

Tesla's contemporaries may have thought his claims were just a publicity stunt, but people kept hearing weird things from outer space. According to Vice, in 1927, a Norwegian engineer named Jorgen Hals was listening to radio signals when he noticed some of them had a strange "echo." (Why is it that aliens keep contacting people in really cold places?) This echo involved the signal he was listening to bouncing back to him several seconds after the original transmission had ended. Despite turning to other physicists for help (including the incredibly dapper Carl Stormer, pictured above), Hals could never explain these "long-delayed radio echoes." Other scientists haven't been able to either, and we all know that big, unexplained questions should be answered with conspiracy theories. 

Space race sighting

By the end of the 1950s, the space race was in full swing and both the U.S. and USSR had managed to put satellites in orbit. But on February 11, 1960, a radar used by the U.S. Navy picked up the presence of a strange "dark, tumbling object" that didn't belong to either country, according to Skeptoid. The sudden possibility that the Soviets had quietly launched a satellite, possibly a spy satellite, freaked out plenty of Americans. It didn't help that this new object was in polar orbit, when all the known satellites were circling the equator.

Then Time magazine announced the solution to the mystery. The Department of Defense claimed it was just part of an Air Force Discoverer satellite (pictured above), a piece of completely innocent space junk. The only problem was this was a lie. Thanks to declassified documents, we now know it was part of a secret project doing reconnaissance on Russia. For conspiracy theorists, if the government lied once, why wouldn't it lie again? Must have been the Black Knight satellite. 

The lost tape

Even the French managed to get in on the conspiracy action. In 1961, a man named Jacques Vallee (at right in the photo) was working away in a Paris observatory tracking satellites. One day he made a startling discovery: there was a bright, unidentified object in retrograde (meaning it was moving in the opposite direct of Earth's orbit). Why was this a big deal? There's technology for that, right? Sure, there is now, but the technology to put satellites in retrograde didn't exist at that time. Despite this, Vallee and his colleagues assumed the UFO must be something innocent, like an asteroid that had gotten caught in the Earth's gravitational pull. And that's where the story would end, except for the crazy thing that happened next. When Vallee showed the tape of the object to his supervisor, his supervisor confiscated the tape and then erased the footage.

In an interview, Vallee said the official story was that the supervisor didn't want to share half-baked information that made no sense with the other countries involved in the project. France might look silly! (Thank goodness France doesn't look silly.) Vallee wondered if it was just an asteroid, why the secrecy? This is the stuff that conspiracy theorists live for. Unsurprisingly, they view this as another obvious sighting of the Black Knight satellite.

An astronaut's alleged sighting

It's one thing to have sightings from Earth, but what about once we actually put people into space? Wouldn't astronauts see a big satellite floating around out there? Enter Gordon Cooper. Astronaut Cooper (at center in the photo) allegedly saw UFOs dozens of time, but the one tied to the Black Knight satellite was the most notable. It supposedly happened while he was making his 15th orbit of the Earth. He was just hanging out when he saw green lights that seemed to beckon to him. (No telling what the alien craft would have done to him if he'd answered that call.) While the word of an astronaut is pretty good already, it gets better: up to 100 more people on Earth looking at the radar screen also allegedly saw the UFO.

Maybe astronauts are just reluctant to come forward. One of those reluctant astronauts was Cooper himself. According to Skeptoid, Cooper "was adamant" that his sighting of the Black Knight was made up by UFO fantasists. Some researchers say if you look up the actual transcripts from Cooper's flight, you'll find no mention of these green lights. Of course, if you believe Cooper saw the Black Knight satellite, you know what this is — just another government cover-up.

The people of Epsilon Boötis

If there really is a mystery satellite in the sky, who put it up there, according to the believers? Some think this question was answered in the 1970s, not by a scientist or an astronomer, but by a science fiction writer named Duncan Lunan. He took the long-delayed radio echoes Jorgen Hals discovered in the 1920s and mapped them against constellations. His conclusion was that the signals were originally from the star Epsilon Boötis and that they first arrived here around 11,000 B.C., the same time the Black Knight satellite supposedly arrived here. He also claimed to have decoded their message:

"Our home is Epsilon Boötis, which is a double star. We live on the sixth planet of seven — check that, the sixth of seven — counting outwards from the sun, which is the larger of the two stars. Our sixth planet has one moon. Our fourth planet has three. Our first and third planet each have one. Our probe is in the orbit of your moon."

Note the following facts. First, this supposed message clearly states that the probe is orbiting our moon and not the Earth. Second, Lunan later withdrew his claims, saying the original data was faulty. However, that hasn't stopped conspiracy theorists from connecting his findings to the Black Knight satellite. In fact, Lunan's name became so synonymous with the conspiracy that he was forced to officially deny that he thinks the long-delayed echoes have anything to do with it.

Recent sightings

Don't worry, folks, because the fun didn't stop in the 1970s. In more recent years, there have been a slew of alleged Black Knight sightings. In 1998, the crew of Space Shuttle Endeavour photographed something in orbit that looked very similar to other images of the alleged Black Knight satellite. The anticlimactic conclusion here is that it was probably just a thermal blanket that had been lost in space. In 2015, there were at least two sightings, including an object passing in front of the Moon and footage of the satellite hovering over Florida before disappearing. And in April 2017 there was footage released to tabloids that supposedly showed an "Illuminati rocket" blowing up the Black Knight Satellite. Obviously, that slamming together of two conspiracies is ridiculous for many reasons (even some of the more normal conspiracy theorists called it a hoax), but what a great ending it would have made to this crazy, century-long search if lizards and knights finally came together for one big, wacky adventure. If it isn't true, then the old adage holds: one planet's space trash is another planet's alien conspiracy.