Back in 1974, a strange metal ball became the center of major media interest across the US. Named the 'Betz Sphere,' the object has never been fully explained, although some extremely odd suggestions have been put forward - including that it's an alien artifact or perhaps even a Doomsday weapon.
On May 26 of 1974, Terry Mathew Betz came across the strange object after a wildfire had ravaged some woods near to his Jacksonville, Florida farmhouse. The ball, which was around 8 inches in diameter, was eerily unscathed by the apparent blaze and featured only one delineating mark - an elongated triangle stamped onto one side.
Initially, the family thought they may have stumbled upon a piece of a satellite or downed military equipment, however, the family could find no impact crater or sign of damage. Instead, they concluded it was “old fashioned canon ball, which someone had silver plated” as a souvenir.
The Betz family took ownership of the orb, but didn't think much about it at the time.
Things Start Going Strange
However, the Betz Sphere began to present odd abilities about two weeks after the discovery. While playing guitar in the same room as the sphere, Terry Betz discovered it began to "vibrate like a tuning fork" and started to emit an odd throbbing sound in response to certain notes. The family dog also appeared distressed around the orb, as if it was releasing some kind of high frequency wave outside of the hearing range of humans.
Other strange happenings also began to occur. The Betzes discovered that if the orb was pushed across the floor, it would roll, change direction, and then usually return to where it started. They also noticed it periodically hummed with a low frequency as if "a motor were running inside."
In fact, the Betzes became so concerned about the independent movement of the sphere, they apparently decided to keep it sealed in a bag at night.
Media Interest Increases
Faced with so many unexplained questions, the Betzes decided to go to the media in an attempt to try and explain some of the ball's odd abilities.
Their claims were corroborated by a photojournalist of the St. Petersburg Times, Lon Enger. Although initially skeptical, Enger would eventually state:
[Mrs. Betz] told me to put it on the floor and give it a push. It rolled a ways and stopped. So what? She said, ‘just wait a minute.’ It turned by itself and rolled to the right about four feet. It stopped. Then it turned again and rolled to the left about eight feet, made a big arc and came back right to my feet.
Soon, the US military and NASA were contacting the Betz family and asking to get a look at the sphere. Initially the Betzes refused, as they were unwilling to entrust it to anyone else.
But soon things started to get even weirder. The Betzes reported strange supernatural disturbances, including odd organ like music at night and the slamming of doors. Faced with this, they eventually handed the orb over to the US Navy.
The family passed the orb to the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, whose navy metallurgists attempted to X-ray the sphere. Initially, they were met with a dead-end as their X-ray machines were reportedly unable to penetrate the sphere. According to Navy spokesperson, Chris Berninger:
Our first X-ray attempts got us nowhere. We’re going to use a more powerful machine on it and also run spectograph tests to determine what metal it’s made of… There’s certainly something odd about it.
The scientists at the station were able to determine certain characteristics, namely that it was exact 7.96 inches in diameter and weighed 21.34 pounds. They also deduced the orb had a shell that was one half an inch thick and which could withstand a pressure of 120,000 pounds per square inch. It was made of stainless steel, more specifically magnetic ferrous alloy 431.
The Navy team eventually used a powerful 300 KV X-ray to penetrate the orb, and discovered two round objects inside the sphere which were themselves surrounded by a "halo" like structure made of a material of unusual density. After determining it wasn't military property, the orb was returned to the Betzes. The navy wanted to cut into the sphere, however Gerri Betz - the patriarch of the family - refused.
Ultimately Berninger concluded:
I don’t know who manufactured it, but I say it came from Earth. We do know that it’s not explosive and presents no hazard.
A Doomsday Device?
The Betzes toured with the sphere for sometime, temporary trying to use it as proof to win a $50,000 prize set up by the National Enquirer. The tabloid claimed it would present the money to anyone who could provide unequivocal proof of UFOs. The Betz Sphere clearly didn't pass muster.
However, it wasn't long after this that Dr. James Albert Harder of the civil and hydraulic engineering at the University of California at Berkeley got involved. He examined the sphere and - as well as confirming the measurements of the navy - arrived at a dramatic conclusion. According to Story:
He [Dr. Harder] asserted, based on his X-ray studies, that the two internal spheres are made of elements far heavier than anything known to science. While the heaviest element yet produced in any atomic reactor here on Earth has an atomic number of 105, and the heaviest element occurring naturally on Earth is uranium, with an atomic number of 92, Harder claims to have determined that the Betz sphere has atomic numbers higher than 140. If one were to drill into the sphere, he asserted, ‘perhaps the masses would go critical’ and explode like an atomic bomb'.
Theories about alien atomic bombs had been prevalent since Erich von Däniken's 1969 book, Chariots of the Gods?. In this, he suggested the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in biblical times could have been caused by an alien super-weapon. The Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, also includes references to massive explosions, such as “single projectile charged with all the power of the universe. An incandescent column of smoke and flame as bright as ten thousand suns rose in all its splendor.”
Could this be what the Betz Sphere was? Was it actually an alien artefact?
Well, it's unlikely that we'll ever know, since the sphere has since disappeared.
So What Actually Was It?
Well, for every suggestion of alien origins and explosive potential, there are also just as many reasonable explanations.
The main theory was the Betz Sphere was actually nothing more than a fairly unremarkable ball valve bearing. Although the ball has since disappeared, a local Florida resident, Lottie Robinson, saw an image of the sphere and recognized it as something sitting in her garage.
The local St. Regis Company paper mill identified the stainless steel ball as a bearing from a ball valve used in some of the larger pipes in their factory. How did it end up in Mrs. Robinson's garage? Well, her son was a scrap dealer.
Although the ball found in the garage did match the description of the Betz Sphere, it was not identical. Enter Robert Edwards, the president of a Jacksonville, Florida equipment supply company. He contacted the press to show them a newer ball valve manufactured by Bell & Howell in Bridgeport, Connecticut. When they measured and weighed it, this ball valve bearing was exactly the same weight and dimensions as the Betz Sphere. He concluded:
I'm not saying that this thing didn't come from outer space because I've never seen it. All I'm saying is that the physical description of it matches exactly the type of ball we have in stock.
Furthermore, what about the alloy the Betz Sphere was made of? Well, stainless steel 431 is a metal commonly used for a variety of industrial and vehicular applications. The description from SteelForge.com states:
Type 431 is used in highly-stressed aircraft components, fasteners, bomb racks, bolting, pump shafts and valve stems.
The fact the navy did not recognize the sphere as a ball valve might be because it was on a scale larger than those used in military aircraft and marine vehicles. But importantly, it was made of exactly the same alloy. It's also worth mentioning that the navy was not tasked with finding out what the sphere was, merely that it did not belong to them and was not dangerous.
But how did it end up in the Betzes' field? Well, a sculptor by the name of James Durling-Jones had visited the Jacksonville area three years previous to collect some (reportedly stolen) ball valve bearings from a friend who worked at a large industrial complex. He claims he was given two sizes of ball valve, some 8-inch balls weighing 22 pounds (the same as the Betz Sphere), and 10-inch balls weighing about 70 pounds.
During the ride through the Jacksonville area, a few of the balls rolled off the luggage rack of his VW camper van and were lost. He told the Sarasota Journal:
I can't tell you where I got them because I'd get a friend in trouble. But I'll tell you this: They're not from outer space.
But What About All The Supernatural Stuff?
This is where we need to employ a bit of common sense.
Firstly, the movement of the orb was never recorded or in anyway documented other than in various sensationalist tabloid articles. The navy and other examiners never reported the orb doing anything strange.
Furthermore, in reality, the Betzes never claimed the orb moved on its own. It only moved in a strange way when pushed or manipulated. In fact, the only odd thing examiners could identify was that it rattled when shaken.
Durling-Jones had an explanation for that too, stating:
The rattle comes from trying to patch the sphere... the company drills the spheres and rewelds them before machining them again. Sometimes some of the milling or drilling chips drop inside.
Regarding the strange movement of the ball, navy spokeman Chris Berninger remarked:
I believe it's because of the construction of the house... It's old and has uneven stone floors. The ball is almost perfectly balanced, and it takes just a little indentation to make it move or change direction.
What we need to remember is that this was a time when tabloids such as The National Enquirer were running more and more sensationalist stories about aliens, UFOs and other paranormal happenings. Over time, even their inaccurate reporting was further extrapolated by online supernatural websites - and before you know it, we've arrived at the Betz Sphere being a de facto 'alien artefact.'
To conclude, I'll leave you with the words of Skeptoid's Brian Dunning:
But if believers in the strange need to attach a mysterious origin to the Betz sphere, they're going to have to make do with the fact that it fell to earth not from an alien spacecraft, but from an idly passing Volkswagen bus...and that's almost as good.