Space is filled with many mysterious objects, many of which are on the edge of our ability to perceive the universe. However, there could also be some unexplained objects closer to home - in fact, they could be orbiting (and watching us) right now.
I'm talking about the Black Knight Satellite - an object which, according to some, has been orbiting the Earth for nearly 13,000 years. This is how the story goes:
According to most sources, the story of the Black Knight Satellite begins with the space race in the 1950s. It is claimed that in 1954, NASA discovered a large unknown satellite circling Earth on a polar orbit. Initially, they believed it was some kind of Russian space object, but it was quickly confirmed that it was not. At this point in time, neither country in the space race had the ability to launch such objects out of the atmosphere. Other reports also claimed a strange signal was broadcasting from the object.
Things remained quiet until the 1960s, when NASA reported they were tracking a dark, tumbling object in an orbit roughly in the same area of the Black Knight. It was inclined 79° from the equator with an orbital period of 104.5 minutes. Its orbit was also highly eccentric with an apogee of 1,728 km (1,074 mi) and a perigee of only 216 km (134 mi).
In 1963, an astronaut aboard Mercury 9, Gordon Cooper, said he possibly saw the Black Knight while on a space mission. He reported seeing a glowing green object orbiting Earth, which the story says, was confirmed by NASA. However, on returning to Earth reporters were barred about asking questions about the object, while the official explanation claimed what Cooper saw was the result of "high levels of carbon dioxide, which caused hallucinations."
A decade later, in 1973, Scottish researcher Duncan Lunan analyzed Long Delay Echoes (LDE) data taken from Norwegian experiments in 1928 to find out more about the Black Knight. Norway had experimented with sending short wave transmissions into space and were surprised to discover they received echoes several seconds after each transmission. Using this data, Lunan stated the LDEs created a star chart which showed the Black Knight came from the double star system, Epsilon Boötis. He said the satellite was broadcasting an invitation from the people of Epsilon Boötis and was around 12,600 years old. The message, which was hidden in the star chart, decoded thus:
OUR HOME IS EPSILON BOOTIS.
WHICH IS A DOUBLE STAR.
WE LIVE ON THE 6th PLANET OF 7 - CHECK THAT, 6th OF 7 -
COUNTING OUTWARDS FROM THE SUN
WHICH IS THE LARGER OF THE TWO.
OUR 6th PLANET HAS ONE MOON,
OUR 4th PLANET HAS THREE,
OUR FIRST AND THIRD PLANETS EACH HAVE ONE.
OUR PROBE IS IN THE ORBIT OF YOUR MOON
THIS UPDATES THE POSITION OF ARCTURUS SHOWN ON OUR MAPS.
More evidence emerged in 1998, when NASA's Endeavor STS-88 flight photographed a strange object and uploaded the image online. However, they were soon taken down, only to be re-uploaded later with new captions describing them as nothing but space junk.
Of course, the Black Knight has amazed UFOologists and enthusiasts for years, and many are convinced it is some kind of sign of alien intelligence. But is this really the case?
Decoding The Black Knight
First things first, most people in authority regarding anything to do with space are unified on one thing: The Black Knight does not exist - at least, not how it has been described.
The story of the Black Knight seems to be a combination of poorly interpreted real information, blatantly made up lies, and wishful thinking.
Let's go back to the beginning and break this down step-by-step. The original newspaper stories in 1954 were attributed to a well-known UFO 'crank' who was trying to sell a book at the time. Both articles publishing his claims were written in a deliberate tongue-in-cheek fashion and they contain no references to anyone in authority on these matters.
The claims it was broadcasting some kind of message were linked to experiments conducted by Nikola Tesla in 1899. Tesla discovered radio messages coming from space, which were retroactively applied to the Black Knight. Today we know what those signals were, he was listening to the 'broadcasts' given off by pulsars - giant deep space sources of pulsing radio signals - not aliens.
What about the object that NASA tracked in 1960? Well, NASA has since confirmed that was the second casing from Discoverer VIII. It was travelling in almost the exact same area as the tracked object, and it was soon confirmed by NASA. This news was reported by TIME, however the rather mundane discovery was not reported by others who favored the more sensationalist 'alien' angle. The Time article reported:
..But last week the Department of Defense proudly announced that the satellite had been identified. It was a space derelict, the remains of an Air Force Discoverer satellite that had gone astray. The dark satellite was the first object to demonstrate the effectiveness of the U.S.'s new watch on space...
Gordon Cooper, the astronaut aboard Mercury 9, did claim to see many UFOs during his career as a terrestrial flying officer, however he never made any claims regarding seeing a UFO in space on the Mercury 9 mission. He is adamant his supposed sighting of the Black Knight was a fabrication made by UFO authors and provided transcripts of the mission to prove it.
Duncan Lunan has also retracted his report claiming the Norwegian LDEs are linked to Epsilon Boötis. He revealed his processes were unscientific and admitted he'd made outright errors. Furthermore, he never linked the LDEs to the Black Knight or any other polar satellite. For their part, LDEs are now believed to be most likely caused by the strange effects of the Earth's ionosphere.
And those Endeavor photos? Well, they're quite simply a thermal blanket that was lost during an EVA mission. This was known by NASA at the time, and the pictures were simply updated to reflect this. Any object orbiting Earth's polar regions would also be traveling at around 36,000 km/h, making it incredibly difficult to see with the naked eye, let alone photograph. The blanket was photographed as it floated away from the Endeavor. NASA released a video showing the Endeavor crew actually recording the blanket in space:
The Black Knight story is certainly an interesting and intriguing one, but unfortunately it's simply not true. As Martina Redpath of Armagh Planetarium explained:
Black Knight is a jumble of completely unrelated stories; reports of unusual science observations, authors promoting fringe ideas, classified spy satellites and people over-interpreting photos. These ingredients have chopped up, stirred together and stewed on the internet to one rambling and inconsistent dollop of myth.
Do you still think the Black Knight is an alien satellite?