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Project Argus Report by Michael Chorost
In the summer of 1992, Project Argus investigated one of the
most remarkable mysteries of the century, the sudden and
baffling appearance of hundreds of huge, magnificent shapes -
dubbed "crop circles" - in the fields of England each summer.
Made of grain flattened methodically to the ground in intricate
pattens, they were a form of landscape art which quickly
attracted worldwide attention. But the "artist" was unknown.
Where did they come from? What agent or force routinely
generated them ovenight? Could they be products of something
other than human activity? It seemed appropriate to seek to
answer such questions with the instruments and methods of
Project Argus was preceded by at least three attempts to
study the phenomenon with scientific instruments. There were
the "White Crow" and "Blackbird" surveillance watches organized
by Colin Andrews and Pat Delgado in 1989 and 1990, which used
night-vision video cameras and human observers in an effort to
capture the formation of a crop circle on film. And there was
Project "Blue Hill," mounted by Terence Meaden in 1991 in
conjunction with Japanese universities to detect evidence of
"plasma vortices" (Meaden's proposed naturally occurring
causative mechanism) by radar. The goal of all three was to
record a crop circle event at the moment of formation. None
succeeded as their organizers had hoped, although all came up
with a small amount of equivocal data which could be interpreted
as "hints" that a non-hoaxed phenomenon had been observed.
Project Argus had the different objective of making a
minute and extensive study of the soil and crops after an event
had occurred. Without requiring prior assumptions about the
agent which might be at work, it made a sustained and
well-instrumented investigation of a large number of events,
undeterred by the probability that some would be hoaxes (and,
indeed, sampling from known and suspected hoaxes for
comparison). It drew together a number of physicists,
biologists, and engineers, several of whom were prepared to
accept that we might merely be witnessing the traces of human
activity and/or "blind" natural forces, but whom were ready to
lend their expertise for no more than the cost of travel and
Briefly stated, the project's goal was to learn if some
crop circles exhibited physical effects which would be
difficult, if not impossible, to generate by casual human
activity. Indications that there might be such effects in the
form of short-lived radioactive residues in the soil and
significant changes to the crops had turned up late in
1991, thanks largely to the dedicated work of Marshall Dudley
and Dr. W.C. Levengood. Slenderly based though these
indications were, it was a scientific imperative to follow them
up on as large a scale as could be managed, using better
equipment and a more exhaustive methodology.
Project Argus was a joint effort initiated mainly by two
organizations, the North American Circle (NAC) and the Centre
for Crop Circle Studies (CCCS.) The CCCS was established in 1990
in England with the aim of encouraging orderly scientific
investigation. The NAC was established a year later in the
United States, with the same goal. By the end of 1991, it was
becoming clear that the two organizations had, between them,
accumulated enough scientific expertise to design and carry out
a joint research project. The CCCS gave the project 2,000 lbs
as seed money and committed itself to logistical support, and a
fundraising drive by the NAC brought the total funding to over
$34,000 by May 1992. Significant contributions were made in
particular by the Robert Bigelow Holding Corporation, the Fund
for UFO Research and MUFON. Logistical needs such as housing
and ground transportation were quickly arranged, and the project
formally began its fieldwork in England on July 9th, 1992.
Project Argus's array of experimental instruments and
methods was as follows:
* Electron microscopy to examine plant cell walls for
evidence of unusual physical stresses or heat-related damage.
* Gamma spectroscopy to examine soil for shortlived
* Gel electrophoresis to examine plant DNA for evidence of
* Fluxgate magnetometry to assess magnetic variations in
* Studies of plant cell tissue to assess the effects of the
flattening force on the plants.
* Seed germinatioll trials to test growth rates of seeds
harvested within crop formations.
* A scintillation counter and geiger counter to detect
abnormally high levels of ambient radiation.
* Various electromagnetic field detectors.
* Visual analysis of "crop lays" for comparison of
crop circles in different nations.
* Recording of daily rainfall to correlate formation
dates with weather conditions.
* Recordkeeping of reports of unidentified luminous aerial
* Support of surveillance and surveying operations 0
Recordkeeping of dates and locations of formations.
The first six of these objectives were accomplished with
instruments situated in laboratories in the U.S. an U.K., using
samples collected and processed by the Project Argus team. The
rest were performed on-site by team members using the
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
Project Argus has not, at this writing, found the "smoking gun"
clearly showing that some crop circles are not the product of
human activity. But it has ruled out several previously held
hypotheses and, potentially more importantly, discovered some
apparent regularities which seem well worth following up. What
it has found are the following (each is discussed in greater
detail in the 115page Report on the Results of Project Argus: An
Instruniented Study of the Physical Materials of Crop Circles,
edited by Michael Chorost, and available from North American
A. A greater incidence of microscopic "blisters" on plants
inside crop circles than in controls outside them. It is not
yet clear whether this is due to the fact that the plants inside
the formation experienced a different regime of temperature and
humidity than the controls, or to some more exotic cause (e.g. a
"genuine" phenomenon). A number of unusual molds and types of
cellular damage were also detected.
B. No evidence of anomalous radioactive traces in any o the
C. No evidence of anomalous DNA degradation in any of the
D. Results indicating that further testing with fluxgate
magnetometers may be productive, with due attention given to
potential sources of methodological error. Experiments appeared
to show that soil within many of the formations tested had a
higher degree of magnetic flux intensity than the soil outside
them. Notably, the one known hoax we were able to test did not
show this effect.
E. The possibility that there are significant anomalies in plant
cell tissues and seed germination rates relative to controls.
Due to the complexity of living plant systems, and the
methodological difficulties imposed by collecting samples
under highly variable conditions, this research has progressed
F. Hints that testing with electromagnetic detectors may be
productive. The ad hoc nature of the testing in 1992 makes it
necessary to undertake better testing in future seasons.
G. The continuing presence of complex crop lays in formations
in England and Canada. Formations in both countries exhibited
features such as standing stalks, underlying lays, off-axis
centers, and plant braiding.
H. Rainfall data suggesting that some of the formations in the
immediate vicinity of Alton Barnes may have been made during or
immediately after wet weather, which complicates the hoax theory.
I. Several accounts of unidentified luminous events in the low
atmosphere resembling those which have been described
(occasionally with photographic collateral) in Dr. Terence
Meaden's Jouirnal of Meteorology and John Macnish's video Crop
J. No success in photographic surveillance. A formation
which was made within the theoretical range of the camera went
undetected, probably due to low light and an unfavorable
K. The continuing existence of the phenomenon itself, in
considerable numbers. George Wingfield's database lists 197
formations for Great Britain for the summer of 1992 (published
in Report as Appendix 11).
We thus have some potentially very interesting and
significant data from our magnetic flux scans and electron
microscopy, and it is our hope that outside scientists competent
in these areas will review our data and make comments.
The absence of positive data in the other test regimes does
not mean that the phenomenon must be a hoax. As the old adage
goes, absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence. It
is entirely possible that we were, in those cases, looking for a
real phenomenon in the wrong places. There were thousands of
tests we could have run, but we could only select a few out of
that huge set. When facing the unknown, one must essentially
start anywhere, since no prior research exists to indicate the
most productive paths. In (probably) ruling out radioactivity
and several other effects, the project did essential work which
will save its successors considerable time and expense.
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