NASA photo

Detail of a 1998 NASA photo id STS088-724-66, described as showing an item of space debris,[1] an object claimed by conspiracy theorists to be an extraterrestrial satellite, the “Black Knight”

The Black Knight story is a very mixed bag of probably unrelated stories that touch on space exploration, fringe science, conspiracies, astronomical observations, real satellites and fuzzy photos. I don’t consider myself to be a conspiracy theory type, but I like oddball stories and legends.

Though this story is current, the legendary aspects go back to back to 1899. That’s when some repeating sources from “out there” were heard during radio experiments done by Nikola Tesla.

In 1928, an amateur radio operator, Jorgen Hals of Norway, reported these radio signals or echoes. I think we can confirm that these signals were not made by an Earth-launched satellite. Of course, that left things open to aliens.
The best explanation of these early observations is that they came from pulsars, which were not discovered until 1968. A pulsar (short for pulsating radio star) is a highly magnetized, rotating neutron star that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation. When this radiation beam is pointing toward Earth , they can be observed.

But in 1954 when newspapers were already full of UFO stories, stories emerged saying that the U.S. Air Force had reported two unidentified “satellites” orbiting Earth. This was a time when no country could launch a satellite.
There was a British rocket called the Black Knight that was used in conjunction with the Blue Streak missile program between 1958 and 1965, to test re-entry vehicles. But that is a dead end, because the program never put anything into orbit. I found no explanation for why the supposed object picked up the name of Black Knight, but it’s a sexy name to use for a legend.

As we entered the age of the “space race,” a 1960 TIME magazine story reported that the U.S. Navy had detected a dark object thought to be a Soviet spy satellite. Later, they reported that it was “the remains of an Air Force Discoverer VIII satellite that had gone astray.” To the conspiracy theorists, the explanation wasn’t acceptable and military cover ups were a large part of the UFO community.

On the extreme end of this Black Knight legend are those that believe it is a 13,000 year old object of extraterrestrial origin in near-polar orbit. In 1973, Duncan Lunan analyzed the long-delayed radio echoes and speculated that they could originate from a 13,000 year old alien probe located in an orbit around the earth’s moon. But Lunan later retracted his own conclusions. Lunan, a Scottish astronomer and science fiction writer, interpreted a message caught in the 1920s by two Norwegian physicists that he said came from a probe orbiting the Moon and sent there by the inhabitants of a planet orbiting Epsilon Boötis. He would later go on to revoke his withdrawal.

On the real science side, we had astronaut Gordon Cooper supposedly reported a UFO sighting during his 15th orbit in Mercury 9 in 1963.  When he returned, there was a media blackout and NASA attributed it to hallucinations. Cooper had claimed to have seen several objects that were “unidentified.”

The 1998 NASA photo (above) is believed by some to show the Black Knight satellite. It was photographed during the STS-88 mission. Most scientific investigators seem to agree that the object photographed is a thermal blanket that was confirmed as lost by the crew of the Endeavor space shuttle as they worked on the developing the International Space Station.

YouTube user NUA’s video “Black Knight Satellite UFO Documentary – Truth Exposed 2015 – (Debunked)”  states that the proof is conclusive that the 1998 NASA images are no Black Knight but just that satellite thermal blanket.

But that has not stopped the legend. There are videos that claim that the Black Knight is real. People who want to believe in alien intelligence and visitors and visits to Earth by them cling to these stories. I saw the film Arrival recently. I enjoyed it and found it a great conversation starter about communications, time and the possibilities of alien intelligence. These stories intrigue many of us and the belief that the government is hiding information from the public only seems more credible every year.

So, if you support the legend, you will point to “facts” such as that in 1957, long before the lost blanket, Dr. Luis Corralos of the Communications Ministry in Venezuela photographed the Black Knight while taking pictures of Sputnik II as it passed over Caracas. This unknown object was also seen “shadowing” the Sputnik 1 Spacecraft and the UFO (not identified as the Black Knight then) was in Polar orbit.

Again, this was in a time when no country could maintain a spacecraft in Polar Orbit. The first Polar-orbitingg satellite was launched in 1960. What’s the significance of this type of orbit? Polar orbits are often used for earth-mapping and observation, capturing the planet from one point.

I found online mentions of other sightings in the 1960′s of this polar-orbiting Black Knight and even estimates that the object’s weight was over 10 tons which would have made it the heaviest artificial satellite orbiting Earth.

On September 3, 1960, a tracking camera at Grumman Aircraft Corporation’s Long Island, NY factory is said to have taken a a photograph of the Black Knight in which it looks more like an aircraft than a satellite.

Looking more like an aircraft

Looking more like an aircraft?

I also have not found any explanations for why the Black Knight is here or what its purpose would be. Like that Arrival film (and maybe more so in the story the film is based on) story, those are really the big questions. And like addressed in that film, you would think the military of some country would have blasted the thing if it was seen as any kind of threat.

Did the Black Knight satellite and its radio messages originate from the Epsilon Bootes Star System 13.000 years ago? Epsilon Boötis (AKA Epsilon Boo or Izar) is a star in the northern constellation of Boötes and it came up in a Star Trek episode (“Whom Gods Destroy”) when the character Kelvar Garth is also referred to as Garth of Izar. Maybe that is where the Black Knight belongs – in science fiction.