From Norway >> UFOs in the Fjords

After threading his car through a few harrowing switchbacks on a Norwegian mountainside, Erling Strand stopped the car and pointed. “It started down in the valley and someone saw it moving up the hill there. The lights are yellow, many white, some are blue, very few green, also different types of colors. It’s been so bright that part of the valley is illuminated at night.”

Erling was describing an unexplained light spectacle in this land of the northern lights. “It’s not the aurora borealis,” he cautioned preemptively. “The lights are down in the valley and there are no houses there. Even the Norwegian air force has seen something and can’t explain it. When a plane comes, the lights go away, but often come back afterwards.

“I try to avoid the term ‘UFO,’ because most people immediately think of it as nonsense and then no scientists want a part of this,” said Erling, who during the day is a lecturer in computer science at Østfold College. “We try to use the term ‘Hessdalen Phenomenon,’ after the name of the valley.” Just so, Erling has helped the café in town fabricate a “UFO Senter.” It exhibits numerous photos of the mysterious lights, video footage of UFOs, and paintings of bug-eyed aliens.

As Erling drove on up the mountain to an observation point, his cell phone rang. One hand worried the steering wheel of his Suzuki jeep while the other held a Nokia to his ear. His face turned grave from the news. He closed the phone like a clamshell and said, “That was the police. There’s a missing person in the area. So I have to stop and talk with them, because we have many observers scattered around this area.”

After checking in at a ranger station on the top of the mountain, Erling returned to the car. Oddly, he saw no relationship between the potentially abducted person and the mysterious lights. “The missing man is mentally unstable, so they’ll use a plane first to see if they can see him in the valley.” This reminded him: “Many of the police have seen the lights too.”

Erling summarized the situation. “I’ve been working on Project Hessdalen for more than twenty years, and the phenomenon has slowly diminished. There’s no good theory to explain it; no solution can really cover all of the things that happen here. Some think it’s because this is one of the areas of Norway with lots of sulphur and copper. But Røros has copper too, and there are no lights up there.” After two decades of careful research, Erling obviously has his theories, but he remains inscrutable. He seems to want me to make my own conclusions.

“People weren’t aware of the lights before. But if you know they exist, you start seeing them too and realize that your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. Sometimes we’re not sure if we actually see the flashes, though. That is when we check our machines.” Just then, Erling turned off the road, put the Suzuki into four-wheel drive, and revved up a field to a little automatic monitoring station.

He opened a closet-sized metal building whose roof blossomed with antennas, satellite dishes, and cameras. Inside, gadgets and monitors filled the walls. “We control all this through the Internet,” Erling said proudly. “Whenever anything happens, the cameras will photograph it.” Erling showed me a stack of photos of the phenomenon taken by a spectral camera. (They looked like headlights at dusk.) He boasted in rather an American way that his video has even appeared on the
Discovery Channel.

Next stop was a hytta, a small mountain cabin filled with students ranging from twenty to forty years old. They were in Hessdalen to study the lights. A flying-saucer jungle gym stood outside, and “Alien var her” (Aliens were here) was spray-painted on the wall. Inside, a map of Stjernehimmeln (the starry sky) was tacked above a coffee table loaded with Geiger counters and various electro-magnetic sensors.

Some students were still sacked out in sleeping bags on the floor after spending the night on a “UFO Safari” in the hills. They used their rucksacks for pillows, while others boiled “Yum-Yum” brand ramen noodles. “There was this rising light and many people got very excited,” one of the students said. “We all started taking photos, but it was just the moon rising with the clouds in front of it.”

“Later on, though,” added another student, “we saw small blinks and a light pole slowly rise up the hill. That was real.”

“The biggest observation was when we stood up quickly and got lots of little stars going on—about fifty or sixty of them,” said an impish man with a perfect Southern twang, acquired from a wayward year in Alabama. The others laughed but weren’t fazed by his skepticism. “It’s very exciting to sit there and to take measurements. We took photos of sparkling lights down in the valley…”

“…and then we stopped drinking the moonshine,” the southern Norwegian added.

In the car ride back over the mountain, Erling said, “It’s too early to say what causes this light phenomenon. I could make all sorts of silly theories, but we’ll wait till we get better info. Some people in Hessdalen claim they haven’t seen the lights”—here, he scoffed in rather an American way—“they just don’t want to be connected with it.”

I asked Erling if he’d ever seen any unexplained phenomena during the day. “Yes.” Just lights? He hesitated and chose his words carefully. “No, I’ve seen metallic-like objects and something that was cigar-shaped.” Then, taking the measure of his interviewer, he quickly added, “I choose to focus on the lights, though, because it has been a proven phenomenon.
—Eric Dregni

Eric Dregni