Is plasma the cause?
The physics of crop formations
By John A. Burke
Editor’s Note: Last month Nancy Talbott discussed some of the specific analyses of physical trace cases conducted by the BLT research team of John Burke, W. C. Levengood, and Talbott, as well as possible links between crop circles, UFOs, and animal mutilation cases. This month Burke discusses the force he feels may be involved in creating the crop circles.
In 1989 the
appearance of two books on crop circles, combined with some media coverage,
alerted most Americans for the first time to the appearance of a previously
unrecognized phenomena which had no precedent: large, geometric-shaped areas of
crop which had been flattened overnight.
Writing a letter
to author Pat Delgado to ask for details on the biological studies, career
biophysicist W. C. Levengood was shocked to find that no biological studies
were being conducted. He asked for and received plant samples taken in line with
his instructions in what was to become a steady stream of plants across the
Atlantic. As formations were reported in the U.S. and other countries, samples
were obtained from them as well—always with control samples taken from
unaffected parts of the same field for comparison. Today, after meticulously
analyzing tissue samples from five countries and more than 300 formations involving many types of crops,
some clear patterns have emerged.
force which makes crop formations, it physically alters the tissue of the
flattened plants in a number of ways. Over time an hypothesis has emerged
suggesting plasma as the active force. None of the following effects has
occurred when formations have been made (by us and others) using all the
techniques claimed by those who have “confessed” to hoaxing the crop
1. Stalks which
are very often bent up to ninety degrees without being broken, particularly at
the nodes, which are like the joints of wheat stems. Something softened the
plant tissue at the moment of flattening. This is particularly dramatic in
canola (rapeseed), which otherwise is as stiff as celery at this stage of
2. Stalks which
are usually enlarged, stretched from the inside out by something which seems to
heat the nodes from the inside. Sometimes this effect is so powerful, the node
literally explodes from the inside out, blowing holes in the node walls and
spewing sap outside the stalk. This has been measured in thousands of samples to
a degree of 95% to 99% probability
(“significant” to “highly significant,” in the language of science).
Levengood has duplicated this effect using microwaves.
3. Stalks which
are left with surface electric charge. We have measured this in two formations
which were only a few hours old. The degree to which the stalks were bent over
was proportional to the degree of electric charge on the stalk, strongly
suggesting the force which pushed it over was electrical.
4. The thin
bract tissue surrounding wheat seed which has had its electrical conductivity
increased, consistent with exposure to an electrical charge.
This formation was discovered near Silbury Hill, Wiltshire, England, in a wheat field in July of 1997. It features a border of 126 small circles and a width of 350 feet. (Photo by Steve Alexander)
As scientists we
had to next ask if there is anything in nature which shares these
characteristics. The answer is yes—plasma. Plasma here is simply electrified
air. It carries electric charge, and when it travels through a magnetic field
(like the geomagnetic field which exists everywhere on the planet) it does two
1.) It moves in
a spiral, the most common pattern in which crop is flattened.
2.) When it spirals thus it emits microwaves.
This is the same principle used in your microwave oven, where electrons are spun
around a magnet in the roof and emit the microwaves which penetrate the tissue
and heat from the inside by interacting with the water in the food. The nodes,
the most affected part of crop formation samples, are the site with most of the
Plasma was first
hypothesized as the cause of crop formations by English meteorologist Terence
Meaden. He suggested the plasma was in the form of a vortex produced
meteorologically. Unfortunately crop formations did not seem overly dependent on
any set of weather conditions, and the model did not explain non-circular
ourselves, was there any other possible source for plasma? Lightning is an
example of a very powerful, very high energy plasma. It is caused by plasma
(electrically charged air) far above ground in thunderheads up to eight miles
high being attracted to opposite charges in the ground. But lightning is a much
higher energy plasma than that which makes crop circles (where no charring
on the other hand, is a region of low energy plasma 40-80 miles up in our
atmosphere, where most of the air is electrified by solar wind and cosmic rays.
The only time that some of this plasma gets energetic enough to glow is when we
see the Northern Lights. It was long believed that the ionosphere and the
earth’s surface were completely separate, and that never the twain would meet.
In recent years, decades of airline pilot sightings were confirmed with
scientists’ photos of electrical flashes in the air between thunderheads (8
miles high) and the ionosphere (up to 100 miles high). The several types of
these have been dubbed “sprites.” These are apparently very common events. So
there are frequent exchanges of electric cargo between the ionosphere and a
storm 90 percent of the way to the earth’s surface.
We believe that
sometimes the exchange may cover the other 10 percent of the distance as well
and actually reach the ground. Something similar is known to happen every night
everywhere when plasma penetrates part way down (causing perturbations in the
geomagnetic field). Normally these attempted penetrations are bounced back the
way they came by the reflective layers of the ionosphere. These are the same
reflective layers which AM radio waves bounce off to communicate over the
horizon. At night these layers weaken and rise (which is why you can get AM
radio reception much further away late at night).
They are weakest
in the predawn hours, when most crop formations occur. The ability of plasma to
penetrate these reflective layers is directly proportional to its “vorticity”;
i.e. the tighter and faster spinning the plasma cloud, the further it can
penetrate toward the ground. The “magnetic pinch” effect insures that as such a
plasmoid descends toward the surface, it shrinks in size and spins faster (much
like spinning figure skaters accelerate by pulling in their arms).
An increase in “ammunition”
The amount of “ammunition” in the
ionosphere, in the form of free electrons, increases up to 100 times between
sunspot maximum and sunspot minimum. Crop formation frequency, at least in
England, has roughly paralleled sunspot numbers. The huge outbreaks of
1988-1989 coincided with the most powerful sunspot maximum in their 170 years of
recorded history, and have declined accordingly since. This roughly eleven-year
cycle should peak again near the millennium.
The meteoritic connection
The strongest evidence for the ionosphere as
the origin of crop formation plasma comes from microscopic particles of
meteoritic dust found in 2/3 of the 32 formations where we have been able to
obtain soil samples. The heaviest concentration ever was found in 1993 in an
English formation which appeared on the night of the largest meteor shower to
hit Europe in 30 years. This example became the basis of the second paper we
have have managed to publish on crop circles in a peer-reviewed paper (Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol.
9, pp. 191-199, 1995).
Sub-millimeter-sized bubbles of pure iron oxide (magnetite) coated
both the ground and the crop in that formation. To summarize a detailed and
technical investigation, the material was identical to the debris which erodes
from meteors as they burn up in the atmosphere, and which takes 7-10 days to
settle to the ground. It can be picked up with a magnet (as could some of the
wheat in which it had become imbedded). It has since appeared in the majority of
formations from 13 states and 5 countries where soil samples were obtained.
Inside formations, it appears in 20 to 100 times the normal concentration for
spirals around geomagnetic field lines it creates its own magnetic field. This
would tend to attract and carry along any magnetite dust particles encountered
as it descended from the ionosphere. The ubiquitous presence of this material
has essentially ruled out a low altitude source for the plasma.
Established scientific facts
extremely well-established and long-established scientific facts. Nothing said
so far is remotely controversial, except for the idea of plasma reaching the
ground from the ionosphere. Plasma loves to organize itself into spirals. Most
aurora are actually arrays of tight tubes of plasma vortices seen from the side
as they spin around the geomagnetic field lines. One third of all aurora
organize themselves into gross spirals as well. One candidate—the small
curl—seems a likely candidate for crop circle formation. It is often as small as
400 meters across where it starts in the ionosphere, but shrinks as it
Plasma might, we
reasoned, be reaching the wheat fields of England from the ionosphere, but why
did so many occur in one small area of England—and how did they form some of
those incredible patterns? These are two very distinct issues. In a search for
any plasma might be
particularly attracted to one tiny area 30 miles or so across, we eventually
looked at hydro-geological maps of England and found something remarkable.
Crop formations in England overwhelmingly appear over
shallowly-buried parts of a giant chalk aquifer. England has the world’s deepest
chalk aquifer. (The white cliffs of Dover are a view of one side of it.) They
also have some of the world’s greatest seasonal fluctuations of water levels—up
to 100 feet. Was there anything about this which might attract plasma? As it
turned out, there was. Water percolating through porous rock—any kind of porous
rock—creates electric charge. This occurs by a process called “adsorption,”
where electrons are stripped off water droplets as they move through rock pores,
leaving a net negative electric charge behind on the rock and a net positive
charge on the water which drains
This "sine/co-sine" formation was discovered at East field, near Alton Barnes, Wiltshire, England, in June of 1996. It features 89 circles and a length of 648 feet. (Photo by Steve Alexander)
With calcium carbonate (the mineral which makes up chalk)
there is a chemical process when the water dissolves some of the mineral, which
further reinforces this same charge separation. Wherever charge separation
Occurs in a body which can conduct electricity, electric current flows and
generates its own magnetic fields. We measured these ground currents and their
changing magnetic fields in 1993 at Silbury Hill, long the center of the most
intense crop formation activity in the world.
in southern England overwhelmingly occur where this electrically-charged
rock is closest to the surface. The largest formations and most frequent
formations happen late in the summer when the aquifer is most run down, and the
most water has therefore run through the most rock. The beginning of the modem
phenomenon of large, spectacular formations begins in the late seventies and
early eighties, a time when over-pumping for public water supplies began to
lower the water table noticeably. Droughts have coincided with banner years for
In England, our
team has measured the kind of magnetic fields one would expect to accompany such
electric ground currents in one field that has nearly annual formations. Four
days later a major formation occurred there. Follow-up fluxgate magnetometer
measurements four days after this sixty-foot dumbbell formation appeared showed
that the magnetic readings and the currents which produced them had vanished.
This is not unlike the discharge with that more powerful plasma—lightning. In
that case ground current attracts the airborne plasma, and when the plasma (the
bolt) hits the surface it neutralizes the ground current.
Limestone is the
chemical twin of chalk. It too is calcium carbonate, but much less porous than
chalk. It too has the ability to generate ground currents from interaction with
water, but not nearly so much as chalk. Thus it is fascinating to note that
limestone aquifers are the major exception to crop formations occurring over
chalk substrata. Formations in England do happen a minority of the time on the
large limestone aquifers there.
In the U.S. we
have no substantial chalk deposits, but huge stretches of limestone aquifers: in
Florida, on the Eastern Coastal Plain, throughout much of the Midwest, and
virtually all of the Great Plains, extending into Canada. Finally a thin stretch
runs down the West Coast. These locations are where crop formations occur. As in
England, the most active sites seem to frequently be where an edge of the
aquifer occurs or where a river valley has cut through the aquifer to produce an
edge. Proximity to water is also typical (no surprise considering the current
generated between water and the rock it ran through).
Shape most difficult to
This leaves us with the question of shape—the
most difficult aspect to explain with a natural model of crop formations. The
most common patterns in the crops are the most common patterns seen in plasma in
the laboratory. It is important to remember that plasma is scale invariant;
anything which happens on a scale of inches can and will happen on a scale of
miles, etc. So it is worth noting that plasma in the lab most commonly organizes
itself into a spiral—the most common pattern of flattened crop. Next most common
in plasma is the swirled disc surrounded by concentric rings (the “bulls-eye” or
“target” pattern). This is also the next most common in the fields. Furthermore,
in both mediums the concentric rings tend to alternately swirl clockwise
and counterclockwise as you move out from the center (or in from the
Other patterns seen in plasma and crops include floral
patterns, nested crescents, dumbbells, and others. The hardest to understand
using the plasma model, are straight lines and right angle shapes. It is
counterintuitive to think that air can form such patterns. However, as
electrified air, plasma behaves more like an electromagnetic fluid (and so the
physics of plasma motion is “magnetohydrodynamics”) While it is also contrary to
common sense that liquids form such shapes, in fact they do—when excited.
American physicists exciting liquids with sound waves have produced surface
ripple patterns that include squares, triangles, hexagons, and others. We must
remember that a crop formation is the two-dimensional record of the passing of a
likely three dimensional shape. The ground (2D) is likely to record only a 2D
slice of a 3D plasmoid. So even 2D patterns in the plasma could got recorded on
chaos is a new branch of science which has repeatedly shown that systems which
are excited or turbulent can assume surprisingly geometric patterns. Ilya
Prigogine received the Nobel Prize for showing that 2D geometric patterns often
form of their own accord in 3D pools of liquid chemical reagents.
A ball of plasma
being drawn ground-ward by an electromagnetic hot spot is likely a turbulent
system. As such we can expect that patterns will spontaneously arise, however
briefly. If that is the moment at which the plasma impacts the ground. that is
the pattern we can expect to appear in the crop. However, with plasma there is a
positive feedback loop which might tend to refine certain patterns until they
are of the picture-perfect sort we so often encounter.
called waveguides will attract plasma likes bees to honey. A rectangle is one
such shape and is a primary reason why ball lightning (a high energy plasma)
loves to enter houses through the chimney. Chimneys are rectangular tunnels.
Another commonly-used waveguide in industry is the dumbbell shape (which
happens frequently in the fields.) Still another is the “key” or “F’ shape we
often see attached to circles (called the Millman Waveguide).
their own magnetic field lines. If, by random chance, the magnetic field in a
turbulent plasma takes on a waveguide shape, it could create a positive feedback
loop. More plasma will be attracted to that part of the plasma ball, vortex, or
cloud which has assumed that shape. The plasma will spiral along those magnetic
field lines as it moves. When plasma spirals around a magnetic field line it
strengthens that field line, which can now in turn attract more plasma, etc.
Thus this shape might tend to get “locked in” and even refined until close to
its ideal shape. At the moment this is a highly speculative but stimulating
hypothesis. It still strains the imagination to think how some of the more
elaborate patterns might arise from sheer plasma physics.
One aspect of all this that has long bothered
us was that if this is a natural phenomenon, then it should frequently not come
out geometric at all. Nature does not always get everything perfect. As it turns
out, we now believe that most plasma impacts result in non-geometric flattening
of the crop. Of course, crops around the world are constantly being flattened by
non-plasma events like wind. However, sometimes close inspection of such ragged
downed areas reveals the same bent nodes as in formations. Sometimes a large
field which gets flattened in a non-descript pattern will have within it
small areas of spiraled lay and other lay patterns (with 180 degree opposition)
impossible if wind was the cause.
Sampling and lab
analysis of many such sites has shown a great number to have the same tissue
changes as in formations. In fact the most dramatic node changes ever recorded
have been in such ragged downed areas—including nodes which were blown apart
from the internal pressure. This is in keeping with plasma physics. Plasma will
spontaneously organize itself into a vortex shape—if the energy level of the
plasma does not get too high. When the energy level exceeds a certain threshold,
the plasma’s ability to maintain the vortex pattern breaks down. Examination of
photos of crop formations very often shows such ragged areas of downed crop all
around the formation. Our pattern-seeking minds, however, ignore this, and we go
straight to the geometric formation, considering this to be the only “genuine”
event in the field.
We believe that
plasma, in whatever shape, is probably impacting the ground far more often than
we realize. We have analyzed rings in grass which have undergone physical
changes consistent with plasma contact. If plasma were to hit streets or
buildings it would leave no visible record. A series of concentric rings found
in sand on a beach showed very high levels of ionization. A circle in dirt in a
Colorado field had some of the highest concentrations of meteoritic dust we have
ever seen—only in the top three inches of ground and only inside the
We believe that
the plasma we are studying may turn out to be like sprites. Their existence,
reported for decades by airline pilots, was ignored by science until a
professional scientist took photographs of them. Now that scientists are
looking, they are discovering sprites to be incredibly common wherever there are
thunderstorms. We have one daytime photo which looks like a small plasma vortex,
and the rare eyewitness accounts of circle formation are consistent with our
model. Likely one day everyone will know of such events. In the meantime we have
those amazing patterns to admire and puzzle over.
BLT RESEARCH TEAM
Back to Crop Dept.