- Some still question the origins of the strange steel ball a Florida family found on their property in 1974. Could it be alien technology?
- The military—and even ufologists—examined the sphere and said it was made by humans.
- Yet the Betz mystery sphere conspiracy theory continues to persist. Is there any validity to it?
Whether rooted in a Wikipedia deep dive or documented history, most of the world’s conspiracy theories are hard to prove, which is part of what makes them so alluring ... and so dangerous. But they give us just enough facts to entertain our fears—and while there are swaths of evidence against so many of these theories, a few wild-seeming conspiracies have indeed been proven, or at least justified. So which conspiracies are decidedly bogus, and which ones may actually have legs? In this series, Pop Mech breaks down the facts and myths for you.
The Betz mystery sphere is a strange object that the Betz family found near their home in Fort George Island, Florida in 1974. It’s a metal sphere that’s a little smaller than a bowling ball (a diameter of eight inches), but a solid eight pounds heavier than even the sturdiest professional bowling players use (22 pounds).
The Betz family said the sphere acted of its own accord, moving and making noises. What does this surprising backyard shot-put have to do with conspiracy theories? Is it some kind of autonomous cannonball? Could it actually be a piece of alien technology?
After a fire destroyed their property in March 1974, the Betz family found the bizarre metal sphere in their yard and believed it was a historic cannonball from Florida’s Renaissance-era Spanish colonizers, the Skeptoid podcast explains. But the sphere was clean, free of corrosion, and shiny. Weaponry in the Spanish colonial time period, unlikely from Florida’s missionaries to begin with, would have been iron or stone—not stainless steel or silver plate.
When the family took the sphere home, they said, it started to behave by itself. Their accounts were of the sphere rolling by itself, making noises, and vibrating.
From Wonderful Engineering:
Terry, the son of Antoine and [G]erri Betz, was playing guitar and found that the sphere reacted to the sound of the guitar and made a throbbing noise which scared the family dog. Things took an even odder turn when they were sitting on the floor and rolling the sphere towards one another. When it was sent in one direction, it would change direction midway and head back to the person who rolled it.
In an April 1974 interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Gerri Betz said when the family dog got next to the sphere, “she began to whimper and cover her ears with her paws, something I’ve never seen her do before.”
The Betz family suspected solar radiations affected the sphere, which may have been why it reportedly moved “intensely” when the sun shone brightly, according to Wonderful Engineering. Eventually, the U.S. military got their hands on the sphere to analyze it for more answers.
When an expert from a research firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana examined the sphere, he “found radio waves coming from it and a magnetic field around it,” Gerri Betz told the St. Petersburg Times. Then, the U.S. Navy analyzed the sphere at Jacksonville Naval Air Station. A Navy spokesman told the St. Petersburg Times that the Navy’s first X-ray attempts failed because its “machine wasn’t strong enough to penetrate the steel, but two subsequent tests showed the contents of the globe.”
“I don’t know who manufactured it,” the spokesman said, “but I say it came from Earth. We do know it is not an explosive and presents no hazard.”
The popular Mysterious Universe podcast reported on the Betz mystery sphere with the headline “Alien Artifact or Doomsday Device,” tipping their hand about the possible explanations considered by believers. A scientist could have disabused the Betz family of their far-out ideas like 16th-century 431 steel, silver plating, or an improbably solid metal satellite.
Still, their accounts of the sphere’s motions and noises made local news and continue to inspire believers.
The widely-reported explanation for the Betz mystery sphere is so neat that it has failed to persuade believers. After the Navy examined the sphere and identified the steel composition, among other facts, the ball was conclusively compared with a stainless steel ball kept in stock by a Jacksonville equipment supply company, Skeptoid reports.
Upon seeing news reports of the mystery sphere, the president of that company, Robert Edwards, showed a reporter a Bell & Howell stainless steel ball that was eight inches across and weighed over 21 pounds—almost exactly the same size as the sphere. From Skeptoid:
“I’m not saying that this thing didn’t come from outer space because I’ve never seen it,” said Edwards. “All I’m saying is that the physical description of it matches exactly the type of ball we have in stock.”
As for the noted behaviors of the sphere, these have been repeated and festooned with extra details over the last nearly 50 years. In reality, the sphere was probably rolling on an uneven floor, experts say.
The Navy spokesman told the St. Petersburg Times:
“I believe [the sphere moved] because of the construction of the house. It’s old and has uneven stone floors. The ball is almost perfectly balanced, and it takes just a little indentation to make it move or change direction.”
It’s unlikely that even an advanced alien technology would use an Earth steel alloy—431, used in aircraft and things like fasteners and bolts, per Skeptoid. It wouldn’t remain unblemished on the long, extremely hot fall to Earth. Not even a solid steel ball would escape damage.
But the Navy investigation and a series of “inconclusive” examinations have led believers to think the sphere is a UFO. In the U.S., that meant persuading someone in exchange for a financial reward. Based on mixed information, they believe there are different sections of different materials inside the sphere, making it unknown to terrestrial science despite being coated in a carefully human-developed steel alloy.
It’s easy to see how a regular family in Florida would decide a strange object in their yard had some kind of improbable properties. In the absence of clear scientific input about it, that legend could grow very quickly. And the 1970s were a heyday of belief in things like UFOs as well as “new religious movements” and Americanized transcendental meditation—a heady mix for people to develop some wild ideas.
But the reality is that the ball’s existence can probably be chalked up to a regular manufactured object that got lost. If you ever get ahold of the Betz mystery sphere, consider taking it to your local bowling shop and getting some holes drilled.