by W.C. Levengood and John Burke 

[John Burke, 136-A Ivy Street, Oyster Bay, NY 11771  USA]

May, 2005 

Early in 2005, on  the above-listed web site, R. Ashby posted a revision of his original “The H-glaze” posting which reported his analysis of a crop circle anomaly related to a 1993 crop formation found at Cherhill, Wiltshire (UK).   In both of these postings, Mr. Ashby refers to a 1995 paper published by W.C. Levengood and John A. Burke reporting on deposited materials retrieved from this same formation, “Semi-Molten Meteoric Iron Associated with a Crop Formation”, in Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol.9, No.2, pp.191-199. While we commend Mr. Ashby for his hard work and his desire to now correct some of his earlier errors, we need to point out some additional errors concerning our paper, which are contained in this most recent web-posting .

 We begin by reminding the reader that “Semi-Molten Meteoric Iron Associated with a Crop Formation” is a scientific paper published in a peer-reviewed journal, which means it was sent out by the J. Sci. Exploration to reviewers who are considered to be authorities in various appropriate fields - which reviewers approved the paper before it was accepted for publication.  We point out that one of the comments which came back from the reviewers was that the astronomy-related information in the paper was particularly good (this refers to our identification of the deposited material as meteoric dust).

 Mr. Ashby’s new web-posting often comes to a conclusion after failing to account for or address facts which were presented in our 1995 paper, as well as points presented by Mr. Ashby himself in his first web-posting - points that contradict the conclusions of his recent report. 

 (1.)  Possible Mixing of Samples:   Within two weeks of the discovery of the August, 1993 Cherhill formation, W.C. Levengood was supplied with soil chunks and plant tissue samples obtained by Peter Sorenson.   Sorenson stated that he had found the magnetic material to be confined to localized, dust-coated plant swirls approximately 0.5 m in diameter.  Mr. Ashby’s original report was based on one sample provided to him by Busty Taylor in May, 2001, and on additional samples provided by Peter Sorensen in June, 2001 (both sets provided to Mr. Ashby nearly 8 years after the event).  Perhaps Mr. Ashby was unaware that Rob Irving, the self-proclaimed hoaxer of this event, met with Sorenson some time after W.C. Levengood had already received his samples - and that Sorenson and Irving exchanged some samples with each other.  I (JB) was quite upset upon hearing this, because it was clear that the sample-pool was now contaminated for any future examination.  Once this exchange had occurred, Irving had at least some of the original material collected by Sorenson and Sorenson’s samples must have contained material (perhaps material other than that actually found at the Cherhill crop circle?) provided by Irving.

 Mr. Ashby reported, originally, that his two different sets of samples (Busty Taylor’s and Peter Sorenson’s) differed greatly in appearance, that one had only black spheres and the other shiny metallic ones.  None of the material provided to W.C. Levengood contained shiny metallic spheres. 

 (2.)   Misunderstanding of the Term “H”:   Mr. Ashby seems to misunderstand the meaning of “H” in the term “H-glaze.”  H is the scientific symbol for magnetic field strength, not for magnetic susceptibility.  The fact that you can pick something up with a magnet means it has magnetic susceptibility, not that it possesses magnetism.  The black beads reported in our journal paper were often strung out in single file in graceful, arching filaments like so many black pearls on a necklace.  They were often in positions where they resisted gravity’s pull, an exhibition of the attraction of their north and south poles, each sphere acting like a tiny bar magnet.   In “The H-Glaze Explained” posting Mr. Ashby fails to show or describe any such examples in the material now supplied by Robert Irving, stating instead that many particles stuck together in clumps that were hard to pull apart.  Such clumps commonly form in fine powders due to static electrostatic charge,  moisture, or oxide bonding on the surface of the particles.

 (3.)   Misunderstanding  of the Term “Glaze”:   A careful reading our our 1995 paper shows that the term “glaze” was utilized because of Levengood’s photographs (#3B in the paper) of a repeated “mud-crack” pattern similar to those formed in a too-rapid cooling of a thin film glaze on ceramics.  The characteristic features of such cooling cracks are (a) that they intersect at approximately 90 degree angles and (b) that they seldom cross one another (both features clearly shown in the WCL photo, and commonly present throughout our samples).  For a reference we cite a scientific paper previously published by Levengood in the well-known Journal of Applied Physics (1961).

 (4.)  Failure to Carefully Read our 1995 Paper:   In Mr. Ashby’s most recent addition to his 2005 posting, he states incorrectly that, “The 1995 paper by Levengood and Burke made no mention of the small beads of iron that could only have formed in the molten phase.”  In fact these particles are a key piece of the evidence in the paper, and the primary evidence that the material involved was meteoric in origin. These spherules are described throughout the paper

(see paragraphs 4, 10, and 11).

 (5.)  Magnetite vs. Hematite:   It is true that magnetite (which is magnetic) rusts (or oxidizes) into hematite, which is not.  However, elemental iron does not  become magnetic by oxidation.  Magnetite is magnetic, hematite is not.  Both have magnetic susceptibility.

 (6.)  Meteoric Origin:   Contrary to Mr. Ashby’s assertion, a reading of the numerous references in our paper will show that tiny black spheres of magnetite are one of the most common by-products of the breakdown of meteors in our atmosphere due to heating by air friction.  As described in our paper, such meteors heat to form a “fusion crust” on the outside composed primarily of magnetite, with the nickel and other elements being left behind (see Buddhue, J.D. (1957) Meteoric Dust. Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 82).  As droplets of this molten fusion crust are blown off by air friction, they congeal into round, black droplets which become magnetized by cooling back through the Curie point in the earth’s magnetic field (i.e. their poles become aligned with earth’s, and this alignment of poles creates magnetism: H).  They then take days to drift down through the atmosphere (see Buddhue, 1961).    Once on the earth’s surface and exposed to water they begin to rust or oxidize into red hematite.  This is why we have identified them as meteoric, not “meteoritic”, as Mr. Ashby states.  When a meteor hits the ground intact, it is called a meteorite, and the correct adjective is meteoritic.  Here one finds all the normal elements of an iron bearing meteor: iron, nickel, manganese, etc.  The H-glaze material never made it to the ground intact; it was ablated high in the atmosphere, and is thus “meteoric.”  It is composed of magnetite and its oxidized descendant hematite for the reasons listed above.

 (7.)  Misunderstanding of Plasma:   Mr. Ashby incorrectly states, “Gaseous plasma does not occur in the atmosphere at ground level except in extreme conditions such as a lightning strike.”  He seems to be unaware that excitation to the point of glowing is not required to identify a plasma.   A lightning bolt follows a zig -zag course because it seeks out the path of least resistance, (columns of invisible low-level plasma, in the form of ionized air).  Lightning bolts seek out these invisible plasma columns, jumping from one to another, exciting them to produce the bolt’s visible zigzag course.

 Additionally, Mr. Ashby’s statement that contact with a plasma would have to scorch the crop is simply not true.  I (JB) have seen many trees and much grass struck by lightning where no scorching occurred.  The energy levels involved in the H-glaze deposits would be expected to be more in the low-energy range, similar to the aurora, or even less.  The aurora is an example of a known, low-temperature plasma vortex cited in our paper, but one ignored by Mr. Ashby in his original report and in his recent posting.  While he is correct that such plasmas as auroras do not occur in the lower atmosphere, it was long thought that all such plasma events occurred only in the ionosphere, 40-60 miles up.  However, in recent years scientists have discovered that similar phenomena called “sprites” connect all the way from the ionosphere to the tops of thunderstorms, or 90% of the way to earth’s surface.  This is why in our paper we asked the question, “Is it possible that that a pair of these downward directed, counter clockwise plasma vortices intersected and captured meteoric dust along the way, which in turn was maintained or heated back to a semi-molten state by the microwaves of sub-vortices which carried it to the ground, with its subsequent crop flattening energies?” 

 We then stated, “If so, this would indicate a heretofore unknown phenomenon of ionospheric plasma vortices descending to the Earth’s surface. Whatever the primary origin, the evidence clearly indicates that meteoric dust impacted the ground while in a semi-molten state and was confined to multiple, tight vortices within flattened wheat formations.”  Our paper’s scientific reviewers, which included an astronomer, had no disagreement with or criticism of this concluding statement.

 (8.)  Incorrect Claim that Plasma has no Ability to Flatten Grain:   Plasma is, in our opinion, the best candidate for being able to flatten plants in the manner regularly observed in crop formations.  An extremely detailed discussion of the physics of such plasma action can be found at on the  “Published Papers,” page (see: “The Physics of Crop formations” by John Burke).

 We will here try to briefly describe an aspect of the plasma vortex system not discussed in the BLT web-site paper.  Part of the puzzle has always been trying to understand the many formations in which the plants are pressed hard against the ground, lying quite flat indeed, a result we understand is hard to attribute to wind.  (We have noticed, too, that the films showing people creating crop circles do not exhibit this extreme flattening of the plants).

 Plasma tends to organize itself into shells of opposite charge.  One example is a core of negatively charged air molecules, surrounded by a shell of positively charged particles.  Imagine such a mass hitting the ground.  First the wheat is coated by positive charge from the outer shell, which is spinning and therefore rustles the wheat without flattening it..  Then the smaller, negatively-charged core arrives, which is also spinning, and it gets an extremely good grip on the wheat because opposite charges attract.  In addition to the pushing force of the moving plasma, there will also be a tendency for the negative plasma to pull the positively charged wheat after it as it spins and enters the ground, in other words around and down. 

 I (JB) have taken electrostatic voltmeter readings at formations in England which provided results consistent with this hypothesis. I have found that standing wheat at the edges of a fresh formation still had the positive residue on it, while other standing wheat farther outside the downed area did not.  The flattened wheat in fresh formations tended to be negatively charged.  In the 1993 “Wheelchair” formation near Silbury Hill individual standing stalks had been partly pushed over and the degree to which they had been pushed from the vertical was in proportion to the degree of negative electric charge on them, strongly suggesting that the flattening force was an electric one.  Nancy Talbott and I carried out repeated experiments at 4:00 am,  making test circles with all the tools of the trade of the self-proclaimed hoaxers  (ropes, boards, boots), and found that none of these techniques created an electric charge of any kind on the wheat.

 (9.)  Association with the Perseid Meteor Shower:   Mr. Ashby states that the H-glaze material cannot have come from iron meteorites in a regular shower, composed as it is of comet debris.  A search of the scientific literature shows that a certain percentage of even meteor-shower meteors are still iron-bearing meteorites.  These are likely not of cometary origin, but just happen to arrive at the same time.  Again, a thorough reading of our paper will show that we cite the importance of the Perseid meteor shower in connection with the crop formation as important - but not because it means a large number of iron meteorites were present, but because of the high degree of ionization of the atmosphere that would be expected.  Meteor trails are highly ionized and persistent.  This means that they do not simply dissipate according to the laws of entropy, but retain a degree of organization based on their electric charge.  This behaviour is part of the definition of plasma, when the charges become the primary determinant of its behaviour. 

 Airliner accidents in recent years have sometimes been caused by persistent vortices in the air minutes after a previous airliner has swept through.  Anyone who has ever watched the wing tips of a plane while landing may have seen tight, persistent vortices flowing off the wing tips; it is a classic result of a high velocity projectile in air.  Spiraling plasmas can create their own magnetic  fields, which can then draw in any iron particles in the surrounding air, concentrating them where the magnetic field is strongest - which would be in the smaller vortices - exactly where the H-glaze samples examined by W.C. Levengood were all found .

 (10.)  Differential Heating:   What is cited by Mr. Ashby in his 2005 web-posting as strong evidence against the conclusions of our 1995 paper actually provides strong evidence for these conclusions.   In his original report, Mr. Ashby (correctly) noted how only the iron seemed to have been heated, not the crop. He then (incorrectly) stated that there was no “convincing” process that could exclusively heat the iron and not the crop and substrrate.  As was pointed out in our paper, there is in fact such a process - and it would be produced by the very plasma vortex we hypothesize.  As we explained, the electrons in the plasma, swirling around the geomagnetic field lines, would generate microwaves.  This is the same way a microwave oven works, swirling electrons around the magnet in the centre of the oven’s interior roof.  And the reason it is not safe to place metal in a microwave oven is because metal often interacts powerfully with microwaves.  This very discrepancy in the heating of the iron vs. the crop and substrate is in fact powerful evidence in favour of our model of a microwave generating plasma vortex. Furthermore, according to our hypothesis, the metal would have been heated during the entire time of its descent within the plasma, while the wheat and chalk would only have been exposed to microwave heating during the brief moment of actual impact. 

 (11.)  Domes:   In our 1995 paper and in Mr. Ashby’s original report, the discovery of numerous domed tubules, which were found only on the chalk substrate and not the plants, was reported.  If Mr. Ashby’s 2005 conclusion is correct - that these domes are the result of rusting - there would be no reason for this discrepancy.  Perhaps this is why he omitted references to this evidence from his recent posting, despite having cited it as evidence of high heat in his first. 

 In our paper we account for this difference by noting that “limestone (the chemical twin of chalk) is used as a high temperature flux in the smelting of iron.”  And therefore when the molten iron hits the stones “there is a very brief fluxing interaction with the limestone substrate, at which time the domed tubes are formed by escaping gasses at the film-soil interface.”  None of the referee scientists of our paper had any disagreement with this statement, and it is powerful evidence against the H-glaze being a low temperature effect of iron filings scattered on the site.

 (12.)  Ferrous Deposit in Crack:   In some excellent detective work of his own, Mr. Ashby revealed in his first report that he had cut a rock open to find that the iron deposit had completely filled a minuscule crack in the rock and stated, “There seems to be no possibility that the larger crystals of the deposit could have migrated down the narrow crack even if they were mobile enough to do so.”  He cited this as strong evidence that some of the glaze was still in a vapour form at the time it impacted the rock.  In his recent posting, he does not address this evidence.

 (13.)  Effect on Seed Growth:   As reported in our paper, the rate and uniformity of the growth of seeds taken from the formation was better than that from seeds taken well outside the formation in the same field.  These differences were statistically significant at the 95% level.  This means that the odds are 20 to 1 against this being a random, chance effect; it is also the level of probability acceptable to scientists and professional scientific journals.  Mr. Ashby has chosen not to address this evidence at all, in spite of the fact that it has been accepted twice by the plant physiology journal, Physiologia Plantarum  [ (1) W.C. Levengood,  “Anatomical anomalies in crop formation plants,” V.92, pp.356-363, 1994, and  (2.) W.C. Levengood and Nancy P. Talbott, “Dispersion of energies in worldwide crop formations,” V.105, pp.615-624, 1999]  

 (14.)  Leaf-Grain Impressed on the H-glaze:   An electron photomicrograph showing the grain of the wheat leaves impressed into the H-glaze material (indicating that the iron was in a molten state at the moment of impact) was one of the more striking photos in our journal paper, and was selected by the journal’s editors for its importance.  Mr. Ashby’s postings do not address this evidence. 

 (15.)  Droplets of Iron Gouged Into the Wheat Stalks:   This is also shown in a photo (in Figure 1) in our paper.  On one stalk 3 droplets impacted the plant with enough energy to have gouged deep grooves into the stalk before coming to rest.    Mr. Ashby does not suggest that this extraordinary impact is the result of a hoaxer’s throwing arm.  He simply does not address it.

 (16.)  Other Similar Incidents:   Our paper cites a strikingly similar find in Trans en Provence, France in 1981.  There, a glowing ball of light left a residue on the ground remarkably similar to that of the H-glaze.  Mr. Ashby does not address this fact.  In another case (in Minnesota several years after the 1993 Cherhill incident--the details of which would have been made available to Mr. Ashby if he had made any inquiries) another find strikingly similar to the original H-glaze was made. Hoaxers never claimed to have been involved in these other cases.

 (17.)  Self-Contradictions:   Mr. Ashby’s most glaring self-contradiction seems to be his current assertion that Mr. Irving’s claim to authorship of the H-glaze material is bolstered by the consideration that Irving could not have known to produce, after the fact, rocks with iron filings containing metallic spheres. (These are the rocks with the shiny metallic spheres, none of which we saw in our samples, and only one of which Mr. Ashby saw in the two samples he analyzed for his first, 2001, posting - which quite possibly had come from Irving himself.)  Yet Mr. Ashby reports in his 2005 posting that the method of manufacturing of the iron fillings material (which contains these shiny metallic spheres also) now supplied to him by Irving is the one most commonly in commercial use today:  “... gas atomization which is used commercially to produce the largest tonage of metal powders” (emphasis added).   If so, it would then seem that any iron filings provided by Mr. Irving would be likely to contain such spheres.  

 Another notable self-contradiction in Mr. Ashby’s current posting is how he accounts for the iron dust covering the sides of rocks in an experiment he conducted using a dry powder, thrown onto a dry surface.  He presents this experiment as meaningful, in spite of the fact that he also repeatedly states that there was a “fine drizzle” on the night Mr. Irving purportedly made the formation and scattered his iron powder around - enough moisture so that the “bag became wet from the drizzle and began to disintegrate,” causing Irving to throw “the remaining contents of the bag  (the iron powder) onto the ground.”

 (18.)  Acceptance at Face Value of  Mr. Irving’s Statements:   Mr. Ashby appears to now accept the idea that Irving’s claims are “credible.”  In addition to the reasons outlined above, we find it more than a little difficult to give any credence to statements made by a self-proclaimed hoaxer - someone who has spent considerable time deliberately trying to “muddy the waters” for sincere researchers.  Someone who has refused to identify any other crop formation he has made (probably for fear of being prosecuted by the owners of the land), but who we are now supposed to believe when he claims this particular, and important, event as his own -- the first crop formation in which evidence of a previously molten meteoric glaze (placed precisely and only where the laws of physics would dictate) was found.

 Likewise, the fact that a decade later Irving has a photo that someone took of the Cherhill field from a passing car does not seem like convincing evidence to us of anything.  Nor the fact that, so many years after our paper was published, Irving has produced iron filings which contain spheres.

 Furthermore, over the years Mr. Irving has offered two contradictory versions of how he claims to have created the iron deposits.  In the years shortly after the find, he claimed that he had rubbed the filings (using his thumb) on the stone with saliva.  I remember this vividly because at the time I (JB) ridiculed this explanation on the web by poking fun at Rob Irving’s “magic spit” which could magnetize iron filings.  I believe I went on to say that he was wasting his time hoaxing circles when industry would pay a fortune for such miraculous saliva.

 Now his story is that he tossed the iron filings by the handful from a bag, which rain then oxidized.  Such contradictions seem to us a reason not to take Mr. Irving’s word for any of this.


 Proving that something might have happened one way is a far cry from proving it did happen that way.  Therefore, what is always analyzed closely in a jury trial--or during the peer-review process - is how likely it seems that it happened one way or another.   Mr. Ashby repeatedly shows, in his 2005 “The H-Glaze Explained” posting, that one finding or another might have happened in a certain manner, and then states in his conclusion that he has proven that it did happen that way.

 Our original hypothesis, put forth in our 1995 peer-reviewed journal paper, is consistent with all of the scientifically documented evidence, not just some of it.  Mr. Ashby’s new 2005 argument simply does not address many pieces of evidence which contradict his conclusion.  Oddly, this is true even of facts he discovered himself, and presented in his first report in 2001.

 There is a reason why journalists normally ask for comment from principal authors before running a story criticizing their work.  It is not just courtesy that is behind this universal tradition.  Professional journalists soon learn that they can often avoid wasting a great deal of their own time and their readers’ time by checking to see whether there is some fact they have overlooked or possibly misunderstood before they rush to publication. And who would be more likely to know this than the original authors of the work? 

 It seems to us that a polite inquiry from Mr. Ashby would have saved everyone here much work and an unnecessary detour from their busy schedules.  We appreciate his own effort and assume his motives are purely those of pursuing knowledge.  Might we suggest that, if there is a similar situation in the future, the pursuit of knowledge can be achieved most efficiently when it is pursued cooperatively?  We remain happy to take the time to discuss this body of work with Mr. Ashby or anyone else, and have provided a mailing address for John Burke, for this purpose, on page 1 of these remarks.  We remain committed to the pursuit of knowledge wherever and with whomever we find it. 

 Finally we wish to thank those readers of this reply for their patience.  Only a hectic travel and work schedule made it take this long to write and post.

 All references to our 1995 paper, “Semi-Molten Meteoric Iron Associated with a Crop Formation,” are to the reprint, copies of which can be obtained by sending $10. (U.S.) and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the BLT Research Team Inc.’s office, P.O. Box 400127, Cambridge, MA 02140  USA.  A web-version can be viewed at, under “Published Papers.” 

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