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UFO Over NYC! Run! Run For Your…Oh Wait, Nevermind.

UFO Sighting Above Manhattan (Twitter @mobius1ski / October 13, 2010)

You may have seen some of the headlines. They weren’t just in tabloid newspapers either:

Local Group Investigates UFO Reports in Manhattan (NBC Connecticut)

Mystery shiny objects floating over Manhattan spark UFO frenzy (New York Daily News)

UFOs Spotted Over NYC Prompt Panic, 911 Calls (Chicago Tribune)

UFO over Manhattan Caught on Tape (CBS News)

Said Peter Bryant,one of the witnesses,

I saw five or six lights shining in the sky. There was no way that thing was a balloon.There was something weird about it. Light just doesn’t reflect off balloons like that. If Martians were to land anywhere, New York is a much better location than some backwoods town in the Midwest.

Another witness compared what he saw to the “creatures from ‘Predator’.”

Indeed, around 1:30 in the afternoon on October 13th, the Federal Aviation Administration began receiving calls about the strange lights in the sky over West 23rd Street in Manhattan.

But alas, it was not Martians or the aliens from the (possible) exo-planet Gliese 581g. Looks like Peter Bryant was on the right track, he just didn’t want to believe it.

It seems a Westchester Elementary school was holding an engagement party for Andrea Craparo, one of their teachers (aww). They had about 40 pearl balloons filled with helium and around 1 pm the wind blew a bunch of them away.

From the New York Daily News, the day after their original story:

“UFO? They’re crazy – those are our balloons!” said Angela Freeman, head of the Milestone School in Mount Vernon. “To me it was the most automatic thing. But it’s all over YouTube.”

Andrea Craparo and her students pointing to a news story featuring UFOs, which actually were their party balloons. Image from New York Daily News

Some of the sightings could also be explained by a tourism promotion event held on Broadway in Times Square for the centennial of the Madrid’s Gran Via on Wednesday, which included the release of several bunches of yellow balloons into the sky.

A tourism promotion in Broadway Times Square involved releasing many yellow balloons which could have contributed to the UFO sightings. Image from Chicago Tribune

I know whats it’s like to “Want to Believe”. I’ve written a previous blog post about my coming of age into the world of science. And as I’ve said before, there is much more exciting things in the world of real science, than that of pseudoscience.

As the great Carl Sagan once wrote,

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

  1. metalmessiah
    October 16, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    First of all, balloons are much more erratic in their movement at that altiitude, test it out for yourself if you’d like, I already have. Even use a cluster of shiny ‘Happy Birthday’ balloons, it doesn’t reflect light the same way. Secondly, they would have to be extremely cultured material to be able to survive the pressure change at that altitude. But, who knows? Even if it was an ETI, would anyone really be surprised? Statistics say no.

    • October 16, 2010 at 9:54 pm

      Thank you for your comment! I always encourage discussion on my blog.

      I agree fully that balloons could move erratically when at higher altitude, it of course would depend on the weather conditions. It has been shown that they become deformed at higher altitudes as well. This seems to further support the balloon explanation of the UFO, as an erratically moving balloon is not something we see everyday. The few seconds of footage we see from witnesses probably does not do justice to the actual movement of the balloons. From what I’ve read, toy balloons can float to an altitude of several kilometers before the material gives out. Thats pretty high, and certainly high enough to make it hard to know what you are looking at, and distinguish any specifics about the movement of the object. As for reflecting light, how the balloons look as they reflect light would depend entirely on the time of day, as well as your perspective. So it can be quite variable.

      My main beef is that people default to the fantastic to explain a phenomenon that, while unusual, is probably completely explainable.

  1. October 16, 2010 at 3:54 pm

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