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The Last Word (hopefully) on the Jerusalem UFO

February 8, 2011 4 comments

I have a Google alert for “UFOs”. I like seeing some of the nonsense that people come up with, and most UFO claims tend to go away within a day.

But this one of a UFO above the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, persisted.

The first video I saw was this one:

Which looks horrible! I was surprised this even got any attention. The blob is clearly CG animated, and the background looked kind of weird.

In fact, as Steven Novella pointed out on his blog, the lights in the video don’t twinkle at all, they are still.

Have a look at this screenshot I took of the above video:

Now, compare that to this photo of the Dome of the Rock, available for free via Wikimedia Commons:

Looks quite similar doesn’t it?

But of course there are a few other videos which “confirm” the UFO, none of which are overly impressive:

Life’s Little Mysteries goes into some detail about why these videos are fakes. First, they point out how illogical it is that someone would report these videos anonymously. People would WANT the attention of discovering something like this, wouldn’t they?

Second, no one else in the area reported seeing this UFO. The Dome of the Rock is a pretty prominent structure. Someone else should have seen these weird lights.

Robert Scheaffer, author of Bad UFOs blog also noted,

Effects of the video processing software are clearly seen. The hoaxer used Motion Tile effects with edge mirroring to introduce camera shake into the video. You can see the mirroring effects along the edge of the video. This proves that the video did not go directly from the camera to YouTube

This ‘motion tile’ effect is illustrated in this video uploaded by HOAXkiller1:

Frankly, the UFO videos weren’t all that impressive to begin with. But the evidence is pretty clear that the videos are fakes.

I do enjoy watching them though. It is pretty interesting to see what new trick these hoaxers will come out with next. I don’t think we’ll have to wait long for the next one…

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

October 16, 2010 3 comments

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.

Do I Believe in UFOs? Of Course!

June 16, 2010 2 comments

Unidentified Flying Objects. When you break it down, it doesn’t sound all that special does it? Just something in the sky that we don’t know what the hell it is. So, sure I believe in UFOs.

But the more popular interpretation is that ‘UFO’ means ‘alien spacecraft’. So do I think that UFOs are aliens coming to visit little old us?

My Grandfather loved UFOs. He had all the TV specials on tape, books, and loved to talk about how aliens may be visiting the planet.

As a result, I was pretty into UFOs when I was growing up. I thought for sure there were aliens visiting us all over the world. How could there not be? With roughly 250 billion starts in the Milky Way galaxy, don’t the odds support the existence of life SOMEWHERE?

That may very well be the case, but as I got older and a bit more educated, I realized that things just weren’t adding up about these UFOs…

First it was the crop circles. Pretty beautiful really. What started off as simple circles evolved into intricate designs with mathematical undertones. Could this be aliens attempting to communicate with us? Mathematics has always been hypothesized as a kind of ‘universal’ language. But then again, if these aliens had the technology to fly thousands, if not millions of light years to reach Earth, wouldn’t they have a better way of communicating than imprinting an image into a field of wheat?

And with so many crop circles getting reported, not one person managed to get a photo or video of them being created. It was all starting to smell fishy. (This is not even mentioning the many people who have come forward and admitted they were hoaxers creating the circles for their own enjoyment.)

Of course there is also the plethora of video and photographic ‘evidence’.

All those TV specials sure made them convincing. But after reading some more, shall we say ‘reputable’ sources, it turned out that most of those images and videos were simple fakes. I was getting exasperated. Why didn’t the UFO specials on TV just say that the pictures were fakes? To a 10 year old, this was all quite disheartening. I had grown up with this magical feeling that aliens were here. This dream was being torn away by lame “science”.

But what about the photos and videos that couldn’t be explained as a hoax? Is it plausible that aliens made it Earth, only to be caught on camera by a family videotaping their vacation? Or could it be something more down to Earth? There are all kinds of natural phenomena that could be taken as a UFO. Take these lights over Norway taken a couple years ago.

Pretty spectacular. But aliens? I don’t think so. Turns out it was a missile test. Meteors, satellites, even secret government planes like the F-117 can easily explain many sightings, without resorting to the visitation of extraterrestrials.

Needless to say, science had totally burst my bubble. Aliens probably weren’t visiting us.

I was sad.

But fear not!

As it turns out, science had in store a vast catalogue of REAL science that was even more exciting than lights in the sky. Quantum entanglement, cosmology, wave-particle duality, string theory, the list goes on and on.

The moral of the story? We all like to believe in something special. But it doesn’t have to be aliens, or ghosts, or channeling, or any other pseudoscience. The real world has a lot more to offer than those bad TV specials ever will.

UFOs Over Australia

June 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, people thought they were UFOs at least.

The first incident was the Falcon 9 rocket, which was the first test launch of the rocket design by independent space company “Space-X”. The rocket was launched on June 4, 2010, made it into orbit and produced a “lollipop-type spiral” over Australia in the early morning.

Understandably, not many people knew what the lights were, and many UFO reports were made. But the flight path of Falcon 9 matches up perfectly with the time of the sightings.

Sorry folks. No aliens.

Most recently was the re-entry of the Japanese space agency’s craft Hayabusa. The craft ended a 7 year round trip journey to asteroid Ikotawa, and (hopefully!) brought back some asteroid dust for us to study.

The main craft burned up in the atmosphere on June 13, 2010, leaving only the 40 cm wide capsule containing the asteroid sample intact as it landed in the Australian outback.

Hayabusa Sample Pod Landed Safely in the Australian Outback

The re-entry of Hayabusa was captured by an aerial camera mounted on a DC-8 flying over Australia, and produced this stunning video.

Damn Australians get all the good light shows. Maybe I’ll get to see a UFO one day…