Posts Tagged ‘UFO’
I feel almost guilty writing this post. I used to be such a fan of paranormal mysteries. Loch Ness, UFOs, ancient aliens, and other curious little corners of reality. I’m still a fan, but I have grown more skeptical over the years. Sadly this is because I’ve realized that the signal-to-noise ratio is rather low in these areas. Worse, cashing in on the credulous has grown mainstream, and now things like the History Channel are shamelessly spreading paranormal nonsense to make a buck. Still, just because there’s a lot of fraud, poor scholarship, and pseudo-science doesn’t mean it’s all nonsense. A UFO could crash on the White House lawn tomorrow. Not bloody likely, but not impossible. And in the vein of keeping my toe in the paranormal water so to speak, here’s a brief rundown of recent developments on the fringe.
UFOs: OK, the big recent news is that the Russian PM said that if Obama doesn’t come clean about aliens living among us, Russia will. He made the remark in the context of a joke about the Men In Black movies. Some in UFO circles took it seriously. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Obama’s announcement. Ufology is a very active field, but it mostly concerns itself with blurry videos of lights in the sky. Or anecdotal reports. Nothing with actual evidence. And the field is always rife with some rumor about how all is going to be revealed soon. A peculiar class of belief not limited to ufology by any means. I also did some recent research on Roswell, and it’s not looking good. One of the biggest “researchers” on the case was shown to be a fraud, all of his “discoveries” are suspect, and some main stream ufologists no longer think Roswell involved aliens or an alien craft. Well, crap.
Bigfoot: Oh, the usual crop of blobsquatch videos. There was a claim awhile ago that Bigfoot DNA had been obtained. It’s generally considered to be a hoax at this point. There’s a recording of Bigfoot screeches making the rounds. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying that this is evidence of nothing. Animals make a vast array of sounds, this will more than likely be eventually explained as normal wildlife noise. At this point, well, it’s hard to understand why a bigfoot hasn’t shown up as roadkill. Maybe they are smart enough not to cross roads? In other words they are smarter than people? Wouldn’t that be wild if Bigfoot was the true intelligent species on the planet, and they were just hiding and biding their time until we destroyed ourselves? Stranger things have happened. Sarah Palin for example.
Loch Ness Monster: Exciting news on this front. None less than Megan Fox believes in the Loch Ness Monster! Who is Megan Fox? Damned if I know. That’s about it on the Loch Ness monster. I’m assuming the whole silly thing is dead since I pointed out that no sightings preceding the 1930s is impossible to explain. You can thank me later for clearing this one up.
Baigong Pipes: Someone brought to my attention the Baigong Pipes, supposed iron pipes that predate human civilization by tens of thousands of years. Well, two problems. The first of which is saying someone laid all these pipes, but left no other evidence? That’s a little hard to swallow. Secondly, scientists believe (backed with actual evidence) that the Baigong pipes are natural formations that are created when buried tree trunks get replaced by iron deposits. Examples are found in a number of locations around the world. Scientists would be thrilled to find evidence of ancient alien technology. Think of the research grants and fame and getting laid by cute ancient aliens chicks that would result in. So when scientists say: “Um, no, these are natural formations.” I think we can believe them.
Infinite Universes: It’s long been a popular meme that since there may be infinite universes, then there are infinite versions of each of us on said universes. IE if you got up and decided to wear a blue shirt today, there is a universe where someone identical to you chose to wear a red shirt. Ad infinitum. Well, some scientists (yes, that matters) have taken a look at this idea and pointed out that it is “highly speculative.” In other words, science fiction. For one thing, the idea that our universe is infinite is by no means the accepted scientific view. Secondly, they point out that if there are infinite possibilities for life, then each planet with life could and should be unique. Crap. And I was so hoping to exchange places with a richer me in one of these universes.
Quantum Birds: Well, it turns out that quantum physics may play a role in biology. A big role actually. This is a revolutionary idea, but it is gaining credence as experiments suggest it is the case. It almost certainly plays a role in photosynthesis. It’s also suspected to play a role in small and animal navigation. Research continues, but this could be the “new biology” of the 21st century. It would take me a whole post to explain quantum physics, and even then I might get it wrong. OK, probably would get it wrong, quantum physics is hard to grasp.
“Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine – it is stranger than we can imagine.” — J.B.S. Haldane
(The above image is of Saturn taken from the Cassini Orbiter. The Sun is directly behind it. It’s legal to use this image non-commercially. Credit and copyright: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Space Science Institute, Cassini Imaging Team. I chose it because it’s a beautiful spooky image … and an example of the incredible frontiers science is still advancing on. NASA rocks.)
This argument that has been repeated endlessly since at least 1961. Anyone who has any interest in space exploration and science generally is so familiar with it that for all practical purposes it is a matter of faith. Even such luminaries as Neil Degrasse Tyson, famous astrophysicist and science communicator, has uttered a version of it, helpfully illustrated above. Myself, I get tired of hearing it repeated uncritically. And there’s no question, it is repeated uncritically by many people, most of whom have no idea where the argument originated, and are often vague as to what the idea really means. The original Drake Equation was about intelligent tool-using life such as humans, ET as it were. The above is about life in general. Let me restate the argument in a way that is easier to parse:
“Considering the vast size of the Universe, with at least 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars, statistically speaking, Earth cannot be the only planet where life evolved.”
That, in a nutshell, is the oft repeated sentiment that aliens must be out there somewhere. The problem I have with this argument is that it is neither scientific nor logical. There are other other problems with how Mr Tyson chose to word his argument above, but I degrasse. (You were warned about my sense of humor.)
The big flaw, in fact fatal flaw, in the argument is this. We don’t know how likely the formation of life is from natural ambient chemistry. We’ve never seen Abiogenesis in the wild, we’ve never achieved it in the lab. We have a lot of theories, and we know about the creation of self-replicating molecules, and we certainly haven’t come up with any good reason why DNA life couldn’t have evolved in some primordial soup. We know it happened once, because here we are. However, in any scientific, statistical, or logical sense, one data point is the equivalent of zero data points. If the creation of DNA life is unlikely enough, it may have only happened once. No matter how big the Universe is, there is also no end to how low the odds on an event occurring are.
The typing monkeys demonstrate this. How likely is it that a monkey sitting at a keyboard randomly hitting the keys will type Hamlet by chance? Essentially zero of course. However, if we convert all mass in the Universe into typing monkeys, typing for the lifetime of the Universe, how likely is it that one of them will type Hamlet by chance? Still, for all practical purposes, zero. Is the creation of life as likely as a monkey typing Hamlet by chance? No one knows. And until we have a definitive answer to this question, speculating about life elsewhere is just that, speculation. Note I’m not saying there isn’t other life out there, I’m just saying that the affirmation that there must be other life out there is wrong.
And when it comes to intelligent language using life such as ourselves, the situation gets worse. First, the odds clearly have dropped. Of the as many as 40 billion species that have evolved on Earth, only one has evolved tool-using, language, and intelligence. So humans may have been an unlikely fluke. Secondly, we don’t even know if our kind of intelligence is a good idea or not. Humans do seem to have some very self-destructive tendencies, and our species has only been around an eye-blink of time, maybe species such as ours quickly destroy themselves? Human intelligence may be an evolutionary dead end, until we find others like us that have been around awhile, or we last a few million years, we simply can’t say.
Lastly there’s the science of it all. Again, bad news, SETI has come up with nothing so far. And despite Mr Tyson’s pronouncement above, SETI has covered a lot of territory at this point. If there are beings like us out there, no evidence of their existence has been found. Granted SETI has a lot of ground to cover still, and some excellent new ideas have been proposed recently, but at the very least the 1950s idea that the galaxy was teeming with intelligent aliens is now wishful thinking at best. Worse, we are starting to get a good picture of solar systems around other planets, and it turns out our solar system and Earth itself seem to be unusual. Again, a blow to the 1950s, Star Trek, and all that follows:
Picard: “We’ve entered the system Data, what do you see?”
Data: “Two hot Jupiters, and two giant super hot Earths.”
Picard: “Any sign of life?”
Data: “No Captain, another sterile system, like the previous 8,792.”
Picard: “If we don’t find life soon, even a slime mold, I’m going to snap.”
Data: “Sixteen other Star Fleet captains have been relieved of duty this year because they suffered psychological breakdowns due to boredom.”
Picard: “Worf, toss Data out the airlock.”
It kinda gets even worse if one steps back a bit further. What if DNA life isn’t really life? What if DNA was invented by real life for information storage, real life which we haven’t ever encountered? We’re just a lab spill that didn’t get cleaned up? Or in the analogy above, we examine a cup of water from the ocean that a scuba diver dropped his watch into, will that watch teach us anything about the ecology and biology of life in the sea? Mr Tyson, and people who make this argument, are in essence saying they can use the cup of water to prove their theory about what is or isn’t in the rest of the ocean, but other people’s theories make no sense. Excuse me? The bottom line is we don’t know how life appeared on Earth, so speculation about what is out there is just that, speculation. Speculation is never certainty.
I rest my case.
(The above image was lifted from Facebook and falls into a category that’s probably years or decades behind the law. I’m claiming it as Fair Use, and am in no way making commercial use of the image, and will remove it instantly if the original copyright holder asks. Many of the other things Mr Tyson says are right on, so no one should take this as an attack on him. In fact the guy is pretty smart, and his statement above is a beautifully crafted edifice of false arguments, so I wonder if he did it deliberately wondering if someone would call him on it?)
Ah, the Hopkinsville goblin case. This was at the time and still is one of the “great” UFO cases. Great as in popular and well known at the time, and still given great credence by people who believe that UFOs and extraterrestrials regularly visit Earth. Granted unlike Roswell it never became enshrined in popular cultural lore, so many of my readers will never have heard of it. And something interesting that no one has heard of is music to my keyboard so to speak. Enjoy!
So, what happened the night of August 21st 1955? Quite a lot actually, and I’m not going to recount every aspect of it. Two families were staying in a farmhouse in rural Kentucky. At one point in the early evening one of the people went outside to get some water, the house not having indoor plumbing. He saw what he described as a pretty classic UFO, but no one else in the house believed him or even went to look themselves. About an hour later the people in the house began hearing strange noises outside, and the dog began barking wildly. Two men armed themselves and went outside to investigate, the dog hid under the house and stayed there. And then all hell broke loose.
The two men saw two strange humanoid creatures and shot at them to no effect. They retreated into the house where for the next several hours the people inside saw them through windows and heard them scratching on the roof as if to get in. They claim multiple shots were fired over the course of several hours, none of which had any apparent effect. They finally fled in two cars, driving 30 minutes to the nearest police station. At which point a number of police, state and local, returned to the property. They saw no creatures, but some reported seeing unexplained lights in the sky. And that’s that, to this day the people in the house swear that what they saw was real. What the hell?
The first possibility is that it was simply a hoax that got out of hand. IE they made the story up, it got far more attention than it deserved, so that even the ones who had “just gone along with the fun” were too embarrassed to come clean. Especially if alcohol was involved. I don’t think it can be ruled out, but I don’t think it has ever been proved either. For the purposes of discussion let’s say that hoax is a possibility and move on to other possibilities.
So assuming the people involved really do believe what they experienced was true, is there any way to explain it without resorting to little silver beings? Well, yes. I think panic and active imaginations can explain it. The first guy’s UFO sighting got everyone in the house “primed” so to speak. At the time UFOs were scarier than they are today. Then the other two guys went outside, got thoroughly rattled by whatever they saw, and scared the bejesus out of the rest of the people in the house. The rest followed naturally as frightened people panicked and their imaginations took over. The operative word here being panicked, people don’t think clearly and imagine all sorts of things when they panic, it’s human nature. And their memories of what they imagined can be very real. Now I’m not saying this is the explanation, just that it’s a possible explanation.
So what did the two men see and shoot at originally? Great Horned Owls is the only guess that is worth mentioning. They are about the right size, sometimes aggressively defend their nests, and bear a strong resemblance to the descriptions of the aliens, illustrated above. Granted some find it a very unsatisfying explanation, but it’s more likely than little silver suited aliens!
Do I consider this case “solved” with the assurance that most of the skeptics seem to evince? No, of course not. There really isn’t any evidence besides the narratives of the people involved, which pretty much limits us to possible explanations. And likely the story will remain unsolved, at this point I think if it was a hoax some or all of the participants would have fessed up. These people really do believe they saw something strange that night, and unless a flying saucer lands and apologetic aliens pop out to beg forgiveness from the family they scared back in 1955, that’s as far as I am going to go in terms of reaching a conclusion.
What I will do is try to find similar cases where panicked people did indeed see things they imagined, I know I have so it shouldn’t be too hard. Suggestions welcome.
Have a great weekend everyone!
(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law, having been produced by a Federal employee in the course of his duties. In this case by Pfc. Gary F. Hodson of the 101st Airborne Division, who interviewed some of the witnesses after the encounter. Frankly I find the resemblance to an owl rather uncanny.)
A famous UFO case from 1561, illustrated above. And the text below it, the best translation I could find:
In the year 1561 on the 14th day of April in the morning between … [difficult special time phrase] … and … [difficult special time phrase], that is in the morning between 4 and 5 on the little clock, a very horrible vision showed at the sun when she rised and was seen at Nuremberg in the town and in front of the gate and at the countryside by alot of male and female persons. First the sun showed and was seen with two bloodcolored, halfround strokes like the diminishing moon right through the sun, and in the sun, above, under and on both sides stood bloodcolored and partly blueish or ironcolored, also blackcolored round orbs. The same on both sides and in circled plates around the sun – there were such bloodcolored and the other orbs in great numbers, standing three in a row, sometimes four in a quadruple, also alot as singles. And between such orbs alot of bloodcolored crosses have been seen, and between such crosses and orbs were bloodcolored strips, thick behind ["streyme hinden dick"] and to the front a bit smoother than … [ ? “hocken rho[?]“]. Mixed in between together with others stood two big tubes, one to the right and the other to the left [hand's side], in those little and big tubes were three, four and more orbs. This alltogether began to fight ["streyten"], the orbs first in the sun moved towards the ones standing at both sides, so the ones, which were outside, moved together with the orbs out of the small and large tubes into the sun.
Also the tubes moved towards each other like the orbs and everything fought and battled ["gestritten und gefochten"] with each other nearly one hour long. And after the battle, which moved for a while into and again out of the sun from one side to the other most violently, exhausted itself by each other, everything (as drawn above) fell from the sun and the sky down to the earth like burning alltogether and vanished ["vergangen"] down on the earth gradually [? "allgemach"] in a big smoke. After such events something like a black spear, the shaft from sunrise [east] and the head towards sundawn [west], has been seen with big thickness and length.
[It follows a lengthy phrasal standard passage from a typical christian viewpoint of that time, about warning signs of Godfather, the sin of the non-believers and the awaited day of judgement etc. Not very related to the event as such, but there is a hint by Hans Glaser, that the "signs" in the sky were significant in quality and numbers in the recent time.]
And that’s that. What to make of this? Well, Ancient Alien theorists have all sorts of ideas about it, all revolving around UFOs battling it out in the skies. Google “Nuremberg UFO” and any number of theories pop up. Some sort of time slip and people witnessing a WW2 aerial battle have also been proposed.
What do I think? Granted I didn’t have time to fly to Germany and comb local archives, but from what I can tell the material is believed to be authentic. IE it really was a broadsheet from the times, and the woodcut made by Hans Glaser does depict the event in question, although it was made some four or five years after the fact. There also exists a second woodcut by an unknown artist apparently depicting the same event:
It doesn’t really add much to the story. And that’s the first problem, there isn’t much of a story. From two images and a broadsheet (newspapers hadn’t been invented in 1561) there isn’t enough information to come to any firm conclusions. Speculation is all well and good, but it’s just speculation.
Which brings me to my first point. Since it’s not much of a story, the first thing that needs to be done if for an archivist who specializes in the era to start going through records and see what else they can find. 1561 was awhile ago, but it wasn’t the Middle Ages, and there are buildings full of contemporary archival material. And there most definitely are Ancient Alien Theorists, Däniken comes to mind, with the money to hire someone to do just this. An event this spectacular should have left other records, and even one more contemporary account might shed light on the matter. That no one has done this is both a shame, and a sign that people like Däniken are only interested in making money off the topic, not actually researching it.
So in conclusion, no real conclusion can be reached. 1561 was not exactly an educated age, in fact it was very much an age of credulity and faith. “Miracles” such as this were not uncommon, this was by no means a one-off event. Only the fact that someone made a woodcut of this particular event is why it is so big in current Ancient Aliens theorizing. There are any number of spectacular and unusual atmospheric/weather/optical phenomena that could have inspired this sighting, confounded by the fact that people had no clue what they were seeing and thus interpreted it as they did. The fact that the second half of the broadsheet is a Christian warning very much leads one to suspect that people’s faith and belief in miracles may have influenced what they saw, and very much influenced how they remembered it. (It should also be noted that modern Ancient Alien theorists are clearly influenced by their beliefs as as to how they interpret this event.)
I keep hoping for an Ancient Alien or UFO story that is more than just anecdotal, but this one wasn’t it. An interesting story, I would love to know what people saw in the sky that day, but I suspect we will never know.
(The above images are still Public Domain under US copyright law, their creators having been dead some four centuries. Hans Glaser doesn’t even rate a Wikipedia entry, though some of his other woodcuts can be viewed here. Coming next, the Bolivian Stargate. Yes, it’s real.)
An esteemed commenter suggested I write a post about the Frederick Valentich disappearance. It’s an interesting case in its own right, and I realized there are a number of historical aeronautical mysteries I could write about. So enough of current events for the moment, dreadful though they may be. A few posts on aeronautical mysteries, followed by a few posts on nautical mysteries. Heck, maybe even some train or automobile mysteries. And by the time I’m done, we’ll no doubt be at war with a few more countries, and I will have fresh horrors to rant about.
OK, the mysterious disappearance of Frederick Valentich, an unsolved mystery of the air. And beloved of UFO theorists. And, unlike so many things beloved of UFO theorists, and like the Kecksburg case, there’s actually a there there. The story itself is very simple. In 1978 a 20 year old man took off in a small plane to pick up some friends on an island south of Australia. During the flight he called air traffic control and claimed he was having a strange encounter with a mysterious aircraft. There were 17 seconds of unexplained background sounds on his last call. Neither he nor any part of his plane was ever seen again.
The beauty of this case is that the information is so limited that a good logical and comprehensive analysis can be made. And the first point to establish is that there is nothing unexplainable in this case. By that I mean that many planes, small and large, have disappeared without a trace. This is especially true about planes flying over oceans. “He became disoriented somehow and flew his plane into the sea” is not only a perfectly reasonable explanation, its the most likely explanation.
That being said, the most likely explanation being the correct one doesn’t always pan out. There is more to this case. The UFO sightings. Mr Valentich himself reported a harrowing encounter with an unknown flying vehicle with green lights. Air traffic control saw nothing on radar, in fact they couldn’t even pick up Mr Valentich’s plane on radar. Many people reported seeing green UFOs around the time of the disappearance. A few even reported witnessing the plane’s encounter with a mysterious flying thing. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell from my limited investigation of this case, these reports were collected after the plane’s publicized disappearance. There’s no polite way to say it, this means the UFO reports are garbage data. It doesn’t mean they are necessarily wrong, what I am saying is that cases like this will generate all sorts of false positives so-to-speak, after the fact. There is as yet no scientific way to separate the credible reports from the not credible ones, so they have to all be discounted.
Next we come to the seventeen seconds of mysterious sounds. And here, who the hell knows. They are described as a metallic scraping sound. Few have heard them apparently. Maybe the plane was suffering some sort of mechanical failure. Maybe it was some strange audio/electrophonic event. Maybe an alien probe was cutting through the skin of the plane to acquire a big juicy biological sample.
One last thing to discount, is Mr. Valentich’s testimony. I haven’t gone into it in detail, because it doesn’t really matter. He was clearly disoriented. We don’t know what was happening. There is no evidence to examine. Whatever he was experiencing before he vanished, we simply no way to corroborate it. Any analysis of it is guesswork at best.
So where does this leave us? Well, it leaves us with a disappearance that has reasonable explanations, plus some perplexing facts and testimony that are as yet unexplained. It’s entirely possible that he simply became disoriented somehow, electrical and/or mechanical problems on his plane possibly contributing, and he simply flew his plane into the ocean. After that, it’s all speculation. Maybe he staged his own disappearance. Maybe he committed suicide. It’s a single incident, which means that there might have been some really unlikely explanation.
What the Valentich case is not, is proof of UFOs. It’s interesting anecdotal evidence that there might be something to the idea that some UFO reports are indeed reporting unknown phenomena. I suspect Mr Valentich is a few bones on the seabed. Maybe he started a new life somewhere in Australia and is living happily ever after. I hope he’s not pickled alive forever in a jar on Gliese 581 g.
(The above image is a public domain image so long as it is credited to NASA. NASA: Good job. It’s a new improved picture of Hanny’s Voorwerp. It’s green, it’s in space, and it’s still a mystery. Clearly, it’s a suspect in the Valentich case.)
Poot, the UFOs didn’t show up as promised. Well, except for some escaped mylar balloons in NYC apparently. Yes, the aliens cleverly disguised their spacecraft to look like balloons, then brainwashed some hapless human into thinking they had lost some balloons. All part of the alien’s diabolical, and frankly, inexplicable plot. Bottom line is, I have seen and heard enough about UFOs. There has been the occasional intriguing anecdotal report, and aliens are permissible in the sense that they are certainly possible. There just hasn’t been a case that has yielded clear unmistakable evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence. If a truly intriguing UFO case pops up, or is suggested to me, I’ll revisit the issue. Until then, there’s a whole universe of other mysteries to explore.
I’m glad the miners in Chile were rescued. I’m saddened that it was front page news world wide. This was a human interest story, and I can certainly see why it would be big news in Chile. I find the massive coverage outside of Chile just more proof that the mainstream news is now “infotainment,” and not really news at all. And more proof of how shaky our grasp of reality is becoming, where people identify on the TV with people that aren’t a part of their lives in any way, but have a hazy or no grasp of important events going on in the world. I posted this on the twitter feed, and I really recommend it for those who missed it: Our Country Is Lost Believing in What It Sees on Screens, and We Are Going to Pay a Nasty Price for It
I haven’t mentioned the upcoming “elections” in the USA because they are a bipartisan joke. All the candidates do is attack each other, claim they’ll cut government and not raise taxes, and cheer the military. No real discussion of the issues, no real plans for change, and no chance whatsoever that the election results will mean a damn thing. The only thing upper tier politicians do now is act as shills for the big corporations, the military, and a host of other special interest groups that have increasingly dictated government policy for their own purposes for decades. On a local level, there’s some hope, on a state and national level our elections are as meaningful as the elections they held in the old Soviet Bloc. No matter who one votes for, the result will be more war, more fear mongering, more government, more spending.
In a last bit of recent political theatre, the esteemed secretary of defence, Robert Gates, claimed that allowing gays to serve openly in the military would hurt military readiness. He wasn’t really clear on what he meant by that, though it sounds like it meant that there would have to be changes made. Um, so fucking what? They had to make changes when blacks and women were allowed to serve in the military, and it didn’t end the military. There’s two things that galls me about his remarks. First of all, isn’t the military supposed to be about adapting to changes? More importantly, as the press and almost everyone seem to ignore, the military is about following orders. If the order of the day is “You will serve with pride and professionalism beside gay service members,” the only acceptable response is “Sir, Yes Sir!” Anyone who doesn’t understand that, doesn’t belong in the military in the first place. It’s appalling that a former service member either doesn’t understand this or simply ignores it. And frankly giving service members the idea that their own personal prejudices will be catered to is going to hurt readiness a lot more than ordering them to suck in their personal shit and serve like professionals, nu?
I local notes, I’m probably going to only be able to publish three times a week from now on. That’s all I can promise at least. And I have added a “subscribe” button in the sidebar. I likely should have done so long ago, but I’m a writer not a web guy. Coming up this week, German chancellor Merkel’s bizarre comments on multiculturalism in Germany, instructions on how to build a telescope able to see the flag the astronauts left on the Moon, and the afterlife explained. As always, suggestions welcome. As long as they are polite and anatomically possible.
Enjoy your Monday (or survive it at least) and have a great week everyone.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, is central to illustrating the post, and its use here in no conceivable way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. Credit and Copyright: Jason Diamond / Barcroft USA. I was fascinated by UFOs as a kid. Now I’m fascinated by how so many people can staunchly believe in them despite the paucity of evidence they are anything more than hoaxes or mistaken identifications.)
A former NORAD officer claims that on October 13th aliens will make their presence on Earth unmistakably known with “a massive UFO display over the world’s principal cities.” I have my doubts, but hey, it will certainly be fodder for any number of blog posts should it happen. And San Francisco is certainly arguably one of the world’s principal cities, so I should be able to see them from my balcony. I’ll definitely take pictures and post them. How credible is this prediction? Well, my thinking is that if stable technological civilization is possible, if aliens with same are relatively common, and if interstellar flight is feasible in any classic scifi senses … then the aliens are already here living and studying among us. Unfortunately since all of these are really big ifs, combined with a complete lack of empirical evidence for aliens, their existence here seems pretty unlikely. Still, the existence of aliens doesn’t conflict in the slightest with current science, so it’s always a possibility that UFOs will land on the White House lawn tomorrow.
Still, been around as long as I have and one has to be a little skeptical about people who predict “the aliens are coming.” It’s simply a modern version of “the messiah is coming” or “the rapture is coming” or “the end is coming” as far as I can tell, and like all of those, it’s always proved false before. In fact predicting disasters and the end of the world seems to be a fundamental need in human psychology, and the fact that some people always fall for it bears this out. That such predictions have always been wrong doesn’t seem to faze people one bit.
In other alien news, an astronomer claims to have seen a suspicious pulse of light coming from the direction of Gliese 581g a few years ago. Gliese 581g is the recently found planet some 20 light years away that is in what we call the “habitable zone” around its parent star. While the maker of the claim is an actual astronomer, other astronomers are taking the claim with large doses of salt. The fact that the astronomer in question can’t seem to furnish much by way of details about his retroactive claim is, well, suspicious.
And while I don’t really expect any UFOs tomorrow, Earth got a near visit today. At 6:51 AM EDT a small asteroid zipped by Earth, coming to within 28,000 miles at its closest approach. Asteroid 2010 TD54 is only about 20 feet wide, just a big rock really, but even so some amateur stargazers may have been able to spot it. Asteroids of this size pose no danger to Earth, but it is amazing that we are able to locate and track such small objects. In other asteroid news, a second asteroid has been discovered to have water on its surface. (OK, ice, details, details.) This is an unexpected discovery, and will lead to more research no doubt. It may explain how Earth got its water, it may have come from the heavy asteroid bombardment early in the Earth’s history. It used to be thought that Earth got its water from comets, but it’s now known that the water in comets differs chemically from most of the water on Earth, so they aren’t the candidate they once were.
In final space news, aside from gutting the US space program to give ever more money to the bankers and generals that are holding the USA hostage, astronomers are switching from stargazing to data mining. Basically so much data has been gathered in recent decades that scientists are falling behind in analyzing it if anything. The astronomers of the future may never even go near a telescope, who would have thunk it?
(The above image of “nearby” galaxy NGC 2683 is an APOD Hubble image and thus public domain for all practical purposes, including its use in this post. Credit: Data: Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA; Processing: Nikolaus Sulzenaur. NGC 2683 is thought to be a barred spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way galaxy, but it’s hard to tell from an edge on view like this. It’s a mere 20 million light years away from us, that’s practically next door neighbours on a cosmic scale. Hell, that’s a house guest on a cosmic scale. Click on it to see the full size version, other more distant galaxies can be seen in the background. I used this image for the same reason I use so many space images, the vastness of the Universe amazes me to this day, and the fact that there may be “people” in NGC 2683 looking at a similar image of our galaxy at this very moment fills me with wonder.)
The Devil’s Footprints. This was one of my favourite earth mysteries in my youth, right on up there with ancient astronauts and the Bermuda Triangle. And even after the latest two had ceased to be all that mysterious to me, the Devil’s footprints soldiered on. And to this day in fact, the case has never been wholly explained.
OK, so what are the Devil’s Footprints? On the morning of February 9 1855 the residents of Devonshire in southern England woke to a fresh fallen snow. And in the snow there were tracks, mysterious U shaped tracks. Tracks that led through villages and across the countryside, over walls, over houses, across rivers, and even reportedly into and out of pipes with a diameter as small as four inches. And while there was some wandering, the tracks extended more than 100 miles. People were a little alarmed to say the least, and in Devon there were reports of a devil like creature being seen. This prompted people to arm themselves against the unknown maker of the tracks. The first day was the most extensive, though there are some reports that some tracks were seen here and there on a few subsequent days.
Much speculation followed in the newspapers about what had created the tracks. An escaped kangaroo was one popular theory, with the obvious caveat that it seems odd that a kangaroo could travel over 100 miles without being seen. Chains dangling from a drifting blimp was proposed, although that seems even more ridiculous than the kangaroo theory with a bit of thought. And yes, people ascribed the tracks to supernatural forces, this was an era when many people literally believed in the devil. And while there have been a few isolated similar cases, nothing nearly so extensive or widely reported upon is in the historical record. To this day it’s a mystery, recycled by modern alien believers ascribing the tracks to alien activity of some sort. One thing is clear though, it’s not a hoax, there’s no way one person or even a team of people could have made such an extensive network of tracks in just a few short hours in the middle of the night and not be seen, we are talking tracks that ran through towns and villages.
Frankly, I was baffled for decades by this case. Sadly, I don’t find it as baffling anymore. Since I first studied these sorts of things some decades back, I’ve learnt a lot. A lot about history, culture, human nature, psychology, and last but not least … logic. And the first thing we have to look at in a case like this, is the facts. And what do we have here? A bunch of nineteenth century newspaper reports. And that, my friends, is that. No one thought to write a book on it. No scientists wrote any papers on the topic. It was all pretty much dismissed as hysterical superstitious nonsense, and life went on. At this point, anyone who knows anything about the history of newspapers should be thinking, “Ub oh, nineteenth century newspapers are the primary source?” As the Jacko or cow in a UFO incident shows, anyone who takes old newspaper reports literally is taking a leap of faith.
However, since newspapers are all we have, what have we? Well, there’s a lot of letters to the editor about the Devil’s Footprints in those newspapers. In fact, lots of letters from first hand witnesses to the event. And there’s a fair number of very sober letters by reasonable sounding people who said they went outside when they heard the commotion, saw no more than the usual fresh animal tracks in the snow, and don’t understand what the commotion was about. And when we look at the tracks themselves, descriptions of which vary by the way, they are not dissimilar to all sorts of tracks made by a variety of creatures hopping and prancing about. In other words, a strong case can be made that this is simply a case of mass hysteria of some sort. And it almost goes without saying that the newspapers of the time certainly exaggerated what hysteria there was.
Something to keep in mind is that this was the first generation of a revolution in human communication. For the first time in history people across England were in real time communication with each other. Yes, telegraphy was exploding across the developed world, and by 1855 there were already news agencies operating via telegraph. So that morning when someone somewhere in this whole mess thought they saw strange tracks in the snow, within hours breathless reports were being sent along the wires, and the rest is history. Not to mention that people of that era moved around a lot more than most of us moderns would think, and news could indeed travel quickly. They had horses for God’s sake.
So can it be proved that the devil’s Footprints was a mild case of mass hysteria, exaggerated by newspapers of the time … and modern chroniclers searching for evidence of the trans-mundane? No. It does however strike me as being a perfectly reasonable and rational explanation for what we know of the phenomena.
My alternate theory is that it was some sort of hopping alien unmanned probe. It was small and moving very fast. May not even have been hopping, might have just been extending some sort of sensor downwards to take samples and maybe “ping” the Earth with any number of microwave or other radiation, while reading reflections from same. Even with what we know of the capabilities of robots, a lot of data could be gathered with a single one track probe like this. And as for its speed, if the aliens are actually robot intelligences, they may think at near light speed and perceive the world as very “slow,” so to them a probe that’s zipping along at hundreds of miles an hour is painfully slow. Prolly another good reason to avoid aliens. If they are robots, and they are hostile, they would think (and likely move) so much faster than us that there would be no contest.
Alien probe or mass hysteria, that’s my votes. Or something else? Reader’s choice.
(The above image is public domain under US copyright law and pretty much all copyright law since it dates from 1855. It’s not even known which newspaper it came from from what I can tell, since it’s been so copied and distributed in the 150 odd years since it was created. I grew up with snow, I know darn well how many mysterious animal tracks one finds all over the place in fresh fallen snow. Especially since wind and weather conditions can do all sorts of things to tracks.)
December 9th, 1965. The very first Peanuts TV special aired, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charles de Gaulle had just been reelected President of France. Several hundred thousand US troops had by then been deployed to Vietnam, and opposition to the war was starting to heat up. And on that afternoon over a number of Eastern States and Southern Canada a fireball was observed (and filmed) streaking across the sky, dropping debris and starting some grass fires in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Residents in Pennsylvania heard the sonic boom, and at least one seismometer recorded the fireball’s passage. And near the little town of Kecksburg PA, something crashed in the woods. A number of people went to the crash site, but it was very quickly secured by the army. They roped it off, scoured the area, and left the next day, claiming nothing had been found. Nonetheless numerous witnessed reported seeing an acorn shaped craft with hieroglyphics on it, some even reported it being hauled away on a flat bed truck. And that, pretty much, is that. All of the above is well documented, the fireball and the army presence at the site. Witness statements vary, as they will, but that’s the basics of the case.
Now, there’s one other aspect of this case that’s a little alarming. One John Murphy, news director and reporter for the local radio station, was one of the very first witnesses on the scene. He took a number of pictures. He was very excited about the object he had seen and photographed in the woods, he was going to do a special on it on his radio station. Then government agents visited him, he cancelled the show, and later aired and extremely redacted version that didn’t even mention the object. He claimed the government confiscated his photos. He became depressed about the case, and a few years later was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Interesting, nu?
The last thing to know about this case is that the government and NASA have been all over the map on it since. They claim it was a Russian satellite. They claim nothing was found. They claim they lost the samples. They claim they lost the records. This is suspicious and worth mentioning because it indicates that at least some elements of the government know something real happened at Kecksburg.
OK, so what are the possibilities. The first possibility is that while the fireball was real (that can’t be denied) the crash in Kecksburg was just panic generated by the fireball. IE a lot of people saw the fireball, some kid said he saw smoke in the woods, and in the dark and confusion running around in the woods at night people imagined all sorts of things. The army arrived in a panic because this was the Cold War and the Space Race was on and a Russian launch had taken place that day, but they didn’t find anything. This scenario is entirely plausible, except that it doesn’t explain the government’s continuing interest in suppressing the story. If nothing was found, why prevent John Murphy from running his story?
The next theory is that it was indeed a crashed Russian satellite or Venus probe. This would explain pretty much everything, the case itself and the government’s interest in covering it up. If they really did capture a Russian space probe, this certainly would be a big deal at the height of the Cold War. And the acorn shape with strange writing on the bottom has a very vague resemblance to the Russian Venus probe that may have been what crashed. The big problem with this theory is that the timing and trajectory of the Russian launch seem to rule out the possibility that it could be the origin of the Kecksburg crash. And the object reported by witnesses was much larger than the Russian probe.
So what are we left with? No samples or photographs are in the public domain, though there seems to be pretty good reason to believe such existed at some time. Something definitely happened at Kecksburg, but exactly what cannot be determined. We have the same problem we had as Roswell, if an advanced alien device did crash, maybe the aliens themselves retrieved it shortly after the crash? I know the the “aliens are stealing the evidence” argument is a pat argument that is basically circular in it’s reasoning, but if advanced aliens are here and are trying to lay low, wouldn’t his be exactly what they would do? It’s not even beyond the realm of possibility that a network of unmanned alien probes are operating around Earth, with careful auto-destructs programmed in the event one does fall into human hands.
Kecksburg isn’t a smoking gun, but at least it’s a UFO case contemporary enough and well documented enough that I don’t think it can be simply and easily dismissed. I can’t think of a conventional explanation that completely satisfies all objections. Sadly, unless the government reveals that it does indeed have an alien probe in its possession (Or at least photographs of one before it mysteriously vanished off a flat bed truck en route to a military base,) I doubt this will ever go anywhere. A few TV specials were done on the case recently, but they were unable to dig up anything really spectacular, but what they did dig up added further intrigue to the case. Stay tuned, in any event here’s a site with more on the case.
And that concludes UFO week on Doug’s Darkworld. Or UFO week number one. Coming next week: The War on Terror spending madness as reported by the WaPo, a better description of the balloon analogy, maybe a post on American Exceptionalism, and whatever else strikes my fancy. Have a great weekend everyone.
(The above image is being used in accordance with the creator’s guidelines as far as I can tell. I’m supposed to properly attribute it, but the creator’s page seems to be gone and there’s no point attributing it to a dead link. It’s a mock-up of the object sighted in the woods that night created for one of the above referenced TV specials. The good citizens of Kecksburg had it installed next to their fire station for the education and enlightenment of all.)
Ah, crop circles. I remember when crop circles were the latest greatest thing and there was speculation among all sorts of people as to what was going on. Even the tech people at the dot com I worked for were intrigued. Then two people admitted they had hoaxed the whole thing, the case was solved, and the whole business dropped off the radar. OK, it wasn’t that simple. The only people who believed the hoaxers were the people who already thought the circles were hoaxed, the people who thought there was something to the phenomena continued to be intrigued, and crop circles continued to appear, more intricate and mysterious every year. What the hell is going on here?
Honestly, beats me. There’s a veritable crop circle industry at this point, and even competitions to create the best designs. There’s no doubt that the vast majority of crop circles are created by human beings. Images like the 2004 circle above may appear fiendishly complicated, but people have shown time and again that the most complicated crop circles can be made by small numbers of people with the simplest of tools and a basic understanding of geometry. It’s not rocket science, and as far as I can tell from my readings, there’s nothing here that particularly needs explaining.
In other words, to me the biggest mystery is how did this get associated with UFOs in the first place? There’s apparently never been any UFO sighting connected with any particular circle or circles. And if there’s some sort of message in the circles, no one has ever figured it out. The designs all seem to quite clearly come from human cultural references, sometimes subtle mathematical ones, but there’s yet to be a crop circle that screamed, or even whispered, that it was conceived by a non-human mind. It’s another aspect of the same problem we have with all sorts of “contact with aliens” scenarios, you’d think they would have something novel to say? Instead we have things like the Urantia papers, purportedly from aliens, that contains 700 pages devoted to discussing the life of Jesus. Somehow I’m having a hard time believing that aliens are an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists.
The point here is that UFOs and aliens seem to be perversely intertwined with modern culture to the point where anything out of the usual may get linked to UFOs somehow. At least in a lot of people’s minds. And with that thought, I thought about the association that some people make between UFOs and the pyramids. Followed by, I bet there’s been “pyramid” crop circles. Took exactly ten seconds to find one. Ah ha, proof that aliens are behind both crop circles and UFOs! Hardly. Proof that crop circles are just another expression of the human mind.
Or going at this from another direction, it’s been pointed out that a lot of crop circles clearly illustrate classic geometric theorems. Well, new geometric theorems are still being discovered, I mean, new things in mathematics are discovered all the time, it’s hardly a static science. So it would seem to reason if there were anthropomorphic aliens who had been using math for thousands of years longer than us, it wouldn’t be too hard to express a mathematical law or geometric theorem in a crop circle that humans had never seen before. And so far, if aliens are making crop circles, they have been using only mathematics and geometry that humans are already familiar with.
To me, this pretty much categorically rules out anything other than human agency behind crop circles. Sadly this sort of train of thought leads to the same station in regards to all evidence for alien intelligence. Be it aliens from other stars, inter-dimensional beings, Gods, supernatural beings … none of them ever seem to have imparted any previously unknown knowledge to humans. It just wouldn’t be that hard for an advanced alien intelligence to send us a message that unmistakably did not come from a human mind. And alas, crop circles seem to fail this test too. In fact it would be almost impossible for a true alien intelligence to send us a complex message that didn’t contain undeniable evidence of completely non-human culture and thinking.
So if there’s aliens among us, they are sure keeping their heads low.
(The above image was apparently released into the public if what I read on Wikipedia is any indication. The whole crop circle thing has actually turned into an industry, albeit a small one. Farmers make good money charging people to look at crop circles on their land, $10 a head in some cases. And they have every right to, crops circles are vandalism and the crops in the circle are basically ruined, not to mention more get ruined when people flock to see them. So they have to recoup their losses. In any event, so much money is involved in crop circles now, that I noticed most crop circle images are copyrighted. The aliens are trying to teach us about capitalism?)