A few months back, I saw something odd traversing the sky near my neighborhood. It was far away, seemed to be moving oddly, and I couldn’t tell what it was. I whipped out my phone and captured maybe a minute of video of the thing. With the naked eye I couldn’t tell what it was, but I spent four years in the Air Force and another eight years at NASA, I’ve even been to the perimeter of Area 51, and this thing didn’t look like any craft I’m familiar with. The movement and shape were all wrong. My phone has a good camera on it, I’m a skilled video and image processor, and I have access to professional image processing tools. Though my eyes and mind couldn’t really tell what I was seeing, I figured I could probably enhance the video later and figure it out. Maybe I had spotted something truly amazing. Until I could enhance the view, whatever it was would remain unidentified.
Elon Musk reentered the UFO fray this week, tweeting a pair of graphs to debunk the notion that UFOs originate with aliens because of the proliferation of cameras like the one I used that day.
Strongest argument against aliens pic.twitter.com/eF2FFZpJQE
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 23, 2021
Twitter disagreed, which doesn’t mean anything, but it’s amusing. He’s certainly not wrong about camera resolution. Current-generation cell phones can shoot 4k video. Some phones, including mine, can shoot RAW, which allows for a lot of post-processing without losing quality.
As one tweeter pointed out, debunking alien UFOs is exactly something a self-confessed alien would do. Elon Musk did say he’s an alien this year.
I’m an alien
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 12, 2021
Musk said that in the context of questions about how at such a young age he does so much, from SpaceX to Tesla to the other companies he owns. Perhaps he’s an alien trying to get back home, like Alan Tudyk’s character in Resident Alien. Let’s hope the similarity ends there; Tudyk’s alien was sent to Earth to wipe out humanity.
As Rick Moran reports, the government is set to release more UFO information later this year, but the question of whether it will or not remains until the date arrives. The government hasn’t exactly been a square shooter on the question of unidentified aerial phenomena over the years. The statute in question doesn’t actually require the release.
Former Trump Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe keeps talking about what he’s seen and what’s set to be declassified. He’s a smart guy, and says it’s some weird stuff.
The latest: fast-flying objects going beyond the speed of sound without making a sonic boom.
According to Newsweek, Ratcliffe said the upcoming Pentagon report will include more sightings and reports of objects moving in seemingly impossible ways or breaking the speed of sound without an accompanying sonic boom. The unexplained sightings occurred all over the world, he said, and include events picked up on automated sensors and not just by human eyes.
“There are instances where we don’t have good explanations for some of the things that we’ve seen,” Ratcliffe told Fox News.
The report and declassification is required under the Intelligence Authorization Act for 2021.
We’re working on aircraft that evade the sonic boom, for what that’s worth.
I come at all this from a position of curious skepticism. For eight years I handled and processed numerous images from the Hubble Space Telescope. For a few of those years, I shared an office with the individual who conducted all of the initial image processing. His eyes were the first to see Hubble images; mine were sometimes second if I happened to glance over his shoulder or whatever. He took large hard drives full of data and turned that into the images we all know and love. As I note in my book, I was in the room when human eyes saw thousands of distant galaxies for the first time. If you’re wondering: Yes, it was cool.
Evidence of alien life would have been the discovery of a lifetime. We’d be famous, go on lecture tours, write books, be celebrities. They’d make Discovery shows and movies about us, like Contact or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, only real and I might have gotten to pick who played me. I wouldn’t be Richard Dreyfuss’s Close Encounters character, building Devil’s Tower in my mashed potatoes. I’d get to be a legend and probably fabulously rich too. We had a colleague on another floor who later won a Nobel for discovering the accelerating expansion of the universe. He’ll be in the science books forever. Our orbiting telescope discovered all kinds of things and still does. Evidence of alien life wouldn’t have been suppressed. There were major positive incentives to go public.
I note all that just to explain how I approach all these UFO videos. Physics is what it is, it obeys laws. Images and video don’t always tell the whole story. We don’t understand all of physics fully, but we do understand a lot. If something appears to be defying physics to our eyes or on video, chances are, it’s not. Chances are, the thing is obeying whatever physical laws it’s subjected to, but either there’s a gap in our knowledge, or the position of the observer affects perception to make it look like it’s defying physics when it’s not.
Take, for instance, your house cat. Shine a laser pointer on the floor and watch it react as you move the dot around in front of it. It perceives that red dot as a physical thing and tries to get its paw on it to catch it. It’s mystified when that doesn’t work and it cannot, in its own limited mind, explain how that dot keeps getting on top of its paw and it can’t even feel it. To the cat, this is freaky-deeky stuff. Now take that pointer, move it around very fast and then make the little red dot run from going across the floor to straight up the nearest wall. The cat is absolutely flummoxed. But you know what happened. From the cat’s point of view, that mysterious red dot it can’t catch or even feel just defied its understanding of the world and went from straight horizontal to straight vertical. From your perspective? Eh, no. You made all that happen with technology you understand (even if you don’t have the knowledge to build your own laser).
Perspective matters. Phil Plait, over at Bad Astronomy, goes into more detail about that here.
So what are we seeing? Having some familiarity with camera systems (I’ve worked extensively in processing digital images from Hubble, for example) I could see what was going on in some of the video. For example, the “aura” around the object in some of the footage could simply be the camera overexposing around a bright object; infrared cameras can do that, creating an odd glow. If the video is processed to sharpen it up (for example, using deconvolution), that can also cause a glow around a target.
Here’s all the Navy UFOs in one video. The pilot saying he sees “a whole fleet of them” is…interesting. But that fleet isn’t visible in the video.
For those who don’t know about Phil Plait, he’s as reliable as they come. There’s more in Plait’s article, such as the role parallax may be playing in the Navy videos. These pilots are highly trained but they’re still human. Perspective matters a whole lot. I’ll confess I’m a little skeptical of some of the skeptical arguments, too. Fighter pilots are extremely highly trained and there are known negative incentives on them to report unexplained objects in the sky. It can be a career-limiting or ending move. Yet some of them are reporting seeing weird things they can’t explain anyway. That, I cannot really explain. It suggests they really saw something that left them guessing.
So there may or may not be unexplained or unexplainable things in the videos that have been released and whatever will be released later this year (if the government lets them out). Could some of it be other-worldly technology? There was a story on that point that came and went a few months back, lost in the shuffle of the election, COVID, and the generally mad year we’ve all experienced.
According to the New York Times, the government program tasked to investigate unidentified flying objects, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force, will make some of its discoveries known “180 days after passage of the intelligence authorization act.”
While it’s unknown what information will be divulged to the public, Eric Davis, a consultant who worked with the UFO unit, disclosed he gave a classified briefing to the Defense Department this March about the discovery of “off-world vehicles not made on this earth.”
But UFO-skeptic site Metabunk took a critical look at that and found it wanting.
Unfortunately, this has been repeated in other media as some kind of official Pentagon statement that they have pieces of an off-world craft. It is not.
What it is is a statement (with very little context) by Eric W. Davis, and Eric Davis is not the Pentagon. He’s a scientist at Earthtech, an organization formally known as “The Institute for Advanced Studies.” Earthtech basically is composed of two people, Harold Puthoff and Eric W. Davis.
That’s a shame but it doesn’t debunk them outright. Context and perspective pretty much always matter.
Returning to Elon Musk’s tweet at the top of this post, I’m not saying this is persuasive, but it’s pretty persuasive.
I thought there was a reverse correlation 😉 ….as smartphone cameras proliferated everywhere, random UFO sightings seem to have gone down 🙂
— Amit Paranjape (@aparanjape) March 23, 2021
We have cameras everywhere now, they’re high-quality and they’re tied to GPS. We can enhance every pixel we capture six ways from Sunday. We should be seeing more UFOs far more clearly, but are we?
What about that weird thing I saw and captured on video a few months ago? I used some high-end tools to zoom in and play detective on it. It was an airplane way off in the distance, flying at an off-angle from me, dragging an ad banner behind it. My perspective made it look exotic to my unaided eye, but upon further review, it wasn’t. I guess I self-debunked that one.
Here are some questions to ponder. Supposing these things are off-world, meaning from another civilization, why would they be flying around where we can see them? When the modern UFO craze started in the 1940s, we couldn’t really perceive of aircraft that weren’t piloted (other than rockets, which were primitive at that time). That was what we knew of aviation at the time. You have an aircraft or spaceship, you’re very likely to have a pilot. But a civilization that’s so advanced it can traverse the galaxy — which is unimaginably HUGE — and build craft that can perform all these exotic maneuvers could presumably just as easily make stuff we can’t even see or wouldn’t perceive as out of place. That civilization has figured out ways to go well beyond the physics we know. They probably wouldn’t use piloted craft. They’d fly animatronic birds or something else we wouldn’t notice if they had to be flying inside our atmosphere. We just plunked another explorer down on Mars but we haven’t sent humans there yet. We have tiny drones that can take clear aerial photos now. They’re so common and cheap that they’re toys. We don’t even really care if we lose them in a tree. Why are these UFOs visibly buzzing ships and pilots without our atmosphere, almost like they’re joyriding or taunting? Is the point, then, to be noticed? Why? This just feels like human minds stamping our understanding based on our current levels of technology and perception onto something when it may not apply.
But on the other hand, what if we’re the cats and someone else is holding the laser pointer?
‘Seven Minutes of Horror’: How the Mars Rover’s Batteries Survived Landing and Keep Perseverance Rolling and Flying
Bryan Preston is the author of Hubble’s Revelations: The Amazing Time Machine and Its Most Important Discoveries. He’s a writer, producer, veteran, author, and Texan.