August 23, 2017

UFOs – is ET phoning home?

(Note: As of yesterday, Astroguyz has been live for a year! Let it never be said that we’ll join the legions of “also ran” blogs!)

Next clear night, go outside, away from the street lights, and look up.

On virtually any evening, the casual observer will notice a bewildering menagerie of phenomena. Meteors. Aurora. Even the usual, such as Venus low in the twilight sky, can look unusual at first glance. Venus, in of itself, has been mistaken by air traffic controllers for an approaching aircraft. Imagine their frustration as it refused to answer repeated hails! Still, for reasons we will see later on, it is highly unlikely that Earth is currently being visited by extra-terrestrials. Now, no one would be happier than we here at Astroguyz if the opposite could be proven to be true, and we could break the news here exclusively on this humble blog. (imagine the stats!) We also know the “theories” that any mysterious visitors are actually time travelers or visitors from another dimension, but that’s another post! What we’ll be dealing with here is primarily “first encounter” or sighting phenomena. It’s been said that such things as alien abductions could be proven in a court of law; however, that may only show the weakness of the legal system, not the credibility of the claims. Legal proof is not the same as scientific proof. In court, a preponderance of eye witness testimony is often sufficient to convict; science requires an additional layer of verifiability and repeatability. UFO’s fail on both counts. Never has a single piece of alien technology made its way into the hands of a scientist to analyze. Not an alien transistor or Ipod (I also know the “theory” that such things as Ipods are alien technology!). I know, you’re saying: what about Roswell? I think it’s telling that all of the artifacts on display are replicas; the usual answer from the curator is: “the government took the real ones” a sort of “G-men of the gaps” emerges in UFO mythology: simply insert a mysterious fifth column into the inexplicable. A side bet: the government uses the UFO story to cover up the REAL classified stuff. Anybody remember the F-19 Ghost rider? It was a deliberate piece of disinformation that was “leaked” to throw the public off of the trail of the F-117 Stealth fighter. It’s simple; the government knows that as long as they keep denying it, people will assume they’re warehousing alien corpses.

Serious searches such as SETI have picked up Wow! signals; however, when you point your radio telescope back at the same spot, nothing happens. No signal has yet passed the repeatability test. Are they effects of gravitational lensing temporarily focusing faint distant sources? Maybe. Or perhaps we picked up signals of craft in motion, a sort of interstellar commerce. Or perhaps we’re looking for smoke signals and they’re much more sophisticated, using tachyon beams ala Star Trek. The possibilities are fun to imagine, but there is simply no proof either way yet.

Anyway, seeing, as they say, is believing. And amateur astronomers spend plenty of time staring out at space. Why don’t they ever sight anything suspicious? I suspect that the uninitiated don’t bother to look up very often. Night vision is a terrible thing to develop without help! Here are the top three weirdest things we here at Astroguyz have ever seen:

Weird sighting #1- On a daytime flight from St. Louis to Boston, I was lucky enough to score a window seat. I always get a window seat if I have a choice, to watch the action outside! Shortly after reaching cruising altitude and were skimming the morning cumulus, I notice a glinting speck. The speck takes a nose dive, does a seemingly impossible turn, then shoots off at an improbable angle.

Weird sighting #2- Its twilight on the Alaskan tundra. I’m parked high on a dirt bank of the Chena Flood Channel as some of the first stars wink into existence. Suddenly, a straight chain of “moving stars” appears in Ursa Major. They are five in a row, perfectly spaced, a bright one in the center with two faint ones on either side. Visions of the infamous Mt Rainier sighting that kicked off the whole UFO craze in the US dance through my head. I scrabble back to snatch my binocs off of the hood of my idling jeep, but the mystery objects had winked out before I could bring them into focus.

Weird sighting #3- It’s dusk in Vail, Arizona. I spot a dot near the zenith in the cloudless sky. This one hung around for several minutes and I did manage to grab my binocs to scrutinize it. Under magnification, several flashing flecks that seemed to be falling off of the object were observed.

What were these mystery objects? Please take a moment to answer this for yourself before reading on. And, no, none of these recollections are followed by a missing span of time, only to later recall being whisked off to the Trifid Nebula by Blues’ or Grays. They never abduct amateur astronomers! I use these examples merely to illustrate that even among experienced observers, we occasionally may see something peculiar that we at first can’t identify. But thus far, I haven’t had to evoke aliens to define them. However, these sightings were indeed initially “unidentified,” in the sense that I couldn’t readily classify them.

Here are my semi-informed conclusions:

#1- Probably the weirdest one, I have little doubt that this was another aircraft, possibly a high performance military jet. The improbable motion could be attributed to our motion super imposed on its. Watch out an aircraft window, especially on takeoff or landing around a busy airport, and you’ll see planes seeming to move sideways or other bizarre directions. A famous UFO video shot off of the coast of New Zealand shows precisely this, plus the jitter of the hand held camera!

#2- The fact that the chain of dots winked out in the fading twilight should be a dead give away. My first thought was a re-entry of a satellite or a bolide breaking up in the atmosphere. But there were no “meteor trails”…so after doing some research, I discovered that some navigation satellites, most notably the NOSS series of satellites, are launched in sets. These looked to be in a high, polar orbit.

#3- If it were in motion, I would say this was a military aircraft dispensing flares, not an uncommon sight in the Arizonan night sky. The fact that it was relatively stationary for a good deal of time suggests that it was probably that old saw of UFO sightings, the weather balloon. And the flashes? I would bet that chunks of condensation, or ice, were flaking off in the fading sunlight. I’ve also seen a police surveillance blimp hover over Interstate 10 at dusk, looking like the alien invaders from Independence Day.

I sight these to show that yes, if you stare at the night (or daytime) sky long enough, you’re sure to see something strange. Extraterrestrial visitors, however, need not be evoked. In fact, UFOs and alien life are two separate issues. I would place a small bet that the universe may be teeming with life, and that intelligent life like our own may not be all that special. But I have seen no persuasive evidence to suggest that a space-faring civilization is interested in us. Even well documented “Third kind” reports such as the Betty & Barney Hill case fall short, and were already successfully debunked by Carl Sagan on his Cosmos series. The Drake equation lays basic parameters to the question of how many intelligent civilizations exist in the Milky Way galaxy. For the first time, in the last few decades, we’ve found direct evidence to speak intelligently about some of its factors, such as the annual rate of star formation and the prevalence of exoplanets. The further to the right in the equation you go, the less certain we become. Much speculation has been made lately about the factor of how often, on planets with life, does intelligence arise? It is inferred that although microbes, the dominant form of life on Earth for most of its biological history, may be common, complex life in the universe might be rare. I suspect that the final factor of time might well be the crucial one. We are relatively new on the scene; we’ve had the technology to communicate across galactic distances for only slightly longer than a generation. There is so far no reason to suppose that our culture will persist on a geologic time scale. The off-shoot of all this is that of the thousands of star systems in a one hundred light year radius, there currently maybe no one to talk to. There might have been, or will be in an eon or so, but we may be effectively alone in our own little backwater.

But enough of the depressing stuff. Bored some cloudy night? The Internet now allows you to do some debunking on line. For fun go to YouTube (and be sure to check out the YouTube Astroguyz companion site!) and search on UFOs, Close encounters, and the like. I’ve seen sightings (and left comments) that were actually aircraft, satellites (the International Space Station and Iridium flares are favorites), old NASA footage, Venus, and even the upper limb of the Moon, which can look rather saucer-like. Happy hunting!

Recently, sightings over central Texas early this year have garnered much media attention. Like the infamous “Phoenix lights,” these were most likely military aircraft dropping flares, which can look quite dramatic at night. Being a former US Air Force “Load Toad” myself, I have some experience with military pyrotechnics. Some, such as missile counter measure flares, show up as quick bursts; others, such as parachute illumination flares, can seem to hang suspended for several dozen minutes.  From the scant description given, the Stephenville UFO was almost certainly the latter. The $5,000 prize for a decent image remains unclaimed; in any event, it is all too easy to fake an image withe the advent of Photoshop. Despite MUFON commentary, nothing extremely out of the ordinary sticks out in this case. Anyone who lives near one of the numerous US bombing ranges in the Southwest can attest to the regularity of the sight of lights hovering in the night sky. Closer to home, an incident over Loring AFB in Northern Maine in the 1970s was similar. The case was secret for many years because it occured over a nuclear storage area. However, I can also attest that even local military agencies don’t co-ordinate their activities!

So there you have it… ET will most likely stay in the realm of Hollywood for now. Sometimes I wonder if aliens are commenting on the Astroguyz chat board, with comments like BZxfshkdldk… and Hkjsjdklfd. At least they can capitalize! I personally hope that concrete evidence for alien life will be found in our lifetimes; I would put the odds at maybe 50/50. But I doubt that they’ll land tomorrow, ray guns blazing, on the White House lawn. But this is one instance that I’d love to be proven wrong!

Next Week: Its book review time…we journey back to Elvis, bobby socks, tail fins, Sputnik the dawn of the Space Age.

Comments

  1. Chloe says:

    Hi,

    I just have to mention something in response to your ‘chain of moving stars’ that you spotted on the Alaskan tundra. 5 nights ago in Almunecar Spain I watched a chain of 7 or so stars (they looked identical to the surrounding stars in brightness and size) move in a close chain in a snake-like motion across the night sky from one horizon to the other. The whole thing lasted around 40 seconds and I don’t in any way doubt what I saw – it was very clear, but of course have no idea what the phenomena that I was watching was. I only post this as I can’t find any other reference to this sort of sighting on the web. Ideas?

  2. David Dickinson says:

    Hi Chloe,
    I have two thoughts on what you may have seen;
    -The US gov’t has a series of satellites known as NOSS that are frequently placed in free flying groupings… from the time frame you gave, it sounds like something in low Earth orbit.
    -You may have witnessed a breakup of a satellite or rocket booster… I can run the numbers based on the date and location and see if there were any possiblities…I’m also curious; was this at dawn or dusk?

    Thanks for posting,

  3. David Dickinson says:

    Hi Chloe,
    I think we’ve tracked down your mystery object; it may well have been a failed Russian ICBM test. They have had a conducted a series of SSX-29 missile tests as of late and have experienced four failures…these were probably sub launched. Thanks to reader Clay Davis who sleuthed this out!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] under rare conditions. Stare at the sky long enough and you’re sure to see something strange.  Arm yourself with some astro-knowledge, and you’ll be able to separate these phenomena [...]

  2. [...] pairs. There is some thought that further NOSS sets may even comprise more than three sats; we once spotted a row of five evenly spaced satellites from the Chena Flood Channel in Alaska in the 90s’. NOSS [...]

  3. [...] Vulcans show up. Signatures of Life doesn’t back away from the fringes of the field, whether it be UFOs or science fiction. The book gives a hardnosed look at alien visitation reports and pop culture [...]

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