“Lying saucer” (UFO sightings)

Michael Shermer has compared this year’s media frenzy over UFOs to a similar phenomenon in the late 19th Century. Back then, observers and newspapers reported sightings of mysterious airships, which were eventually determined to be dirigibles. Historian Mike Dash wrote, “Not only were they bigger, faster and more robust than anything then produced by the aviators of the world, they seemed to be able to fly enormous distances, and some were equipped with giant wings. The general conclusion of investigators was that a considerable number of the simpler sightings were misidentification of planets and stars, and a large number of the more complex the result of hoaxes and practical jokes. A small residuum remains perplexing.”

Today, as then, most sightings are explicable but a few go unexplained. Some jump to the conclusion that this means extraterrestrial visitors have arrived. But this is a leap so large it would require the existence of a wormhole it is surmising got the aliens here.

Even the most fervent UFO believers consider the great majority of aerial phenomenon to be the likes of weather balloons, flares, sky lanterns, secret military aircraft, sun reflection, planets, meteors, satellites, swamp gas, ball lightning, and so forth. All those were in a cattle call that UFO enthusiast Leslie Kean jotted off while writing about the phenomenon.

This made for a reasonable take until Kean meandered into this god-of-the-gaps like fallacy when addressing the one in 20 sightings that remain mysterious: “They probably are of extraterrestrial or interdimensional origin.”

She puts major emphasis on eyewitness accounts, considering them even more reliable if they come from a person in authority, such as Belgian Maj. Gen. Wilfried De Brouwer, who reported seeing “a majestic triangular craft with a span of approximately 120 feet and powerful beaming spotlights.”

Eyewitness accounts are one of the lower tiers of evidence and however much esteem the viewer has does nothing to alter this. Moreover, Kean alters the general’s words in these significant ways: The 120-foot craft becomes “huge”; “moving very slowly” becomes “can hover motionless”; “without making any significant noise” becomes “without making a sound”; and “accelerating to very high speeds” becomes “speed off in the blink of an eye.”

On another note, this year’s reports are seen as a glut of new information, but most are rehashed reports of each other and no one in the media, military, or government is saying that aliens have landed. All that has been called “real” are the videos, meaning they were actually filmed and are not fabricated or a hoax.

Here are the three hypotheses for what these UFOs are: 1. Ordinary terrestrial, such as what were outlined in the third paragraph; 2. Extraordinary terrestrial, i.e. Russian or Chinese spy planes employing physics beyond U.S. capabilities; and 3. Extraterrestrial. The three most widely viewed and discussed videos were filmed by infrared cameras mounted on jets and are known as “Flir1” (from 2004) and “Gimbal” and “Go Fast” (both from 2015).

Extraordinary work dissecting and analyzing these videos has been by Mick West at Metabunk. He describes Flir1 and Gimbal as what one would see if a jet were flying away from the camera, which would account for the eyewitness accounts that the object showed no directional control surfaces or exhaust. As to the object’s apparent saucer shape, West attributes that to camera lens glare.

The object appears to zoom almost instantly off screen, a motion that some interpret as displaying extraordinary speed and turning ability beyond the capability of U.S. jets. However, in the upper left of the screen, the camera zoom indicator doubles when the object shifts to the left. When West slowed video by half at that moment, the seemingly extraordinary becomes a standard maneuver.

Additionally, cameras can make objects look like they are making stunning turns, twists, dips, and U-turns. West wrote, “The supposed impossible accelerations, and eventual loss of tracking lock, were revealed to coincide with – and hence caused by – sudden movements of the camera.”

Then we have the “Go Fast” video, which purportedly shows an object with no heat source, meaning it would be powered by an unknown propellant. It appears to move impossibly fast just above the surface of the ocean. But when West employed trigonometry based on the numbers provided by the video image, he found the object flew at 13,000 feet and was likely a weather balloon travelling at 35 knots.

The most talked-about video is “Gimbal,” in which the object appears to skim effortlessly over background clouds then come to an abrupt stop and rotate in midair, apparently without the propulsion systems necessary to pull off such a maneuver. But spoilsport West noted when the Gimbal object rotates, background light patches rotate in perfect union with the object.

“Gimbal is very hot. It’s consistent with two jet engines next to each other and the glare of these engines gets a lot bigger than the actual aircraft itself so the aircraft gets obscured by the glare,” West wrote. “At the start of the video, it looks like the object is moving rapidly to the left because of the parallax effect, and the rotation was a camera artifact, and that the ‘flying saucer’ was simply the infrared glare from the engines of a distant aircraft that was flying away.”

West also researched the camera’s patents and found the gimbal mechanism to be responsible for the seeming rotation.

Now onto a more Earth-based explanation, that the objects belong to one of our Asian adversaries. The thought is that these flying menaces are Russian or Chinese drones, spy planes, or some advanced technology that the U.S. lacks.

Pilots and observers report these objects accelerate from 80,000 feet down to sea level in seconds and or make immediate turns and complete stops, or zag off horizontally at hypersonic speed, breaking the sound barrier without an accompanying sonic boom. Such a rapid acceleration and sudden stop and turn would be fatal to anyone onboard and the craft seem to do all this without a jet engine or visible exhaust.

All this is greatly beyond the scope of U.S. technology, which brings us historian Geroge Basalla and in his book, The Evolution of Technology. In this work, he explains that emerging technologies develop from either pre-existing artifacts or organic objects. He explained, “Any new thing that appears in the made world is based on some object already in existence.”

On a similar noted, Matt Ridely wrote in his 2020 book that innovation is incremental and occurs because of the exchange of information. He writes it “is always a collective, collaborative phenomenon, not a matter of lonely genius.”

That’s what happened with everything from steam engines to search engines. Countries and companies steal, copy, reverse engineer, and improve upon each other’s ideas and technologies. It is highly unlikely that a nation, corporation, or individual would discover the new physics or aerodynamics needed to create an aircraft that was centuries beyond known present technology. It would be akin to someone coming up with a smart phone before the telegraph.

Now onto the third possibility, diminutive emerald critters. The distance that would be required to reach our planet make ET the least likely answer. Furthermore, any species with the intelligence to design such a spacecraft and the desire to undertake a mission, would have come from a planet as doomed as ours is. They have only a few billion years to have life begin as a single-cell organism, evolve to a point of intergalactic travel, engage in such a journey, have a lifespan 100,000 times greater than ours, and find their way here. And once on Earth, they have to be satisfied not with getting out and exploring and attempting to make contact, but appearing in shaky, dark, and blurry videos.

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