I Thought I Saw A UFO! Mystery Triangle On STEREO Image Explained…

Mystery diamond-shape “object” entering the field-of-view of the HI2 telescope on STEREO Behind around December 26, 2011. Credit: NASA

The STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) is a two-year mission conducted by NASA. It employs nearly identical twin telescopes – one positioned ahead of Earth’s orbit and the other behind – designed to study the Sun’s activities spectroscopically. However, it can sometimes pick up some very unusual findings! On December 26, 2011, the STEREO Behind Observatory’s HI2 telescope captured an ambiguous triangle entering the field of view and moving from right to left just above the trapezoidal occulter as seen in the above movie. Just what is this “thing”?!

Before you get ready to call the men in black, know that there is a logical answer… and it comes into play on the opposite side of the STEREO image. Play the movie again and watch. (It’s a bit more obvious in this close-up view.) Just as the weird triangle begins its approach, you’ll notice the dazzling Venus enters the field of view of the HI2-B at the same time to the lower left. As you watch, you’ll see they keep exactly the same time – in opposite – across the detector image. This isn’t just a chance happening… it’s a naturally-occurring internal reflection caused by Venus’ brilliance in the telescope’s optics. It might be exciting for the moment, but it’s nothing that hasn’t happened in the past. Just check out these great STEREO Reflections of Earth, and all sorts of other cool images on the STEREO Image Artifacts pages.

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What else can be seen? As you can tell from this photograph, Earth is also starring in the show, but doesn’t come in as striking as Venus. What’s more you can also see the tail of Comet Lovejoy streaking in from the left just above Venus towards the end of the movie.

Exactly how do you keep track of what’s going on? Check out the Where Is STEREO? pages for up-to-date information and the totally cool Current STEREO Solar Images!

Original Story Source: Triangular shaped object in STEREO data explained.

No Alien Visits or UFO Coverups, White House Says

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The White House has responded to two petitions asking the US government to formally acknowledge that aliens have visited Earth and to disclose to any intentional withholding of government interactions with extraterrestrial beings. “The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race,” said Phil Larson from the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, on the WhiteHouse.gov website. “In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye.”

5,387 people had signed the petition for immediately disclosing the government’s knowledge of and communications with extraterrestrial beings, and 12,078 signed the request for a formal acknowledgement from the White House that extraterrestrials have been engaging the human race.

“Hundreds of military and government agency witnesses have come forward with testimony confirming this extraterrestrial presence,” the second petition states. “Opinion polls now indicate more than 50% of the American people believe there is an extraterrestrial presence and more than 80% believe the government is not telling the truth about this phenomenon. The people have a right to know. The people can handle the truth.”

These petitions come from an Obama Administration initiative called ‘We the People’ which has White House staffers respond and consider taking action on any issue that receives at least 25,000 online signatures. Regarding these two petitions, the White House promised to respond if the petitions got 17,000 or more signatures by Oct. 22.

Larson stressed that the facts show that there is no credible evidence of extraterrestrial presence here on Earth. He pointed out that even though many scientists have come to the conclusion that the odds of life somewhere else in the Universe are fairly high, the chance that any of them are making contact with humans are extremely small, given the distances involved.

But that doesn’t mean we aren’t searching, there is just no evidence yet. Larson mentioned SETI (correctly noting that this at first was a NASA effort, but is now funded privately) keeping an “ear” out for signals from any intelligent extraterrestrials, with none found so far. He also added that the Kepler spacecraft is searching for Earth-like planets in the habitable zones around other stars, and that the Curiosity rover will launch to Mars this month to “assess what the Martian environment was like in the past to see if it could have harbored life.”

Regarding any evidence for alien life, all anyone has now is “statistics and speculation,” said Larson. “The fact is we have no credible evidence of extraterrestrial presence here on Earth.”

Whether or not this will appease or satisfy any conspiracy theorists or UFO believers is yet to be seen, but it is gratifying to see the White House respond in such a no-nonsense manner.

UPDATE: The Paradigm Research Group, one of the organizations sponsoring the petitions, has issued a statement saying, “As expected it was written by a low level staffer from the Office of Science and Technology Policy – research assistant Phil Larson. The response was unacceptable.”

See the petitions and the response at the WhiteHouse.gov website.

Hat Tip: NASA Watch

Was the “First Photographed UFO” a Comet?

First photograph of a UFO sighting, taken 12 August 1883 by Jose Bonilla.

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On August 12th, 1883, Mexican astronomer José Bonilla was preparing to study the Sun at the recently opened Zacatecas Observatory. However, the Sun’s surface was marred by numerous objects quickly travelling across its disk. Over the course of the day and the next, Bonilla exposed several wet plates to take images of the 447 objects he would observe. They weren’t released publicly until January 1st, 1886 when they were published in the magazine L’Astronomie. Since then, UFOlogists have crowed these photographs as the first photographic evidence of UFOs. The chief editor of L’Astronomie passed the observations off as migrating animals, but a new study proposes the observation was due to the breakup of a comet that nearly hit us.

The only piece of evidence the authors, led by Hector Manterola at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, use to suggest that this was a comet in the process of breaking up, was the descriptions of the objects as being “fuzzy” in nature and leaving dark trails behind them. Assuming this were the case, the authors consider how close the object would have been. Since astronomers at observatories in Mexico City, or Puebla had not reported the objects, this would imply that they did not cross the disc of the Sun from these locations due to parallax. As such, the maximum distance the object could have been is roughly 80,000 km, roughly 1/5th the distance to the moon.

But the team suggests the fragments may have passed even closer. By the time comets reach the inner solar system, they have a significant velocity of some tens of kilometers per second. In such a case, to transverse the disc of the Sun in the time reported by Bonilla (a third to a full second), the object would have been, at most, at a distance of ~8,000km.

At such distances, the overall size of the fragments would be in rough agreement of sizes of other fragmented comets such as 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, which gave off several fragments in 2006. Based on the number of fragments, estimated sizes, and density of an average comet, the authors estimate that the mass may be anywhere between 2 x 1012 and 8 x 1015 kg. While this is a very large range (three orders of magnitude), it roughly brackets the range of known comets, again making it plausible. The upper range of this mass estimate is on par with Mars’ moon Deimos, which is generally held to be similar in mass to the progenitor of the impact that killed the dinosaurs.

One oddity is that one would likely expect such a close breakup to result in a meteor storm. The timing of these events is just before the annual Perseid meteor shower, but reports for that year, such as this one, do not depict it as being exceptional, or having a different radiant than should be expected. Instead, it notes that 157 of the 186 meteors observed on the 11th were definitively Perseids, and that the “year’s display cannot be reckoned as a fine one by any means.” Meanwhile, the Leonid meteor shower (peaking in November), was exceptional that year, generating an estimated 1,000 meteors an hour, but again, no records seem to indicate an unusual origin.

In total, I find the characterization of Bonilla’s observation as a comet plausible, but generally unconvincing. However, if it were a fragmented comet, we’re very lucky it wasn’t any closer.

Unidentified Triangles

Three dots of light in the sky above Lafayette, Colorodo.

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Apparently I have a reputation as a debunker. When I first started writing for Universe Today, Fraser told me to feel free to do articles relating to skepticism. I haven’t much, but I’ve been asked to cast a skeptical eye on the topic of UFOs and aliens, especially given a recent sighting which made it onto Good Morning America.

My general opinion on UFOs is that there’s really just not enough evidence to say whether or not the people making claims about them are right. In fact, there’s so little coherent evidence that it’s more apt to say that they’re “not even wrong“. In such cases, I generally find the topic uninteresting and not worthy of attention. I could address them as an exercise with Occam’s razor, but that’s been done to death. Instead, there needs to be something else that makes the topic worthy of addressing. Coincidentally, this case does.

Typically, there’s two additional reasons I’ll discuss such a topic. The first is if such baseless belief causes demonstrable harm (such as recent doomsday criers convincing people to give up their homes and family to go on a fire and brimstone tour of the US to proclaim The End). With UFO buffs, this isn’t a concern generally.

The other reason I’ll discuss something is if I notice a particular logical fallacy that’s worth exploring in its own right. In watching a few of the videos related to the one shown on Good Morning America, I found another one that I think does a good job of highlighting the willingness to jump to conclusions. In this clip, an awestruck spectator is stunned by the lights because they form “a perfect triangle”. I’m teaching a geometry course this semester and I’ve been dealing a lot with triangles, but I’m not quite sure what he means. By definition, a triangle is simply a polygon with three sides, which meet at three points. Pick 3 points anywhere and you’ll be able to form a triangle by connecting the dots. Thus, all you need to form a “perfect” triangle is 3 points. There’s nothing inspiring about that.

To give the guy as much credit as possible, I’ll assume that the guy meant “equilateral” which would mean that each side is perfectly equal. This would be slightly more interesting. It would mean they were each affixed to a larger body to keep them at just the right distance, or, they were each manipulated independently to remain in the right formation. Still, neither of these tasks is especially impressive (I’m more impressed by the Blue Angels keeping formation at supersonic speeds), but before we need to consider that, we should be asking an even more fundamental question: Is the triangle actually equilateral?

Quickly taking a screen cap and importing it into a drawing program in which I can trace on some lines shows immediately that it doesn’t look at all equilateral. But there’s a good reason for that: We’re seeing it at an inclination and objects will look very different depending on your particular point of view . What we’re really seeing is a two-dimensional projection of a shape in three-dimensions. The closer to the plane of the triangle you put your eye, the flatter it looks. Rotate it and the third point will seem to shift relative to the other two. In other words, we could very easily have an equilateral triangle projected in such a way that it looked just like the one the spectators saw. But at the exact same time, any triangle, equilateral or not, could be viewed in such a way to replicate that projected shape.

Why then, did this fellow claim it was a “perfect triangle”? Simple: He had prior expectations. He couldn’t know, but mentally, he could envision it being “perfect” and his mind seized on that solution, ignoring all others and manufacturing details that didn’t necessarily follow from the observations. Sound familiar?

Ultimately, we can’t say what these lights were (although I find the road flares on balloons explanation to be simple and fit perfectly with all observations thus passing the test of parsimony). And I think that’s the important note: We don’t know. But let’s at least be knowledgeable and honest enough to admit what we don’t.

In Case of Jerusalem Video, UFO Could Mean “Unidentified Flashlight Objects”

UFO’s are tricky little blighters. Those three letters have caused so much controversy over the years and I find myself, yet again, discussing one of the most misrepresented acronyms in the entire Universe. UFO stands for ‘Unidentified Flying Object’ and, if you have never seen a helicopter before, then its a UFO, its unidentified and flying! Forgive me then when I saw the news on January 28, 2011 of yet another UFO sighting and cries of alien visitors as if it were obvious. Well stop right there…..
Continue reading “In Case of Jerusalem Video, UFO Could Mean “Unidentified Flashlight Objects””

Spirialing ‘UFO’ Over Australia Was Likely Falcon 9 Rocket


Logical explanations take all the fun out of UFO’s. After the Falcon 9 rocket launched successfully, later, over on the other side of the world, people in Australia saw a spiraling object in their early morning skies, about 6 am local time. Geoffrey Wyatt, from the Sydney Observatory, said it appeared to have been the Falcon 9 rocket, which launched about an hour earlier.

Another image below.

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The image is from the 9MSN website in Australia, where you can see more images.

If you recall, there was another spiraling rocket that created a visual sensation over Norway in December of 2009.

Hat tip to The Original Rocket Dungeon. Added later: Oh, and I see the Bad Astronomer has fully explained the whole thing!

Report: UFO Sightings Coincide with Popular Sci-Fi Films, TV

The British Ministry of Defense released 4,000 pages of documents detailing hundreds of UFO sightings between 1981 and 1996. A summary of the documents by UFO expert David Clarke comes as no surprise to scientists and skeptics: many of the sightings coincide with the release of popular sci-fi movies or television shows.

609 UFO sightings in 1996, compared with 117 in 1995 correspond with the rise in popularity of the “X Files” television show and the release of the alien blockbuster film “Independence Day.” “Obviously, films and TV programs raise public awareness of UFOs and it’s fascinating to see how that appears to lead more people to report what they see to the authorities,” Clarke said.

The documents released include sightings reported by police officers and fighter pilots as well as young children, the Daily Mail reported Monday. 90% of the sightings could be explained by mundane objects such as bright stars and planets, meteors, artificial satellites and airship advertising.

The other 10% were listed as “unexplained,” mainly because of insufficient information.

For an excellent overview of what really happened in one of the most famous UFO stories of all, the 1947 Roswell, New Mexico alien spaceship crash, listen to Brian Dunning’s 365 Days of Astronomy podcast on the subject.

Source: Reuters, UPI