Why Don't More Astronomers Report Seeing UFOs?

Yes, yes; the old skeptibunker question.

But maybe there's a simple answer.

The argument as presented by skeptics goes something like this: If UFOs were "real," the most would be seen and reported by those people who spend the most time watching the sky. Originally, the group of people that were considered most likely were astronomers, but it was quickly pointed out that most professional astronomers are too specialized and involved in academia to do much observing.

But amateur astronomers, on the other hand, do spend a lot of time observing the sky. They're the ones who really know what's up there.

A case in point: Ian Shelton made Time Magazine for discovering Supernova 1987a, the brightest of its kind. I went to school with him, and had the opportunity to talk with him about his discovery. Amateur astronomy telescope When we were in undergraduate astronomy in university, we were in a hallway and saw a poster advertizing a job for a graduate student in Chile, maintaining the University of Toronto's observatory literally on top of an isolated mountain. Already a family man by that point, there was no way I could have considered it, but Ian looked wistful and said, "That sounds neat." He applied and got the job.

Several months later, he was walking between domes on the Chilean mountaintop when he happened to glance upward. Now, you have to understand that Ian was (and is) a very good astronomer. He spent a lot of time observing the sky. He was the best at star-hopping and finding Messier objects and galaxies by eye, and could pick out comets like nobody's business. He looked up into the Chilean sky and knew that one particular star, out of the thousands visible, was out of place.

Ian had discovered a supernova. But he was an amateur astronomer, since he did not have a PhD yet.

It's amateur astronomers who spend time with their eyes glued to eyepieces at 40 below (like I did in my undergraduate years) mapping the Moon's surface. Looking for comets. Timing occultations. These days, a lot of the chore is done by computers and digital imaging devices, but it's usually amateurs who monitor the equipment.

A friend of mine, Dave, is a brilliant amateur astrophotographer. (The qualifier "amateur" hardly seems appropriate.) His photos of the Owl Nebula, the Horsehead and Jupiter's bands are poster-quality. I asked him about his process, and he said that he sets up his equipment in his dark site in Texas before dusk. He waits for darkness, punches the coordinates of the star or galaxy he wants to photograph into the telescope's computer, and makes sure it's centered and focused... and then goes into his warmup shelter and has a beer. Or three. The methodology guarantees success.

But I digress...

It's true; amateur astronomers watch the sky more than most people. Of course, there's fewer of them than there are other people who might casually or accidentally watch the skies, so that's why most UFO reports come from anyone other than amateur astronomers. The other reason is because, as skeptics point out, amateur astronomers can identify most UFOs they see. That is, if the see an object they can't immediately identify, it only takes a minute or two to determine it is a satellite or fireball, of something else. It is true, however, that even experienced amateur astronomers file UFO reports about unusual objects they have seen whilst doing their observing.

But skeptics insist that most "real" UFOs would be reported by amateur astronomers. The reasoning is that if there were any real alien spacecraft approaching Earth, then they would be observed by amateurs' Earthbound telescopes. Also, since amateurs are often blogging or emailing each other about their observations, the news of an anomalous object heading for Earth could not be kept secret. That's how comets are discovered; similarly, asteroids and wayward satellites.

No such discovery has been bouncing around the astronomy ListServs, therefore, there are no alien starships coming to Earth.

UFO buffs, however, note some flaws in the reasoning. First, if we assume aliens are advanced enough to have conquered interstellar space travel, their technology may be more advanced than we can understand. In fact, why couldn't they be here or have come and gone already without our detection? It's kind of Stephen Hawking's suggestion that if aliens are technologically advanced, then they may be very technologically advanced; not just a few hundred years, but tens of thousands, or a million? If our own civilization lasted a million years, can we even conceive of what it would be like?

Secondly, amateur astronomers may be good observers of astronomical objects, but would they be able to identify objects within their own frame of reference? If a UFO flew over their observing site, would astronomers notice it, and if so, report it?

Some note that the tenet that "UFOs are nonsense" among the scientific community is very strong in astronomy circles. Amateurs might be very hesitant to report their observations, thus the percentage of UFO reports among this demographic might be artificially lower than the general population, which has less of a social stigma in this regard.

But another possible explanation was recently noted by my wife, whose insights are always significant. In her research on an unrelated subject, she came across a reference to a famous psychology experiment that may be relevant to this issue.

The experiment was performed and results published by Daniel Simons and Christipher Chabris in 1999. (Simons D J, Chabris C F, 1999, "Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events." Perception 28(9) 1059 – 1074.) They noted:

Our results suggest that the likelihood of noticing an unexpected object depends on the similarity of that object to other objects in the display and on how difficult the priming monitoring task is.

For the experiment, they filmed a scene of several people passing a basketball to one another, and showed the film to a group of participants in the experiment, asking them to note how many times the players in white shirts passed the ball. As much as 70% of the time, the viewers counted the passes correctly, but failed to see the guy in a gorilla suit walking through the scene.

View the clip at:

http://viscog.beckman.uiuc.edu/media/ig.html

The phenomenon of inattentional blindness occurs when people are focused on a specific task and ignore other things around them. This could be one reason why so many people can be out observing the sky and fail to see something out of the ordinary flying overhead. This would be most relevant for professional observers of the sky, like pilots, meteorologists and astronomers.

In other words, an astronomer observing the night sky, looking for comets or simply tracking a planet's progress for astrophotography, might not observe a UFO moving in the area. It's the focus of one's attention that prevents observation of things not of interest. And UFOs are definitely not of interest to astronomers.

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Rick MG's picture
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Great article Chris, thanks.

The insistence of skeptic astronomers that they have the authority on everything above our heads is a joke. Not only are they missing the possibility that UFOs are interdimensional or supernatural, but they're also ignoring the simple fact that you don't need a degree in astrophysics to know that what you saw wasn't the light of Venus reflecting off swamp gas.

Vallee has mentioned in his books that astronomers he knows have confided to him that they have seen UFOs but refuse to discuss it publicly for fear of ridicule & career suicide. I personally know an amateur astronomer, high up in the local hierarchy & a staunch skeptic, who has observed a UFO he can't explain by any earthly means -- yet he refuses to discuss it with anyone for fear of peer ridicule.

As you point out Chris, an astronomer's focus is way out there, beyond the Earth's atmosphere, comets & stars etc -- the overwhelming majority of UFO sightings occur in our atmosphere, below 40'000 feet. Which is why many reputable sightings are reported by pilots & their crew, who are trained to observe everything in the sky around them for obvious reasons. Hence the mind-blowing November 2007 National Press Club UFO conference involving pilots from all over the world.

Who do you trust to accurately observe and report a UFO -- the Bad Astronomer, or General Wilfried De Brouwer, former Deputy Chief of Staff, Belgian Air Force (Ret.)?

~ * ~

@levitatingcat

red pill junkie's picture
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Of course, there's also another thing to consider: that the phenomena behind UFOs might induce different perceptions on different witnesses.

Reading the book 'Heavenly Lights' written by Portuguese researchers Joaquim Fernandes and Fina D'Armada, which studies the records concerning the famous 1917 Fatima apparitions in a very thorough and scientific way, one comes to 2 conclusions:

1)Something extraordinary was witnessed by thousands of people on Oct 13, 1917 —i.e. approx 50 thousand people were gathered at Cova da Iria during the time of the event.

2)The many public statements and records show so many variations in what the people described, that it suggests the event had both a consensual & a subjective component perceived by the witnesses —i.e. most of them agreed on several broad details, like the fact the clothes of everyone present at Cova da Iria were 'miraculously' dried by some mysterious energy, but at the same time not everyone observed the same elements in the so-called 'Dance of the Sun'.

Another example of this is the fact that while Lúcia was perfectly capable of 'seeing' the entity, her two younger cousins were not —the other girl did see her but couldn't understand what she said, and the boy could only see her but couldn't hear anything. The voice of the entity was perceived inside the heads of the shepherds, as is often the case in such phenomena.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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Mystic Al Your Metaphysical Pal's picture
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Good point, Red.

Actually, come to think of it, isn't your observation implicitly covered by Jesus' disciples speaking to the masses in such a way each listener not only heard the 'message' as if it was spoken in their own particular tongue or dialect, but heard it as if was specifically addressed to them and specifically addressed their own unique set of personal circumstances?

red pill junkie's picture
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That's a fascinating passage of the Bible. I hadn't considered it that way, until now :)

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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Mystic Al Your Metaphysical Pal's picture
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A scientist who's both open minded and honest - there's hope for us yet, though even as I write this I'm aware somewhere someone's thinking, 'he's playing into the hands of the UFO freaks and the religious fundamentalists? He's just got'o be some kind of attention seeking sell-out or even a hidden agendaist', (a type of mentation I seem to be encountering everywhere, these days, where one set of scientists or 'scientifically minded' individuals attribute the most heinous of motivations to another set of scientists or 'scientifically minded' individuals simply because they see things differently to them - Simon Singh doesn't have the slightest clue to the atomic bomb he's in the process of setting off).

I only wish to add anyone who's ever looked at the sky with even a cheapo telescope or even a pair of binoculars immediately becomes aware just how severely their vision is restricted - they may well be seeing that particular tiny patch of the sky - say, a small part of a tiny crater on the moon - with considerable clarity, but the moment they alter their focus or, say, shift their telescope lens slightly to one side, everything they previously saw with such astonishing clarity immediately becomes completely unviewable. In fact, if anything, the activity of most 'proactive' astronomers amounts to viewing a huge, extremely complex, ever shifting picture one pixel at a time.

Statistically, therefore, astronomers whether professional or amateur're probably the individuals least likely to see UFOs - and that's before you factor in all Chris Rutkowski's observations.

alanborky

red pill junkie's picture
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I'll return the favor and say that's an equally good point to consider :)

Once again mentioning Fatima and 'Heavenly Lights', it's interesting to note how some astronomers that were interviewed back in that year for a comment on the event, admitted that a better suited field to look into the phenomenon —I'm referring here exclusively on Fatima— would be Meteorology —since it's pretty obvious the Fatima event was something that happened within the Earth's atmosphere.

But the book also points out something else: that according to Blue Book, a rather insignificant number of UFO sightings could be explained as atmospheric phenomena —this in reply to Howard Menzel's explanation of the Fatima event as a simple case of solar light refraction due to the 'lensing' of the atmosphere.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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Jameske's picture
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One is very likely to notice a flying gorilla.

One must care about the truth to seek it, and not care about the truth to find it.

Jameske

Greg's picture
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Jameske wrote:

One is very likely to notice a flying gorilla.

If people don't see a gorilla walking around during a basketball game, I don't think putting wings on it is going to make much difference.

Kind regards,
Greg
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You monkeys only think you're running things
@DailyGrail

Jameske's picture
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it depends on spatial frequencies and the difference that makes a difference. so, its an awful lot easier to notice a flying gorilla than one mooching about a basketball game. Then again, pigs might fly.

One must care about the truth to seek it, and not care about the truth to find it.

Jameske

earthling's picture
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You of all people should know it's easy, given sufficient thrust.

----
We are the cat.

Greg's picture
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Jameske wrote:

it depends on spatial frequencies and the difference that makes a difference. so, its an awful lot easier to notice a flying gorilla than one mooching about a basketball game. Then again, pigs might fly.

Spatial frequencies play both ways though. Sometimes you can sit there pointing out a plane or other object in the sky to someone else, and though it's as clear as day to you, they just can't see it.

And then there's the SEP field that the gorilla might be employing...
;)

Kind regards,
Greg
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You monkeys only think you're running things
@DailyGrail

Jameske's picture
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Ah yes, douglas adams. I got to see the origins of his dirk gently's holisitc detective agency recently. An unfinished episode of Doctor Who called Shada. Not very good because much of it had to be narrated by Tom Baker, but you can see where a good bit of it came from.

The gorilla and basketball issue doesn't work so well when you factor in real life. Peripheral vision and depth are so much richer than on a screen which limits them, and in tandem with instructions on a task to complete one can get drawn into unrealistic conditions. It will still have some sort of effect but it is a really minor one - for example when looking at a screen or looking into a telescope which amateur astronomers will often do. But amateur astronomers also spend a great deal of time just looking at the sky with their own eyes.

I once saw a UFO, over 20 years ago now, but back then I watched the night sky regularly. Knowing the behaviour of planes and helicopters, balloons and satellites etc... helps in determining the unidentified nature of it, although I discount aliens and extraterrestrial spacecraft - possible but unlikely. Maybe it was the Tardis :-)

One must care about the truth to seek it, and not care about the truth to find it.

Jameske

rfc's picture
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I have a belief in the power of human perception of the ordinary man. My father , who was an anti aircraft gunner in many world war two sea battles, observed in the year 1955 a structured UFO type machine that was not a conventional aircraft, this in broad daylight, and at very low altitude. To him it was shocking mostly because he understood aerodynamic principles, and this machine had no visible means of support. One does not need to be an astronomer, airline pilot, or a policeman to be a keen and experienced observer. I myself being something of a skeptic did not believe that my son and his friends had been seeing strange lights in the night sky for weeks, but I saw them myself one night while traveling along the highway in South Carolina with several other people just after dark. In one case they resembled the so called Phoenix lights, and in the second case moving objects emitting intermittent strong pinpoint strobe like flashes. I wont say they were alien spacecraft of course, but I don"t believe they were misidentified natural objects, or conventional aircraft with beacons either. talking this around I have heard many similar accounts. Its difficult to see objects at altitude during daylight, and even more so at night, so there is much room for doubt. How better to remain unobserved than to use night or altitude as a cover or even propulsion force fields to blur your craft's image? Well, people are far more in tune with the UFO subject nowadays and those who don't always look at the ground as most do, sometimes get to see things they are not supposed to see, as our visitors seem to be avoiding contact with us.

red pill junkie's picture
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Well, people are far more in tune with the UFO subject nowadays and those who don't always look at the ground as most do, sometimes get to see things they are not supposed to see, as our visitors seem to be avoiding contact with us.

The theatricality often displayed by the Ufos and their occupants in many sightings, forces me to question whether these objects ARE in fact intended to be seen by the witnesses.

Because if not, let's face it: those alien dudes suck at being covert.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
_______________
@red_pill_junkie

SeanDraoi's picture
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A few comments here for consideration.

1) Night Eyes : I was born into a farming community in Southern Ireland six decades ago; the community was still 'in the age of the horse' and we did not have electricity in the region for most of the first decade of my life.

There are few conditions of complete darkness; walking around the local roads at night, even cycling for miles in the 'in the dark' were accomplished skills that we took for granted. To this day I have better night vision and can see more details in land and sky than my adult kids that grew up in light polluted urban environments.

Once as a child towards the end of the fifties I pointed out a moving light in the night sky and asked if it was a plane only to be told by a man then in his seventies " them were there too when I was small ( 1890's) and there were no planes then "

2) This man said that the lights were seldom alone, that they could be seen in performing patterns like the points of a diamond shape 15....20 deg. over the horizon and again to quote my long dead old friend " when them will move, by God they will move" and they certainly they did.

He located one point of light and said that they " would make for that " they did first the two flanking lights followed a V path and converged with the first point and shortly after the one that had travelled in a straight line directly over did likewise. All points converged with the stationary light that then also moved off.

This 'main light' could go in any direction of the one eighty deg. but I have never seen it travel back over the areas covered by the smaller lights. The lights were about star size

3) I have seen this several times a year up to two decades ago.( Not camping or in the mountains so much at night since) Occasionally if crossing a mountain in a remote area I come out of the motorcar and take look. However it takes time for eyes to adjust and a cold mountain top exchanged for a warm car are not the most conducive to long patient random viewing. I have occasionally seen what may be lights conforming to patterns but only one sighting with certainty in 2006 that conformed to the old patterns described.

The skys over Southern Ireland are now on dozens of flight paths and the clear sky of four decades ago are now long gone. It is now very difficult to discern with the naked eye as to what is normal flight nav. lights and what is not among the moving lights.

4) While I have tried to get information on these specific lights over the years ( among other things I am a folklorist and historian ) there was unease discussing the phenomena as it was felt by my parents generation that these things belonged to 'the other side' ie the supernatural and the taboos of the 'fairy kingdoms' extended to any discussion in this sphere.

Perhaps this will be of some interest to the discussion. However going back to my opening point, I think that only somebody with a childhood environment such as mine and then coming into stellar observation would automatically notice and register anything outside the trained observational window. A 'townie' may live on the country but only a countryman or woman can instinctively live in it, to others it has to be a learned skill.

" Those who would give up essencial Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety " ........( Benjamin Franklin)

Inannawhimsey's picture
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14 April 2009
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Chris,

Your musings remind me of this:

Ray Hyman http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Hyman and Dean Radin http://deanradin.blogspot.com/ have been observing the same phenomena for a long time, now, yet Dean Radin says that 'Psi' exists and Ray Hyman, while admitting 'Something is going on here', still remains agnostic.

---------
All that lives is holy, life delights in life.

--William Blake