A topic about outer-space and everything in it, from little green men to big spirally galaxies

Cassini Takes a Photo of Earth While Looking Through Saturn's Rings

Earth as Seen From Between Saturn's Rings

Just to break things down in case you've lost your sense of wonder: a robot orbiting around Saturn just took a photo of all 7.5 billion of us sitting on a pinhead, and framed it with Saturn's rings.

Or, let's allow Carl Sagan to present a more eloquent explanation (originally written in 1994 regarding the original 'pale blue dot' image taken by Voyager 1):

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

Cassini is about to dive into Saturn's rings on its way to its 'grand finale' - a death plunge into Saturn itself.

More information on the photo is available at the Cassini website.

Reports About the Demise of the UFO Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

There's a persistent joke on the 'net about how, as camera phones have grown in usage, the number of UFO sightings has dropped (e.g. this XKCD comic). And while this joke has morphed slowly into an assumed fact, the truth of the matter is actually the opposite - at least in Canada anyhow.

Need proof? See the 2016 Canadian UFO Survey, which shows that UFO sightings are currently being reported at near-record levels. The Canadian UFO Survey has been compiled by UFOlogy Research Manitoba since 1989, and in 2016 they recorded 1131 officially filed UFO reports - the fifth year in a row above 1000 cases - which "clearly contradicts comments by those who would assert that UFOs are a ‘passing fad’ or that UFO sightings are decreasing in number".

Here's a graph of the numbers of reported sightings of UFOs in Canada from 1989-2016, just for clarity:

Graph of the Number of Canadian UFO Sightings 1989-2016

Of course, a high number of UFO sightings doesn't necessarily translate to something inexplicable. As noted in a blog post summarising the report, most of the UFOs reported were just simple lights in the sky, while 'close encounters' comprised less than 1 in 100 of the reports. Additionally, it has to be noted that the number of cases considered "Unexplained" was just 4%. And further...

...It should be emphasized the classification of Unknown does not imply alien visitation. Each case may still have an explanation following further investigation. And of those that remain unexplained, they may remain unexplained, but still are not incontrovertible proof of extraterrestrial intervention or some mysterious natural phenomenon.

For more detailed (and fascinating) breakdowns of the data, as well as selected cases of interest, see the full 2016 Canadian UFO Report (PDF download).

Cassini's Grand Finale

While I'm not exactly in the mood to marry a robot, if ever there was a machine that I could love it is the Cassini probe. After almost 20 years in space on its mission to investigate Saturn and its moons, later this month the probe will begin a five month approach that will see it eventually destroyed as it descends into the cloudy atmosphere of the ringed planet.

To commemorate Cassini's two decade-long mission, NASA and JPL have released the short video above.

The final chapter in a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery, Cassini's Grand Finale is in many ways like a brand new mission. Twenty-two times, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will dive through the unexplored space between Saturn and its rings. What we learn from these ultra-close passes over the planet could be some of the most exciting revelations ever returned by the long-lived spacecraft. This animated video tells the story of Cassini's final, daring assignment and looks back at what the mission has accomplished.

For more detailed information about Cassini's 'grand finale', head over to the NASA website.

Fly Above the Surface of Mars in this Stunning Video

What would it be like to float above the surface of the Red Planet in a dirigible (because that's how H.G. Wells would have wanted it dammit)? Something like the video above I'm guessing, painstakingly constructed frame-by-frame by Finnish engineer and photographer Jan Fröjdman from still anaglyph images taken by the HIRISE camera:

The anaglyph images of Mars taken by the HiRISE camera holds information about the topography of Mars surface. There are hundreds of high-resolution images of this type. This gives the opportunity to create different studies in 3D. In this film I have chosen some locations and processed the images into panning video clips. There is a feeling that you are flying above Mars looking down watching interesting locations on the planet. And there are really great places on Mars! I would love to see images taken by a landscape photographer on Mars, especially from the polar regions. But I'm afraid I won't see that kind of images during my lifetime.

It has really been time-consuming making these panning clips. In my 3D-process I have manually hand-picked reference points on the anaglyph image pairs. For this film I have chosen more than 33.000 reference points! It took me 3 months of calendar time working with the project every now and then.

The colors in this film are false because the anaglyph images are based on grayscale images. I have therefore color graded the clips. But I have tried to be moderate doing this. The light regions in the clips are yellowish and the dark regions bluish. The clips from the polar regions (the last clips in the film) have a white-blue tone.There are a lot of opinions and studies of what the natural colors on Mars might be. But the dark regions of dust often seems to have a bluish tone. Please study this issue on e.g sites by NASA.

This film is not scientific. As a space enthusiast I have just tried to visualize the planet my way.

Be sure to HD and fullscreen that baby, it's so beautiful.

The Hunt for 'Planet Nine' Explained

Mystery planet

In recent years new astronomical observations have led researchers to suggest that there may be another large planet in our Solar System, on a very elongated, elliptical orbit compared to the rest of the planets. Since nicknamed 'Planet Nine' (Planet X perhaps being too heavy with Zecharia Sitchin baggage for 'respectable' astronomers?), the mystery object is believed to currently be in the general direction of the constellation of Taurus (as viewed from Earth).

If you'd like to understand the discovery, and now search for, the mysterious Planet Nine, check out the video below by Mike 'Pluto Killer' Brown of Caltech, which is a part of a free online astronomy course "The Science of the Solar System", offered by Coursera. Brown gives the historical background to the search for distant planets, then describes how astronomers (including him) came to believe there was another large planet to be found, and how they are going to try and find it. A very interesting, concise explainer of the Planet Nine story, I definitely recommend checking it out:

Related stories:

Researchers Say We Should Check for Alien Messages in Neutrinos

Radio telescopes

Researchers from Purdue University have proposed a new search for alien messages, not by scanning radio frequencies, but by looking for artificial patterns of neutrino pulses ('NU-SETI'). They note that since neutrinos are weakly interacting, any signal carried by a neutrino beam is "less likely to be distorted en route to Earth than would be the case for an electromagnetic signal":

In searching for SETI signals carried by neutrinos, there are at least two classes of signals that might be accessible to us. We start by recognizing that we already have the capability of generating pulsed neutrino beams at Fermilab, starting from pulsed proton beams. Specifically a pulsed beam was sent over a distance of 0.66 miles at an effective bit rate of 0.1 bits/sec, and was received with a detection accuracy of 99%. If we assume an advanced civilization can do somewhat better, then we can search for “universal” strings of pulses, say, those characterizing prime numbers 1,2,3,5,7,… The other class of signals would be those specific neutrino signals associated with an advanced civilization running exclusively on fission or fusion sources all of which produce characteristic neutrino signals.

It's all well and good to propose these things, but how viable is the search in real life given the equipment and time required? The researchers note that their proposed NU-SETI system would be "a scalable array of individual sites spread over the world", each looking for the signature decay rate of specific radioactive sources; each of those sites would cost approximately $20,000 to set up, so 1000 worldwide sites would cost $20million.

While this sounds like a non-starter based on the costs alone - especially considering how difficult it has been for regular SETI to raise funds over the years - the researchers involved point out that NU-SETI might happily be funded by "sectors sensitive to the effects of solar storms such as electric power companies and the military", as the data collected could simultaneously be used to predict solar storms and thus mitigate their effects. In that case, $20million seems like a bargain (as compared to, say, losing a satellite to an unexpected solar storm).

Link: "NU-SETI: A proposal to detect extraterrestrial signals carried by neutrinos" (PDF)

Related:

Chilean UFO Video Stumps Experts - But Is It Just a Jet?

We've waited a long while for a high profile UFO case, but on the weekend a new story broke and has since received plenty of coverage across the intarwebs. Unveiled by journalist Leslie Kean - author of the bestselling UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record - this latest UFO (or as they're now known, UAP...'Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon') report originated from two experienced officers in the Chilean Navy - and it was caught on video, notably infrared (see video above, object is first seen around 40 seconds in).

The sighting was made in November 2014, when the two naval officers were carrying out a routine daytime patrol aboard an Airbus Cougar AS-532 helicopter:

On board were the pilot, a Navy Captain with many years of flying experience, and a Navy technician who was testing a WESCAM’s MX-15 HD Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR) camera... The aircraft was flying at an altitude of approximately 4,500 feet on a clear afternoon with unlimited horizontal visibility...

...At 1:52 pm, while filming the terrain, the technician observed a strange object flying to the left over the ocean. Soon both men observed it with the naked eye. They noticed that the velocity and the altitude of the object appeared to be about the same as the helicopter, and estimated that the object was approximately 35 to 40 miles (55-65 km) away. It was traveling W/NW, according to the Captain. The technician aimed the camera at the object immediately and zoomed in with the infra red (IR) for better clarity.

Shortly thereafter, the pilot contacted two radar stations - one close by on the coast, and the other the main DGAC Control system (Ground Primary Radar) in Santiago - to report the unknown traffic. Neither station could detect it on radar, although both easily picked up the helicopter. (The object was well within the range of radar detection.) Air traffic controllers confirmed that no traffic, either civilian or military, had been reported in the area, and that no aircraft had been authorized to fly in the controlled air space where the object was located. The on-board radar was also unable to detect the object and the camera’s radar could not lock onto it.

The pilot tried several times to communicate with the UAP, using the multi-national, civilian bandwidth designed for this purpose. He received no reply.

The unidentified object was filmed for almost 10 minutes by the crew, and upon returning to base and reporting the encounter the Navy immediately turned over the footage to the CEFAA - the Chilean government agency consisting of military and technical experts that investigates UAP sightings. According to Kean "none of them have been able to explain the strange flying object", ruling out bird, flying insect, drone, parachute or hang glider as possible explanations.

One facet of the video that has received plenty of attention is that “in two instances [the UAP] discharged some type of gas or liquid with a high thermal track or signal”, according to the infrared camera technician. You can see this occurring around 8 minutes into the video above.

Chilean UFO Infrared Plume

According to French experts who examined the case, however, the object may have a simple explanation: the peanut-shaped infrared signature is an aircraft with twin-jet engines (as the shape was “consistent with the standard distance between the two jet engines of a medium-haul aircraft”), and the odd trails probably result "from dumping some cabin waste water, forming a plume oriented along the local wind blowing from the west.”

Kean says, however, that Chilean experts ruled this idea out for a number of reasons:

This plane would have been seen on primary radar; it would have had to be cleared for landing in Santiago or at another airport; it would likely have responded to radio communications. Airplanes do not throw out water when landing...[and] if - hypothetically - water was expelled, it would have immediately plummeted to the ground given the warm air temperature.

Reddit-detectives however seem to side with the French analysts, although a number suggest the jet may have been a military-grade aircraft, actually a fair distance from the helicopter and moving away from it on a slight angle, while the plumes are the thermal signature of the jet putting on its afterburners.

I'm a pilot. I've seen a few weird things in the air myself from time to time but the most interesting thing for me in this video is the plume it leaves behind at the end of the video.

What do I think it is? I think it's a fast jet of some kind running hot that's quite far away. The exhaust heat from it's engines is balling up behind it and the IR bloom from that heat is making it appear like a round ball in the sky and masking its shape.

The material it squirts out? It's basically igniting its afterburners and the hot exhaust heat is blooming from behind it in the line you see. If you look at a jet aircraft with afterburner like the F18 or something like that through FLIR, you will see the exact same thing.

...The object in question looks more like two orbs or circles pushed together which would what you would expect to see from a military twin engine jet aircraft like an F18 or similar style. Also as soon as the plume appears that thing speeds up really fast which is what you would expect from a jet that's just entered reheat.

Again though, the questions remain about the lack of radar ID from the ground (unless the jet was a looong way from the helicopter), and the lack of reply when asked to identify itself.

For these reasons, Chilean officials are sticking with the 'unidentified' designation. General Ricardo Bermúdez, director of the CEFAA during the investigation, told Kean...

The CEFAA is well regarded partly because there is full participation from the scientists of the academic world, the armed forces through their representatives, and the aeronautic personnel from the DGAC, including its Director. I am extremely pleased as well with the conclusion reached which is logical and unpretentious... [T]he great majority of committee members agreed to call the subject in question a UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon) due to the number of highly researched reasons that it was unanimously agreed could not explain it.

Links:

New Research Suggests Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts Could Be a Sign of Alien Civilisations

Starshot Radio Burst

The origin of so-called 'Fast Radio Bursts' has remained a cosmic mystery since the first 'FRB' was detected in 2007. But while explanations have included phenomena such as colliding black holes and dark matter-induced collapse of pulsars, a new theory suggests that FRBs could, perhaps, be a sign of intelligent alien life.

In the newly posted arXiv.org paper "Fast Radio Bursts from Extragalactic Light Sails", distinguished physicist and cosmologist Abraham (Avi) Loeb and co-author Manasvi Lingam put forward the suggestion that FRBs could be "artificial beams which have been set up as beacons, or for driving light sails".

Currently, only 17 FRBs have been recorded... Despite the diversity of explanations advanced for FRBs, the possibility that they may be of artificial origin has not been investigated, except for a brief consideration in Luan & Goldreich (2014).

...[The idea that extraterrestrial civilizations may be using radio beams is certainly not a new one, as it dates back to the pioneering paper by Cocconi & Morrison (1959). This idea was quickly picked up and extended by researchers engaged in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)

...[S]ome of the major observables for FRBs are consistent with the idea that they may be manifestations of extragalactic beams. However, this still fails to answer the important question of why they exist in the first place.

The authors firstly consider the idea that FRBs might serve as ‘beacons’, meant to broadcast the presence of alien civilizations. However, given the massive power expenditure involved in creating the beam, they then suggest that perhaps it is more likely such high-powered beams might instead be employed to propel spacecraft to "mildly relativistic speeds" using light sails.

Entertaining this idea and working through the relevant equations, the researchers were surprised to find that the beam frequency that would be optimal to power a light sail falls within the range of FRB frequencies. Thus, they note, "it seems quite reasonable to hypothesize that the beams are being used to power light sails".

(Another conclusion was that the likely size of a light sail using Fast Radio Bursts for propulsion would have a mass of approximately 1 million tons - a value "extremely high by human standards" - suggesting that the spaceship involved would likely be an “interstellar ark” or “world ship” of sorts.)

If the theory sounds familiar, it might be because we humans are currently working on a similar idea (though on a much smaller scale). The Breakthrough Starshot project, funded by Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner's $100 million investment in 2015, aims to send tiny space probes to our nearest star system at a fifth the speed of light, using light sails propelled by Earth-based lasers.

So it's perhaps worth noting that the research on this new FRB paper was "supported in part by a grant from the Breakthrough Prize Foundation for the Starshot Initiative", and also that Abraham Loeb is the Chair of the Advisory Committee for Breakthrough-Starshot.

Link: Fast Radio Bursts from Extragalactic Light Sails

(thanks Norman)

Somewhere in the Skies: Book Review & Exclusive Excerpt

Ryan Sprague is, as many of the people I admire the most in this field, a man who wears several hats: He's not only a professional playwright and screenwriter, but also has a life-long passion about the UFO topic, every since he had an impactful observation of a triangular object at the tender age of 12 years old.

Mind you, he's not a UFOlogist per se (at least, he doesn't like to use the label… another thing we agree upon!). Instead he prefers to present himself before the witnesses he interviews in his investigations as a 'journalist', and that is exactly the approach he used when he decided to write 'Somewhere in the Skies': Putting the witness at the forefront and let THEM tell the story of what allegedly happened to them in their own words; without any judgement, bias, or established agenda of what it is they exactly experienced.

Believe me, if this book was only about cool or never-before-published close encounters, I wouldn't have bothered in reading it in the first place --my days of getting 'a hard on' by consuming what my friend Greg Bishop calls 'UFO Porno' are long gone. Where 'Somewhere in the Skies' stands out among the rest, though, is twofold: First, it covers THE WHOLE GAMUT of otherworldly encounters, from the blissful to the totally terrifying and with people from all walks of life --even former military personnel-- showing how the response elicited by the phenomena can be as varied as the particulars of the witness itself; some of them may see something incredible that challenges all of their preconceptions about Reality or how the world is supposed to operate, and then move on with their lives; others may end up being so totally shaken up by the experience, it completely alters the course of their lives forever. Sometimes for the better... and sometimes for the worst.

It is the 'post-scriptum' of said experiences the second and most important part Ryan's research focuses upon. Yes, studying UFOs may yield us some new revelation in Physics, or even inspire us to conceive novel propulsion systems of energy sources --which is IMO what the great majority of 'nuts-and-bolts' UFOlogists' primary goal is.. that and being FINALLY vindicated by the individuals and institutions who have scorned them for so many years; but in dealing with such an elusive phenomenon thusly, the field has reprehensibly neglected that treasure trove of information which, unlike UFOs, tend to stay closer to the ground and for longer periods of time --the witnesses themselves.

Ryan decided to meet those individuals who are often relegated as a number on a graph by the 'just-the-facts-ma'am' researchers; he contacted them either via e-mail or by meeting them in person whenever possible, to see not only WHAT they experienced when being face to face with the Unknown, or HOW the experience impacted their lives (and that those closer to them); but also WHY they believe it happened to them in the fist place: Is it merely a matter of being in the right place and the right time, or are the witnesses being SELECTED somehow for some ulterior motive which escapes our comprehension? A supposition which seems more plausible, especially when dealing with the most extreme aspects of non-human encounters which are currently referred to as 'alien abductions'.

Some of the people Ryan interviewed have had years to process what they witnessed; decades even, for a few of them. Integrating such a transcendental experience into one's life is not an easy feat, and obviously some turn out to be luckier than others (perhaps because of their particular 'safety net' of strong social and family relations). But among the wide array of testimony Ryan gathered, there spawns a single commonality: The world of these persons cracked wide open all of the sudden, and grew bigger and more incredible than they had never suspected before.

Perhaps, just perhaps, that's just the whole point of all of this.

In one way or another, many whom I’ve interviewed in the
writing of this book described the very same thing: a spiritual
experience. Something just beyond the physical realm had
struck them as they stared into the sky, trying so desperately to
process the mysterious phenomenon before them.

Throughout Ryan Sprague's text, an overall sense of optimism was palpable. Optimism when he interviewed a few brave scientists who dare to study the phenomenon seriously despite the obvious peril to their careers. Optimism when seeing how UFO witnesses and experiencers are creating support groups and online networks which help them deal with what may very well be the ultimate social closet of the XXIst century --interaction with a non-human intelligence.

But most of all, Ryan's optimism seems to spawn from a hope that, whatever the hell may be behind the UFO phenomenon, and the reasons behind its bizarre way to operate, it will nevertheless help us move forward in our collective and individual evolution.

I too confess to share that optimism. And because of that, perhaps my only big caveat with Ryan's book lies in his choice for the title. Because the true key to uncover this mystery may not reside 'somewhere in the skies.' The key may be right here, with each and every one of us.

So let us find that key, and see what doors we may unlock with it.
_____________________________________________________________________

Addendum: In order to entice those Grailers who may still be in the middle of a rush Xmas online shopping, into adding Somewhere in the Skyes on their Amazon list, Ryan and Richard Dolan Press were kind enough to grant the Daily Grail with an exclusive excerpt. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

The Catalyst

Being the sole patron in a bar can be liberating. Then again, it can also be depressing. I embraced the former.

“What’ll it be?” he asked.

“Bourbon. Neat.”

Tyler, as I would soon learn his name, poured a generous dose of Kentucky goodness into a smudged glass. It was April 25th, 2013, and I was one of few patrons in this dive bar on the
Lower East Side, an area of Manhattan that I didn’t frequent often. But this was a special occasion and I needed something to calm my nerves. Within the hour, I was to take part in an
interview about UFOs. So it didn’t hurt to have a small bit of inebriated confidence.

As I took my first sip, something caught my attention above the two tiered shelf of liquor behind the bar. Hung rather haphazardly by a rusty nail was a billiards triangle rack. On one side of it was a smudged autograph, presumably from a celebrity pool shark back when this bar actually had a table to play on. I stared up at the triangle, its shape reminding me quite vividly of how my entire interest in the UFO topic had begun.

It was 1995, and I was twelve years old. My parents and I were on a weekend getaway to the Saint Lawrence River, a lengthy body of water situated between upstate New York and Canada. As I fished off a nearby dock at our motel, hoping to catch every perch and sunfish the lake had to offer, I noticed a reflection in the water of something in the pitch black above.

Naturally, my gaze veered upward. I spotted three white lights in a distinct triangular formation. While I could see no solid structure, the stars were blotted out behind the formation. These lights, constant, yet pulsating, were moving over the water in complete silence. I could then make out a hazy red light in the center. It seemed to burn brighter than the lights at each point. All I remember hearing was the water hitting the dock in its natural rhythm. I could feel a low vibration behind my ears, running down my neck and into my chest. I watched in awe as this formation slowly moved north toward the Canadian border. I called for my parents to come take a look. When they finally did, all they saw was what they assumed was an airplane fade out of sight. I knew differently.

This experience at such a young age terrified me. I became obsessed, taking out book after book from the public library, researching accounts of sightings, encounters, and even abductions. I would write essays to myself about them. It was clear that whatever I saw that night stayed with me for years to come, prompting me finally to seek out others who had found themselves tangled in a UFO web. I started to interview people in my hometown. I compiled local reports. I was essentially paving my way to finally branch out and begin writing for several alternative publications on the topic. And thus, my career as a UFO journalist had ostensibly begun. And while most days consisted of interviewing others, the proverbial pen (and camera) were now being flipped onto me.

My colleague Peter Robbins and I were to be interviewed by a research group out of Copenhagen, Denmark. Their focus: the 1980 Rendlesham Forest incident which occurred near a military base in rural East Anglia, England. Over three consecutive days, U.S. military personnel witnessed a craft of unknown origin land in the forest that surrounded their base. One witness also stated that the craft had adversely affected nuclear ordnance stored in nearby bunkers. A strategic coverup was set in motion days after the events, keeping the entire Rendlesham incident under wraps for years to follow. Robbins had co-written a British best-selling book about the incident, along with one of the key witnesses and the original whistle-
blower, Larry Warren. The book, Left at East Gate: A First-Hand Account of the Bentwaters-Woodbridge UFO Incident, Its Cover-Up and Investigation, remains the best-documented account of this deeply controversial case.

My involvement in the case was peripheral, consisting specifically of a stage play I was developing at the time. The play would chronicle the ten year journey it took Robbins and Warren to write the book. Robbins, having a strong theatre background, embraced my endeavor with open arms. It was a match made in ufological/theatrical heaven. And I was very excited to share my own thoughts on the case.

“Brings ya down here, man?” Tyler asked.

“Being interviewed for a Danish television show,” I responded.

His ears perked. This clearly wasn’t the answer he was expecting.

“What’s the interview about?” he asked.

“An incident that occurred on a military base in England.”

“Heavy. What happened?”

“About eighty personnel witnessed some... strange stuff.”

He pressed on. “What was strange about it?”

I was cornered. I had no choice. What I said next would either make or break the conversation. I’d experienced this conundrum many times before, and I was ready to immediately be shrugged off.

“It was a UFO sighting.”

You could hear a pin drop. Rather impressive for lower Manhattan.

“UFOs. That’s uh... that’s...”

He was done. I went to take a sip from my glass when Tyler suddenly slapped his hand on the bar, a sharp echo bouncing off the empty brick walls, causing me to dribble the bourbon down the front of me.

“Fucking awesome!”

He proceeded to throw down a coaster next to my drink, quickly rounding the bar and sat next to me.

“So are you like, a ufologist or something?”

I hadn’t lost him after all.

“Journalist,” I bit back. The term, ufology, had always rubbed me the wrong way. While it was indeed a topic of study, I never considered myself knowledgeable enough to stamp the “ologist” on my forehead. At least, not yet.

“Ever heard of the Phoenix Lights?” Tyler asked.

I had indeed. I had actually written extensively about the Phoenix Lights incident in past articles. The incident occurred on Thursday, March 13th, 1997, in and around the areas of Phoenix, AZ and Sonora, Mexico. Hundreds of individuals witnessed variouslights and v-shaped craft floating through the night skies. Their testimony was only strengthened when the Arizona governor at the time, Fife Symington, also came forward to say he’d witnessed the event. Not only had I written
about these events, but I had personally spoken with half a dozen witnesses who were directly involved. Tyler would now make lucky number seven. He went on to describe his sighting in great detail, a rush of excitement consuming him. I watched his eyes shut tightly as he tried recalling street names, his arms flailing like helpless ribbons taped to a desk fan. His wingspan
was impressive as he went on to describe the enormity of a craft, once again in a v-shaped formation, that hung silently in the Arizona sky that night. Every word seemed like a confes-
sion. Something he had pushed down so deep for so long. He began to sweat as he fell further into his own memory, living out every moment in great detail.

I couldn’t help but revel in this situation. I had walked into a random bar in a random neighborhood on a random day that a random bartender happened to be working, and this hap-
pens. In his incidental questioning of why I was there, Tyler had opened the floodgates to something he most likely hadn’t spoken of in years, if ever. He had sparked a conversation that
many had before but rarely admit to: experiencing something beyond his control. Beyond his concept of reality. Whatever happened in Arizona that night touched the lives of thousands
of people. And each and every one of those people had stories to tell.

Tyler told me to stop by the bar any time and we’d discuss his sighting in greater detail. But for now, I had to make way to my appointment. And as I left the bar that day, warm and fuzzy from the bourbon sloshing around in my empty stomach, I headed toward my destination invigorated by the serendipitous encounter that had just occurred. I walked toward the location of the interview to meet our interviewer, Frederik Uldall, and his wife, Ditte. Peter was already there,
dawning his usual brown leather jacket and Indiana Jones-like hat. He smiled brightly, conversing with Frederik. After a few hugs and handshakes, we headed upstairs to begin.

As Frederik prepared the camera, I looked over at Peter. He was making small talk with Ditte, who was playing gracious host for the day. Peter let out a sincere laugh that stood out to me. And for a brief moment, I thought to myself of how rigorous it must have been for both he and Larry to spend ten years of their lives on a single book project. The passion, blind faith, and sheer determination to bring to light not only a case they felt deserved it, but the fact that they had placed the UFO phenomenon prominently in front of so many people who had never thought twice about it.

I wanted that. I wanted something that I could bring to the table that would make people think. And in that moment, as I sat in my chair, feeling like I still had so much to learn, I knew I wanted to write this book. I wanted to write it for Peter. For Tyler. And for the hundreds of people I have
corresponded with throughout the years who all have stories to tell, but weren’t quite sure if anyone would listen. I hope, in some small way, that this book is evidence that there are those
who will listen. Who will relate. Who will think. And perhaps will feel compelled to come forward with their own experience.

Perhaps,reflecting back on that moment as Frederik pressed record on the camera, I didn’t quite know how crucial it was for these stories to be told. Not for some grand revelation or epiphany of sorts. But for closure. For those who have experienced something they cannot explain and feeling as though they were alone. So many others have had similar experiences, each more bizarre than the last. And perhaps they’d find closure in knowing that most would empathize the best way they know how: by listening, reading, and acknowledging that something far more complex is happening than just lights in the sky.

After about an hour or so of on-camera conversation about Rendlesham and various other UFO-related topics, Frederik stopped recording. He shied away from the camera, staring
straight at the floor. He shook his head. With a nervous laugh and a sharp Danish accent, he reacted simply with, “Unbelievable.”

And it was. Most of it. With each passing story, it never got easier to just believe. In fact, it was the complete opposite. As I ventured further and further down the rabbit hole of mystery, I would meet many different people on the way. Some would become close friends. Others would remain on the periphery, happy to tell their story, but going no further. And some would leave lasting impressions on my journalistic and personal life. And it began where most UFO sightings often did. With lights in the sky.

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Somewhere in the Skies: A Human Approach to an Alien Phenomenon [Amazon US & UK]

Excerpt shared with permission by the author and Richard Dolan Press, 2016.

Speculations on the Physics of Alien Spaceship Propulsion

Shell Spaceship in Arrival

When I saw the new 'alien first contact' movie Arrival last week, one particular element that made me smile was seeing the alien spaceship leaving Earth basically by dissolving into a cloud or mist. Readers with Fortean tastes will likely be familiar with tales of UFOs disappearing into clouds. For example:

On many occasions UFOs are reported to become gradually engulfed in a vapor cloud. One such case can be found in James McCampbell's "Effects of UFOs upon people": A highway patrolman saw a strange object sitting on the ground in the San Joaquin Valley of California. It was early morning on a wintry day. Suddenly, the object became surrounded by a mist. Then a brilliant glow appeared as the object rose off the ground.

And another:

A doctor saw two large disk-shaped objects merge into one, and the single object sent a beam of light in his direction. It vanished with a sort of explosion, leaving a cloud that dissapated slowly.

This 'dissolving into mist' factor - along with other elements from UFO sightings - have been discussed at length by some UFO researchers as possible clues to they way in which they travel (although doing so does tend to make the perhaps erroneous leap from 'UFO' to 'spaceship'). However, there seems little consensus, with explanations for the link ranging from the effects of plasma propulsion, to reduced atmospheric pressure surrounding the UFO.

So I was interested today to read polymath Stephen Wolfram's length discussion of his contribution to the science in Arrival. Wolfram covers a lot of ground, but at one point he does appear to discuss his idea for how the aliens might achieve interstellar travel (an idea which he came up with overnight, surprising even himself):

Maybe the spacecraft has its strange rattleback-like shape because it spins as it travels, generating gravitational waves in spacetime in the process... The gravitational waves would lead to a perturbation in the structure of spacetime, [and] the spacecraft somehow “swims” through spacetime, propelled by the effects of these gravitational waves. Around the skin of the spacecraft, there’s “gravitational turbulence” in the structure of spacetime, with power-law correlations like the turbulence one sees around objects moving in fluids. (Or maybe the spacecraft just “boils spacetime” around it…)

So there you go UFO researchers, there's another possibility to add to your list of propulsion theories!

There's much more of interest in Wolfram's blog post, I recommend it for anyone interested in high-concept scientific thinking about the alien contact scenario. And one particular passage stood out to me, not so much because of the 'alien' concepts discussed, but a very human one. These days, it often seems to be the case that 'speculation' is a no-no in scientific thinking - "stick to the facts". But Wolfram points out how liberating it felt for him to explore how 'the impossible' might be achieved:

It’s fun for an “actual scientist” like me to come up with stuff like this. It’s kind of liberating. Especially since every one of these science fiction-y pieces of dialogue can lead one into a long, serious, physics discussion.

I think there has to be room for plenty of speculation in science - it's just a case of communicating clearly to others that you are doing so, rather than suggesting something as a certainty.

Link: Quick, How Might the Alien Spacecraft Work?

Further reading: Your Choice of Starships (at Centauri Dreams)