History never repeats, right? Longtime Forteans will remember well the tragic Heaven's Gate cult, in which members committed mass suicide in 1997, hoping to release their souls so that they could travel to an alien spacecraft that was said to be accompanying Comet Hale–Bopp. Well, with the impending arrival of the much-anticipated Comet ISON, a number of websites have gone into overdrive (e.g. this one) claiming that the new comet is accompanied by...alien spacecraft.
Thankfully, NBC science reporter Alan Boyle has set the record straight over at his Cosmic Log blog:
It all started with a series of images captured by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 UVIS instrument on April 30. Various exposures were combined to produce a widely distributed color picture of Comet ISON against a background field of stars. When Internet sleuths took a close look at the archived image, it looked as if there were three separate objects hiding in the glare of ISON's coma.
Was ISON breaking up? Was the comet being escorted by two alien spacecraft? No. Just no.
Richard White, principal investigator for the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes, explained that the image was a composite, created by averaging the data from three separate camera exposures. The three objects are just different views of Comet ISON's nucleus.
"The comet itself does not have three pieces," White wrote. "They are an artifact from adding up the separate exposures. The comet does not look the same in each exposure because both the comet and the Hubble telescope are moving during the exposure. The comet is blurred, just as a picture taken out the window of a moving car will be blurred."
Although for those that want to believe, this will probably just be part of the conspiracy. If so, don't listen to those Illuminati-NASA mouthpieces...listen to history - comets have always caused humans to start the doom-talk, so perhaps this time around let's dial back the hysteria a bit and enjoy the sky show instead? At least until high-ranking politicians start boarding rockets...
I'm aware that to most people visiting this site that name is unfamiliar, yet to many UFO enthusiasts in the Spanish-speaking world, Ferriz is nothing short of a legend. Not only was he one of the first to investigate & popularize the topic in Mexico with his TV program Un Mundo nos Vigila (A World is Watching Us), but he was also a pioneer in Latin American telecommunications. During his long career he managed to interview many of the most important figures of the XXth century --among them Werner Von Braun-- and he was also responsible for covering the lunar landing of Apollo XI.
In the field of UFOlogy he was a close friend & associate of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, and in 1977 he organized the 1st international UFOlogy congress in Acapulco, Guerrero, which managed to gather the leading investigators in the field --Jacques Vallée, John Keel, Salvador Freixedo, Fabio Zerpa, Enrique Castillo Rincón, Walter Andrus, Hynek, William Spaulding & Ray Stanford.
Ferriz never shied away from expressing his opinions with regards to UFOs, even at the expense of the warm-hearted puns he would occasionally receive in the Mexican media; although nothing as mean-spirited as the way the subject is often ridiculed in the United States or the UK.
There's an anecdote Don Pedro was fond of telling that illustrates this point perfectly: In 1974, during a brunch organized by Mexico’s National Association of Broadcasters in which president Luis Echeverría had been invited as the guest of honor, a few of the attendees started teasing Ferriz with some UFO jokes; but the teasing stopped altogether, when president Echeverría raised his voice and said "I have seen a UFO" in front of the whole perplexed audience. He then proceeded to describe the sighting of a pencil-like 'mothership' which allegedly caused a blackout in the city of Cuernavaca in 1965 [Head over to Open Minds to read the rest].
In fact, when in 1978 Grenada was trying to lobby a UN resolution for the organization of an international effort to study UFOs, Mexico was being informally proposed by some members as the nation to head the initiative. In the preamble of his co-authored book Los Ovni y la Arqueología de México (UFOs & Mexico's Archeology) Don Pedro describes the meeting he had with the next president of Mexico (José López Portillo) who asked him if he would be interested in leading the UN project [See EDIT below]. We all know the initiative fizzled out when Gairy was ousted in Grenada, but this goes to show just how much respect Ferriz enjoyed in the highest echelons of Mexican politics --Srsly now: how many UFOlogists can you name who have received messages of condolences from presidents when they passed away?
Go on, take your time.
Some 28 years or so ago, due to those inscrutable forces that shape the destinies of men, the book I mentioned above fell on my hands. And my life was never the same*.
Now that I'm about to turn 40, I find myself still immerse in the search for answers to questions which governments & scientific organizations still refuse to acknowledge, either because of sheer ignorance or cowardice. I still keep raising my eyes to the stars up above, and feel myself in awe by its sheer vastness. It's in those moments of humbling realization when it's easy to imagine that another world is keeping an eye on us.
Descanse en Paz, Don Pedro. Thank you for opening my eyes, my mind --and my heart.
(*): Head over to the Intrepid Blog, where you can find an essay I wrote about Los OVNI y la Arquelogía de México, a jewel of a book which should be reprinted & translated to other languages.
[EDIT] Tonight I went to pick my copy of Los OVNI y la Arqueología de México, and I realized I made a serious mistake: It was in 1972 when a group of Americans requested the intervention of Mexico to launch an international effort to study UFOs. The president at that time was Díaz Ordaz, although Don Pedro does not specify the reason why the initiative didn't prosper.
The reason I became confused is because in that paragraph UN Secretary General U-Thant gets mentioned --U-Thant was particularly interested in the UFO phenomenon, and believed "it stood second in international scientific importance only to Vietnam" [Reference]. In any case, my error illustrates how Don Pedro enjoyed the friendship of several presidents of Mexico.
Our Sun emits a constant stream of charged particles from its upper atmosphere that is known as the 'solar wind'. This supersonic stream of particles, which creates our Solar System's 'heliosphere', varies in speed and density over time, and designer Helen White has created a novel way of experiencing this solar phenomenon. She has created a 'solar wind chime' using real-time data from an instrument aboard a NASA spacecraft launched 16 years ago:
Solar-wind Chime turns solar wind data into sound. The sound is generated by electromagnets oscillating a series of tuned aluminium tubes at their resonant frequencies. The 12 electromagnets are powered by driver boards controlled by an x-OSC...
...Solar wind speed is measured by the Solar Wind Electron, Proton and Alpha Monitor (SWEPAM) instrument aboard Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft currently observing the Sun. The data is sent back to groundstations and published by NOAA Space Weather Prediction Centre in a text file on an FTP site with only a few minutes delay.
...As the sun’s activity ebb’s and rises over the course of hours, days and months the chimes ambiently reflect this.
The CIA has 'officially' recognized the existence of the secretive 'Area 51' base (also known as 'Groom Lake', 'Dreamland', 'Paradise Ranch' etc) via the release of a 1992 document recording the history of two key aerial reconaissance programs. "The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and Oxcart Programs" (PDF) was written by CIA historians Gregory Pedlow and Donald Welzenbach more than two decades ago, and has just now been released to the public in response to a Freedom of Information request made in 2005 by George Washington University's National Security Archive (though a heavily redacted version of the U-2 portion of the document was published way back in 1998).
A number of media reports (and some skeptical sites) have immediately noted how this 'new' information about the U-2 and Oxcart (Lockheed A-12) programs puts the kaibosh on UFO enthusiasts' claims about alien spacecraft at Area 51; CNN reports that "the release of these reports seem to put the theories about aliens and flying saucers to rest for the time being". But while there is no shortage of hype and spurious mythology surrounding the possible craft at 'Dreamland', this is an ignorant view - the testing of the U-2 spyplane at Area 51 has been known for some time, both in military history circles and UFO research. Dr. Gerald Haines noted back in the 1990s that, "according to later estimates from CIA officials who worked on the U-2 project and the OXCART project, over half of all UFO reports from the late 1950s through the 1960s were accounted for by manned reconnaissance flights (namely the U-2) over the United States". UFO historian Richard Dolan rebutted that claims somewhat in his 2002 book UFOs and the National Security State, while also acknowledging the testing of experimental aircraft at Area 51, including the U-2's maiden flight:
There are objects being tested and flown today of staggering technology. The fabled Aurora spacecraft, an open secret flown out of Area 51 in Nevada, possesses extraordinary speed, maneuverability, and stealth capabilities, and is rumoured to incorporate revolutionary principles in propulsion technology. Regarding the early years, CIA historian Gerald Haines argued recently that most UFO sightings in the 1950s and 1960s were actually of classified aircarft such as the U-2 and SR-71 planes. There is no doubt that some of those UFO reports were of these aircraft. A closer inspection of the facts, however, reveals his claim to be specious. The U-2, for instance, did not fly until 1955. Its altitude was typically eighty thousand feet, and it flew straight as a string. It did not hover, no accelerate instantly, no land vertically, nor do any of the other things thousands of witnesses attributed to UFOs. The same can be said for the rest of America's cutting-edge technology of the cold war.
Regardless of misinformed views, this new release is a welcome one, giving more details about the mysterious site and some of the operations that originated there. Though of course, the government and intelligence agencies will always fill in the picture how they want it filled in, so keep a handy dose of skepticism as to how much of the full picture you're seeing, and if the colours are genuine!
(And for some fun tales about Area 51, make sure you check out Blair MacKenzie Blake's Darklore 7 article about his adventures exploring the outskirts of Groom Lake with his good friend Danny Carey, drummer for Tool.)
On July 19, the Cassini space probe - in orbit around Saturn - use its wide angle camera to capture a spectacular view of our own planet as a speck in the distance, past the looming view of the ringed giant. Taken from the 'dark side' of Saturn, the photo shows a distant Earth, (898 million miles/1.44 billion km away) as a blue dot at center right - our Moon can just barely be seen as a fainter protrusion off the Earth's right side (this narrow angle shot shows the two more clearly).
And just in case you only glanced at it quickly before moving on to more pictures of cats and gossip about the royal baby, some perspective from Carl Sagan (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
Over at Scientific American, science writer @LeeBillings has an excellent article about a newly discovered astronomical anomaly, 'Fast Radio Bursts' (FRBs), that in the words of one scientist will herald "the birth of an entirely new area of research":
Every now and then things go "bump!" in the cosmic night, releasing torrents of energy that astronomers can't easily explain. Not that they mind: most times an energetic riddle flares up in their view of the sky, major epoch-setting discoveries are sure to follow. This was the pattern for pulsars—rapidly spinning city-size stellar remnants that steadily chirp in radio. It was also the pattern for gamma-ray bursts—extreme explosions at the outskirts of the observable universe thought to be caused by stellar mergers and collapsing massive stars. Now the pattern is playing out again, with last week's announcement that an international team of researchers has detected brief, bright bursts of radio waves washing over Earth from mysterious sources that may be billions of light-years away. The findings, reported in the July 5 Science, could open an entirely new window on the universe by allowing scientists to measure the composition and dynamics of the intergalactic medium—the cold, diffuse plasma that lies between galaxies.
Using a year's worth of data gathered from some 10 percent of the sky by the 64-meter Parkes radio telescope in Australia, the team detected four bursts from far outside the galactic plane, each occurring only once and lasting a few thousandths of a second. According to Dan Thornton, a PhD candidate at the University of Manchester in England who led the study, the results suggest that these "fast radio bursts," or FRBs, probably occur as often as every 10 seconds or so, nearly 10,000 times a day. "If we had radio telescopes watching the entire sky, that's how many we think we'd see each day," Thornton says. "We haven't seen more of these until now only because we've been looking at small regions of the sky for small amounts of time."
The final instalment of the UK Ministry of Defence's UFO files has been posted to the UFO page at the British National Archives, and can be freely downloaded by anyone interested in the topic. This latest release brings to a close the 'disclosure' of what has been labeled "Britain's X-Files":
The final tranche of UFO files released by The National Archives contain a wide range of UFO-related documents, drawings, letters, and photos and parliamentary questions covering the final two years of the Ministry of Defence's UFO Desk (from late 2007 until November 2009).
Discover the reasons behind the closure of the UFO desk, the handling of the largest number of UFO sighting reports received in 30 years and the disclosure campaign for ‘the truth’, which was sparked by the closure of the UFO Desk.
Start by reading our highlights guide (PDF, 363kb) to help navigate your way through the files.
As mentioned above, many of the files are taken up with the matter of the UFO desk's closure, but you'll also find a number of other things covered, from a mass of Chinese Lantern sightings through to interesting cases involving things like (what seems to be) ball lightning. Dr David Clarke has a good summary in the video above, and also check out the highlights guide (PDF) for pointers on where to find certain cases. Note that there is also now an app available for exploring the files on Apple devices.
With this final release being the 10th instalment of UFO files made available, I've added links below to our coverage of previous releases so that this post can be a definitive reference point for Grailers:
- The British X-Files (Release #1)
- More MoD UFO Files (Release #2)
- UK UFO Files Part Three (Release #3)
- UK UFO Files Part Four (Release #4)
- UK UFO Files Part Five (Release #5)
- UK UFO Files Part Six (Release #6)
- UK UFO Files Part Seven (Release #7)
- UK UFO Files Part Eight (Release #8)
- UK UFO Files Part Nine (Release #9)
- UK UFO Files Part Ten (Release #10, this post)
For those that like to take in a vista of galactic proportions: a photo I took last weekend of the centre of our galaxy, as seen from the dark skies of northern Australia (camera was a Canon 6D). Sharp-eyed folk will be able to see the constellation Scorpius among the throng of stars in the middle of the image (hint, look for the red giant Antares).
You can click the image for a larger version. I consider the pic to be public domain, so feel free to use it in any way you want.
Half-way through watching Mirage Men, a new documentary on how U.S. Intelligence agencies have deliberately sabotaged research into the UFO topic, I literally shook my head, saying to myself with a laugh "it's a hall of mirrors". By the end of the documentary, my statement had been echoed and expanded upon by one of the interviewees, Linda Moulton Howe, who described the entire story as "a fractured hall of mirrors with a quicksand floor". Howe should know: in 1983, while researching a documentary on the subject of UFOs for HBO, she was engaged by Richard 'Rick' Doty, an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), initially with the promise of helping her investigate an alleged UFO landing near Ellsworth Air Force Base. But Howe's meeting with Doty took an unexpected turn when the AFOSI agent suddenly produced a manila folder, saying she could take a look at it but, not remove it from the office or make notes. Within it was a document titled "Briefing Paper for the President of the United States of America on the Subject of Unidentified Aerial Vehicles", which listed a number of alleged UFO crash retrievals by the government, as well as paragraphs that became "emblazoned" on Howe's mind concerning how they had discovered that Homo sapiens was a species created by extraterrestrials through genetic manipulation of primates. Amazed by the information fed to her by the government agency at the time, in Mirage Men Howe looks back with three decades of perspective and wonders at the the amount of effort that must have gone into the deception: "they must have had meetings about 'how do we stop a persistent and dogged reporter who has already demonstrated that she's going to go after a really difficult subject?'." The question that comes to mind, and which runs throughout this entire film, is 'WHY?'.
This was not the first time that AFOSI agent Doty had willingly mislead investigators of the UFO subject, and it would not be the last. As such, he serves as the focal character in the documentary; it begins with the deception he helped orchestrate on Albuquerque businessman Paul Bennewitz, goes on to discuss the Linda Moulton Howe case, the infamous Majestic-12 documents (described in the film by another AFOSI agent, Walter Bosley, as the "perfect Perception Management Device", though Doty denies any involvement with it) and extends forward to the more recent controversy over the 'Project Serpo' hoax.
And Doty is no doubt a worthy candidate for the film to revolve around. Coming to the documentary with a fair amount of knowledge about Doty's deceptions over the years – with consequences (direct and otherwise) ranging from the wasting of UFO investigators' time through to the mental disintegration, eventual hospitalisation and death of Paul Bennewitz – I already had a dislike for the man, and was ready to truly despise him. But one of the things that catches you off guard is how harmless and genial he seems - the man is sitting before the camera, telling you how he has deceived people, and yet you feel that he seems to be a nice guy that you'd happily chat with at a neighbourhood barbeque. Though as Bill Ryan, who was initially taken in by the Serpo deception, points out, that's what makes him so effective: "Rick's great strength is he's a wonderful story-teller", says Ryan. "He's a very friendly guy [and] builds relationships easily". ... Read More »