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

Meteor Shower in Russia Injures More than 250 People

In scenes reminiscent of the Hollywood movie Armageddon, a meteor shower has lit up the skies over Russia, with the shockwaves blowing out windows and injuring at least 250 people.

People in the Chelyabinsk and Sverdlovsk regions reported seeing "burning objects" in the sky, which also fell on the cities of Yekaterinburg and Tyumen - a sparsely populated area of about 500km (310 miles).

About 600 sq m (6,000 sq ft) of a roof at a zinc factory collapsed, the Associated Press quoted an interior ministry spokesman as saying.

The Chelyabinsk region is Russia's industrial heartland, an area that has many factories, a nuclear power plant and the Mayak atomic waste storage and treatment centre.

The emergencies ministry said that thousands of rescue workers had been dispatched to the area to provide help to the injured.

Officials say that the shower began after a large meteorite disintegrated above the Urals mountain range and partially burned up in the lower atmosphere - resulting in fragments falling earthwards throughout the Chelyabinsk region.

Coming just hours before the close pass of 2012 DA14, some in the region may well have been thinking the end had come as a series of massive explosive sounds echoed around the region:

The Most Realistic Fake UFO Video Ever

I've been saying for years that in the modern era of CGI special effects, all UFO videos are worth nothing without at least some independent verification of the sighting. And the YouTube video above is the perfect illustration of that, with its incredibly realistic rendering - take a look at it.

What's that you say? It's a very stylish looking alien craft, but you can see that it's obviously a fake that's been composited into the footage? Actually, that's the sucker punch. The mind-blowing revelation about this UFO footage is that *everything* in the video is CGI - the car, the sky, the entire environment:

“UFO Over Santa Clarita” was a painstakingly crafted joke played by Aristomenis “Meni” Tsirbas, the director of the 2007 computer-animated film Battle for Terra who has also contributed visual effects and animation work to movies like Titanic and Hellboy and several Star Trek television series. A long-time champion of “photorealistic” CGI, Tsirbas and his team spent about four months mimicking the look of an accidental extraterrestrial encounter captured on a smartphone.

And until now, Tsirbas hadn’t revealed the truth to anyone outside a handful of friends.

“The point of the video was to prove that CGI can look natural and convincing,” Tsirbas told Wired. ”Everybody assumes the background and car are real, and that the UFOs are probably fake, especially the over-the-top mothership at the end. The general reaction is disbelief, so I usually have to prove it by showing a wireframe of the entire shot to prove that nothing is real.”

Read the full story at Wired)

Forget Saturn's Ring - Mars has Bling

Shiny Thing on Mars

Mars just keeps throwing up surprises: the Curiosity rover has imaged a metallic-like protuberance emerging from a rock:

Visible in the image above, the protuberance appears to have a high albedo and even projects a shadow on the rock below. The image was taken with the right Mastcam on Curiosity on Sol 173 — January 30, 2013 here on Earth...

...the protuberance seems different than the rock on which it sits – it could be composed of material more resistant to erosion than the rest and similar material could be within the rock, or it could be something that is “grown” on the rock. However, it looks fairly smooth, and in fact it is not covered by dust as is the case for metal surfaces that tend to clean easily.

But “small” is the operative word here, as the little protuberance is probably about 0.5 cm tall, or even smaller.

The full image from NASA/JPL can be found here.

The Essential Fortean Booklist - Aliens, UFOs and ETs

Fortean Library Bookshelf

Late last year our good friend Matt Staggs posted a link to the "Nervous Breakdown Reading List: Occult and High Weirdness". This got me to thinking that once the Christmas craziness had settled down, a fun project might be to compile a list of books that any Fortean should definitely have on their bookshelf. But how to approach the compilation?

My thought was that the process could be done in two-steps. Firstly, I'll put out a general call (first one below) for NOMINATIONS of books to a certain Fortean category (to simplify things a bit). From that list of nominations, a short-list will be compiled based on the number of nominations, which will then be PUT TO A VOTE to determine the order of importance. I'm thinking some parts of the process may end up being a little organic, but this should provide us with a reasonably fair end result.

So, to kick things off, I'm going to start with the 'Alien' category, which at the moment comprises everything from UFOs and abductions to astrobiology and SETI. Given the broadness of this category (with some elements likely even mutually exclusive), I may have to separate the nominations into sub-categories - but I might wait to see what kind of numbers we have first:

The Essential Fortean Booklist

Category: ALIEN (UFOS, SETI, alien contact etc)

Please list a maximum of ten books that you think are required reading/reference material for a Fortean, in the comments section below. This may be for a number of reasons, from historical through to scientific importance. Note: this means it does not necessarily have to be the *best* or most *scientifically valid* book on a topic - the criteria is that it deserves to be on the bookshelf.

Note that the number of nominations may be crucial in making the short-list, so you shouldn't decide to not post a certain book just because it has already been mentioned.

A one or two line blurb accompanying the nomination describing the reason for its importance is encouraged and appreciated (and may end up being used in the final presentation of books)!

(You will need to be registered as a Daily Grail user to nominate and vote, to avoid spammers/self-promotion/poll-crashing by external sites.)

I look forward to seeing your recommendations!

Update: Nominations are now closed, but please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments for those who read this thread in future.

Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Joe Rogan Experience

The Joe Rogan Experience is a fun video interview podcast hosted by comedian and TV personality Joe Rogan, which delves into plenty of the topics that we cover here on TDG (they've recently had Graham Hancock and Steve Volk). The most recent instalment (above) has Joe hosting astrophysicist and science populariser Neil deGrasse Tyson, and I really enjoyed it. Somewhat suprisingly, because JR and NdGT are at fairly opposite ends of the spectrum in many ways - Rogan describes himself as "a person who's not scientifically inclined, and prone to conspiracy theories", while Tyson is an outspoken (and IMO, often condescending) science promoter who often makes fun of conspiracy/fringe proponents. So I was ready for a fairly awkward, snarky, back and forth - but instead, the conversation actually takes a little from both sides and turns out to be a really fun, respectful exploration of scientific topics, both orthodox and fringe.

(NSFW language warning)

Total Perspective Vortex 2013

Milky Way Total Perspective Vortex

In case you were starting to feel a little self-important as we set out exploring 2013 A.D., I give you a quick immersion in the Total Perspective Vortex. To be clear: that's the view off the edge of our little planet and into the abyss of the Milky Way galaxy.

Larger version here, if you dare.

(Photo by Andrew Hara, via @SETIInstitute).

The Road to the Heavens

Sometimes Alone, by Ben Canales

I love this image by astrophotographer Ben Canales, as it really illustrates how the Milky Way was sometimes seen by ancient people as the road (or waterway) to the stars (much like this image). Like catching a rainbow, you almost feel that if you walked far enough in that direction you could find the junction from where you could ascend to the heavens.

You can view a larger version, and also purchase a high-res version or print, by clicking on the image or right here.

Ben Canales on 500px

Swirling Vortex of Saturn

Saturn's Hexagon

At the centre of the famous 'pentagon' situated at Saturn's north pole (pictured above) lies a swirling vortex of cloud, and yesterday (November 27, 2012) the Cassini space-probe took a series of 'close-up' photos (that is, from just 361,000 kilometers away). I threw together a quick (non-real time) animation from Cassini's raw images archive - click on it if you want to see the bigger version (6MB):

'Looking down' upon the turbulent surface via these images, I couldn't help but be reminded of more than a few planetary descents in science fiction novels and movies, most notably the Prometheus capsule in Stanislav Lem's Solaris, the 'express elevator to hell' from Aliens, and definitely Operation Deep Sounding in Paul McAuley's The Quiet War. Imagine navigating your ship into the jaws of that maelstrom...

(via @elakdawalla / The Planetary Society)

James Moseley, 1931-2012

James W. Moseley, one of the pioneers in the field of ufology, has died aged 81. He was undergoing treatment for cancer of the esophagus in a Florida hospital when he died on November 16.

Jim Moseley entered the world of ufology at the very beginning, with his first two magazines devoted to the topic, Nexus and Saucer News, being published in the 1950s. Jim MoseleyHe was an associate of many 'legends' in the Fortean field, from Gray Barker to James Randi - and like those two individuals was somewhat of a trickster figure, often straddling the line of truth that separates researcher from raconteur. He was most well-known in recent decades for his newsletter Saucer Smear, a much-loved (and also often hated) 'gossip rag' that explored the rumours and politics of everything related to the UFO field (from feuds between ufologists through to opinions on skeptics) with a large helping of humour and snark.

No doubt there will soon be a number of testimonials from those who knew him best. Patrick Huyghe of The Anomalist described him as "one of the last remaining old timers from the golden age of flying saucers." Longtime researcher Jerome Clark, who considered himself a friend of Moseley's, wrote that, despite his massive presence in the field, "he was less interested in UFOs as such…than in the social world of persons concerned, intelligently or otherwise, with UFOs. His role in the UFO subculture cannot be captured in a single word. And if one has to use two, It was sui generis." Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman has posted his own obituary.

For those wishing to learn more about the man, and some eye-opening (though perhaps sometimes embroidered) tales from the history of ufology, look no further than his autobiography Shockingly Close to the Truth : Confessions of a Grave-Robbing Ufologist (Amazon US or Amazon UK).

Split Decision on Chilean UFO Case

Earlier this year I mentioned a new UFO case from Chile, based on footage taken at an air show over a military base in 2010. The footage was subsequently reported and handed over to CEFAA, the Chilean government agency in charge of investigating anomalous aerial phenomena. UFO researcher Leslie Kean was taking the lead in reporting on this case, and this is what she noted when it first came to light:

CEFAA officials collected seven videos of the El Bosque UFO taken from different vantage points. Bermúdez commissioned scientists from many disciplines, aeronautical experts, and air force and army photogrametric technicians to subject the videos to intense scrutiny. They all came to the same conclusions.

Each video included three different, mainly horizontal loops flown by the UFO within seconds of each other. The object made elliptical passes either near or around each of three sets of performing jets. It flew past the Halcones, F5s and F16s at speeds so fast it was not noticed by the pilots or anyone on the ground below.

In my original post I noted that I thought - with no further information, and speaking as a layman - that it looked like bugs not far from the camera. But given the talk that the objects had been caught from multiple angles, on multiple cameras, I said "we might just have something here" that would allow definitive analysis (and placement of the object in space), and I looked forward to that taking place.

Well, the analysis has happened, but it isn't definitive. Two reports have recently been released, analysing the footage, but they disagree in their findings. Each was done by a well-respected, long-time UFO researcher: Richard Haines, chief scientist for the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena (NARCAP), and retired Navy physicist Bruce Maccabee, an expert on photographic analysis of UFOs.

In his report (downloadable in .doc or .pdf from his website), Maccabee pointed out the approach taken in trying to map the location of the objects in space, and why he found this an impossible task:

The way to determine whether or not the object is nearby and small or distant and large is to perform a triangulation, but this requires that the object be videoed from two locations at the same time. This investigation was carried out with the hope that at least two videos would provide image data that would allow for a triangulation and subsequent calculation of distance and size. Unfortunately, the two most promising videos did not show the same object at the same time from two locations.

In his estimation, the lack of proof (by triangulation) that the object was distant and large, and the fact that there is no evidence suggesting that flying insects couldn't be to blame, "one may conclude that the 'anomalous phenomena' images were, in fact, images of insects." Maccabee did note that this was a provisional conclusion, and with the benefit of further evidence could be changed or reversed. But, based on the evidence before him, he says a bug is to blame (and not the Starship Troopers kind).

On the other hand, Richard Haines - who writes very much from an air safety position, and the need to analyse UFO/UAP reports in that framework – disagreed completely with Maccabee's conclusion in his own report (available from the NARCAP website). According to Haines, analysis of video images taken from two cameras actually shows that "at least one of these UAP was not a flying insect near the cameras":

Both reports are detailed, and include plenty of complex analysis, but I highly recommend taking a look at them if this case interests you at all. You might also want to take a look at Leslie Kean's own thoughts on the matter at the Huffington Post. Personally, on the balance, given the objects at times 'changed shape and colour', and given Maccabee's thoughts, I'm happy (for now) to go with the bug explanation as it seems the best (and most parsimonious fit), but as always am open to further evidence.

Regardless of your own conclusions, I think we can all agree it's great to see these sorts of in-depth analyses of UFO cases, rather than point-blank statements based on YouTube videos.

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