Yesterday we looked at a debunking of the Ancient Aliens series on History Channel. Today we'll swing the other way, and check out an interesting paper on sightings of UFOs in ancient times: "Unidentified Flying Objects in Classical Antiquity" (PDF), a 2007 paper by NASA scientist Richard Stothers, who sadly passed away last year:
This collection of what might be termed ancient UFO reports has been culled from a much larger number of reports of aerial objects, most of whose identifications with known phenomena are either certain or at least highly probable. Embedded in the mass of relatively explicable ancient reports, however, is a small set of unexplained (or at least not wholly explained) reports from presumably credible witnesses. If these reports are examined statistically, essential features of what I will, for argument’s sake, call the ancient UFO phenomenon can be extracted…
…In at least one instance, the presence of “occupants” covered in shiny white clothing is reported. Encounters range from distant views to possibly actual contact; the preferred place and time of observation seem to be rural areas in the daytime. Physical evidence is generally lacking.
Greek and Roman scientific thinkers, who were never at a loss for theories, usually regarded these types of aerial phenomena as stars, clouds, atmospheric fires, light reflections or moving material bodies. Since most of the original theories hark back to Aristotle and his predecessors, with none being later than Posidonius, they generally predate the reports collected here, none of which is earlier
than 218 BC. It is accordingly impossible to know whether the later observers (mostly practical Romans) interpreted the phenomena literally as they described them or were simply using the best descriptive language they were capable of, while holding back on theoretical speculation. But any viable theory must reckon with the extraordinary persistence and consistency of the phenomena discussed here over many centuries. Whether one prefers to think in terms of universal recurrent visions from the collective unconscious, misperceptions of ordinary objects, unusual atmospheric effects, unknown physical phenomena or extraterrestrial visitations, what we
today would call UFOs possess an intrinsic interest that has transcended the passage of time and the increase of human knowledge.
If the topic interests you, some further reading can be found in Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects From Antiquity To Modern Times, by Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck (available from Amazon US and Amazon UK).
Speculating on ancient mysteries is good fun - the jaw-dropping megalithic constructions of cultures around the world often inspire awe, and attempting to solve the puzzle of how and why they were built can lead to both fresh insights into human history, and sometimes not-so-useful ones (though exploring these cul-de-sacs can sometimes be helpful in other ways). The History Channel series Ancient Aliens anchors much of its premise - that aliens visited the Earth in ancient times, and inspired or built these structures themselves - on megalithic mysteries. But how much of AA's claims are solutions to puzzles, and how many are intellectual dead-ends?
A new 3-hour(!) documentary, Ancient Aliens Debunked, takes the series apart, fact-checking individuals claims on topics including pyramid construction, the Temple of Baalbek, Incan sites, Easter Island. Pacal's "rocket", the Nazca lines, and the Egyptian "light bulb". Produced by Chris White, and made available freely online (embedded at the top of this post), Ancient Aliens Debunked offers clarifications, corrections, and background information that certainly removes much of the superficial gloss from Ancient Aliens.
Ancient Aliens is an American television series which premiered on April 20, 2010, on the History Channel. The program presents the so-called 'ancient astronaut' theory, which is the idea that extraterrestrials visited the Earth in the ancient past, and that historical texts, archaeological records and various legends contain evidence of this contact. I used to believe that the ancient astronaut theory was true. I spent years learning about it from the popular authors, from video presentations and radio shows. I was an enthusiastic promoter of this idea to my friends and family. Although I no longer feel that way, I want you to know that I have no personal reason to reject this theory. My current worldview could easily accommodate the existence of extraterrestrials. I hope you will come away from this film, even if you disagree with it, saying that I fairly reviewed the claims of Ancient Aliens without bias, and with respect.
I think it's a shame actually that the title of the documentary includes the word "Debunked" - it's a negative word, guaranteed to set many of those interested in this topic at odds with the film before they even view it. In reality, there is a wealth of information about ancient construction and artworks that most open-minded people will appreciate greatly. Additionally, the documentary doesn't shy away from noting actual mysteries, and speculative attempts to solve them, such as the theory of French architect Jean Pierre Houdin on how the Great Pyramid was built. A far better title for the film (IMHO) would have removed the negativity and focused on the positive aspects of what is a very well-researched, informative piece on ancient mysteries - something along the lines of "Exploring the Claims of Ancient Aliens". In short - don't be turned off by the title, it's well worth your time.
Also: if the full 3 hours is too much for you, you can watch (or read transcripts of) individual 'episodes' on separate topics ('The Pyramids', 'Easter Island' etc) at the Ancient Aliens Debunked website, where you'll also find references for each rebuttal for further research. An excellent - I might even say necessary - resource for anybody interested in this fascinating topic.
Addendum: As SecretSun points out in the comments, the producer of this documentary, Chris White comes from a fundamentalist Christian point-of-view, with the added colour of anti-Christian conspiracy theories. However, the documentary above is almost completely free of these elements (you will notice some strange flavours in sections such as 'The Nephilim'), and is presented in a very sane manner - and I can only judge it by its content. But it is worth keeping in mind that all presenters - be they Christians, 'skeptics', or ancient alien theorists, are working within a frame of reference, and often pushing a barrow of their choice. So as always, I recommend that you keep your wits about you and employ skepticism, objective judgement, and further research in understanding any topics presented on this site.
We've always wondered what happened to the top of the Great Pyramid at Giza. Turns out we were looking on the wrong planet. The Curiosity rover on Mars snapped this image yesterday on the Red Planet at the end of its driving for the day - cue the debate over the pyramids of Mars all over again:
NASA Mars Rover Targets Unusual Rock Enroute to First Destination.
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has driven up to a football-size rock that will be the first for the rover's arm to examine.
Curiosity is about 8 feet (2.5 meters) from the rock. It lies about halfway from the rover's landing site, Bradbury Landing, to a location called Glenelg. In coming days, the team plans to touch the rock with a spectrometer to determine its elemental composition and use an arm-mounted camera to take close-up photographs.
Maybe we should start digging around that thing and see how deep it goes. Might even be a Cheops Class warship...
The oft-repeated criticism of the official Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is that they are searching for alien civilizations by scanning the sky for a single, very-20th-century-Earth-specific form of communication. As the late Terence McKenna once said, "To search expectantly for a radio signal from an extraterrestrial source is probably as culture bound a presumption as to search the galaxy for a good Italian restaurant."
So, here's a novel idea - search instead for their spaceships. No, I'm not talking about scanning the sky for UFOs - though some would say there's merit in that too - I mean looking for radiation signatures from the energies that might just be powering inter-stellar spaceships. It's actually not such a new idea though, as scientists were discussing this topic back in 1995. In a paper titled "Detection of Extraterrestrial Civilizations Via The Spectral Signature of Advanced Interstellar Spacecraft", author Robert Zubrin put forward his suggestion that such a search may pay dividends, at least in certain cases:
This paper examines the possibility of detecting extraterrestrial civilizations by means of searching for the spectral signature of their interstellar transportation systems. Four methods of interstellar propulsion are considered: antimatter rockets, fusion rockets, fission rockets, and magnetic sails. The types of radiation emitted by each of these propulsion systems are described, and the signal strength for starships of a characteristic mass of 1 million tons traveling at speeds and acceleration levels characteristic of the various propulsion systems is estimated. It is shown that for the power level of ships considered, the high energy gamma radiation emitted by the antimatter, fusion and fission propulsion systems would be undetectable at interstellar distances. Bremsstrahlung radiation from the plasma confinement systems of fusion devices might be detectable at distances of about 1 light-year. Visible light emitted from the radiators of an antimatter-driven photon rocket might be detectable by the Hubble Space Telescope at a distance of several hundred light-years provided the rocket nozzle is oriented towards the Earth. The most detectable form of starship radiation is found to be the low frequency radio emissions of cyclotron radiation caused by interaction of the interstellar medium with a magnetic sail. A space-based antenna with a 6km effective diameter could detect the magsail emission of a characteristic starship at distances of up to several thousand light-years. Both photon rockets and magnetic sails would emit a signal that could easily be distinguished from natural sources. We conclude that the detection of extraterrestrial civilizations via the spectral signature of their spacecraft is possible in principle.
Okay, so there's still a fair bit of 21st-century anthropic baggage involved regarding methods of propulsion, and building a space antenna with an effective diameter of 6km may not be high on the risk-reward ladder for investors. But still some fun, out-of-the-box thinking on how to find evidence that we're not alone.
(via Centauri Dreams)
The era of the UFO is generally dated back to June-July 1947, when Kenneth Arnold's sighting of nine unusual objects flying over Mount Rainier was closely followed by the Roswell incident. But serious students know that the phenomenon didn't begin there. Even just a year before, there was a significant UFO 'flap' across a number of Scandinavian countries, which has become known simply as the ' Ghost Rockets'.
But sightings of 'ghost rockets' didn't end in 1946 - there have been continuous sightings in the decades since, right up to the modern day. And now a Swedish investigative team, headed by ufologist Clas Svahn, are mounting an expedition - accompanied by a documentary crew - to try and find some evidence to go along with the mythology, by following a lead from a recent case:
Clas Svahn, the head of UFO-Sweden, takes his work very seriously. He has been investigating UFO-cases since he was 14. He has written numerous books on the subject and spends his work hours as a journalist for Sweden’s biggest newspaper Dagens Nyheter. Despite Clas attention to detail, the ghost rockets phenomena has been haunting him for decades. The search for a tangible answer or a glimpse of truth, something, anything that can explain what was seen in the skies above Sweden.
In the Ghost Rockets documentary we will see the inner workings of an organisation who have earned the trust of the Swedish Military, yet have not abandoned the possibility of the extraordinary.
The team have just started their investigation, which involves an expedition to a lake in the forests of northern Sweden, with three specialist divers, two boats, and a side sonar scanner, to look for a 'ghost rocket' that witnesses said landed on the water, and then slowly sank into it. You can follow the expedition by liking the 'Ghost Rockets' Facebook-page.
The Ghost Rockets documentary is scheduled for release next year. From the looks of the trailer, it seems as if it will be a fascinating, and very watchable feature - the cinematography and atmospherics are first class (so much so, that I began wondering if it was a viral for some new movie).
In the meantime, for a detailed discussion of Swedish ufology and the 'ghost rockets' phenomenon, check out this interview with Clas Svahn on the Binnall of America podcast a few years back.
There are very few people that will be remembered in a thousand years. Neil Armstrong may very well be remembered in 10,000 years, as the first of a new era of humanity, in which we begin to emigrate to other worlds.
Thanks for the inspiration good sir, and safe travels once again to the outer reaches.
Plenty of us grew up wanting to be astronauts, dreaming of riding in spaceships and landing on other planets. The high-res video above show you what it might feel like to be landing your own ship on Mars - actually, it *does* show you what it's like, as it is compiled from images taken by the Mars rover Curiosity.
(Photo by Leif Havik, copyright Project Hessdalen)
In the Hessdalen valley in Norway, strange lights have been reported floating through the sky for many years. Though interest in the phenomenon peaked in the 1980s, researchers have noted that written records of the luminous mystery go back to 1811. The lights come in a variety of colours (white, yellow and blue), sometimes remain still and sometimes flash, and can suddenly move at extreme speeds upwards into the atmosphere or down into the ground, or into one of the many lakes in the area. Their size has been estimated in some instances to be up to a few cubic metres across, and sometimes they have been observed for longer than ten minutes at a time.
For the past three decades, small groups of scientists have attempted to document and explain the 'Hessdalen Lights', though usually working with few resources and on a shoestring budget. Currently, a collaboration between Norwegian, Italian and French
researchers run 3 different stations at the location, and for a fortnight in September each year they set-up four temporary stations which are manned by up to 100 students and researchers. A couple of recent papers, presented at the 2012 European Geosciences Union General Assembly, suggest that these efforts are starting to make in-roads into the mystery.
In a paper titled "Different states of the transient luminous phenomena in Hessdalen valley, Norway", researchers noted that the Hessdalen Lights observed so far can be categorised into six different 'states' - Doublet, Fireball, Plasma ray, Dust cloud, Flash and Invisible - and that the lights might be caused simply by ionized grains of dust:
The Hessdalen phenomena is not easy to detect, and approximately only 20 observations is done each year. The work done the last 14 years suggests that the phenomenon has different states, at least 6 detected so far. The states are so different that to see a coupling between them is difficult. New work done into dusty plasma physics suggest that the different phenomena’s may be of the same origin, since the ionized grains of dusty plasma can change states from weakly coupled (gaseous) to crystalline, altering shape/formation and leading to different phenomena. Optical spectrometry from 2007 suggested that the luminous phenomena consisted of burning air and dust from the valley. Work done by G.S Paiva and C.A Taft suggests that radon decay from closed mines may be the mechanism that ionizes dust and triggers this phenomena.
The paper notes, however, that further research has indicated that radon is not the energy source, and as such this element of the mystery remains unexplained.
Find out more about Project Hessdalen at the official website, which includes streaming video options if you'd like to keep an eye on the valley yourself.
(via The Examiner, thanks to Jack for the heads-up)
Chances of anything, coming to Mars...
NASA snapped this amazing shot during the descent and landing of the Mars rover Curiosity on August 6th. But the shiny flying disk from another planet wasn't inhabited by Roswellian aliens - it was the newly-discarded heat shield falling from the craft after protecting it from the dangers of entering the Red Planet's atmosphere at high velocity.
And not to be outdone by the blow-in, the Mars rover Opportunity - which has been sending back photos of the planet for more than eight and a half years now - recently compiled this absolutely jaw-dropping 360 degree interactive panorama. Assembled from 817 images taken in the last 8 months, it shows Opportunity's view from an outcrop informally named 'Greeley Haven', on the rim of Endeavour Crater.
You need to full-screen this thing, seriously. You can pan around, zoom in...it's like you're standing there on top of the robot, viewing the Martian landscape around you. Absolutely incredible.