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

UK UFO Files Part 9

The British Ministry of Defence has released the ninth instalment of the public dump of their 'UFO files', which can for a restricted period be freely downloaded from the UFO page at the National Archives. Along with the files you'll find a highlights guide as well as a briefing guide written by Dr David Clarke pointing out some of the more interesting material amongst the mass of documents. Here's Clarke discussing some material from the new release:

Opinions regarding the release of these files over the past couple of years has for the most part polarised into two camps of (a) true believers saying it's all disinformation and a front, and (b) skeptics saying "see, nothing of interest, the government don't care about this phenomenon". I find myself in the middle of these views - while I'm sure most sightings have prosaic explanations, and the release of information may not be a 'front', I personally very much doubt that any national/defence intelligence agency would be casually disregarding constant sightings of strange craft in the sky, both in terms of possible surveillance or armed threat (especially in the post-9/11 age, and now with the rise in use of unmanned drones), and also in terms of a mythos that could be manipulated to their own ends. Ironically, in newly released document DEFE-24-2080-1, one of the MoD's own mentions as much in applying for funds to study the phenomenon more closely:

Until we conduct some analysis of the files we will not have any idea what the many reports represent. If at any stage in the future UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) are shown to exist then there is the potential for severe embarrassment. We can justifiably be asked how we could receive so many reports and ignore them. If I had a suspicious nature I might assume that there is a high level remit on the DIS not to investigate UAPs for some reason!

The request for £80,000 of funding came on the back of frustration that although DI 55 had been tasked with the study of UFOs for 13 years (as of the submission in 1995), "during that time the many reports received have been filed and no analysis has ever been undertaken. No serious follow up has ever occurred to any incident". Does anyone seriously think intelligence agencies would not be following up at least some of these reports?

You can find more commentary on the latest release of the 'UK UFO Files' on Dr David Clarke's personal website.

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A Song of Martian Ice and Fire

The Mars HiRISE team at the University of Arizona have released an amazing image of an 800-meter-high vertical cliff of ice at the North Pole of Mars. I was immediately reminded of 'The Wall' from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, guarded by the Night's Watch. Would be amazing to see a shot of this structure from ground level:

The Wall on Mars

There is an ice sheet at the North Pole of Mars that is a few miles thick at its center. At some places (like in this image) it ends in steep cliffs that can be about 800 meters (2600 feet) high.

The slopes of these cliffs are almost vertical which causes slab-like blocks of ice to break off and crash down to the surrounding plains. Dense networks of cracks cover these icy cliff faces making it easier for these blocks to break free. We've seen new debris at the base of many of these cliffs appearing between successive HiRISE images, so we regularly monitor sites like this to check for new blocks that have fallen. Understanding how these cliffs are formed helps us understand the climatic record stored in the ice sheet itself.

You can view the image in larger sizes at the HiRISE website.

(h/t @UnlikelyWorlds)

Conscious Stars?

Centauri Dreams has a fascinating guest post by Dr. Gregory Matloff, co-author of The Starflight Handbook and Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel. Last year Matloff delivered a paper in London at the British Interplanetary Society’s conference on the work of Olaf Stapledon, the author of Star Maker. As one of the ideas that Stapledon explored was the hypothesis that stars might have a form of consciousness, Matloff presented a paper speculating on anomalous stellar velocities, notably the possibility that this problem might be solved by positing stellar consciousness. You can read the full paper, "Star Consciousness: An Alternative to Dark Matter", over at Centauri Dreams. Here's the abstract:

The Dark Matter hypothesis has been invoked as an explanation for the fact that stars revolve around the centers of their galaxies faster than can be accounted for by observable matter. After decades of failed experimental searches, dark matter has remained elusive. As an alternative to the Dark Matter hypothesis, a idea first presented by author Olaf Stapledon is developed in this paper. Stars are considered to be conscious entities maintaining their galactic position by their volition. It is shown that directed stellar radiation pressure and stellar winds are insufficient to account for this anomalous stellar velocity. Previous research rules out magnetism. A published theory of psychokinetic action that does not violate quantum mechanics is discussed, as is the suggestion that stellar consciousness could be produced by a Casimir effect operating on molecules in the stellar atmosphere. It is shown that a discontinuity in stellar velocities as a function of spectral class exists. Cooler red stars in the solar neighborhood move faster than hotter, blue stars, as would be expected if the presence of molecules in stars was a causative factor. Further research in experimentally validating the psychokinetic effect and demonstrating the role of the Casimir effect in consciousness is required to advance the concepts presented here beyond the hypothesis stage.

Love reading these sorts of highly speculative ideas (it immediately reminded me of Lem's Solaris, and also previous things I've read about consciousness as an emergent phenomenon in complex systems). Though Centauri Dreams is a properly sober, scientific website devoted to interstellar travel/exploration, so as you can imagine there's some fairly predictable reactions in the comment thread. But as Matloff himself says in the comments, he expected some heat for publishing the paper, but believes that such speculation is necessary for the progress of knowledge.

Venus Transit - Up Close and Personal

For those not able to watch the Venus transit, NASA have already released some up-close-and-personal video from the beginning of the 'eclipse' of our Sun by our sister planet, courtesyk of the Solar Dynamics Observatory:

Ancient Aliens - Such D-bags

Fair call:

Ancient Aliens

(via American Book of the Dead)

Spirals of Mars

More strange symbols on the surface of Mars:

Lava Spirals on Mars

Resembling corkscrew snail shells, these interesting patterns are actually rare lava flows seen for the first time on Mars.

NASA’s HiRISE spacecraft, currently in orbit around Mars, spotted the formations in an area called Athabasca Valles, a tear-shaped landform thought to have been created by catastrophic flooding.

Such coils are occasionally seen on Earth, mostly in the ropey pahoehoe lava flows on the Big Island of Hawaii or in the submarine Galapagos Rift on the bottom of the Pacific.

The Martian lava coils are about 100 feet across — much larger than their terrestrial counterparts, which are often only a foot or so in size.

Full story at Wired. (h/t @GrailSeeker)

James Cameron to Mine Asteroids?

Well this has plenty of people excited: the impending announcement (April 24) of "a new space venture with a mission to help ensure humanity's prosperity".

Supported by an impressive investor and advisor group, including Google’s Larry Page & Eric Schmidt, Ph.D.; film maker & explorer James Cameron; Chairman of Intentional Software Corporation and Microsoft’s former Chief Software Architect Charles Simonyi, Ph.D.; Founder of Sherpalo and Google Board of Directors founding member K. Ram Shriram; and Chairman of Hillwood and The Perot Group Ross Perot, Jr., the company will overlay two critical sectors – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.

Given the "new definition of 'natural resources'" line, and the involvement of Peter Diamiandis, many have speculated that the venture will be the beginnings of an asteroid mining project. Diamandis mentioned the economic viability of mining asteroids as being a chief motivator for future space exploration:

You think about these other asteroids, there's a class of Nickel-Iron, which in Platinum Group metal markets alone, are worth something like $20 trillion, if you can go out and grab one of these rocks. My plan is to buy puts on the precious metal market,
and then to claim that I'm going to go out and get one, and that will fund the actual mission to go and get one.

Looking forward to the big reveal on April 24.

Mirage Men Trailer

The first trailer for the documentary film Mirage Men - billed as a "a journey into paranoia, disinformation and UFOs" - has been released:

I've been looking forward this one for quite some time, should be a fascinating film. It's based on the book of the same name by Mark Pilkington, which you can pick up from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

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A Second Roswell?

A Second Roswell? The Strange Story of Irwin Fortman

By Ray Grasse

…and we looked down and saw these things and I said to myself — it just didn’t register to me. And then all of the sudden I realized what we had seen and I just couldn’t believe it, you know, like it was not happening. And yet it was happening, like it was a dream.” - Irwin Fortman

It’s probably the most discussed UFO event of our time, and has been a source of ongoing controversy even amongst UFO researchers through the years. But is it possible the now-famous incident at the Roswell Air Force Base in July of 1947, where witnesses claimed to have encountered the wreckage of one or more crashed UFO's in the New Mexico desert, was followed just a few months later by a similar incident? As unlikely as that might seem, I’d simply invite the reader to consider the following facts before making up their mind.

First, a little background as to how I became involved with this story. For several months beginning in 1986 and extending into early 1987, I spent time in retreat at a Buddhist monastery in upstate New York — Zen Mountain Monastery, specifically — where I came to know a young man from Manhattan, a computer programmer who seemed both intelligent and informed. After I departed the monastery, we kept in touch and several months later I received a phone call in which he said he had something fascinating to talk about.

While at a family reunion in Tucson late in 1987, he wound up talking with an uncle from California he hadn’t seen in years. As the two began conversing about astronomy and space, the uncle finally divulged that he had an unusual experience while stationed at the Roswell Air Force base back in the late 1940s. Roswell Daily Record UFO Flying Saucer HeadlineIt turns out he hadn’t spoken with anyone about this experience since that time for fear of reprisals—not even with his wife, nor even a well known UFO researcher he became friends with later on, amazingly. But with advancing age, the pent-up frustration of holding this story in for so long finally got the better of him, and he figured his nephew would be a sympathetic listener.

According to the nephew, the uncle’s story involved a late-night retrieval of alien bodies from a crashed UFO out in the desert, after which he was sworn to secrecy by high-level government officials who threatened him if he ever spoke about it to anyone. On hearing about this story, I was intrigued enough to try and get in touch with the man to find out more about his experience. I was also intrigued to learn how a historic event like this might affect someone’s mindset. But my friend, the man’s nephew, said his uncle probably wouldn’t want to talk to anyone outside the family and discouraged me from getting my hopes up. I continued to press him periodically about it over the next year, though, and the nephew finally said he would give it a try and let me know what his uncle said.

After several attempts, and repeated assurances that I could be trusted, his uncle finally relented and agreed to talk with me. So, several months later I had my first telephone conversation with the uncle. His name was Irwin Fortman, though the nickname by which I (and everyone else) came to know him was “Tiny.” He ran a hardware story in Culver City, California, and struck me as being a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy with a thick New York accent that belied his upbringing. One thing was obvious: he didn’t want publicity, nor any financial compensation for his story. He simply wanted a sympathetic listener to hear his tale and record it for posterity. I gave him assurances I wouldn’t go public with any detail of his account while he was still alive, and if I did, it would only be with his permission.

We had four conversations all together, all of them conducted by phone. He hadn’t followed developments in the UFO field beyond what appeared in the daily newspapers, so was pleasantly surprised to learn there had already been a fair amount of discussion about the Roswell incident in recent years, with several witnesses coming forward who also claimed knowledge of the event. In fact, the first of my conversations with him took place shortly before the now-famous episode of TV’s Unsolved Mysteries which catapulted the Roswell incident into worldwide attention during the fall of 1989. I told him about the upcoming show, which he eagerly watched; but when we spoke about it afterwards, he seemed vaguely disturbed about some of its details.

In particular, the timing of the famed July incident didn’t jibe with his own. That’s because he arrived at the base in the fall of 1947 and was emphatic about the fact that his experience occurred in the dead of winter, not in the middle of summer. Before long, it was clear to me he was describing a distinctly different event from the more famous one generally spoken about.

After hearing his account in full, I decided to get in touch with well-known researcher Stanton Friedman, who was featured on the Unsolved Mysteries TV show, to get his opinion and perhaps even put these two figures in touch with one another. After talking it over with both of them, Stanton eventually met with Tiny at his home in California and later said he was impressed by his story and by his sincerity. But he chose to hold off on publishing anything about it until he could obtain more evidence or a corroborating witness, since he hadn't heard before about a “second” Roswell event and wanted to be cautious about going pubic with information before it could be validated. What he could verify, though, based on the 1947 Roswell yearbook, was that Tiny was indeed stationed at the base the year he said he was, and that by itself was significant. ... Read More »

UFO Trail Goes Chile

Is this the UFO case of 2012? At the Huffington Post, investigative journalist Leslie Kean (author of UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record) has co-written an article regarding a recent sighting of an unidentified flying object over Santiago Air Base in Chile, which was caught on video from multiple viewpoints. Here's one of the (seven) videos in question:

As usual, Alan Boyle of Cosmic Log is on the case, and has posted an excellent summary and further discussion with Kean and UFO skeptics Phil Plait and Robert Scheaffer:

The case goes back to an air show that was staged in November 2010, at Chile's Air Force academy, which is headquartered at the El Bosque Air Force Base in Santiago. Nothing untoward was noticed by anybody during the show itself, but Kean said an engineer at the nearby aircraft factory noticed an anomalous spot as he was sifting through video taken from the show, looking for an image that could be used as a poster photo.

The spot appeared to move quickly from frame to frame, and the engineer thought it looked enough like some sort of craft to notify the Chilean government agency in charge of investigating anomalous aerial phenomena, known by the Spanish acronym CEFAA.

The way Kean tells it, CEFAA investigators looked around for other video clips of the event and pieced together six additional views of the spot-shaped phenomena. Ricardo Bermudez, a retired Chilean Air Force general who is now CEFAA's director, told a UFO conference last month that his agency consulted with other officials, image-processing experts and "non-believer astronomers." CEFAA's conclusion was that the spots were caused by an object traveling through the scene at speeds in excess of 4,000 mph — so fast that it went unnoticed by air-show spectators.

Now for most of the video above, my thought was simply "it's a bug not far from the camera". The last shot of the video above though, appears to both be similar to the classic 'X-Files' UFO (too similar?) and also features a strange fade-out effect on the object (though perhaps that could be due to changes in light reflection as a bug changes orientation?).

The other videos mentioned are really key to progressing any further, and here is what Kean says at the Huffington Post about them:

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.

If, as this seems to imply, these videos also feature the object - and most especially, in a way that can be synced between videos - firstly in time, to show it is the same object, and secondly, in space, to pinpoint exactly what distance it was from the camera - *then* we might just have something here (although that something could still be a well-orchestrated hoax...).

But, given that a UFO - in the strict definition of the word - has been sighted, and we have further videos that are said to corroborate the sighting in multiple details, I have to say that I definitely look forward to further investigation and discussion of this case (though skepticism, as always, is advised)!