Let it be said: for a supposedly 'dead' planet, Mars keeps throwing out cool anomalies for us. From odd 'lights' to a buried robot, there's hardly a dull day when it comes to looking for the strange. And here's the Red Planet's anomaly du jour: a perfect little sphere, quietly sitting atop another, separate, piece of flat rock.
Relax folks, it's totally explainable:
According to MSL scientists based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., the ball isn’t as big as it looks — it’s approximately one centimeter wide. Their explanation is that it is most likely something known as a “concretion.” Other examples of concretions have been found on the Martian surface before — take, for example, the tiny haematite concretions, or “blueberries”, observed by Mars rover Opportunity in 2004 — and they were created during sedimentary rock formation when Mars was abundant in liquid water many millions of years ago.
Or, maybe it's just the ripe fruit that seems to have fallen from the Martian ball tree at the left of this image...
(Thanks to Alienated for the heads-up)
A big happy birthday - or should I say bon anniversaire - to our good friend, legendary ufologist Jacques Vallee, who turns 75 today! To celebrate, here's some exciting news: Jacques is partnering with Daily Grail Publishing to re-release his all-time classic Passport to Magonia, a ground-breaking exploration of the strange crossover between elements of fairy folklore and UFO contact cases. Yay!
Since publishing Jacques' Messengers of Deception back in 2008, I've had many people pleading with me to persuade JV to republish Passport to Magonia. Even roughed-up second-hand copies of the book have been going for $60 and upwards, so take note - we're aiming to make shiny new hardcover, paperback and ebook editions available for much less than that. If you've been wanting to add Passport to Magonia to your book collection - and let's face it, what true Fortean wouldn't - then hang in there for a couple of months, when we make the new edition available.
The big UFO news over the past few days has been a supposed mass sighting of unidentified object hovering over Houston Texas, with the image above being one of the most publicized photos of a few doing the rounds. A search of Twitter shows that over the past day or two this has become a hugely popular story, probably on account of the Daily Mail story linked above.
Could a UFO have visited Texas this week?
Several people have taken it to Twitter to post pictures showing a strange object floating through the Houston clouds during a storm last Monday.
Some of the pictures show a bright oval object hovering. An unrelated picture shows a similar object through clouds. There are others, some showing what appears to be lights underneath the 'thing.'
Here's a local news report from immediately after the 'sighting' (August 12):
My thoughts: originally on seeing the most popular photos, I wondered why some of the photos show a very stormy night, while others show what appears to be a very clear night. After that, I dug into Twitter a bit to try and find the origins of the most popular photos - and, rather than finding "several people", the two most popular seem to have originated with the same person, one Nathaniel Xavier (@djnayyz) - photo 1, and photo 2. (Note: in a later tweet @djnayyz then said "I never took that picture I just posted it", though he has not yet answered commenters asking about the actual origin. He also seems happy to take the national media attention that's come along with his 'reposts').
A couple of days later Xavier then posted a video of the UFO to Instagram:
Is that ball lightning? Or is it just an old favourite CG 'UFO' video effect?
Returning to the photos however, there seems to be a fairly simple explanation: the 'UFO' is just the reflection of a highway light pole in the car window (a common source for UFO misidentification). See the image below for comparison, and note the number of lights on the UFO:
OMG it's the Houston UFO!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/ViHNreLROG
— kails (@kailsconrey) August 12, 2014
This would neatly explain how the centre of the UFO seems to be 'transparent' - only the lights are showing up in the reflection. Look again at the image at the top of this post, considering whether it might be a reflection of a light on the window...
A guess for how things played out: 'UFO' noticed while driving in car, image posted to social media, gains momentum, post another photo, gets on local TV, friend creates a nice CG UFO video, post to social media, international media attention. Purely a guess though, so I welcome your thoughts.
(thanks for the heads-up Kat)
New York Magazine has a thought-provoking piece on the field of ufology and how it seems to be increasingly becoming a relic of bygone age, using the recent MUFON conference as a case example:
MUFON has been around for 45 years and the average age of those who ponied up $239 for the conference was way past that. Many of the presenters, most of them long-established figures on the scene (Stanton Friedman, the 79-year-old widely acknowledged dean of the field, had to cancel owing to a mild heart attack) were equally venerable, as were most of the subjects they discussed. Much talk focused on the genre’s greatest hits: the Betty and Barney Hill abduction account (1961), the Lonnie Zamora/Socorro, New Mexico sighting (1973), the Rendlesham Forest incident in the U.K. (1980), and, of course, Roswell, circa 1947.
...It is true that very little beyond a shadow of a doubt forensic proof of alien presence has come to light over the years, but there are a number of subsidiary reasons for the seeming twilight of the UFO moment. With voracious proliferation of vampires, New World Order conspiracies, and the unprecedented rise of evangelical Christianity, the simple flying disc from far, far away has become a quaint, almost nostalgic specter. The saucer may have been the post-war generation’s signifier of the strange, but even versions of the unknown outlive their usefulness.
It's not a new idea - I've read a number of discussions in the past decade that touch on the lack of quality sightings/encounters, and the dearth of honest, idealistic field investigators. What is to blame? The era of affordable CG effects? The proliferation of smart-phones making UFO stories less believable without photographic proof? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Link: The End of UFOs
Two of Australia's biggest UFO mysteries are in the news this week with new revelations; the 1966 Westall UFO landing, witnessed by hundreds of students and school staff, and the 1978 disappearance of pilot Fred Valentich. Both incidents will also be discussed at the Victorian UFO Action's 'Age of Reason' conference in Melbourne on September 6th. I've got my ticket, but I'm two friends short of making up the Lone Gunmen, so if you're interested in UFOs and honest research, come along.
In 1966, over 200 students, teachers, and locals in suburban Melbourne watched a UFO hover above a paddock, land, and take off again at lightning speed. Many of the witnesses were soon visited by military personnel (some wearing American uniforms) requesting they remain silent, nothing to see here, move along. Almost 50 years later, local researcher Keith Basterfield has discovered documents that may suggest the UFO was part of a secret program to monitor radiation fallout from the Maralinga atomic test grounds. Yep, you guessed it, the UFO was a high-altitude weather balloon.
The documents detail the HIBAL program, a joint US-Australian initiative monitoring atmospheric radiation levels using high-altitude balloons between 1960 and 1969. They also detail a runaway balloon, flight 292. “What is strikingly missing is a memo reporting on the actual four launches for April 1966, one of which was scheduled for 5 April 1966, the day before Westall. So we have no knowledge of where flight 292 went.”
I think Keith has a very solid argument, but a few questions remain. The launch location, Mildura, is 540km northwest of Melbourne. This would require certain weather conditions which (to my local knowledge) would be unusual in April. Witnesses describe the UFO landing and then taking off again in a northwesterly direction -- the direction from which the balloon was originally launched.
Another researcher Shane Ryan has been investigating the Westall case for many years, interviewing scores of witnesses, and producing an excellent documentary about the incident. Shane, and many witnesses, aren't quite convinced by Keith's theory. For an interesting discussion, definitely have a read of Keith's blog and the relevant comments.
Prolific Australian UFO researcher Bill Chalker has also been following Keith's work, so definitely bookmark Bill's blog and keep up to date on developments and discussions.
You can also read the original documentation for yourself at Keith's blog.
Keith strikes me as a very open-minded, honest researcher. By his own admission, this explanation is a working hypothesis, with many anomalies still to be explained. But the documents paint an intriguing picture, and it's a theory worth considering no matter how much we want to believe.
To commemorate the 1966 Westall UFO sighting, there is now a UFO-ET themed playground at the site where hundreds of witnesses saw a UFO land and take off. I haven't had a chance to visit the park yet, but when I do the local kids will have to wait their turn while I pretend I'm Ethan Hawke in Explorers.
The above photo is of an unidentified object, taken off Cape Otway 20 minutes before pilot Fred Valentich disappeared during a UFO encounter. Now a Victorian UFO Action group researcher has uncovered new information, a possible sighting by a farmer in South Australia who observed a plane matching Valentich's stuck to the side of a UFO.
The Fred Valentich UFO case is exceptional for the recorded radio transmission between Valentich and air traffic control. Valentich, an experienced pilot, was flying over Bass Strait, south of Melbourne, when he encounted a UFO. Contacting air traffic control, he gave a running commentary of the encounter before he completely disappeared. Neither Valentich or his plane has ever been found.
NASA scientist and UFO researcher Richard F. Haines investigated the Valentich case with the Victorian UFO Society's Paul Norman. They published an exhaustive report, concluding Valentich most likely crashed into the ocean. The UFOs reported by Valentich, and observed and photographed by other witnesses, remain a genuine mystery.
We sure live in interesting times. Advances in the processing power of commercial computers, combined with faster Internet connections and freely available content provided by public institutions, have prompted the emergence of the armchair space researcher: Individuals who are willing to commit all their free time scouring through thousands of images released by Nasa, taken by the satellites surveying the distant surface of Mars, as well as our own pockmarked natural satellite, the Moon.
One such individual, who goes by the handle Jasenko on Youtube, found a rather puzzling anomaly by using Google Moon: Something that resembles a gigantic human silhouette, casting a shadow over the lunar terrain. The image was subsequently posted on a video clip, through the channel of a guy using the alias wowforreeel. As of today, the video has received more than a million views on Youtube.
wowoforreeel included the coordinates one can use in the Google Moon program to find the anomaly --27°34'26.35"N 19°36'4.75"W-- and sure enough, after you type them it will take you to the location of the 'anomaly.'
But the first thing one realizes is that even with the total lack of scale, the distance marked by Google Moon would indicate this 'Man on the Moon' is impossibly large --hence why The Examiner decided to call it a 'Colossus'.
But the search of weird anomalies on the grainy archived photos released by Nasa goes way earlier than Google Moon, though: Ever since George Leonard published the book Somebody Else Is on the Moon in 1976 --which used to be nearly impossible to acquire, but now luckily a new reprinted version is available on Amazon [US] [UK]-- the idea that artificial constructs which could be discarded remnants left behind by some advanced alien expedition (or maybe even by our own human ancestors, following the hypothesis of long lost civilizations that reached a technological level comparable or superior to ours) has captivated the imagination of many UFO enthusiasts.
Through the association of James Sylvan & Richard Hoagland, features known as 'the Shard', 'the Cube' and 'the Castle' were popularized on even a larger scale, just when the world wide web was starting to spread its tendrils across the Earth.
Unfortunately, Hoagland's more recent work has caused many to wonder whether all the 'anomalies' he keeps finding littering the surface of Mars, are actually the result of Pareidolia & the will to believe...
But another researcher who has been studying lunar phenomena for several decades is Don Ecker, former head of research for UFO magazine, which used to be run by him & his wife Vickie. Back in November of 1995, Don interviewed a man named Vito Sacchari on his long-running radio show UFOs Tonight, and who had a fascinating story to say: Sacchari was a petrochemical engineer, and back in 1979 his employers asked him to act as a chaperone for one of their business clients, a man working for an American firm conducting oil exploration in Venezuela, and take care of him while he was visiting them in Houston.
This man had read Leonard's book, and was very interested in finding out if there was any truth to it, so for the next 3 weeks he & Sacchari tried any trick they could come up with to try to gain access to the original Nasa lunar photos. According to Sacchari, their perseverance paid off, and what they ultimately found was, in every possible sense, out of this world:
Vito: The great majority of what we saw looked like excavation-type or construction activity. Coming from the petrochemical industry, we were familiar with building refineries. In the photos, there were pipelines, pipe fittings, what looked like construction equipment. I can’t say these were comparable to a bulldozer, but it was earth-moving, or moon-moving type of equipment. These things really were huge! The back of the photos had correlating data that would enable you to calculate the sizes of structures in the photos: height, sun angle and so forth. It was simple high school trigonometry to figure it out. But you can’t do that in your head! We didn’t have paper, pencils or calculators. We had to take Leonard’s word for the size of these things. We saw cracks in the lunar surface, like the Grand Canyon, with bridges spanning them, several miles apart. We saw large rectangular structures filling the insides of circular craters, that looked like they were under construction or very ancient. We saw pipelines running over crater rims.
Don Ecker: Were the craters named?
Vito: I believe so, but there were so many of them, and we couldn’t copy them down. I can’t remember from 16 years ago. Believe me, there was no way not to see these things. There were many of what Leonard called “X-drones” in these photos. It reminded us of a circular saw, shaped like an “X.”
You can listen to this amazing interview in its entirety, by clicking here.
So even though the 'lunar giant' image were to be explained away as a digital aberration or some other trivial explanation, that doesn't mean we should close ourselves to the possibility that sometime in the future, future lunar colonists could find an artifact of unknown origin buried under the powdery regolith, just as the Brookings report alerted to Nasa in 1960.
It also remains to be seen if the irruption of private interests in space exploration would allow us to have more cameras pointed at the Moon, along with drones & other forms of robotic telepresence. Maybe it will be Elon Musk --instead of Dr. Heywood Floyd-- the first man to put ever his gloved hands on the slick surface of an alien sentinel.
...Or maybe, just maaaybe, what we discover on the Moon will be far more fabulous than a boring black monolith.
- Biblioteca Pleyades: Somebody Else Is on the Moon
- Don Ecker: Long saga of lunar anomalies
- Don Ecker: The time to ask again … Is somebody else on the moon?
Following the suggestions of one of our members, I went back to Google Moon, rotated the image 90° to the right:
I then decided to rotate it another 90°, so now we have completely switched the image upside-down:
From this POV, the 'colossal shadow' looks more like a crack or rift on a side of the mound. The most likely explanation for the anomaly, IMO. Thanks to WriterSP for his input.
Ten years ago, the European Space Agency launched the Rosetta space probe on a ten-year mission to 'hunt' Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Over the last few days, Rosetta has finally closed in on its prey, and today ESA scientists put it into 'orbit' around the comet (not a natural gravitational orbit yet, but a triangular, thruster-assisted orbit). It will slowly edge closer over coming days and weeks, before eventually deploying the Philae* lander to drop on to the comet itself.
But as part of the celebrations today, the ESA released the amazing image above of the comet (click for higher resolution), taken a few days ago from a distance of around 300km (today Rosetta is only around 100km away). It's a gnarly looking beast, almost dumbbell shaped with many house-sized boulders visible on its surface (the entire comet is around 4km in diameter). Not to mention that shadowy bit on the end looks like it could easily house an exogorth...
With Rosetta in 'orbit', the ESA are now updating their website fairly regularly with new images as they are downloaded from the probe...keep an eye on the Rosetta blog and the Rosetta mission image gallery for updates, and what are sure to be jaw-dropping pictures of another world.
* Both Rosetta and Philae are named after the Rosetta Stone and its place of discovery
If you were to conduct a poll about who is the most important UFO researcher in the world, the name of Jacques Vallee would rightfully appear among the highest rankings in the list. His books remain as provocative & influential today as when they were fresh out of the printers, several decades ago; and his proposal to regard the phenomenon as a 'control system' instead of merely the occasional visits of interplanetary interlopers, helped catapult UFOlogy into a whole different level.
As we all know, Jacques is no longer an active figure in this wacky field polluted with self-promoters, hoaxers & unaware disinformants —which, frankly, speaks volumes about his sanity— so it was an incredibly pleasant surprise to find that our friends at Open Minds had posted a recent e-mail interview with Vallee, conducted by a group of French UFOlogists who were kind enough to translate it into English. In the lengthy Q&A monsieur Vallee offers plenty of valuable insights —along with caustic criticism!— not only about the nature of the phenomenon and the current state of the field in general, but also how the undeniable existence of UFOs should move us to question the very nature of Reality itself.
Below are some of my favorite portions of the interview:
Q5: Do governments (and especially the USA) hide information about Ufos on the public (according to you and your experience)?
There are two levels to that question: (1) governments (and not only the USA) keep some information they think most sensitive, especially reports which come from the military. It seems that since 1947 this policy has been viewed as legitimate, in the interest of populations and in the hope of discovering technological breakthroughs. (2) The most difficult question is to know if breakthroughs have actually taken place. To my mind, the phenomenon has probably resisted all analysis, classified or not. The issue of opening all the files is going to arise again but it’s not as simple to understand the Ufo phenomenon as to dismantle a MIG or to secretly copy the space shuttle.
Q6: What advice would you give to the ufology community?
I don’t think I have personal advice to give. It is obvious that we won’t make real progress in an environment of petty squabbling. It would be best to avoid accusations that discourage researchers from working together. The phenomenon is accessible at a local level, so the possibility of field study and fast exchange of data is wide open. That would be more useful than speculating on inaccessible, hypothetical secrets in the drawers of governments.
Q1: In your books, you propose the hypothesis that manifestations of the Ufo phenomenon could correlate with a learning program for humanity. This system could be the same type as psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner’s training process. Would you explain this hypothesis and show that the manifestations of the Ufo phenomenon follow a program?
This hypothesis comes from data processing compilations made during the 60s and 70s, which lead to a frequency curve of the phenomenon which looks like a learning program (a “schedule of reinforcement” according to Skinner), that is to say, a sequence of stimuli which is pseudo-periodical. According to Skinner, such a program leads to irreversible learning. It is also difficult to detect unless we study a long series of observations.
Let’s notice at the same time that military studies like the US Air Force Blue Book Project, or academic analyses like that of Professor Condon at the University of Colorado have always treated Ufo cases one by one, without any global perspective, which obviously hides such a program if it exists. The often-recycled statement in the declarations of governmental agencies that Ufos are not a threat, has never taken into account the structure of the global evolution of the phenomenon.
To prove or disprove that hypothesis, we should review recent data and update former cases in order to expand the study in a longer period. I have had the opportunity to talk it over with computer scientists from CNES. It is possible that many hypotheses would converge within such an analysis.
Q2: What is your opinion about current evolutions of quantum physics ? According to you, would we be close to discoveries which can help partly to explain some phenomena related to Ufos?
The question is legitimate, especially as reliable researches about psychic functioning are facing the same problem. From the non-locality principle, we must wonder whether thought is not transmitted immediately (rather than electromagnetic waves, as in Soviet researches from 1930 to 1940 or French and English scientists’ works in the beginning of the last century with the “mental radio” concept). If so, it might be theoretically possible to get into contact with other forms of consciousness, while beings capable of moving in space might influence us at a distance, or even make us perceive imaginary scenes.
However, to tell the truth, it seems to me that in their enthusiasm some researchers use quantum physics a little bit too much: since these mechanisms remain mysterious, they can be stretched to explain a lot of phenomena in an exaggerated way. I am more interested in new ideas on the physics of information, as I said earlier. If space and time are a side effect of our consciousness and a physical illusion, we should face the problem of phenomena related to Ufos in a more fundamental way.
Link: Interview with UFO researcher and author Jacques Vallée
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In 1960, a young astronomer by the name of Frank Drake pointed the Green Bank radio telescope at the stars Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani…and listened for the sounds of an alien civilization. Drake's little experiment marks the official beginning of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Since that time, SETI has continued to scan greater parts of the sky, listening over wider and wider bands of the radio spectrum, but the silence has been deafening. While many have taken this as a likely sign that the cosmos is largely empty, it may be more likely that SETI's search has been far too restricted in its scope, relying on just one particular 20th century technology that is already fading in use. As the psychedelic philosopher Terence McKenna once dryly noted, "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".
To broaden the search, other technologies of transmission have been suggested, such as lasers. But even those ideas seem limited to our cultural ideas of an 'advanced', artificial technology - but which seem likely to be considered as quaint just a century or two into our future. What if, however, aliens had already left a message for us, 'hidden in plain sight', since the dawn of history? What if we only had to look within ourselves?
A paper published last year in Icarus, the prestigious journal of planetary science, asked if it was possible that terrestrial life on Earth had been 'seeded' from beyond the Earth - and if so, does the building block of that life, DNA, contain any sort of message from our alien creators. Using mathematics, the authors of the paper - "The "Wow! signal" of the terrestrial genetic code" - looked for evidence of a statistically strong 'informational' signal in the genetic code, with surprising results:
Here we show that the terrestrial code displays a thorough precision-type orderliness matching the criteria to be considered an informational signal. Simple arrangements of the code reveal an ensemble of arithmetical and ideographical patterns of the same symbolic language. Accurate and systematic, these underlying patterns appear as a product of precision logic and nontrivial computing rather than of stochastic processes (the null hypothesis that they are due to chance coupled with presumable evolutionary pathways is rejected with P-value < 10–13).
The signal displays readily recognizable hallmarks of artificiality.
(For counter-comments against the claims of the paper, see this Pharyngula blog post).
Interestingly, this was not the first time that Icarus had featured a paper entertaining the idea of 'biological SETI'. In 1979 the journal - under editor Carl Sagan - published a paper titled "Is bacteriophage φX174 DNA a message from an extraterrestrial intelligence?", written by Japanese biochemists Hiromitsu Yokoo and Tairo Oshima. Given how crazy the idea sounded, Sagan asked a young protégé, David Grinspoon (now a prominent astrobiologist in his own right), to check out the paper to assess whether it was legitimate. Here's how Grinspoon describes the paper in
One of the long-running stories in ufology touches on UFOs allegedly seen by astronauts on the Apollo Moon missions, with one of those being Buzz Aldrin's supposed confession that he saw a UFO outside the Apollo 11 spacecraft on the way to the Moon. The legendary American astronaut participated in a Reddit AMA yesterday, and during that question and answer session clarified what the 'UFO' likely was:
On Apollo 11 in route to the Moon, I observed a light out the window that appeared to be moving alongside us. There were many explanations of what that could be, other than another spacecraft from another country or another world – it was either the rocket we had separated from, or the 4 panels that moved away when we extracted the lander from the rocket and we were nose to nose with the two spacecraft. So in the close vicinity, moving away, were 4 panels. And i feel absolutely convinced that we were looking at the sun reflected off of one of these panels. Which one? I don’t know. So technically, the definition could be “unidentified.”
We well understood exactly what that was. And when we returned, we debriefed and explained exactly what we had observed. And I felt that this had been distributed to the outside world, the outside audience, and apparently it wasn’t, and so many years later, I had the time in an interview to disclose these observations, on another country’s television network. And the UFO people in the United States were very very angry with me, that i had not given them the information. It was not an alien.
Link: Buzz Aldrin Reddit AMA