New Insights Into Two Australian UFO Mysteries.

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.

Age of Reason VUFOA UFO flying saucer Westall Valentich

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WESTALL UFO A WEATHER BALLOON?

Westall UFO Clayton Australia flying saucer

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.

Keith Basterfield wrote:
I believe that debates such as this are healthy, and can only strengthen our collective investigation of the phenomenon. Lest anyone wonders otherwise, my take on the UFO phenomenon is that there is a real mystery here, deserving of our serious and careful attention.

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.

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NEW TWIST IN THE FRED VALENTICH UFO DISAPPEARANCE.

Cape Otway UFO 1978 Fred Valentich

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.

Fred Valentich UFO mystery

News Briefs 08-08-2014

“Don't try to solve serious matters in the middle of the night.”

Quote of the Day:

“You saw something you were not supposed to see — something few elements have been aware of, let alone witnessed.”

P.K. Dick

Moonwalking? Strange Silhouette on Lunar Surface Goes Viral


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.

The 'Shard' The 'Cube' The 'Castle'

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.

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Further Reading:

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UPDATE:

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.

Leading Skeptic Brian Dunning Sentenced to 15 Months Prison for Fraud

Brian Dunning

Leading skeptic Brian Dunning, of the popular Skeptoid podcast, has this week been sentenced to 15 months in a Federal prison for defrauding eBay of hundreds of thousands of dollars. His incarceration will begin on September 2.

Dunning has now posted 'a message' about his conviction and sentencing on his website, a move which some skeptics have applauded as taking ownership of his crime, while others aren't as impressed. While I really don't care to get too deep into this affair, I'd have to side with the latter. In particular, unless there are more details I'm not party to, Dunning's description of how he earned his riches (through his company Kessler's Flying Circus, or KFC) seems rather misleading:

[W]e developed a pair of useful widgets: ProfileMaps, that showed a map of visitors to your MySpace page; and WhoLinked, a WordPress plugin that showed who has linked to your blog. These both included an eBay advertisement. Amazingly these both went viral, and through 2006 and 2007 our ads drove enough new customers to eBay US to earn KFC about $5.3 million dollars. Keep in mind that was the company's gross revenue; we had overhead and employees and costs like every other company. I was the second highest paid employee, and I did earn over a million dollars personally over 2006 and 2007 before taxes. [my emphasis]

The original indictment describes the crime, involving 'cookie-stuffing', in a very different way:

[T]he defendant provided free applications at two of his websites that users could download and use on their own websites: "ProfileMaps.info," which showed the physical location of visitors to a MySpace profile, and "WhoLinked.com," which showed who was linking to the user's website or blog. Any visitor to those websites could download either or both applications. Both applications included code that operated as follows: when a user visited a website that had installed the Profilemaps or Wholinked applications, the code would cause the user unknowingly to receive an eBay and/or CJ cooke with KFC's Affiliate ID without the user having clicked on an eBay ad or link, without the user knowing that his or her browser had been re-directed to the eBay and/or CJ affiliate tracking server, and without the user seeing any content of an eBay site. As a result, KFC would be paid if that user subsequently conducted an eBay revenue action within a certain period of time. [my emphasis)

I was also a little...skeptical...about Dunning's final words, in which he says though he regrets "this stain", he will "own it". From what I have seen, apart from this 'message' that some others have linked to on social media, Dunning has assiduously avoided taking ownership...his Twitter feed does not mention his sentencing or link to the message, neither does his Facebook page. There is no link to the message, or mention of his conviction/sentencing, on the front page of his own website. And perhaps worst of all, there seems to be absolutely no mention of it anywhere on the Skeptoid site - a venture which regularly asks for financial donations from listeners (the most recent being an August 1 podcast release titled 'Listeners Have Another Say'). Top left of the site does feature a link to 'Support Skeptoid' though.

In fact, Dunning's done such a good job of 'owning it' that today, while browsing various skeptical websites discussing this topic, I've seen a number of comments posted by Skeptoid supporters who were totally unaware of not only his prison sentence, but the conviction (which was recorded more than a year ago) [Update: an example here].

But it's not really my concern - I leave it to the real skeptics to dissect the case in more detail.

[Update: Skepchick have done a very good job of exactly that in this blog-post - it pretty much touches on everything I was thinking]

Related:

News Briefs 07-08-2014

Only 2 months left!

  • Prion Pee-on: New urine test could determine if you're going to turn into a human mad cow.
  • Romancing the (cold) stone: ESA's Rosetta becomes the 1st human spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet.
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson has had it with your Monsanto fear-mongering!
  • After several memorable cameos, Stephen Hawking is finally having his own movie --and it has Oscar written all over it.
  • Mike Clelland: If you've seen a UFO up close, there's a chance you are an abductee --and my 2 cents on the matter.
  • Robotic exoskeleton gives Korean workers super-strength. Now in case of an alien queen attack, they can all do a proper Gangnam-style fight.
  • Giant spiders: Monstrous myth or terrifying truth?
  • What's next for the Newkirk couple after visiting the lair of Mothman? Why visiting a secret Nazi compound in California!
  • Last week I said adiós to my long-running Red Pills of the Week on Mysterious Universe, so I decided to go out with a bang.
  • The 'retirement' didn't last long though: Here's my essay on the weird connections between Alien close encounters, Celtic traditions, Mayan legends &... salt?
  • You wanna cry about something worthier than the Red Pills? Studio Ghibli is shutting down!! :'(
  • Just act natural: Video of a bear walking on two legs is Sasquatchly freaky.
  • Attention, conspiracy theorists! The Warren Commission report on JFK assassination has been digitized, and is available online
  • Grimerican blogger Fortean Mind, on the 'Science' of Myth building.
  • Tangentially Speaking: Chris Ryan talks to Ethnobotanist extraordinaire Dennis McKenna.
  • Red Pill of the Day: The downside of inviting Dr. Ian Malcolm to your wedding.

Quote of the Day:

"Psychologists have hitherto failed to realize that imagination is a necessary ingredient of perception itself."

~Immanuel Kant

A Close Up Look at a Comet as the Rosetta Space Probe Finally Closes in on its Prey

Comet 67P

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

New Nazca Lines Discovered In Peru

Nazca Peru geoglyph

Hidden for centuries beneath the sand and stone of Peru's Nazca Desert, strong winds have revealed previously unknown giant geoglyphs. Spotted from the air by pilot and researcher Eduardo Herrán Gómez de la Torre, a bird, camelids, and what may be a 60 metre long snake are among the shapes identified so far. From the few photos released, the new geoglyphs are distinctly different in style to the more famous lines such as the condor pictured below. Archaeologists are currently assessing the authenticity of the geoglyphs, how old they are, and where they fit in the menagerie of animals and geometric designs that cover an area approximately 280 square miles.

Hopefully the discovery adds to our understanding of the Nazca Lines, whose purpose has remained a mystery since they were first presented to the Western world in 1939. German mathematician Maria Reiche, who set up home among the geoglyphs and dedicated her life to deciphering the lines, amassed evidence showing they had astronomical meaning. The spider has since been identified with the constellation Orion. The lines may also have practical uses, identifying sources of water, vital for survival in one of the driest places on Earth.

More sensationally, Erich von Däniken wondered in his 1968 book Chariots of the Gods if the lines were landing strips for extraterrestrial visitors. The late Philip Coppens also thought the lines were intended to be seen from above; not by alien aircraft but shamanic flight, out of body experiences induced by altered states of consciousness.

Nazca Lines spider Peru Amazon Inca

Many of the animals represented are not native to the Nazca plateau. The monkey and hummingbird, for example, are all found on the other side of the Andes. The magnificent spider has been identified as a type known as Ricinulei, an arachnid so rare it has only been found in remote parts of the Amazon rainforest. The wildlife and geometric designs combine to present an enigmatic cosmology lost to time. It's easy to understand Reiche's passion for the geoglyphs, and the lure of their mystery.

In his book Fingerprints of the Gods, Graham Hancock mentions the 16th century Spanish traveler Luis de Monzon, who collected local traditions linking the lines to the Viracocha, a red-bearded god who brought civilisation to the pre-Inca world and whose companions may have been survivors of a lost civilisation. I'm sure if you asked him today, Graham would agree there may be a shamanic connection. Geometric shapes and animals are common in visions induced by altered states of consciousness. There is a long history of hallucinogenic use on both sides of the Andes, from ayahuasca in the Amazon to the San Pedro cactus in the highlands. I personally believe shamanism is the key to unlocking the mystery, and the ancient traditions that are still practiced in Peru today.

In his wonderful book A Sacred Landscape: The Search for Ancient Peru, historian Hugh Thompson suggests the lines were followed for ancient rituals, some of which still exist in various forms today. British archaeologist Clive Ruggles has also identified a labyrinth design at Nazca which was "not meant to be ‘seen’ from outside at all, but rather to be experienced from within. It was meant to be walked."

The Nazca lines are many things, a combination of astronomical alignments, mythology, shamanism, and ritual. However, I doubt very much that aliens, with the technology to travel vast interstellar distances, would need lines scratched in the dirt to navigate. The lines can only have been made by locals -- Atlanteans, of course, in their mysterious cities of gold!

Joe Rogan: The Majesty of Life

A nice little monologue by Joe Rogan, set to music and images, on how psychedelics and other border experiences offer a means for us to snap out of the routines that have blinded us to the majesty of life, and 'reset' ourselves. (NSFW language warning)

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Our Enduring Fascination with Portals to Another World or Dimension

Stargate

Today sees the release of Lev Grossman's The Magician's Land (Amazon US/Amazon UK), the concluding chapter of his excellent Magicians series. Over at the A.V. Club, Grossman discusses 5 favorite magic portals in fantasy fiction, with some interesting insights into our fascination with doorways to other magical places or dimensions:

There’s an appeal to those portals, and it’s always been extremely primal to me. Even when I was 8 and read The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe for the first time, it hit me like a truck. Of course this can’t possibly be all there is. There has to be some alternative to this world that’s all around me. If I could just look in the right direction, I could see it. There’s something so seductive about that idea, and I knew I had to write about it at some point. I remember reading [the first book in] A Song Of Ice And Fire in the ’90s and thinking, Martin has remade epic fantasy completely. He’s taken the Tolkien tradition and transformed it. Nobody had done that for the C.S. Lewis tradition, which has always had more of an air of middle-grade fiction about it. Could you take that idea of the portal fantasy and drag it into adulthood? What would it look like? That’s where The Magicians came from, trying to reengineer that subgenre for adults.

Grossman mentions just a few of the famous magical portals from history, but when I began to think about it, the idea of magical portals is amazingly prevalent, from fantasy right through to science fiction (hence the Stargate image at the top of this post).

It's a genre that has always appealed to me, so if you've got some favourite 'portal fiction' to share, please do so in the comments!

Link: Lev Grossman lists his 5 favorite magic portals in fantasy fiction