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Monday, September 7, 2015

UFO's for the beginning skeptic

First off, to the loyal readers, sorry for falling off the wagon for a while. I know I said that I was going to try and publish posts more often and regularly, but unfortunately, once again, life got in the way. Partly due to work, partly personal life with a new baby. So, enough about me and on to what you're here for.

Today's topic is another one I've wanted to write about for a while.UFO's are not something I talk about often. Not because I'm not interested, believe me, I am. I watch almost all of the ancient alien, UFO conspiracy shows on T.V., and I work with a few people that believe aliens have visited (not the same aliens that the Republicans are bitching about). The reason I don't often discuss them is because it's rather hard to figure out a starting point. Do I start, much like the Ancient Alien crowd, with cave paintings, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the Indian Vedas? Or do I start with Barney and Betty Hill in 1961? Or perhaps Roswell in 1947? I think I should start with describing a UFO.

To start, UFO simply stands for Unidentified Flying Object. There are an incredible variety of phenomenon that have received the title UFO. Strange lights in the sky, odd objects that are caught on video, strange noises, airborne objects that aren't readily identified, and on and on. Most people in the UFO believers camp think that all of these are, in some form, controlled by an alien intelligence. There are a few that will make the claim that these objects are from the future and being driven by humans. I will grant that there are actually UFO's in that there are occasionally flying objects that are unidentified. The likelihood that these are some sort of extraterrestrial craft is minimal.

Before I get any farther, I am going to say now that I am not going to discuss any specific UFO cases in great detail in this post. If there is a particular case you'd like me to take a look at, email me at and give me the details.

*Note on the types: There are a lot of descriptions of UFO's. Some of these are singularly unique, while there might be many sightings that the descriptions are very similar. I am going to attempt to group them, much like my cryptids post, into similar descriptions. Part of the problem with this is that some may fit into several categories while some may not fit into any category very well. I am also going to try and include a more naturalistic explanation for these phenomenon in the category, instead of doing an overall conclusion.

These are quite likely the most common of sightings. These are normally sudden lights, usually seen at night, that reportedly act in an odd manner. They might change directions erratically or suddenly, They may also appear to accelerate, raise, lower, stop, hover, flicker, waver, or disappear altogether. The colors can vary, though white, yellow and blue seem to be the most popular.  There are occasions of odd lights being reported during the day as well, though those are much rarer.There are several different things that may cause these phenomena. One possible cause your standard run of the mill aircraft. All aircraft have multiple lights on their wings and under-carriages, as well as the tail. If you're looking at them at a slightly odd angle, you may only see one or two. If the plane banks or turns, it can give the appearance that the lights are moving at speeds much faster than what a "normal" aircraft can achieve. Plus, as the plane continues to bank, rise, or fall, the lights may suddenly disappear as they are hidden by the planes body. Basically, it's an optical illusion. Another possible cause are flares or fireworks. Some are designed to suddenly ignite after a certain amount of time, and then just disappear, or they could be faulty and not work properly. Another possible cause, which I have recently learned about, is temperature inversion, also known as Fata Morgana, which is basically a mirage. And you can never forget that the sighting may be a trick or a hoax.

There are a lot of reports that seem to make a mention of a "cigar shaped craft". These seem to apply to any sort of tubular or cylindrical shapes objects. Like many sightings of strange objects or creatures, the colors, sizes, and all other pertinent details vary widely. Some of these only seen when someone is reviewing previously shot film. Others are seen during the day, in the open, and by groups. These can be harder to determine their actual cause. Once again, they may be some form of aircraft, seen at an odd angle or elevation. They may be the result of someone perpetuating a hoax. They could be a model rocket or airplane being flown by a hobbyist. The ones that are only seen by carefully reviewing the film are most likely insects. (I have never seen an example of these during the winter)  Experimental aircraft also could be a likely explanation. They could also be birds that the witness is unfamiliar with. Another possible explanation are balloons. You can have a balloon made into nearly any shape or size. These more naturalistic explanations don't explain all the sightings, and some are legitimately unknown.

These have become more common in recent history. They are often described as being large, black, and moving in a manner that is not possible for any known aircraft. These are very interesting to me, as I can only come up with a few possible explanations. The first one that comes to mind is misidentifying known aircraft, such as the flying wing. Once again, experimental aircraft are possible, as are gliders and hang gliders. Drones, model airplanes, other types of toys (yes, those are toys. Just really expensive toys) are entirely probable. And much like any other type of sighting, hallucinations are always a possibility.

Of course, I can't leave out the classic "flying saucer" type of UFO sighting. These are the classic type of craft like you would see in a 50's or 60's science fiction movie. They sort of look like an inverted bowl on top of a plate. The term was coined in 1947 by Kenneth Arnold. You will rarely hear a report of an actual flying saucer these days. Most of the original sightings were most likely hoaxes, either for fun or profit. There is some variation is the details of the crafts, but all in all, they have the same basic plan. Basically, think of Marvin the Martians ship from the old Warner Brothers cartoons. These are pretty simple to build, and still fairly easy to produce flying saucer images and video.

I will admit that I have not covered every type of UFO sighting and reported vehicle. There is just way to many minute variations and alterations to include everything. As well, as interesting as the topic is, the likelihood that our small blue dot of a planet is being visited by highly advanced beings is so improbable that it is hard to take any of this seriously. Trying to research UFO's and UFO sightings sends you down so many rabbit holes that piecing together any sort of coherent dialogue requires much more time than I am able to afford to it.

Things to consider:
There are several factors to keep in mind when hearing about, or reading about UFO reports. You will often hear witnesses say that the objects do things that no known aircraft can. One problem with this statement is that modern aircraft can often perform maneuvers that seem unbelievable, and very few people are familiar with every model of aircraft. Not to mention that every government is constantly working on new types of aircraft. Also, there is the problem of mistaken perspective. An airborne object may be farther away than you think it is, as well as larger or smaller. In the air, there are very few objects that can give you a dependable frame of reference for the size. As well, there is always the chance that someone is simply faking either the object or the report, possibly for fun, or to make money and garner attention. Of course, they could also be a normal object in a strange or unexpected context. You will also hear many members of the UFO believer community say that the witness is a pilot, police officer, doctor, teacher, or some other pillar of society. They will say that these people, especially military, police, and pilots are trained to observe things. While that may be true, they are still human (unless the illuminati have replaced them all with robots or lizard people), and humans are not infallible. Even I made a mistake once :).Many of these witnesses may be in a heightened state of stress, which in turn can cause them to hallucinate or misidentify things around them. Not to say that they are lying, but that they are misremembering or misinterpreting information. And of course, there is always the chance that every once in a great while, there is an actual alien intelligence piloting one of the objects that have been seen. But before you conclude that you have actually seen ALF flying by on his way back to Melmac, remember that you have to disprove the more naturalistic probabilities first.

If you have a question, comment, or request, you can leave a comment here. Please do, I'd like some internet company. Until next time, Be Good, Be Skeptical, and Be sure to set your clocks back an hour.

the Skeptical Okie.

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