Feb 01 2011

Jerusalem UFO

Have you seen the latest viral UFO video – this purports to be of a UFO spotted hovering over the Dome of the Rock Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This is actually presented as confirmatory evidence of a previous UFO video of the same location. Viral videos are a great opportunity for a little “armchair skepticism” – applying critical thinking to assess the logic and probability of a claim and to think of potential alternate explanations for what is being claimed. If you are ambitious you can then follow up with some actual investigation, or at least see if someone else has.

I also like to think about how an individual case fits into the bigger picture. What patterns of behavior does this reflect? First take a look at the videos and we’ll analyze them for plausibility.

The first video I linked to above seems superficially compelling. At least it does not seem like any natural or mundane phenomenon. It’s not a helicopter, flare, floating lantern, or ultralight. It’s not a re-entering satellite, or an out-of-focus blimp. But also – it does not look like an alien spacecraft, meaning that we are not seeing details of what can only be a technologically advanced craft. What we are seeing is a pulsating blob of light. Blobs of light, no matter what they appear to do, are never compelling because you cannot tell what they actually are. You also often cannot tell size, distance, and speed. Blobs of light are common photographic artifacts. They are also easy to fake.

Also notice how the blob of light moves – it is very uniform and abrupt. I have seen a lot of CG movies, from the very beginning of CG, and have noticed that one tell-tale sign of CG is that movement is too perfect, geometric, and uniform. It is movement that seems like it is controlled by a computer mathematical algorithm, not by something physical in the real world. Such stilted movement is now a sign of low-grade CG. This is especially true of acceleration. We are used to seeing thing accelerate all the time – that is how things move in gravity. We have a very good feel for what acceleration should look like. When an object appears to transition from not moving, to moving at a uniform speed without any apparent acceleration in between, we notice how unnatural it seems.

The movement of the BFO (blob-like flying object) has all the hallmarks of CG, especially in the way in changes its movement. This is desktop CG.

Other aspects of the video are also suspect. The reaction of the onlookers does not seem to match what they are allegedly viewing. Some commenters have speculated that they were drunk, but that does not seem to cut it. Their reaction just does not seem genuine – as if they see a UFO every second Tuesday.

We can also ask – if a UFO made an appearance over a major city like Jerusalem, there would not just be one or two videos, there would be dozens at least, and thousands of eyewitnesses. This claim fails on that point alone.

There are probably other points to make, but those are the main ones. This video’s armchair skepticism rating for plausibility is very low, approaching zero. In addition we have the fruits of investigation to follow up as well. UFO-blogger has uncovered this photograph, which looks suspiciously like the background of the video. It now seems like this photo was used to generate the CG, and the voices were just added over. Once I saw this I went back over the video to see if this fits, and it does. You’ll notice that in the video no lights in the city sparkle, twinkle, or shift at all. Their flares are all absolutely static – because it’s not a video, its a still picture. I’ll have to keep this effect one in mind for the future. Also, I think I notice some pixelization when the camera “zooms” – because it’s not a real zoom, it’s a digital zoom into the photo. I suppose it’s possible that a video camera has a digital zoom, but in my experience most video cameras these days have a pretty high optical zoom function.

So this video is totally busted as a fake.

How does this fit into the larger phenomenon of UFOs, and even larger category of the paranormal? Over historical time different kinds of evidence are presented to support claims of ghosts, aliens, and fairies. Since none of these things are apparently real, we can infer that such evidence is all either a misinterpreted artifact or a hoax. Artifacts and hoaxes should follow the technological limits of the day – and that is exactly what we see. Joe Nickel once observed to me that ghosts always happen to look like the common artifacts of the photographic technology in use at the time. It seems that UFOs look like whatever technology is capable of faking at the time.

Now that we have desktop CG we are seeing UFOs that can plausibly be created by desktop CG, and happen to look and move like cheap CG. A proponent may argue that alien spacecraft just happen to move in a way that makes them look CG, but that is a massive and unimpressive bit of special pleading, and nothing more. It reminds me of the claim by Billy Meyer, whose video of a UFO obviously swinging like a pendulum from a string just happened to move that way – a phenomenon I dubbed “pendulum drive”. Now we have CG-drive – engage, Mr. Sulu.

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18 responses so far

18 Responses to “Jerusalem UFO”

  1. wrysmileon 01 Feb 2011 at 8:22 am

    In the second video at around 52 secs the guy’s actually shout whoa before the object moves.

  2. banyanon 01 Feb 2011 at 8:49 am

    Oh Captain Disillusion, where are you?

  3. Karl Withakayon 01 Feb 2011 at 11:37 am

    While being able to debunk or bust a video like this helps to support the skeptical position, it should not be necessary.

    If I am not able to debunk or bust a claim, that doesn’t make it valid (or even necessarily worth considering) by default.

    Lets say you have a video like this which you claim is of an alien spacecraft. Great, you have an video of an unexplained phenomenon. Just because I don’t have an explanation of what it is doesn’t make your claim correct. You must supply evidence and support for your claim that is is a UFO, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    Lack of a conventional explanation is not evidence of the extraordinary.

  4. Karl Withakayon 01 Feb 2011 at 12:02 pm

    …I don’t have to know the gimmick in an illusion to be able to conclude it’s not real magic.

    It’s funny how many people will accept that their powers of observation can be fooled when they expect to be fooled (such as during a illusionist’s performance or by an optical illusion), but not when they do not expect to be fooled. If you can be fooled when your guard is up, it seems reasonable to conclude you are more prone to being fooled when your guard is down.

    “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool.” -Richard Feynman

    You must first doubt your own observations.

  5. jbcon 01 Feb 2011 at 12:17 pm

    After looking at the still photo from Wikimedia, and watching the video again, I don’t think the fakery was even as sophisticated as the low-grade “desktop CG”. I think this is actually real video of a computer monitor displaying that photo. The panning and zooming is “real”, rather than digital CG, but it’s panning and zooming with the hand-held camera pointed at the monitor. One tip-off of that is that the pixelization effect when the camera zooms in on the dome looks very much like that: the graininess you get if you zoom in a video camera on a computer monitor. Try it and see.

    I’m still not sure how the “UFO” effect was produced. I suppose that might have been CG, as Steven proposes. Or it could be some analog effect: a slightly out-of-focus LED light suspended between the monitor and the camera (but then, where is the wire?). Or a bright reflection from the monitor surface itself, created by shining a light source onto it? Again, not sure about that. Interesting to speculate, though.

  6. jbcon 01 Feb 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Hm. And now, after loading the hi-res 1080p version of the video and watching it a few more times, it’s pretty clear that the “UFO” is in fact CG animated over the still photo, rather than being an analog effect. The blob itself becomes pixellated when the camera zooms in. There also is a visible halo around the blob that appears to be a cut-and-paste artifact.

  7. SARAon 01 Feb 2011 at 12:58 pm

    @Karl Whitaker – Thank you. That is a very good point. Because we don’t know how, doesn’t make something magical (paranormal or alien). It just means we don’t understand. And more importantly, its important to remember – sometimes we THINK we understand because we make deep seated assumptions, that we never question.
    For example many of us non-believers will find God related thoughts flash into our minds for a phenomena. The difference is that we can recognize the fallacy in this thought and move on. Those who don’t recognize the fallacy of a deep seated assumption stop looking for the explanation. But the assumptions we rely too easily on, don’t have to be huge like god, they could be much smaller, more fact based and simply not apply.

    Although, this particular video doesn’t seem very compelling at any level. Without even considering the how – as Steven said – it has the feeling of being faked.

  8. clgoodon 01 Feb 2011 at 2:25 pm

    I think your analysis is spot on. The 2D move on the held image, trying to imitate a hand held camera, is sort of OK. The way the blob locks in screen space is really amateur.

    FWIW, my day job involves imitating camera moves with computers.

  9. clgoodon 01 Feb 2011 at 2:26 pm

    I meant image space, not screen space. It locks to the background.

  10. tudzaon 01 Feb 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Why does this post sound just like 9/11 doubters going over video of the towers burning?

  11. Steven Novellaon 01 Feb 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Because such doubters (really deniers) are pseudo-skeptics. They imitate the form of skepticism without the honest content and analysis.

  12. BillyJoe7on 01 Feb 2011 at 3:45 pm

    “In the second video at around 52 secs the guy’s actually shout whoa before the object moves.”

    …ah, fail. Sorry :(

    There is a flash of light just before the object moves. The guy shouts ‘whoa’ just after the flash of light and before the object moves.

  13. AndyNon 01 Feb 2011 at 5:03 pm

    The major give away is that the 3 or 4 bright starburst flares (left middle of frame at 0:16) don’t rotate as the camera rotates. The direction of the flares are caused by the hexagonal aperture of the camera. So if the camera rotates, the direction of them should stay oriented with the camera. That’s why you know it’s a still because it sticks to the image.

    There’s also issues with grain enlargment during the zooms, lack of atmospheric flicker on distant lights. I could go on, but I won’t.

    I reckon it was probably done in After Effects.

  14. HHCon 01 Feb 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Its photoshop-like software, just insert animation. The software allows the creation of animation in still shots or live animation videos :-O

  15. Eternally Learningon 02 Feb 2011 at 10:18 am

    Ok, so we got the low-hanging fruit of the obviously faked video, what do you suppose the original (2nd link Steve posted) video is? Due to the absurd acceleration, I’d say it has to be a fake. Any thoughts on how? A couple thoughts came to my mind:

    - Something transparent in front of the camera with a laser pointed at it.
    - CG imposed image.
    - Suspended light on a thread in front of the camera.

    Any others care to join in?

  16. Skadorwaon 02 Feb 2011 at 9:57 pm

    Steve,

    It is even simpler than what everyone thinks. My friend was convinced that it was unfakeable however I was able to almost perfectly replicate it using PowerPoint with a background picture of the temple at night and a custom animation of a glowing small multipoint star with movements and timed pauses. I ran this as a PowerPoint show then videotaped it with my cell phone. It took 5 mins to do and looked exactly like the video minus the sound which could have been easily added later. Thankfully my friend admitted he may be wrong and was upset he was so easily fooled. Imagine if I had an hour or two to get really fancy…

  17. Dave McGinnon 03 Feb 2011 at 7:53 am

    Apparently there are different angles

    http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showpost.php?p=70437853&postcount=232

  18. Fraser Brownon 04 Feb 2011 at 2:09 am

    Indeed!

    How can that be explained? Perhaps it’s conspiring hoax artists set up cameras in different locations and the blog done in post to look like different angles.

    Or perhaps not! This one’s certainly piqued my interest!

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