Jan 28 2009

Obama’s UFO

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Comments: 27

The interwebbies is full of discussion about the alleged UFO that was filmed by CNN just prior to Obama’s inauguration. You can watch the video here, along with some amusing commentary by a UFO believer.

edit: The Youtube video was removed, so watch this version here.

When I first saw the video my immediate reaction was that this blurry object that flies across the screen was a bird, or perhaps an insect closer to the camera. After looking more closely, and hearing various commentary, I am convinced that these are the most likely explanations – and of the two I think it is most likely a bird.Watch the video carefully. Despite the narrators description that the object moves in a straight line, it is not moving in a straight line at all. It is moving in a sinusoidal wave, which means it is bobbing up and down slightly as it flies. This is exactly how a flapping bird moves through the air (and why I think it’s a bird and not an insect).In fact the narrator mentions that it looks as if some flapping is visible, but he dismisses this as an artifact of the camera. I disagree – I think we are seeing the blurry flapping of wings.

The narrator dismisses the bird hypothesis because it would have to be too big. However, it is clear that the object moves in front of the Washington Monument, therefore setting limits on how big it could be. The problem of estimating size, distance, and speed of objects against the sky is that there is no reference for perspective – but when a flying object moves in front of a more distant object, we get some perspective. In this case we can see that the object is relatively small. It is probably the size of a large bird, like a crow. Perhaps it is even larger, like a hawk.

Also – watch this version of the video. At normal speed and continuous play it looks even more like a bird. You get a better impression of wings flapping and the feel of the movement. It’s a bird.

This video also reminds me of the whole rod phenomenon – videos that allegedly show “rods” flying across the camera’s view. “Rods” are insects, close to the lens and moving fast enough that their image is blurred and spread out. The insect body becomes a rod and the fast wing flapping becomes a sinusoidal blur around it.

This video is similarly burred into an elongated shape, although it is not moving as much relative speed as an insect close to the  lens so it is not as spread out as much.

Video and camera artifacts are interesting in and of themselves, and it is always amusing to see people misinterpret them as mysterious or paranormal phenomena. They provide frequent fodder for sloppy news programs looking to fill a slow news day, and for dedicated UFO conspiracy theorists.

And they give skeptics something fun to examine. I admit I am endlessly fascinated by how people can turn a bird into a mystery. The Youtube narrator is classic – searching for anomalies, dismissing obvious evidence, and failing to see the forest for the trees. That is the real interesting phenomenon here.

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27 responses so far

27 Responses to “Obama’s UFO”

  1. medmonkeyon 28 Jan 2009 at 10:11 am

    Maybe Captain Disillusion will do a video on this?

    Here is CD debunking the catching sunglasses video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVGi7mgLSbM

  2. wrysmileon 28 Jan 2009 at 10:18 am

    Both video’s have been taken down, that’ll get the ufo conspiracy nuts going.

    Anyway here’s a link although it doesn’t have the commentary just an annoying hard core dance track.

    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=QicnbP4j2fQ

  3. bigjohn756on 28 Jan 2009 at 10:39 am

    Unfortunately, we can’t watch the video because YouTube has removed it.

    “This video has been removed due to terms of use violation. “

  4. DevilsAdvocateon 28 Jan 2009 at 10:50 am

    Yes, the US gov’mt has a secret agency that swoops in and confiscates any and all evidence of alien visitation. That’s why there is no evidence for the UFOs that believers say they have so much evidence for, evidence they don’t have because the gov’mt confiscated it all, but they would have if they hadn’t, so, the absence of evidence is proof the gov’mt done confiscated it all.

    And those of us familiar with the arguments of UFO believers realize this sort of nonsense talk is the norm and is expected to convince mainstream science of the reality of UFOs.

  5. JonoBon 28 Jan 2009 at 12:00 pm

    “This video has been removed due to terms of use violation. “

    Ya, right. It’s obvious the government did this to suppress the truth from the public, duh!

    I found a video of the siting here featured on CNN. Unfortunately it lacks the credulous commentary.

    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2345983/ufo_at_the_obama_inauguration/

  6. DevilsAdvocateon 28 Jan 2009 at 12:11 pm

    *Well, any sentient ETs capable of traveling to Earth from another solar system would certainly be capable of camoflaging their scout ships as Earth fauna, say a pigeon, starling, or crow. In fact, it’s a great ploy and has obviously worked.

    *Sarcasm Alert

  7. Steven Novellaon 28 Jan 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Ack – I wrote this two days ago but then the thimerosal study came out and took precedence.

    I updated the links in the blog itself. Thanks for the update.

  8. Karl Withakayon 28 Jan 2009 at 1:11 pm

    UFO accounts can be pretty much ignored without extremely strong, extraordinary evidence, based on the low plausibility of interstellar space travel.

    Consider the distances involved between the sun and other stars, let alone the distance to any extrasolar planet remotely capable of supporting anything approaching life. Then consider that the speed of light is a absolute limit on how fast any object with mass can travel. Even at 99% the speed of light, the travel times would be extremely long, and the the energy requirements would be, literally astronomical. Even if you speculate some advanced alien technology that somehow allows interstellar travel in any reasonable time frame, the energy requirements would likely be just as prohibitive. Therefore the possibility of visitation by extraterrestrial lifeforms is highly improbable.

  9. Scott D.on 28 Jan 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Looks like a pigeon flying. But, maybe pigeons are really aliens biding their time to build up numbers so they can RULE THE EARTH!! Nah, they’re just birds.

  10. DevilsAdvocateon 28 Jan 2009 at 2:03 pm

    See, now you’re getting with the plan, Scott. And where do pigeons often roost? ON THE WINDOW LEDGES OF THE BUILDINGS WHERE MAJOR CORPORATIONS AND GOVERNMENT AGENCIES ARE FOUND. Coincidence? I think NOT.

  11. Karl Withakayon 28 Jan 2009 at 3:55 pm

    If you play the audio backwards, you can hear the aliens saying “So long, and thanks for all the breadcrumbs.”

  12. HHCon 28 Jan 2009 at 8:02 pm

    To quote Woody Allen, ” Hope is a thing with feathers”.

  13. Perky Skepticon 28 Jan 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Clearly it’s the same aliens as are putting rainbows in our water supply.

  14. empiricalgod2on 28 Jan 2009 at 10:14 pm

    I learnt a new word today “sinusoidal”

    Thanks Dr. N

  15. Watcheron 28 Jan 2009 at 11:38 pm

    Man you get some weird links on that metacafe one … crazy stuff about the 2012 and the end of the world, illuminati taking over the world, and steve jackson getting busted by the FBI for not paying taxes, I mean, making a card game :P

    Some people believe anything.

  16. Take Me To Your Leader « Skepacabraon 29 Jan 2009 at 1:50 am

    [...] SINCE THE VIDEO IS NO LONGER WORKING, CLICK HERE FOR A BRIEF GLIMPSE AT THE IMAGE AND CLICK HERE TO READ STEVE NOVELLA’S RESPONSE TO [...]

  17. DevilsAdvocateon 29 Jan 2009 at 10:41 am

    “Some people believe anything.”

    It was an adolescent fascination with UFOs that brought me to see how unsubstantive was the evidence and how unreasonable was the belief. This expanded into a burgeoning skepticism about the ‘paranormal’ in general, and in turn, a fascination with human belief systems, particularly where the beliefs were so outre, as well as a fascination with all things science, since there is where I found the real answers.

    What has emerged after thirty years of following all this is a particular fascination with the human ability to compartmentalise outre beliefs. It amazes me how a person can believe wholeheartedly in UFOs as alien ships, alien abductions, and alien cattle mutilations, and yet this same person will look at bigfoot claims or ghost claims as unmitigated hogwash when all these claims suffer the same general dirth of evidence. It becomes apparent that belief, where it is expended, is based on something other than the actual evidence, believer justifications to the contrary. Predominant among the reasons for belief in a given paranormal claim is ‘credo consolans’, believing because the belief comforts or satisfies some inner need.

    For example, if ‘ghosts’ are real, the implications of that are considerable:

    1. We have ‘souls’ or ‘spirits’.
    2. These souls or spirits survive our corporeal death.
    3. Communication or at least contact with deceased loved ones is possible.
    4. Numerous religious beliefs are supported if ghosts are real.

    And so on.

    It seems belief in ghosts may be based on the wonderful promise of the implications rather than in the extant evidence for ghosts.

    Likewise, most UFO/alien True Believers fall into one of two categories, again, based on implications rather than the actual evidence, such as it is (or such as it isn’t). By my casual and anecdotal accounting, while about 20% are indifferent or have no strong beliefs one way or the other, about 40% believe the aliens are malevolent with bad intentions for humankind with all attendant conspiracy theories, and the remaining 40% see aliens as sky saviors, cosmic angels come to solve all mankind’s problems if only we’d just accept and believe. Reduced, it becomes “we are not alone and it’s a great thing” vs. “we are not alone and terrors await”. The common factor is “we are not alone” and that seems to be the primary implication fueling UFO/alien beliefs, quite despite the dirth of evidence for them. Of course, this question: “are we alone in the universe?” has dogged the human conscious for millenia.

    I don’t feel UFO/alien beliefs constitute a ‘religion’ per se, but the belief in implications rather than held facts and evidence is strikingly similar to human religious beliefs and processes.

  18. geoff1502on 29 Jan 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Actually Woody Allen said “How wrong Emily Dickinson was! Hope is not ‘the thing with feathers’. The thing with feathers has turned out to be my nephew. I must take him to a specialist in Zurich. ”

    I thought it was flying a little fast to be a bird, so I suspect an insect closer to the camera would be the more probable of the two.

  19. Fizziziston 29 Jan 2009 at 1:49 pm

    When I saw this video I knew it was a bird right away because this UFO is either really really small or it wouldn’t be able to fly in front of the Washington monument. It maybe seems, at first glance, that it does move behind it, but upon further analysis you can completely see that it is nothing but a BIRD. So stop it! Every time there is a blurry image of a bird or insect everyone freaks out and calls it a UFO I just don’t get it. These people are just begging to get invaded by aliens, sorry people but we really have to start looking at this logically

  20. HHCon 29 Jan 2009 at 4:30 pm

    DevilsAdvocate, Your discussion leads to human myths. All cultures have them.

  21. DevilsAdvocateon 29 Jan 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Well, sure HHC, but many myths are built on more solid ground or driven by something other than the will to believe that which soothes one’s fears. For instance, many myths about forest beasts began as cautionary tales parents told kids to keep them from wandering off into the forests where bears or highwaymen or whatever might harm them, stories that got told for so long they were established as myths. Another example is myths born of explorers not understanding the there-to-fore unseen flora and fauna (“Here be monsters!”). It is difficult to see why anyone might *want* to believe there are ogres and werewolves in the woods or sea monsters in distant oceans.

    It’s quite another thing when so many people clearly want to believe in something like UFOs/aliens when there is a dearth of evidence for them, other than the fuzzy ‘gaps’ in knowledge like the blurry image of a flying bird in the titular subject of this blog entry. There is quality of yearning among UFO believers.

  22. HHCon 29 Jan 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Perhaps, UFOs are this century’s myths. Prior century’s developed the notion of Angels, remember the heretical arguments about how many angels were on the head of a pin?

  23. Watcheron 29 Jan 2009 at 6:30 pm

    I was more hinting at the vid i watched after the UFO one. The one where all his evidence was based off of a trading card game … :)

  24. HHCon 29 Jan 2009 at 11:50 pm

    ” If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank” from Allen’s Without Feathers.

    You think I can check the Swiss account now? Doesn’t UFO stand for Unidentified Fund Offer?

  25. DLCon 30 Jan 2009 at 12:14 am

    It’s a frackin bird.
    It came from this planet, not from Rigel IV.
    It hasn’t got any “secret”,nor special technology.
    It’s just a damn bird.

  26. Greenon 02 Feb 2009 at 12:08 pm

    HHC:

    I became a skeptic little by little. As a kid I was fascinated with ufos, vampire, bigfoots (feet?), pretty much everything supernatural. It took sometime to get away from all this, being surrounded by wackos. Anyway, the book that convinced me the ufos were not really alien spacecrafts was a book called Aliens and Angels: UFOs and the Mythic Imagination, by Keith Thompson. Funny thing is, the book doesn’t delve into the question of whether the phenomena is real or not. He just explores the similarities between aliens phenomena and old myths, and says the discussion about the real nature of the things is not what he wants to discuss. He is interested in old folklore, psychology (mostly archetypes). That’s why he hooked me, I’d probably be prejudiced back then against a book if i figured it was about to deny my astronaut gods beliefs. It’s been years since I read it, I don’t know if I’d still find it that interesting, but maybe you folks should check it out.

  27. HHCon 03 Feb 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Green, Thank you for the suggested book.

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