Mar 16 2012

UFO over Chilean Air Base

It seems the HuffPo, not content to promote medical pseudoscience, is branching out into UFO nuttery. UFO author Leslie Kean, blogging in the Huff Po Science section, give a breathless and completely gullible account of a recent apparent UFO encounter over an air base in Santiago. You can watch the video for yourself and decide how impressive it is. View the video before reading on, as it will put everything into context.

Kean gives us this quick summary of the UFO situation:

As agreed by authorities around the world, these truly unexplainable unidentified flying objects appear solid, metallic and luminous, able to operate with speeds and maneuvers that defy the laws of physics. And, most chilling of all, they often behave as if under intelligent control.

Let’s count the logical fallacies she packed into this one paragraph. First she opens up with an argument from authority (even using the term). I doubt there is any consensus among world governments or “authorities” (whichever authorities she is referring to) that UFOs are space craft. There is certainly no scientific consensus that this is the case. But even if your average politician thought that UFOs were alien craft – so what. Politicians are generally not scientists and not exactly authorities on such topics.

Next she commits the fallacy of confusing currently unexplained with unexplainable. Most UFO sightings, in fact, when investigated turn out to be completely explainable. UFO believers (meaning that UFOs are alien spacecraft) point to the residue of unexplained cases to support their claims. However, given the number of UFO sightings, and the number of quirky phenomena that could result in such sightings, it is not surprising that some sightings remain unexplained – simply because there is not enough information to nail down exactly what was seen. This does not mean we are dealing with an unexplainable phenomenon, or alien visitation (that would be the argument from ignorance).

She next gives a description of some UFOs that would be truly impressive if it were true, but it’s not. Once we exclude demonstrable hoaxes, we are left with blobs, points of light, streaks, and other vague and fuzzy objects. What we do not have is a single smoking-gun piece of evidence. There is no picture or video that clearly shows an artificial craft capable of flight with good focus and reference for scale. There is not a single unambiguous piece of evidence.

Of course whenever I say this UFO proponents come out of the wood work to claim that there is, and every single time they are referring to low grade ambiguous evidence. There just seems to be a massive disconnect between what scientists consider good evidence and UFO proponents believe is good evidence. I wonder, for example what photos or videos Keane thinks shows unambiguously metallic object, and how we can infer that they are under intelligent control. The claim also that they “defy the laws of physics” is based on many unwarranted assumptions, mainly about size, distance, and speed. The problem is always that these parameters cannot be unambiguously inferred from the evidence. We could be dealing with a small object moving slowly close to the camera. UFO proponents, however, see a large object moving very fast and making impossible maneuvers. This perception, however, is likely just an illusion of ambiguous perspective.

About the Chilean UFO she writes:

It was a glorious, sunny morning on Nov. 5, 2010, when crowds gathered to celebrate the changing of the Air Force Command at El Bosque Air Base in Santiago. From different locations, spectators aimed video cameras and cell phones at groups of acrobatic and fighter jets performing an air show overhead. Nobody saw anything amiss.

But afterward, an engineer from the adjacent Pillán aircraft factory noticed something bizarre while viewing his footage in slow motion.

That is a classic red flag – no one saw anything, but then later on the video an anomaly was noticed. So Kean would have us believe that a UFO was stalking these Chilean fighter jets, with many people observing and taking video, and no one saw a thing. No one else has apparently come forward with video to confirm the sighting either.

This is consistent with either an optical artifact, or it could have been something small and close to the camera (and that is why no one saw it or captured it on their own camera). It could have also been something that the viewers saw but did not think was strange, and it’s only the camera’s perspective that makes it seem so.

The video shows several sequences of a small black splotch apparently moving across the visual field. Keep in mind – this is a small black splotch. We are not seeing any detail that would indicate it’s a craft of any kind. The video also does not provide any reference for scale – so it is not obviously apparent how big the splotch is, and therefore how far away or fast it is. We just see the black splotch against the sky. In one sequence, however, the splotch seems to crash into the ground (if you see it as being big and far away).

Of course we can propose the alternate hypothesis that the black splotch is a bug, and therefore relatively close to the camera. Then everything makes sense – it’s a small black smudge flying around like an insect and it didn’t crash into the ground, it just moved off to the lower left of the camera’s view. I suppose it’s also possible that it is a bird or birds. Birds have been mistaken for UFOs in the past – when they move quickly across the camera’s field they can appear just as a streak. Sometimes you can see that the thing has wings or is moving like a bird – not so in this case, which is why I favor the bug hypothesis.

Here is Kean’s description of this “UFO.”

This extraordinary machine was flying at velocities too high to be man-made. Scientists have estimated the speed, depending on the size of the object, to be at least 4000 – 6000 mph. Humans inside this object could not survive. And, somehow, it made no sonic boom, a noise similar to thunder which occurs whenever something exceeds the speed of sound (750 mph at sea level).

The shock waves generated from an object at such high velocities would normally be enormous. But no known aircraft or drone could possibly fly this fast at such low altitudes anyway. Our fastest air-breathing jet, the SR-71, has a maximum speed of just over 2,000 mph, but that’s at high altitudes.

And, this strange object is clearly operating under intelligent control. It zooms toward each set of jets at about their height, circles around and zooms back out again. Pilots who were shown the trajectory of the object in the three flybys were amazed that this maneuver is characteristic of reconnaissance aircraft coming in for a quick look at others in the sky.

Perhaps it made no sonic boom or shock waves because it was a bug. I do agree that the object was under intelligent control – if you include bug intelligence. (Apparently, however, the Huff Po is not under intelligent control.)

Take a look at the close up of the object. Keane describes it as:

Images show it as a dome-shaped, flat-bottomed object with no visible means of propulsion. The rounded top reflects the sun and appears metallic; the bottom is darker and flat, emitting some form of energy which is visible in photo analysis. Infrared studies show the entire object is radiating heat, just like the jets.

Kean here shows the typical delusions of the UFO enthusiast. You cannot infer any of the above from that highly magnified an pixelated picture. There is a glint off the top of whatever it is – that does not mean it is metallic. Bugs often have iridescent carapaces, and in  fact the sun shining off of just about anything could cause a white splotch on a camera. We cannot see a dome, or metal, or a flat bottom. Those exist only in the overactive imagination of Kean. She also enthusiastically interprets some picture distortion at the bottom to “some form of energy.” Finally she assures us that infrared studies show the object is radiating heat. A reference for this claim would have been nice. There is no indication that the anomaly was captured with an infrared camera. So what happened, exactly? Is she saying that normal video was analyzed for infrared radiation? How is that possible?

She concludes:

Has Chile found proof of something possibly extraterrestrial?

“At this time, this incident cannot be scientifically explained,” Bermúdez wrote in a recent email. “As agreed by those who have studied the videos, we can affirm that there is an unidentified aerial object present. We do not know what it is or where it came from.”

Proof? That’s a word UFO believers throw around a lot, but I don’t think they know what it means. What Kean has given us evidence for is the astoundingly gullible and uncritical reasoning of the UFO believer, and how they can turn a bug flying around a camera (or something similar) into an unexplainable encounter with an impossible flying craft. This one will now get added to the stack of “evidence” that believers trot out to support their claims.

30 responses so far

30 Responses to “UFO over Chilean Air Base”

  1. milkybar251on 16 Mar 2012 at 9:59 am

    Awful reporting.
    ‘Bermúdez wrote in a recent email. “As agreed by those who have studied the videos, we can affirm that there is an unidentified aerial object present.’

    Could it be that those who have studied the video are looking for anomalies?
    Again; awful reporting.

  2. Wrigs13on 16 Mar 2012 at 10:42 am

    Funnily enough when I stand around on hot days I often find small bugs flying around my head, and this was the first thought that came to mind. If you take a blob with a white bit at the top and a fuzzy bit at the bottom and squint just right it looks like a bug with wings and legs, or is that just me?

    Perhaps however these bugs only bother skeptics and not believers in some kind of conspiracy to distract us from the truth…

  3. banyanon 16 Mar 2012 at 11:10 am

    This one is really pathetic. There have been UFO videos where the alternative explanation is at least a little counterintuitive. For this one, as soon as I saw the video my first thought was “how is that not a gnat?”

  4. SARAon 16 Mar 2012 at 12:19 pm

    If you believe it, you can make it true. Alien Visitation advocates and Creationists have this in common. They believe, so they find any scrap of evidence available to build up their belief. It doesn’t matter if its fallacious, because the belief in that evidence also makes the evidence true and so on.
    Belief – it screws up everything.

  5. Bronze Dogon 16 Mar 2012 at 12:50 pm

    One thing I’d like to see an UFOlogist explanation for: Why do these aliens zip around back and forth, zigging and zagging when they’re not hovering in one place? I would think that aliens would more likely hover in one place to scan the area or whatever they do, or they’d go in relatively straight lines to reach their destination (curved from a global perspective).

    Bugs, however, are known for flying in erratic paths.

  6. davidsmithon 16 Mar 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Yes, this looks like a bug and it probably is. That was my first impression when I saw the video and stills. So, Steven, I agree with your analysis and also with your characterisation of Keane’s report. But please, stop with the generalisations! All “UFO believers”, “UFO enthusiasts” or “UFO proponents” are not as uncritical as Keane seems to be. Some of the well known names (e.g., Stanton Friedman) are quite careful and critical in their approach. But of course, other well known names (e.g., Jaime Maussan) are certainly not. Let’s not tar everyone with the same brush.

  7. Mike Oliveron 16 Mar 2012 at 2:20 pm

    One problem with the bug theory is that there is no motion blur. The amount of motion blur on a frame of film or video is not dependent upon the actual size, distance, or speed of an object, but entirely on its apparent motion across the frame. While bright light reduces the shutter speed, and thus creates sharper images of moving objects, the object exhibits no more blur, and sometimes even less, than other objects in the frame. Watching the video at full speed, its motion looks entirely unnatural for something supposedly caught in-camera. It looks like something caught with a strobe, or like individual images pasted on individual frames. Unless the aliens can somehow affect the way the camera records only their craft in the shot, then this pretty much screams “hoax.”

  8. waitreallyon 16 Mar 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Hey, Steve. Help me out. I sent this article to a friend and this was their response:

    “So this writer thinks it was a bug. Evidence? Nah. It was definitely a bug. Also, nice dig at the Huffington Post. When you want to get people on your side, just slam one of the best, logical, commonsensical sites online today. I get that the science section may not be amazing, but that’s a fallacy all on its own–an ad hominem.

    I’m not against people who don’t believe; I’m against douche bags who make it sound crazy to think that it might be true. Just lay out the facts and spare us the lazy, biased jabs at people working for what is, in general, a smart, socially responsible online website that does this country a lot of good.”

    How do I defend your write-up intelligently?

  9. Judy1on 16 Mar 2012 at 7:13 pm

    I’m sure that one or two of you may have noticed that there have been one or two sightings since 2010.

    If us ‘the sheeples’ must be led by the nose back to fuzzy old ambiguous 2010, then why not fuzzy old ambiguous 2003!

    Yes Dr Novella … that old chestnut!

  10. TalkingBookon 16 Mar 2012 at 8:31 pm

    …and many faces were subsequently palmed.

    (Also, a slight error: the quote prefaced by “About the Chilean UFO she writes:” runs one paragraph too long.)

  11. Steven Novellaon 17 Mar 2012 at 6:33 am

    davidsmith – obviously there is a spectrum in any group But in my experience my characterizations are accurate and almost entirely universal. In order to believe, based upon current evidence, that UFOs are alien spacecraft (not just suspect, or think it might be possible, but to be in the believer camp) you need to commit errors in critical thinking like those that I point to.

  12. JohKenon 17 Mar 2012 at 10:46 am

    As a doctor I would expect more of an open mind when it comes to the unexplained, rather than jumping onto the “de-bunkers bandwagon”. I’m sure you have heard of, or experienced, inexplicable instances of miraculous healing that defies all medical explanation. If not, well then you are not a very experienced doctor. Nothing is easier than siding with those who represent the larger constituency of one side of the UFO argument. Since I have had a very close experience with an unidentified flying object that literally passed directly over my head about 100 yards above the tallest surrounding trees, travelling silently, slowly and literally filled the sky directly overhead, I can unequivocally state that there are objects buzzing around this planet that defy explanation. So, it is quite easy for me to side with the minority, obviously. But I am always baffled by those who angrily oppose the probability that there is life outside of our little blue marble planet. The universe is a big, old neighborhood that is teeming with life. So take off the blinders, open your mind and eyes, and ponder the possibility that we are not alone. It’s okay…I won’t mock you!

  13. martincon 17 Mar 2012 at 11:03 am

    I liked this quote “Scientists have estimated the speed, depending on the size of the object, to be at least 4000 – 6000 mph. Humans inside this object could not survive.” Tell that to all the astronauts who have survived reentry at 17000 mph.

  14. tmac57on 17 Mar 2012 at 11:13 am

    How can we be sure that those aren’t alien bugs? Case NOT closed sir!

  15. Mike Oliveron 17 Mar 2012 at 11:20 am

    I work in digital special effects for a living and I am often called upon to introduce elements into video that match lighting and motion characteristics of the original footage. To my eye, this does not match the characteristics of a bug caught on video or film. This looks very much like a simple, though clever, cut and paste job. Compression artifacts are easily reproduced either in the source image or during the compositing process. Depending on the shutter speed, the an object moving that fast would either produce something like the familiar “rods” (which are bugs) or not show up at all, regardless of how far away it was.

  16. Craig Weileron 17 Mar 2012 at 11:57 am

    I cannot comment on what this object really is. I’m not big on the whole UFO thing.

    But it cannot possibly be a bug. This explanation contradicts the realities of using a video camera.

    There are several reasons for this. First and most importantly the object moves across almost the entire lens field of view in about two frames. Video operates at about 30 frames per second, so this object moved through the field of view in about 1/15th of a second. If it’s a bug, it has to be very, very close to the lens to traverse this distance in that amount of time, but if it’s that close, there are two problems to be considered:

    1. Focus: The lens is set to infinity because it is focused on jets which are far away. Objects extremely close to the lens will be completely out of focus. It would show up as nothing more than a slight blur.

    2. Forced perspective: Assuming it was in focus, which it cannot possibly be, the bug would be enormous. If the bug were far enough away to make the forced perspective just right, it would have to be farther from the lens, but then it would have to traverse several feet in a mere fraction of a second to completely cross the field of view. Bugs are not that fast.

    I also don’t find the shiny bug hypothesis convincing, but I’m not an expert on the Chilean Flying Saucer bug. 😉

  17. Guy Chapmanon 17 Mar 2012 at 5:57 pm

    I wonder if it is possible to posit an objective scale of credulousness? What would we call the unit? Perhaps the Nut. The HuffPo, home of Dana Ullman and every kind of woo known to humanity, would score at least 80 Nuts for its editorial steer and probably 90-100 Nuts for its actual content on homeopathy, UFOs and the like.

    We can calibrate the zero point relatively easily: a skeptometer pointed at Randi while watching a demonstration by Uri Geller would score a consistent zero Nuts.

  18. tmac57on 17 Mar 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Guy- ‘Nuts’ sounds pretty good,but maybe too on the nose,and a bit too ad hominem maybe.How about a ‘woo per second’ scale? WOOPS.

  19. John Piereton 17 Mar 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Then there was the energy beam shooting out of a Mayan temple:

  20. scepticwithacon 18 Mar 2012 at 1:50 pm

    How does it account for it being a bug if there are pictures from 7 different video’s?

  21. Steven Novellaon 18 Mar 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Thanks for all the feedback. Many of the points made against the bug hypothesis sound valid. Perhaps it is a hoax – I tend to try to find a non-hoax explanation when possible, but it could just be a hoax.

    Regading the Huff Po – it promotes medical pseudoscience, which is what I said. I don’t care how wonderful it is otherwise – it deserves to be endlessly criticized for promoting dangerous medical nonsense. Perhaps we can shame it into irmproving its editorial policy when it comes to science.

    Johken – the “open mind” gambit does not fly. I have an open mind to logic and evidence. Having an open mind does no erase the terrible logic and gullibility employed by the author. I am open specifically to the notion that we are not alone, and even that we are being visited – just show me evidence that isn’t pathetically laughable.

    I have not experienced “inexplicable healing” – and I like how you dismiss this evidence out of hand with the “no true Scotsman” logical fallacy. That good confirmation bias. Speaking of confirmation bias – I am not angry, and not against the idea of alien life. There is simply no credible evidence that we have been visited.

  22. Steven Novellaon 18 Mar 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Oh – and I too experienced an encounter with an unidentified (that’s the key word) flying object, that silently moved overhead. Turns out it was a group of ultralights flying in formation, specifically to look like a UFO. Sounds pretty similar to what you experienced.

  23. willradikon 18 Mar 2012 at 11:55 pm

    “Birds have been mistaken for UFOs in the past”

    Are there any reports of a monkey ever having been mistaken for a UFO in the past?

  24. willradikon 18 Mar 2012 at 11:58 pm

    “But I am always baffled by those who angrily oppose the probability that there is life outside of our little blue marble planet. The universe is a big, old neighborhood that is teeming with life. So take off the blinders, open your mind and eyes, and ponder the possibility that we are not alone. It’s okay…I won’t mock you!”

    JohKen – This is a big ol’ straw man. You’re confusing someone saying there’s no proof for alien visitation of Earth with someone saying there’s no life whatsoever in the Universe. HUGE difference. Carl Sagan, for example, didn’t believe in UFO reports but was very keen on the possibility of alien life somewhere out there.

  25. willradikon 18 Mar 2012 at 11:59 pm

    I guess if I’m being perfectly logical there I should say he didn’t believe UFO’s were aliens. He certainly believed “and mentioned” several UFO reports.

  26. SteveAon 19 Mar 2012 at 9:21 am

    I once saw a UFO in London. I was working in a large office building by the Thames and saw a weird object hanging in the sky. It was hard to tell if it was solid or not; it seemed to shift around and fold in on itself in a very alien way. It was also impossible to tell how large it was or how distant: it could have been the size of a bumblebee and couple of feet away or the size of a house at half a mile. I had nothing to compare it to but figured it must be on the small side otherwise there’d be crowds of people gathered to watch it.

    I called over a workmate and we both watched it. (He was a UFO believer and tried to report it to a UFO hotline number, but found it had been disconnected). Neither of us could make out what the thing was and this was in broad daylight with perfect visibility. It moved a little like a kite, swaying slightly but maintaining position as far as I could tell, but there was no string that I could see. We were the only two people in the office that day and watched it for around ten minutes before we had to go to a meeting. When we got back it had gone.

    So that was my UFO experience. Except a week later I saw it again and this time I COULD see the string and the man on the other end – it was just a kite, a weirdly designed kite of a type I’d never seen before (or since). I called over my believer friend and pointed out the ‘UFO’ and the kite-flyer, but he just shrugged and went back to work.

    Thinking back on the incident I was struck by the way my telling of it changed when I described it to other people: The sentence ‘I couldn’t see a string’ quickly morphed to the definite ‘There was no string’. I made a point of going back to all the people I’d told about the UFO to give them the explanation; there’s enough UFO garbage flying around as it is.

    It’s so easy to be fooled. I recently came across a report of a man who observed formations of pulsing light crossing the horizon. He was amazed by the sight and even more astonished when he realised the lights were the setting sun reflecting from the feathers of migrating geese (the pulsing was caused by the beating wings). He said he would not have believed the explanation if he’d not seen it for himself.

  27. xxi_centuryboyon 19 Mar 2012 at 10:20 am

    I was stationed on Patrick AFB in FL during the 80’s when the regular launches of the shuttle were going on. I saw and personally attended launches and landings of the shuttle at NASA. Like many people in Fl during that time, I sat across the lagoon, signed the waiver that said the shuttle exhaust might ruin the finish on my car and skin, and drank a brewski to the good ol USA. The launches were incredible, but the landings were unbelievable. Fast is an understatement. I have seen night launches, day launches, landings, and the Challenger blowing up. Once you see this in action, you would never again believe the crap you see on a video like this. That was reality, and is was so crazy freaking awesome to see it that even now looking back it is hard to believe we did it. We know what space craft moving through our atmosphere does and what it would look like. This video ain’t it.

  28. Judy1on 19 Mar 2012 at 12:39 pm

    SteveA says –

    “I once saw a UFO in London. I was working in a large office building by the Thames and saw a weird object hanging in the sky.”

    Sounds like the office where you were working was the very same monolithic building by the Thames known for its UFO hotline. If my assumption here is correct, then you must have known that the line had been disconnected years ago.

    So why did you attempt to phone it?

    Next time Steve … just ask a colleague! That way you’ll save yourself 50 pence.

  29. SteveAon 19 Mar 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Judy1: “Sounds like the office where you were working was the very same monolithic building by the Thames known for its UFO hotline. If my assumption here is correct, then you must have known that the line had been disconnected years ago.”

    Is this a reference to the Secret Service HQ on Vauxhall Bridge? I was a further upstream on the South Bank. The guy was flying his kite from the small park there.

    I’d assumed the hotline was set up by UFO enthusiasts (but I wouldn’t know, I didn’t ring it).

  30. socketslideon 22 Mar 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Mike Oliver has it right – for that “object” to traverse such a large distance in one frame of video (1/30 of a second) it would appear as nothing more than a smudge, completely blurred. Instead it’s apparently the same shape in every frame regardless of its motion across the frame? Those who think this might be real are being had. Definitely an amateur job in AfterEffects or Motion… Pretty weak, but surprising it’s fooled so many people, including the reality-challenged Leslie Kean.

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