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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