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.

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