March 17th, 2012

An intriguing new case, from Chile

Out of curiosity I once sat through one of those “ghostbuster” reality shows on TV. I wasn’t too surprised that the cast failed to find anything that I would have considered convincing. But I was a bit insulted when they pulled an obvious and stupid trick, back at the studio as their airdate neared, and “discovered” spooky “evidence” in their film and sound records.

The UFO lore, too, is full of these “oh, look what I found on the film when I developed it later” stories. But I have always thought that these cases occupied one of the lower strata of the genre. They cry out to be debunked as accidental camera artifacts or deliberate darkroom/Photoshop fakes, because they involve visible-light objects that are recorded by film or CCDs but somehow not by human eyes at the time they supposedly zipped by.

Yet here is this camera-oddity case from Chile that I saw described in the Huffington Post today, and which begins grandly: “Is this the case UFO skeptics have been dreading?”

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. He turned it over to the government’s well known Committee for the Study of Anomalous Aerial Phenomena, or CEFAA, for analysis.

The stunning conclusion: The Chilean jets were being stalked by a UFO.

I hate to say it, but to me, the fact that this happened almost a year and a half ago and is surfacing only now is itself a big strike against its believability.

The writers also claim that this phenomenon was recorded on multiple cameras, but do not show this additional evidence. We are shown frames from just a single camera (e.g., above), depicting an apparently dome-shaped object.

And then of course one has to ask what’s wrong with this picture? I mean that literally: What is wrong with this picture?

There is almost no blur. The “UFO” shows up quite sharply in different frames, despite supposedly covering very large distances between them. I don’t know what the exposure time per frame was, but a rule of thumb is an exposure time per frame that is about half the frame interval. If we assume a frame interval of 1/30 sec (30 frames/sec in other words), that implies an exposure time of 1/60 sec. But even if it were 1/100 sec, which is typical for digital video, the object (supposedly moving 4,000-6,000 mph) would have moved roughly 60-80 feet during each exposure. If we accept the assumption of the ufologists that this object is approximately the size of a military jet, then with such motion it should have shown up only as a blur. Clearly it didn’t; in fact, the small amount of haziness that surrounds it seems to have come principally from the fact that the image was magnified too much. Whatever this object is, it doesn’t seem to have been moving at all, relative to the camera, during the exposure.

Anyway, this case is being trumpeted without any discussion of this issue — as if it’s not an issue. Excuse the pun and the hackneyed usage, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that it is an issue.

The fact that hundreds of people who were present did not see this object — this object that a bunch of visible-light cameras supposedly had no trouble recording — makes this case even more dubious. If a reflective 50-foot wide object were maneuvering several hundred feet above my head, even at 4,000 mph it would be plainly visible, not to mention very startling.

I think it’s great that the Chilean government is open to the UFO question, but I suspect that the treatment of this weak case as a ufological “smoking  gun” is only going to make the wall of scientific skepticism higher next time.

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