Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Parachuting UFOs

On October 15, TV viewers in the area around El Paso, Texas were titillated with the following video: Mysterious Lights over East El Paso, News Channel 9

TV news reporters described seeing a bright light that suddenly broke into three pieces, then four, and then seemingly hovered in the air. Comparing the El Paso lights (at night) with the balloon UFOs seen (midday) over Manhattan shortly before (see previous Blog entry), their 'triangular patterns' were described as "eerily similar." (Hint to UFOlogists: any three points define a triangle, unless they are all on a straight line.)

Commenters on the website of KTSM-TV, Channel 9 in El Paso, made comments like "I saw then thinking it was an airsho[w] drill, but planes cannot stay still that long and then a fourth one appear. This is the stuff government won't tell us," or "Planes of any kind, we would have been able to see then. Definitely UFO's!!" ( ). Somebody made the obligatory (and utterly irrational) comment "This universe is far and beyond! What makes us think that us humans are the only ones here?" (The universe is indeed vast, but just because ET intelligence probably exists somewhere does not mean that they must be here right now!) Then the same fallacy surfaces a second time: "Amazing footage! But to say their [sic] airplanes....c'mon! I don't believe anyone is going to buy into that. It's selfish to believe that we're the only one's in existence. Fact of the matter is, it's a UFO."

Sorry folks, but we know exactly what this "UFO" was. The Golden Knights is the Parachute Team of the U.S. Army, that does performances at air shows all around the country.Team member Rachel Medley wrote "Black Team performed a night jump last night into the Amigo Air Show evening social event, then did two mass formations with the beautiful desert and mountains as a backdrop." ( ) She added, "I was actually on that jump as the team videographer and have performed many night jumps as a member of the Golden Knights. We are commonly mistaken as UFOs or meteors," because they jump out of airplanes with pyrotechnics strapped to their ankles. Many people refused to believe that they could have been seeing pyrotechnic parachutists, but Ms. Medley simply replied by inviting them to witness forthcoming shows by the Golden Knights elsewhere in Texas.  

So the moral of our story is: when you're looking skyward, all that glitters is not UFOs.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Again, a "UFO" Closes an Asian Airport - Venus Once Again?

Probably most of you have seen the story about how on July 7 the airport in the Chinese city of Hangzhou was closed because a UFO was allegedly hovering over its runway (see ). I wrote about this in my Psychic Vibrations column in the just-released issue of Skeptical Inquirer (Nov/Dec, 2010). And I suggested that the "UFO" that concerned them may well have been Venus. The explanation of all this is in the column, I won't repeat it here.

I also noted in that column how in January of 2001, the Siberian airport of Barnaul was also closed for an hour and a half because of a "UFO." And how the French UFO investigator Eric Malliot discovered that the position of the reported UFO matched exactly the known position of Venus.

Well, now we have a third incident where a "UFO" has closed an airport, and once again, Venus is a prime suspect. The incident occurred on Sept. 11 in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, but wasn't reported until several weeks later. As reported in The Telegraph (U.K.), "An airport in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, was forced to shut to prevent passenger jets crashing into a UFO, according to reports. Starting around 8 PM, three flights to Baotou from Shanghai and Beijing were reportedly forced to circle the airport until the UFO disappeared. Two other flights were diverted away from Baotou and to the nearby cities of Ordos and Taiyuan. The airport was shut for around an hour "to guarantee safety" according to a spokesman." . Also see

 On Sept. 11, Venus was setting about 1 hour 20 mins after the sun, from the latitude of  Baotou, Inner Mongolia. Notice that the airport was closed for "around an hour" until the object disappeared. 

We cannot say with certainty that the "UFO" was Venus, because we do not have information about the object's apparent elevation and direction. But past experience creates the suspicion. At first it might seem impossible that educated and sane people would mistake the bright planet Venus, then near maximum brilliance, for a hovering UFO, but it has happened over and over again, all over the world. As the well-known pro-UFOlogist Jacque Vallee wrote in his book Challenge to Science back in 1966, "No single object has been misinterpreted as a 'flying saucer' more often than the planet Venus. The study of these mistakes proves quite instructive, for it shows beyond all possible dispute the limitations of sensory perception and the weakness of accounts relating shapes and motions of point sources or objects with small apparent diameters."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Breaking News - Balloons Seen over Manhattan!!!

Perhaps you saw the news stories: "A mysterious shiny object floating high over Manhattan's West Side set off a flurry of reports and wild speculation Wednesday that a UFO was flying over the city. Police and the FAA said they began getting flooded with calls starting at 1:30 p.m. from people reporting a silvery object hovering high over Chelsea."
"It's been hovering there for a while. I'm just kind of baffled," said Joseph Torres, 49, of Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, who spotted the object after leaving a movie. "How can it be ordinary? There is something going on."

Come on, folks. Have we been fed so many UFO promotions that every time we see some little thing in the sky, we immediately jump to the conclusion that it's some mysterious phenomenon?

Then some people remembered an obscure prediction by retired Air Force officer Stanley A. Fulham, who predicted that huge ships would be seen hovering over cities worldwide on Oct. 13, and began tweeting this sighting widely. Obviously, balloons seen in the sky = a fleet of spaceships.

On one of the videos posted of the object, an observer can actually be heard saying repeatedly, "they're balloons." And balloons indeed they were, according to
"A Westchester elementary school believes the puzzling orbs floating over Chelsea were likely a bundle of balloons that escaped from an engagement party they held for a teacher... A parent was bringing about 40 iridescent pearl balloons to the school for language arts teacher Andrea Craparo when the wind spent a bunch away around 1 p.m."

But some commentators, like this guy on, aren't buying the balloon explanation: "I was there. It was very unsettling to watch. There’s no rational explanation to that spectacle in the sky. They stood together, in the same relative position to each other – you could call it a formation – and in the same spot in the sky, with very minimal movement for a long time. Small bright perfectly formed dots, against a perfectly blue sky. Surreal."

 And remember the First Rule of UFOlogy: any time you see something in the sky that you can't immediately identify, assume it's an alien spaceship until conclusively proven otherwise.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Welcome to my Blog, Bad UFOs.

Hello, and welcome to my new Blog. In the skeptical spirit of Bad Astronomy, Bad Science, and Bad Language, I bring you - Bad UFOs!

my photo of a UFO made from a cottage cheese container and an aluminum plate

My name is Robert Sheaffer, and I'm skeptical about UFOs. I have been a fellow of CSICOP (now CSI) since 1977. I have been a regular contributor and columnist for their magazine, The Skeptical Inquirer, since its second issue of publication (Spring/Summer, 1977). I have also been a member of Mensa for over ten years.

My photo of a UFO made from two aluminum plates

I have been interested in UFOs since I was a child in the 1960s. Reading the widely-published misinformation of authors such as Donald E. Keyhoe and Frank Edwards, I was persuaded that 'there must be something to it.' When I became older and a little wiser, I read other, more skeptical, UFO authors such as Dr. Donald H. Menzel. I realized that the UFO proponents were not being careful, reliable, or accurate in their statements on the subject. I began to correspond with the late Philip J. Klass in 1968, and we met the following year. We've been good friends until Phil passed away in 2005. I first met James Oberg in 1975. I met Gary Posner in 1977, and James McGaha in 1987.

 When I attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, I majored in mathematics, and also took many astronomy classes. I got to know the late Dr. J. Allen Hynek (1910-1986) quite well, I found him to be a most interesting character. He was the U.S. Air Force's chief astronomical consultant for the celebrated Project Bluebook . While a man of great personal integrity, he was also gullible in the extreme. He believed himself able to determine the sincerity, and even the reliability of an individual, simply by his intuition as he listened to their story. He was valuable to Northwestern for fundraising in his role as Astronomy Department Chairman. Hynek's skills were primarily political and personal, rather than scientific. He did not generally teach advanced-level astronomy courses, he made few if any tangible contributions to the science of astronomy during his decades  at Northwestern, and was primarily known for his interest in UFOs. His presentations and media appearances on the subject of astronomy were first-rate. Hynek was a great popularizer of astronomy. However, he was not greatly esteemed by his fellow astronomers - in fact, he was frequently the butt of their private jokes. Hynek envisioned himself as "The Galileo of UFOlogy", (see, for example, Newsweek magazine, Nov. 21, 1977, p.97.) but unlike the original Galileo, Hynek had no demonstration that could be made to believers and unbelievers alike to allow them to evaluate his claims. If the original Galileo had no more solid evidence to offer than did the Galileo of UFOlogy, his name would be forgotten today.

my triple-exposure UFO photo

My skeptical website is at  . I have a page with a lot of UFO information at . My first UFO book was The UFO Verdict in 1981, significantly revised and expanded in 1998 and published as UFO SIGHTINGS - The Evidence (Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, cloth, 1998, $25.95. ISBN 1-57392-213-7).

I've said enough about myself, so enjoy this blog. I intend to keep it interesting, chatty, and informative. I won't have all the answers, but I hope to discuss all the right questions.

My photo of a UFO made from a banana-split dish and modeling clay (from UFO Sightings)