Thursday, June 30, 2011

"UFO Mothership & Fleet over London"

Another implausible video showing UFOs has gone viral, spawning a  flurry of news stories in the major media.For example, the Daily Mail in London asks "Are aliens getting less camera shy? UFOs filmed above BBC building in London." The Huffington Post reports, "London UFOs: Multiple People Capture Odd Occurrence Over British City" (although not at the same place and time). Here is the video that started it all, posted by a photographer known only as alymc01:

One has to admit that this looks pretty cheesy.  The big "Mothership" looks a bit like a lens flare, but it does not act like a lens flare, its movement unrelated to that of the camera. At first I thought that the small UFOs were birds, but on closer examination they appear to be generated artifacts as well.

Actually, that is Alymc01's second UFO video. His earlier video doesn't look nearly as impressive, so it was largely ignored:

So far, "expert" commentary has not gone beyond comments like 'this looks like a computer-generated fake'. And strictly speaking, that's enough. After all, the burden of proof is not on the skeptic to show that a video is fake. The burden of proof is on someone who claims it shows unknown crafts, to rule out all prosaic explanations.. Using the terminology of Mythbusters, that is enough to call this video "busted."

But also in the spirit of Mythbusters, let's not stop there. Let's see if we can really blow this thing apart.

British UFOlogist Nick Pope isn't buying it. That's bad for this video, since Pope, currently on tour to promote the DVD release of the Hollywood space alien movie Battle: Los Angeles,  buys a lot of dicey things. But apparently this video looks unimpressive even to him. Interestingly, Pope adds "The slightly suspicious thing, though, is it's a part of London where it just so happens that a large number of film companies and visual effects companies are based. And some of the people do look a little bit self-satisfied. So I suspect this is a CGI hoax, and that someone is showcasing their skills." Good comment!

Surprisingly, the most useful commentary on this video was found on the UFO and conspiracy-oriented website, Above Top Secret. The forum participants, mostly anonymous, dug deeply and turned up facts that the 'experts' seem to have overlooked.

"C-Buzz" commented "100% CGI. 1:18 - 1:22 the object doesn't actually go behind the clouds, it fades out. Not only that it looks like he stuffed up creating this animation because if you have a look at the bottom left there is actually a lighting effect which probably isn't supposed to be there & a RED orb moving across the building." It's hard to see, but it's there. There's also a brief  "green flash" on the building, as well as a suspicious-looking red color on the "mothership." I'm not enough of an expert on digital processing to know what this means, but it reeks of digital tampering. Sharp eyes, C-Buzz!

"LiveEquation" posts "The video is a scam right and i have evidence. if you start watching the video at 1:21 you will see two artificial bubble glares and then delay of the UFO glare. The UFO vanishes into the clouds first. Then you see 2 fake bubble glares and the ufo glare moving in the same direction after the ufo has already vanished. delay of about 1 second. Its actually weird that the UFO cast a glare. That's a giveway. The person who made the video doesn't know jack about optics."

"GiftOfProphecy" adds "This video is clearly fake. You can prove it by watching the video starting at 1:00 and after, and stabilizing the video. You can see they did a horrible job motion tracking the camera movement... probably because they have a rolling shutter camera. If you watch the UFO you can see it is not shaking with the camera perfectly, it is shaking independently. However the "UFO" is shaking the same rate and nearly the same magnitude, it's direction and position are just not synchronized. That to me indicates several bad motion track points. In order to insert a fake UFO into the video they had to track certain pixels as they move and shake around, then apply that tracking to the UFO so it moves exactly the same as the camera (match moving). Sometimes the pixels will move say 10 pixels in one direction, yet the computer detected the pixels move 12 pixels, and that creates a bad tracking point. Normally you can fix bad tracking points by hand, but when there is about 30 tracking points per second, it becomes very time consuming. If you apply the motion tracks to the UFO when it has bad track points, it will wobble and shake around similar to what you see in the video."

"charlyv" noted "Fake, stop action in frames shows no motion blur, Impossible for such recorded speeds in any consumer digital camera, regardless of make or resolution."

Then "davespanners" opens up a whole new angle of investigation:
This is filmed outside coral bookmakers in clipstone / great portland street in London. If you google search that building You will eventually find this page, which is a tv production company that is in the very same building.From their web site
The Mill creates pioneering visual effects for the advertising, music, television and film industries. We craft commercials, music videos and generate compelling film and TV. We build installations, projections, applications and create multi-media content and experiences.

"EnigmaAgent" replies with a photo of Managing Director Mike Smallwood, taken from that company's website, who appears to be the same guy seen smiling in the video, apparently enjoying this incident 'way too much.

"Heliocentric" dug further, and found a link from the The Mill's website to a particular commercial for Sony. And that same Sony commercial is a "favorite" on the YouTube page of Alymc01, who photographed the "UFOs." The noose tightens!

Chillingly, "GiftOfProphecy" observes that video hoaxers are now using claims of "copyright infringement" to make YouTube remove videos showing that the original video was a hoax: " the hoaxer "50nFit" is claiming copyright infringement on the video that proves his Jerusalem video is a hoax... Now the videos that prove his London UFOs are a hoax were removed to avoid complete suspension [of his YouTube account]. The "HOAXKiller1" channel may be suspended anyway because YouTube doesn't understand Fair Use laws, and allows the deceptive scumbag hoaxers to retaliate and claim copyright on videos that are for research and analysis."  In other words, if you place a video on YouTube showing how a UFO video was faked, the hoaxer will contact YouTube to force you to remove your analysis, claiming "copyright infringement."

Of course, many of the comments in this very long thread are credulous and foolish, and I don't want to imply that all of the participants are credible researchers. But I am definitely impressed with a few of them!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

That "Ghostly Mirage City" in China

Once again, the mass media is filled with breathless nonsense about a "Ghostly mirage City" allegedly seen from Huanshan City in the eastern part of China over the Xin'an River. The phenomenon went viral starting with this dreadful piece in the London Daily Mail, which proclaims, "Ghostly apparition of entire city appears over Chinese river... but is it just a mirage?" In fact, it's neither, as we will see. This story was accompanied by an equally dreadful video, which has (thankfully) been removed because the user's YouTube account was terminated. Here is a non-sensationalized news report from ITN News:

Now these are obviously actual buildings that are being seen. The details are quite sharp. Mirages are very different. Mirages are not something imaginary or dream-like. They are a perfectly real phenomenon of meteorological optics: the behavior of light in the atmosphere, where temperatures can often vary dramatically, resulting in different indices of refraction, and hence non-straight light paths. Think "fun house mirror." Mirage images are never as detailed as these Chinese images, because the different atmospheric layers are not stable enough to produce details like that, and also mirage images always bring into view something many miles distant, not close-up like this.

 My photo of an inferior mirage over Lake Michigan. The ship appears to be hovering above the water.

There are two different kinds of mirages, superior and inferior. The inferior mirage is caused by cooler air overlaying much warmer, creating images that appear lower than they actually are. It is by far the most common. Usually it results in a strip of the sky being bent downward below the horizon. It's often seen on highways on hot days, looking like distant water. The superior mirage is more interesting, and rarer, as objects appear higher than they actually are, resulting in things becoming visible that are normally beyond the curvature of the earth.  That Chinese "Ghost City" is neither. Typically with a superior mirage you will see a double horizon: a false horizon, often slanted, is on top, with the actual horizon below it. The region between them represents a mirage image of distant water. The Weather Doctor has a pretty good explanation of mirages. When I was a student at Northwestern University I had a dorm room facing Lake Michigan. The double horizon and the superior mirage was actually a fairly common sight in the springtime, when warmer air would blow in from the south over the still quite frigid Great Lake. At night, images of lights of cities in Indiana and Michigan would occasionally become visible, normally below the horizon.
My photo showing the jagged double-horizon of the superior mirage over Lake Michigan. Between the two horizons is the mirage region, where the outline of an inverted ship can be faintly seen.

Any reporter worthy of the name would have followed through and determined exactly what was being seen: which buildings those were in the video, and their location. Certainly at least some people who live in that area would be able to identify those buildings, and show on a map exactly where each building is. If you are in Huanshan City, and you speak Chinese or have an interpreter, how difficult would it be to interview people and find out exactly which buildings are being seen in the video, where those buildings are located, and solve the "mystery?" Well, the Australian photographer and film producer Auki Henry did exactly that. He says
" the reality was bad Chinese translation combined with hyper-sensationalist reporting. All the buildings in the footage are real buildings, not visions, mirages or illusions, they actually physically stand exactly where they were filmed.  The only thing out of the ordinary here is they are surrounded by floodwater and mist."
Mr. Henry has nailed down every significant detail. He gives us a map showing the location of each of the "ghost" buildings. And so far as I can tell he did it without even going to China, or interviewing anyone there! The Xin'an River was at flood stage, and the waters generated fog that obscured the bottom parts of the building, making the tops of the buildings appear to float in air. Wooooo - big mystery!

Why is it that no reporter bothered to do his or her job and get to the bottom of this story? News reporters don't want to get facts, they want to get ratings. And why let mere facts get in the way of a great story?

Friday, June 3, 2011

More "Night Vision" UFOs : A Squadron of UFOs flying over Oakland?

"Is this a squadron of UFOs flying over California?", asks the London Daily Mail, adhering strictly to the First Law of UFOlogy: any unidentified object spotted must be presumed to be an alien spacecraft until conclusively proven otherwise. And there were other stories in the press. What they had in common was: somebody photographs something in the sky that he doesn't understand, and thousands of people jump to conclusions about alien craft.

In brief, an anonymous photographer known only as "KevinMC360" took two videos of unidentified (to him) objects, using an image intensifier ("Night Vision") device,  one that (unlike the human eye) is sensitive to infra-red light. He posts them to YouTube with the suggestion that these are objects visible only in the infrared, and unknown to science. Then thousands of viewers, including "serious" journalists who should know better, think they are seeing something extraordinary, but all it means is they don't understand how these "night vision" devices work. In some cases, the anonymity of the photographer creates the strong suspicion of a hoax, but I don't think that is the case here. The video looks absolutely unmodified. This is what you see when you look into Night Vision devices. I wrote a recent "Psychic Vibrations" column about the uses (and misuses) of Night Vision devices by UFOlogists (Skeptical Inquirer, September/October, 2010), and here we see another instance of that.

In this video, the interesting objects are the three that fly in a triangular formation. These look very much like the triad of NOSS satellites operated by the U.S. Navy for reconnaissance (see ). However, most information about these satellites and their mission is classified for security reasons. According to that website, there are still two such configurations of three satellites in orbit, NOSS 1-7 and NOSS 2-1. I have seen these myself, using binoculars, and this looks very much like what I saw. Notice that the three objects keep the same position with respect to each other, except that the configuration flattens as the objects move further away. This is exactly what you would expect to see as the configuration recedes to the horizon. The single object that brightens is not too interesting, it is probably just a satellite moving into a position where its sun angle is more favorable toward the observer.

In the second video, the objects do not behave the same. There are four of them, and they do not stay in strict formation. Probably they are birds. The problem is, however, that in low-resolution devices such as this, practically any object is simply a white dot. The argument that these UFOs must be giving off infra-red, because his wife could not see them with her naked eye, doesn't wash. The night vision device amplifies available light, infra-red or otherwise, making faint objects become visible. Had she been using binoculars, she probably would have seen them better than he did. The video also shows the lights of a jet aircraft. Is the jet using infra-red lights? Of course not.

Night-Vision UFO watching is becoming a popular activity. The leader of this pack is Ed Grimsley, who claims to have videos of "Objects in Earth's space shooting it out," which he is happy to sell you. He even has a Meetup Group in San Diego, where for a mere $20 you will be taken out to dark skies to see these amazing night vision UFOs yourself. As I noted in my column, I was present when this group brought its night vision equipment to a star party of the San Diego Astronomy Association. What none of these intrepid explorers seemed to realize was that the "mysterious" objects they thought were visible only in their green goggles were also visible to anyone who has a pair of binoculars - and the binoculars show the objects in better detail.