Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Alien spotting

NASA's orbiting space telescope, Kepler, has just provided data that identified 54 planets in the "Goldilocks Zone" -- the distance from their parent sun that is "just right" for life, allowing for water to be in its liquid state.

This is certainly encouraging for exobiologists such as myself.  We've been waiting for years for this.  Up till now, exobiologists have been a little like the Camel Spotter in the Monty Python sketch, who's been watching for a year and has spotted "almost one" camel.  Now that we have conclusive evidence that small, rocky planets in stable orbits, a comfortable distance from their stars, are apparently rather common in the universe, it is only a matter of time before alien life is detected and we exobiologists can go off of our extended sabbaticals and actually have something to study.

That is, if alien life doesn't get here first.  *cue suspenseful music*

First, we have a report from Glasgow, Scotland on January 17, that an amateur astronomer named Paul Brown saw a UFO over the Parkhead Forge Shopping Center.

"It was heading east and at first I looked up and thought it was helicopter spotlight," he reported.  "It moved at similar speed as an emergency helicopter would if low in sky, but this was very high - as high as a jet.  I watched for the lights of plane or helicopter, but nothing. It continued to travel east, shimmering like a star in winter sky, a tangerine kind of glow, round-shaped."

Unfortunately, Mr. Brown had no camera handy, and is the only one who saw it, despite the fact that it was allegedly spotted at 8 PM over a shopping center in a large city.  So we apparently have to set that one aside on the basis of lack of evidence, and we hope that Mr. Brown won't take it amiss if we include a gentle suggestion that he lay off the single-malt whisky.

It's such a shame that 99% of UFO claims are made by lone individuals, and the evidence, if you can call it that, is usually no more than a single photograph or video clip of a bright light.  Wouldn't it be nice if just once, a UFO could be filmed from two different vantage points at once, which presumably would be much harder to hoax?

Funny you should ask.

Just last Saturday, a pulsating ball of light was filmed, from two different points in the city, hovering over the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.  (See the clip here.)  From the audio, apparently the people who made the videos were even of different nationalities.

Unfortunately, there are some discrepancies with this video that make me a little doubtful.  The major one is that the light from the object, which is clearly very intense, seems not to reflect from anything in the city -- including the gold-plated roof of the Al Aqsa Mosque over which the thing was supposedly hovering.  Another analysis, by Benjamin Radford of Discovery News, finds that using careful measurements of the image on the clip, the object itself would have to be fairly small - "definitely no bigger than a limousine, and probably a lot smaller," Radford said.  Which would make for a rather uncomfortable trip from the depths of interstellar space, unless our aliens are, like the G'Gugvuntts and Vl'hurgs in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, of a size that could be accidentally swallowed by a small dog.

Other analysts have found an anomalous amount of shudder in the second video, which is indicative of someone digitally altering the clip.  Also, given that Jerusalem is a huge city, with thousands of tourists in addition to its regular residents, it's rather curious that no one reported the light over the Dome of the Rock except the people who made the video clips.

So, interesting as the Jerusalem video clip is, that one looks like it's probably a fake, too.  Too bad.  All of this waiting around for the actual scientists to discover life on other planets is such a drag -- it would be ever so much more convenient if the aliens would just save us the trouble and drop by for a visit.  The Scottish and Israeli stories, unfortunately, don't seem to be the real deal.

I guess we exobiologists can stand down red alert, and go back to our sabbaticals.

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