Analysis of the Navy U.F.O. videos


Introduction

This is the English translation an article that I wrote in Spanish on June 2019, with subsequent updates in September 2019 and April 2020 to reflect new information. The original article can be found here. The text is extensively referenced although, due to time constraints, only the position and numbering of the citations have been ported into the English translation. The actual reference for each citation may be found in the original article in Spanish. This document is the result of a crowdslating project, an amazing collaborative crowd translating effort by a number of enthusiastic volunteers who contributed their time and skills to produce this document in an unbelievably short time, just a matter of hours after a call published in social media by María Ribes. My gratitude goes to them: César Bellota Antón, Rodrigo Burgos Noceti, Javier Dochao Moreno, Adrián Fernández Vigo, Fernando Gómez Romano, David Wintermute.

Executive Summary

This article presents an analysis of the Navy UFO videos that have had significant media coverage. The first half is devoted to the secret AATIP program, the politics, the New York Times articles that created the initial hype. The second part presents an analysis of the videos, based on the data shown on the HUD display. The most relevant conclusions are:
  1. Taken as objective evidence, the videos themselves do not reveal anything extraordinary. The data disprove claims of extraordinary accelerations, rotations or speeds. Such claims were never justified with objective data but only visual impressions. Such impressions are produced by gimbal rotation, loss of camera tracking and parallax combined with high magnification.
  2. The Navy, Pentagon or DoD have never claimed that the videos show impossible aeronautics. They have simply referred to them as UAP, which is a broad terminology that includes unauthorized vehicles in restricted military training space. While not dismissing exotic explanations explicitly, military spokespersons are "surprised by the media coverage of the videos". In internal documentation, the videos are tagged with mundane labels such as "weather balloons". Together with the dismantling and declassification of the AATIP program and lack of follow-up investigations, it doesn't appear that the US military is particularly impressed.
  3. Taken together, the images, HUD data, and overall military reactions, two of the videos (gimbal and Nimitz) are compatible with an unauthorized airplane entering restricted military airspace, and the third one (go fast) is compatible with a weather balloon moving with the wind observed from a large distance.

My frustration

Let me start by clarifying that I’m not getting paid for this, it is not part of my work as an astrophysics researcher and I will not get a single dime for writing this article. Furthermore, I don't find it fun, motivating or interesting whatsoever. The time I have invested in “researching” (I'm a bit embarrassed to call it that) this topic comes out from my spare time, time that I could have spent  resting, hanging out with friends... bah, who am I kidding, I don't have friends... anyway, I could have been doing something exciting for me, like seriously looking for extraterrestrial life[1]. This is why it is so annoying when, as it often happens, you receive messages from people asking you to explain this or that because, surely unintentionally, they put a big responsibility on your shoulders. If you don’t know how to explain it, then it becomes one of those “science cannot explain it" phenomena and we’re in trouble. I made an exception with the SOHO UFO case, which we discussed in Coffee Break and explained here[2], because in that case the alleged conspiracy involved personal friends of mine and close colleagues who built this wonderful satellite (by the way, I was very close to doing my PhD thesis working with its data). The problem is that, in the end, the burden of the proof ends up falling squarely on the shoulders of those who do not believe in the paranormal nature of the phenomena. That is to say, someone comes with any strange thing and you have to demonstrate that it is nothing (literally) otherworldly. But that is nonsense. Those who claim something extraordinary have the responsibility of proving it. And the stranger the hypothesis, the stronger the proofs must be (“extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”). Hoever, with ufology it always appears to be the other way around. Anything comes up in the media and, instead of researching by themselves and demonstrating that there is something clearly anomalous, it is up to you to waste your time on doing the research and proving that it is nothing strange. That approach is unfair and unscientific. That is why at some moment I said that I'm not going to do it anymore. I have no time nor motivation to dedicate my life to keep researching things that others talk about and are uninteresting to me.

Another frustrating point is that, reading about all these topics, it’s hard for a professional scientist to not feel offended. I will admit that sometimes we might be disrespectful to all the people who believe and support pseudoscience and conspiranoia, but that’s understandable, taking into account that many of us we feel both insulted and outraged due to the ongoing accusations of being at the service of dark powers of some kind, lying and concealing information which, if existing, would be extremely important for humankind. And I don’t mean this in a generic way or around internet forums. I’ve personally gone through unpleasant situations, at public outreach conferences, where I have been confronted by furious attendants accusing me (as part of the scientific establishment) of “hiding the truth”. 

 Scientific method and rigor

The scientific method is the greatest discovery of humanity. It has been shown that its application is what really leads us to make progress and get closer to the truth on any subject. Bypassing or undermining it only leads to the perpetuation of false ideas. In return, the method requires scrupulous rigor and operating rules that must be strictly followed. When evaluating a phenomenon from a scientific point of view, one must understand something very important. In science, a testimony is not admitted as an evidence. Never. The empirical test must be objective and reproducible by independent groups. Arguments of authority are not valid either. Einstein or Sagan himself could come and say whatever. Without a proof, their words would have no value. We call "fallacy of authority" the attempt to pass an argument as valid based on the reputation of its proponent. This is important because this fallacy is recurrently used in ufology. We have 70 years of words and testimonies but not a single evidence, nothing solid, not even clear images, alien messages, a miserable video of a radar signal on a display. Nothing. The clearest thing that has been obtained in all these years are the videos of blurred spots taken by fighter jets that we will explain later and, if anything, all they show is that they have not seen anything really strange.

According to José Rafael Gómez, ufology is abundant in ridiculous cases and it is necessary to separate signal from noise in order to keep the really “credible” cases only. He regrets that, in Coffee Break, we mocked some of the "noise cases" in order to discredit the whole field. I couldn't help but  smile while listening to him, remembering that silly joke that 99% of ufologists give a bad reputation to the rest. But jokes apart, I have to admit that José Rafael is right. It would suffice if only in one case, just one, among the existing thousands and thousands, was a real extraterrestrial spacecraft to justify it all. 

Returning to the distinction between signal and noise laid out by José Rafael, I do understand from the speech in episode 53 of his podcast, that such distinction is based on the quality of the testimony. O better said, of the witnesses. In particular, he does suggest that we have to focus on testimonies from pilots and people with aeronautical experience, disregarding those from other people. But, can we really believe anything that a pilot tells us? We have the stereotype of the airline commercial pilot as a middle-aged gentleman, grey hair, smartly dressed, a sensible person, able to maintain serenity even in extreme situations.

Related image

I fully agree that these highly-skilled professionals, given their extensive training and the demands of their jobs, may be given a higher credibility than the average person. However, how much more? In the world there are close to one million pilots. That is a lot. There are so many of them that, even if 99% were true superheroes, there is ample margin for having some who are inexpert, unprofessional, (this happens in all occupations), and even some who might actually be just crazy. If you don't believe me, I remind you that in 2015  one pilot committed suicide by crashing his plane, full of passengers, into the Alps. We have read news about pilots who suddenly make a dive, trying to avoid some strange light in the sky, which was later found to be the planet Venus. Or combat pilots who wasted efforts and the taxpayer fuel chasing Sirius or some other stars. They are not infallible machines, they are human beings and not all of them are elite. Please don't get me wrong, I do not intend to disrespect these great professionals, which they really are, but just make the point that, in any large collection of people, we are necessarily going to find a little bit of everything. For example, I'm pretty sure that in my own collective, scientists, there's a few of these, certainly more than among pilots.

Perhaps some of the examples that I gave above (pilots chasing stars or dodging planets) may sound as a joke but I don't present them with any intention of mocking anyone. I chose them deliberately to illustrate a particular problem that this group has when it comes to making judgments about things that pilots see or perceive. There is a number of phenomena known as "sensory illusions in aviation". These illusions, spatial disorientation, and other effects are well known to the aviation professionals [3] [4] and have been the subject of many studies [5]. The human body did not evolve to fly and move in three dimensions. Our neurological systems of balance and visual perception may fail in situations where there are no references and these illusions often occur, particularly at night in the presence of bright lights (such as a star or planet). Ultimately, with a million of airplane pilots flying through our skies, the probability that someone will be able to see something strange is so significant (what is really surprising, in my opinion, is that there are no more UFO sightings) that these testimonies cannot be considered as scientific evidence of nothing , much less of alien spacecraft.

The New York Times articles

After this rather long introduction, let’s dive into the topic. Several weeks ago, the New York Times published an article titled “Wow! What is that? Navy pilots report Unexplained Flying Objects” [6]. The article includes a video made up of two parts, which are referred to as “gimbal” and “go fast”. Actually, this article is basically a remake of an older story already published by the N.Y. Times in 2017, written by the same authors, which had a considerable media impact in the US. It was titled “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program”. It also came together with two videos: the previously mentioned “gimbal” and another one known as “Nimitz”. The 2017 article (let’s call it “article 1”) does contain more bits of interesting information, including the explanation of a Pentagon’s secret program. This wasn’t uncovered by the N.Y. Times; at the moment it was already in the public domain because the program had been declassified and it was been reported in all mass media, not only due to its UFO connection, but also for all the political implications, which hinted at corruption (or at least dubious ethical behavior) at the US senate level. The second article (let’s call it “article 2”), published a few weeks ago, is way less interesting, it doesn’t contain any new objective information, and it is basically a compilation of sighting testimonies from military personnel, in a clear attempt to appeal to the authority fallacy, which is widely used in ufology . The only objective information is the one contained within the videos, which will be analyzed below. Article 2 repeats the same “gimbal” video and replaces the “Nimitz” video (possibly the dullest of the three), by the “go fast”, which is more visually appealing for the casual reader.

Polítics and showbusiness


In 2007 the Pentagon started a secret program called Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AAITP). This program was created by senator Harry Reid. Recall that the role of a US senator is very important in American politics, they have enormous political power. They are directly elected (two senators from each state) and they are not subject to a ‘party discipline’ when voting. Senators are free to vote according to their own criteria and they can push their own initiatives. Apart from that, the Senate (together with the Congress) is responsible for allocating the budget to fund government initiatives. In other words, they are the ones that -for example- decide the budget for NASA, the Army and all the administrations. Continuing with our story, it so happens that senator Reid has a very good friend called Robert Bigelow, a hotel tycoon that has amassed a billionaire fortune. There are three interesting things to note about Bigelow in this story: 1) He is very interested in space exploration. He claims that since he was a child he wanted to travel to other worlds and this dream had been his secret motivation to amass a fortune. He founded a company, Bigelow Aerospace, that makes space developments and has been a contractor for NASA. 2) He is a fan of UFOs and paranormal related topics. He does not mind saying publicly, even on national TV interviews, that he knows that aliens visit us. He founded the National Institute for Discovery Science, a center to investigate paranormal phenomena such as ufology or cattle mutilations (yes, there are people who believe that aliens visit us in order to cut cows down to pieces when we are not looking)[6]. He funded a million-dollar program at Nevada University about “studies on consciousness” which teaches lectures about life after death[7] and he acquired a ranch in Utah that -according to rumors- was an inter dimensional portal used by “shapeshifter aliens” to enter our world[7]. 3) He funds the electoral campaign of his friend, senator Reid. This is very important because it is this third point that will “ring the bell” of the political soap opera.

Left: Harry Reid, Right: Robert Bigelow
Credits: United States Senate, Public Domain, . NASA/Bill Ingalls  Public Domain



We may agree that Bigelow is a nutcase, but he plays a major role in this story and it's important to understand it. Bigelow convinces his good friend, senator Reid, that the Army must investigate paranormal phenomena. And we are not talking about UFOs only but other exotic ideas too, such as wormholes, dimensional portals and dark energy, It's not clear to me what's the relationship between these topics and the Pentagon but they are going to investigate them anyway.

Senator Reid was at the time the Senate majority leader. Whether he was persuaded by Bigelow, or simply as a token of gratitude for his generous financial contributions, he manages to create a secret program funded with reserved funds that are mainly awarded to… (attention!) Bigelow’s company. This triggered all the red flags. A senator creates a secret program, funded with black money that, without the required controls, is assigned to his friend’s company, who is -by the way- a major contributor to his own electoral campaign. This is the key of the political mess that caused a lot of controversy in the US, apart of the related UFO phenomena. To accomplish this, Reid managed to enroll two other senator for the cause. After a confidential meeting in a secure room at the Senate, Reid convinced Ted Stevens (republican senator from Alaska) and Daniel K. Inouye (democrat senator from Hawaii) to join him. Today, Reid is retired and both Stevens and Inouye have passed away. As an irrelevant anecdote I can mention that Inouye is known in our scientific community. His support was decisive for the construction of the solar telescope that today bears his name (Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, DKIST)[8]. In any case, the three senators agreed that this subject should not be discussed at the Senate. They were clear about it: “This was so-called black money,” he said. “Stevens knows about it, Inouye knows about it. But that was it, and that’s how we wanted it.”, Reid mentions in the first article of N.Y. Times.

Another relevant and intriguing character in this story is Luis Elizondo. Supposedly, he managed this secret program AATIP, and this is how it is reflected in the N.Y. Times articles. However, as we will see below, there are now some doubts about this point. To continue with the timeline, the AATIP program took place between 2007 and 2012, when it was finally cancelled. Why was it cancelled? It seems obvious that because of lack of results. The official explanation is that “It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding". According to a congressman, “After a while the consensus was we really couldn’t find anything of substance,” he recalled. “They produced reams of paperwork. After all of that there was really nothing there that we could find."[9]. Five years after its cancellation, in 2017 the existence of AATIP was declassified. Since then journalists can access all the information and write articles like those in the N.Y. Times. Also in 2017 an organization called ‘To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science” was founded. The founder and chairman is Tom DeLonge, a rock star from the band Blink-182. The purpose of this organization is to continue the work from AATIP but supposedly in a more transparent way and publishing all the information. A few days later Elizondo resigns from his position at Pentagon and starts working at To the Stars. Since then he becomes a celebrity, giving conferences, and appearing frequently  radio and TV shows. He also appears in a documentary series about UFOs in the History Channel. Recently, some media have started to question the role of Elizondo, since no evidence seems to exist -apart from his own word- that he had any responsibility in that secret program AATIP [10][11]. A few days ago, John Greenwald Jr., from Black Vault forum (a web dedicated to analyze official documentation), utilized a legal mechanism called “Freedom of Information Act” (FoIA), by means of which all citizens can require government information, to question the Pentagon about this subject. The response he received was conclusive: “Mr. Elizondo did not have assigned responsibilities at AATIP”[12]. Additionally, in response to another FoIA request, the Pentagon denied having received the alleged resignation letter that Elizondo distributed to all mass media making a “brave and enraged” criticism of the government's opacity and narrowmindedness [13]. 


Image result for luis elizondo
Luis Elizondo. Imagen de CNN 

Is Elizondo a fraudster who makes a living by exploiting a self-proclaimed relationship with a secret program? Or is he a guardian of truth fighting against dark powers? The controversy continues to rage around in internet forums and it is possible that it will be settled soon. In the meantime, To The Stars has become a sort of a loudspeaker, a media platform for Elizondo and others who argue that AATIP discovered alien spaceships. The fact is that, in all this time, To The Stars has not provided anything tangible, apart from statements, testimonies and words, other than the videos that will be analyzed below.

The authors

Why have these N.Y. Times had so much impact? In my opinion, for two reasons. First, because of the “argument from authority”. It is a newspaper with a reputation for unbiased reporting and professionalism. And second, because of the videos. Any news story that comes accompanied by audiovisual support is likely to have much more impact and go viral. Let’s start debunking the fallacy of authority. The N.Y. Times articles, both the one published in 2017 and the last one, are written by a group of three authors, in this order:
  1. Helene Cooper: She is a professional journalist from the Times, with a career dedicated to journalism that includes a position at Wall Street Journal as well. She was part of the team that won the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Ebola crisis in 2014. It is hard to find (or at least I have not found it) any link, economic or personal, with ufology or paranormal topics. In my opinion, Cooper seems the creditable journalist of the team. Speaking about Elizondo at the Times podcast, she said that he sounds very convincing when you hear him speak but then as soon as she left she starting having doubts. She eventually figured that her job was not to decide whether UFOs are real or not, but rather to inform about the existence of a secret military program [14].
  2. Ralph Blumenthal: He worked as a journalist for the N.Y. Times, retired in 2009. He writes articles for other media, occasionally collaborating with the third author, Leslie Kean (see below), on UFOs and paranormal phenomena. In 2013, Blumenthal wrote an article for Vanity Fair about John Edward Mack in which he talks seriously about alien abdunctions. He descibed his visits to gatherings of abductees and even cited testimonies about visitations of Mack from beyond death[15]. As usual in this type of articles, there is extensive use of the fallacy of authority with the references of Mack as a psychiatry professor at Harvard.
  3. Leslie Kean: She is the most... peculiar... among the authors. She is an ufologist activist. She writes UFO articles for the Huffington Post. Her 2010 book UFOs is a New York Times bestseller. In 2017 she wrote a book about life after death titled "Suviving death: A journalist investigates evidence for an afterlife". 
Kean and Blumenthal were already friends before collaborating in the N.Y. Times articles. They, together, pursuaded the journal to write the 2017 article. The Times accepted but assigned a reporter, Cooper, to ensure that the article would comply with the journal's standards[16].
 

Helene Cooper, Ralpha Blumenthal y Leslie Kean, autores de los artículos del New York Times
Once we understand the authors profile, the intended fallacy of authority breaks down. Authority should never be considered a valid argument but in this case we have an additional warning. Two of the three authors are people who profit from selling stories about paranormal phenomena.

It is not my intention to associate here the belief in UFOs with other paranormal phenomena but we see clearly that these authors are also very involved in issues of life after death and visitations from the dead. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that, within the AATIP programm, Aerospace Bigelow was also researching other paranormal phenomena such as “poltergeists” [17]. This brings me back to Jose Rafael Gómez’s comments who, in his podcast Universe of Mistheries , was sorry for the association between serious ufology and other beliefs that he considers clearly nonsense as a way to discredit the field. However, what we are seeing is that even in cases that he himself considers as serious (“signal” cases), as soon we scratch the surface and get into the details, other absurdities immediately surface. In my opinion, the reason is that all these stories are aimed at a common target audience, those willing to accept implausible truths without strong evidence on which to support them. The kind of arguments that Kean uses in her book about UFOs, witness accounts seasoned with comments from expert pilots and military personnel, can be easily recycled for her book of “Surviving death” simply replacing the expert pilots and military by doctors and surgeons.

The videos

And we finally get to the analysis of the videos. Now we can talk about more interesting things than politics and authors trying to sell their books. The first thing to note is that it is untrue that these videos have been declassified by the Pentagon, as suggested in some media (note: see update 3 below). These videos have never been classified, probably because, as we'll see below, they don't show anything extraordinary (except perhaps the inexperience of some pilot). The videos were published by To The Stars after requesting them to the Department of Defense[18]. They were released after a request similar to the FoIA described above regarding Elizondo's resignation letter. Let's recall that To The Stars knows in detail all the documentary and audiovisual materials generated by AATIP, since they have ties with the project, with Bigelow (the main contractor) and they have Elizondo (allegedly the boss, if we believe his version). Therefore, the videos have never been considered a secret, they were never classified and any citizen could have requested them.

-Gimbal

Let's start with the gimbal video, perhaps the most interesting of the three. Here it is in the To The Stars youtube channel. They were the first ones to publish it:


The first thing we see is a text added by To The Stars with an explanation that might give an erroneous impression on the viewer. It talks about a "declassification review process", which might be incorrectly interpreted as the video having been "classified" at some point. This is not the case, as we explained earlier (and is proven in the documentation included in the references of this article). It then goes on to say that the authenticity is guaranteed by chain of custody documentation. This is not true or, at least, To The Stars has not yet shown that documentation over these almost two years. Som internet forums speculate that they might be referring to the documentation requesting the video to the DoD but that is not the same thing and it doesn't guarantee the authenticity of the materials. However, the wording sounds profound and has an impact on the viewer. In any case, we are not going to question here the authenticity of the video so the discussion about the chain of custody is irrelevant. It is really not necessary since, as we will see, the videos don't show anything particularly out of the ordinary. One would think that, if someone is going to manipulate a video, they would have done something more "supernatural". Finally, the last sentences are a new invocation to the fallacy of authority ("highly trained fighter pilots") but we don't really know who was that pilot or whether he was very experienced or not. Here, we will disregard the use of authority and follow the rules laid out in the introduction to analyze what the images are showing to see if we can make sense of it.

The rest of the video contains 40 seconds of an oval-shaped spot crossed by a thin line that appears to rotate near the end. What could that strange spot be? Elizondo had told Helene Cooper, the N.Y. Times journalist, that the object seemed to have a "force field"![19]. As usually happens, reality is much more mundane than that. That cameras that we are used to produce images very similar to what we see with our eyes. The same is not true about infrared cameras. Unless one is accustomed to working with such devices, it's not straightforward to interpret the images. It just happens that at some point of my career I did some work with infrared detectors[20], including a FLIR camera[21], so I understand that, just because the image shows an oval spot, that doesn't mean that we are seeing an oval object. Clearly, the video shows a source of heat so intense that it saturates the detector (that's why we don't see any structure inside the spot). When the detector saturates, it often produces an electron overflow effect, giving rise to straight lines along the x or y direction of the cip. Therefore, the oval shape with a straight line going through it is probably an intense heat source that saturates the detector. I wondered what an airplane exhaust seen from behind would look like in these detectors. A simple Google search quickly took me to a very interesting site called Metabunk[22]. There, I found, among many other things, the images I was looking for. This is what a flying aircraft looks like when seen by an infrared camera.

engine flares banked closeup overlay.
Image from www.metabunk.org


On the left, we see a spot similar to the gimbal video. On the right, we see a 4-engine airplane that produces that spot. The camera is showing us the "infrared glare" produced by the high-temperature exhaust gases expelled by the airplane.

This other example is even more illustrative. Now we can see the straight line from the overflow effect mentioned above ("camera artifact").
20171217-130444-9b7q9.
Image from www.metabunk.org
This image was taken during the daytime and we can now see a combination of visible light, showing the airplane and runway, and infrared, showing the exhaust gases, infrared glare and the straight line. At night, as in the gimbal video, there would be no visible light and we would only see the infrared light, that is, the black parts of this image. It would look very similar to the gimbal video.

Ok, so we can explain the oval shape and the straight line through it but.. why does it rotate so suddenly at the end? Isn't that an impossible movement for our technology? And if it's a camera artifiact, how can it rotate? Didn't we say that the electron overflow effect goes along the horizontal or vertical direction of the detector chip? Yes, it does! The explanation is actually very simple and, ironically enough, is given in the name of the video. Gimbal is the name of the support system on which these cameras are mounted, which has the capability to move with great accuracy to track the target and stabilize the image. When you are flying at supersonic speeds and want to take a sharp image with a very powerful zoom, you need to have good image stabilization. The camera is mounted on an arm that has its own tracking. It's important to understand that the image we are seeing on the video is not straight ahead. The object is to the left of the fighter plane so the camera is looking in that direction and moving to compensate the relative movement between airplane and target. If we watch closely, the largest rotation that seems to surprise the pilot, occurs at minute 1:40, which occurs together with some camera movements (noticable in the horizon). So it does seem that the rotation of the straight line is somehow associated with the camera rotation. Again, this is explained with clear home-made examples in Metabunk. This next video makes it clear that there is nothing mysterious in the gimbal video. It's actually just what one would expect if you are observing a jet airplane in the darkness of the night from very far away with an infrared camera mounted on a gimbal system:



If you find this topic interesting, check out Metabunk where there's a very detailed analysis of even the relative trajectories of both airplanes based on the HUD display data[23].


-Nimitz

This video is from 2004, so it predates the AATIP program. I guess the reason for drawing on an old video is that they were unable to obtain anything more convincing during the program. This is a video on which an unidentified object performs, supposedly, a sudden maneuver, accelerating to the left with such sharpness that would shatter a human being, hurtling with an impossible speed, all this without showing any kind of propulsion.





The object seems to have a vaguely oval shape, but it appears quite blurry both through the infrared and the visible light cameras. Unfortunately, the definition is also quite poor, and the image quality is even worse than on the previous one (the technology is older and has a worse definition). Note the noise and vignetting ring around the image. Also, there are no visual references, so it is hard to ascertain whether the object is diffuse in itself or it is just the camera being out of focus. Throughout the video, the operator toggles the camera type several times, from infrared to visible (it is shown on the top central part of the HUD display with a IR or TV tag), and it also frequently varies the zoom magnification factor between 1 and 2 (that is visible on the top left side).

In my opinion (although I can’t prove it), the camera is out of focus. It’s hard to be sure because no other object is visible on the images, there is no land, sea, or even clouds. However, we can actually spot a kind of bubbles both on the visible and infrared light images. I have tried to mark them using yellow circles on some screenshots, but it is easier to see them on the video, because they are fixed patterns overlaid on top of the video. For instance, at the 1:24 mark:






These kinds of defects are usually caused by dirt or droplets within the camera. In normal circumstances we should not see them; the camera is focusing to infinity so any dirt on the lens would be so out of focus that it would not show up on the image. The fact that we can see these defects suggests that we are not really focusing to infinity, but rather much closer. The bubbles do not only appear on the infrared image, but also on the visible light camera. They can be seen on the 1:34 mark:



In the minute 2:04 the camera rotates over itself. This is an interesting moment and it gives us some interesting data. While the camera rotates in the gimbal, the bubbles remain at the same place. We can see the sky is turning around the center of the camera, but the circles remain still, as we can see in those images in 2:04. This data, along with the fact that the bubbles are seen in both detectors, suggest that the dirt is on the camera lens.



In any case, the camera focus is not really that important. The really dramatic effect from this video, the intended point, is the acceleration from the object at the end of it, supposedly hurtling to the left with incredible speed. This is what it looks like but, obviously, lacking any reference to compare against, it is not possible to ascertain whether the object has moved or the camera has simply lost tracking of it. For instance, at the 2:04 mark there is an apparent motion, but it is clear that the camera is the one moving (the sky can be seen spinning around). In this moment the tracking is lost for a split second, but it is immediately recovered. While it might not be obvious on the video, the object is moving to the left all the time, since the very beginning, but the camera is tracking it and that’s why it is always at the center of the image. In order to notice its movement, we must resort to the data of the camera’s orientation indicator (azimuth), which appears at the middle top, just below the IR or TV tag. It starts showing  4 R (4 degrees to the right). Little by little, but increasingly faster, the indicator decreases towards 1 R, then 0, then 1 L, and then 8 L at the end. At this moment, the camera stops tracking it. Curiously enough, along all this time the fighter is not following the object, but it is rather flying straight ahead. Note that the artificial horizon on the center of the image is perfectly centered and level, whereas the object turns from being slightly to its right, to gradually drift to its left. 

Going from 7 L to 8 occurs in this video in the intervals approximately between minutes 2:23 and 2:27. So, it has moved a degree in 4 seconds, which means an angular speed of 0.25 degrees per second. Then, the camera loses track at 2:28 and the object moves to the left border of the screen in about a second. Having into account that the system is in NAR mode (narrow field of view, which corresponds to a 1.5 degrees wide field, or 0.75 from the center to the border of the image) and a zoom factor of 2 (both data are shown on the HUD display), that means that the object has moved 0.37 degrees in a second. This number is really not that different from the 0.25 degrees per second it was moving at before. In other words, the angular speed at which it comes out of the visual field during this supposedly impossible acceleration, is actually not that different from the speed that it was having before, when the camera was tracking it. Taking into account the experimental uncertainty of this gross estimate, it is even possible that the speed hadn’t changed at all, and what we are seeing is simply the camera losing track of the object. I took the time to measure how the object was moving throughout the video, while the camera was tracking it. We can see it in this graph below that shows how the angle has been changing with time. Azimuth zero means straight ahead, negative numbers mean degrees to the left. I got the data from the video in a rather crude way, but it is clearly noticeable how the object is gradually moving to the left at a constant angular speed, within the data precision. The orange lines above and below the blue one mark the error estimate margins. The moment in which it leaves the camera view and seems like “move at full speed and shoot like a bullet” is at the last segment, depicted in orange color. As shown, there isn’t a large difference in the real movement of the object, there isn’t a sharp movement to the left, no inhuman acceleration. Just the effect of the camera that stops tracking the object.


Again we see that, given enough information, it is quite easy to disprove the idea that the object performs sudden movements that cannot be explained by aeronautics. We also see why testimonies are not relevant. Quite often, appearances are misleading, especially when there is a lack of references.


-Go Fast

This is perhaps the most spectacular of the three, but also the easiest to explain.  It is an unknown object flying at a height lower than the fighter plane and moving at incredible speed without showing signs of propulsion.  Again, we see the video published by To The Stars:





There is not much to it, really.  The camera manages to acquire a lock and tracks it as it moves over the sea.  The explanation is simple and will be familiar to anyone who has ever photographed moving objects using telephoto lenses.  We are seeing an effect called parallax. Again this is a case of appearances, of apparent speed caused by the combination of camera tracking and airplane speed. The object we are seeing could be anything, it could be a large bird flying slowly and the much faster movement of the plane would give us the impression that it is the bird that is moving at that speed.  In fact, depending on the altitude and the observation geometry, the object may not be moving at all.


[Update 2: 23-Sept-2019] Luckily we have enough information with the numbers that appear on the HUD display to understand what is happening.  One of the most important is the distance indicator.  It appears with the label RNG (Range) as soon as the camera locks the target, at approximately 1:33 and we see that this indicator shows about 4 nautical miles.  On the left, the elevation indicator of the camera marks -29.  In other words, the camera is pointing down, 29 degrees below the horizon.  Pure elemental trigonometry indicates that the object is 4*sin(29) miles below the airplane.  Since the plane is flying at 25,000 feet (indicated at the bottom right), the object's altitude should be about 4028 meters above sea level.  This calculation can be repeated for different moments of the video and we see that the altitude of the object remains practically constant.  In the History Channel documentary titled "Unidentified", Luis Elizondo and his companions comment on the video, stating that the object is moving at sea level and "hauling ass".  This statement is made without giving any argument or explaining where they draw this conclusion.  But the people who say it are expert military and speak in a very deep voice, which gives them a lot of authority.  Then they throw themselves further into the pool and affirm, without blushing in the least, that the object moves at two thirds of the speed of sound, again without supporting it on any objective data or argument.  We just saw that at least the first part is false.  Let's look at the second one.

Before the camera can fix the lens we can see the object move through the field of view, at 1:28


These two frames are taken a)the moment the object enters the field of view from the right edge and b)when it reaches the center. They correspond to the moments 1:28.13 and 1:29.34. That is, there is a lapse of 1.21 seconds. We see in the upper left part that the zoom is at 1 (without magnification) and the system is in NAR mode, which, as explained above, is a narrow field of view mode. In this mode the field of view is 1.5 by 1.5 degrees. This means that the object has traveled half (0.75 degrees) in 1.21 seconds. Since it moves diagonally, approximately 45 degrees from the axes, we can say that its angular speed is w=0.75/cos(45)/1.21=0.876 degrees per second. Taking into account that at this moment it is 4.4 nautical miles (it is the value that the indicator marks in the next instant, as soon as the camera manages to fix the objective), we can convert the angular speed to linear with the simple formula v=4.4*sin(w)=446 km/h. This is the speed at which the object appears to be moving as seen from the plane. Now we know that the plane is moving. To obtain the real speed of the object with respect to the ground we have to subtract the speed of the plane. Let's consider the following diagram, which shows us the system seen from above.


The numbers in the diagram are obtained as follows: At the top of the display, just below the IR indicator, we have the camera azimuth. This tells us that the camera is looking at about 35 degrees to the left of the plane (35L). Airplane speed appears in the lower left corner, 252 knots of calibrated airspeed. This speed must be corrected for altitude (the air pressure is different depending on whether it is considered on the surface or at an altitude, which makes the air speed sensor give different values). The correction is standard and can be found in any converter online. For 25,000 feet, the actual speed would be 366 knots, or 678 km/h. In this analysis we are only concerned with transverse motion because in the way that we are measuring the speed of the object, seeing how it moves through the field of view, we are not sensitive to the longitudinal component. Still, it's worth it because the object doesn't seem to be moving directly toward the plane. By elementary trigonometry, the component of the plane's motion in the transverse direction is 389 km/h, which is very similar to the 446 km/h speed measured for the object from the plane. If they had been the same, it would mean that the object is not moving at all, but that the speed that we perceive measured from the plane would be due precisely to the fact that the plane is moving. Since there is a difference, that is the speed of the object, 446-389 = 57 km/h. It certainly isn't "extremely fast", much less two thirds of the speed of sound. In short, no matter how military and very serious they put it, the information  given in "Unidentified" by these alleged experts is false. It is neither flying at sea level nor is it moving at high speeds. This analysis is very simple, anyone can reproduce it, and it gives us some basic parameters. In Metabunk, Mick West makes a deeper and more detailed study, considering the trajectory of the plane in detail, and reaches very similar conclusions. According to his procedure, the object is at 4,000 meters of altitude and moves at a speed between 20 and 40 knots. This range would be 37 and 74 km/h, which is in agreement with my 57. This episode leaves us once again the moral of what to do with the testimonies and sources of authority, by very military or aeronautical experts they might be.
[End of update]

In this video, Mick West explains his calculations [24], going so far as to determine the trajectory, speed and altitude of the object. All the analysis is very well explained in the video. No need to "believe your word". One can follow the reasoning and find fault with it. It is reproducible. It is scientific. Here's Mick's video:


Have you noticed how Mick combines the images from the History Channel program (by the way, this is Luis Elizondo's program, we can see him in the images) with his own explanations? Have you noticed the contrast between the History Channel audio, with that ominous background music and the severe tone of the participants, with the calm voice with which Mick explains things, without shrillness, without music, without additives? I take this opportunity to leave you a recommendation. You may have noticed that it is common in "mystery" shows to use this type of narrative accompanied by a soundtrack loaded with dissonant, tense chords. With this we are induced a certain psychological predisposition regarding what we are being told. It is the same technique used in movies, where the soundtrack is used to guide our emotions as the story unfolds. Or in advertising, also to subliminally influence our mood. Remember when was the last time you saw an ad without music? Well, my recommendation is to be suspicious whenever someone speaks to you with background music.

Conclusion

After analyzing in some depth the evidence for a paradigmatic ufological case of "great reliability", there is no indication that there is anything extraordinary at all. The case involves sources of authority: military, pilots, politicians, billionaires, investigative journalism, the New York Times, declassified documents ... all the elements of a good X-File. However, as soon as we dig a little deeper, we see that it is all unsubstantial. The only objective evidence are the videos, which generated great media and social impact, but we have seen that these videos do not show anything really extraordinary. In fact, they are all perfectly explainable. They might not be, mind you. Someday, a video may appear that we cannot explain. That will not mean they are alien ships or there is no normal explanation. But it is not even the case. Of course, it could also be that I was wrong about something I have stated here. But everything I have explained is 100% verifiable or reproducible. If anyone finds an error, I would appreciate it if you let me know.

We should stop giving so much importance to the testimonies. Ufology considers pilots as authority figures, but these ones reported by N.Y. Times have not even been taken seriously by their superiors, as evidenced by the fact that the AATIP was not only cancelled but even declassified. Donald Trump himself, after meeting with the pilots to listen to them, was not entirely convinced. "I want them to think whatever they think”. [...] But people are saying they’re seeing UFOs. Do I believe it? Not particularly." [25]. Reading between the lines, he does not want to speak ill of his pilots but neither does he seem to give these stories much credibility. As Jason Colavito well points out, "After all, a not insignificant percentage of high-ranking military officials are Evangelical Christians who believe in the Rapture is coming" [26], a day when the dead will supposedly be resurrected, "Their belief, however, doesn’t make it true" nor do we have to assume that they are infallible. Let us remember that there are a lot of pilots and, it is enough for one or a few of them to say that they have seen something a little strange, for their story to appear in all the media, more or less faithfully reproduced (surely more less than more), and some of us to be pressured to analyse what the hell they were supposed to see.

It is curious that ufology considers this story that I have just described as favorable to its cause. I see it completely the opposite way. In my opinion, here is a situation in which the US Army invested $22 million and put the Navy and the Air Force for five years at the service of a someone who wanted  to search for UFOs and poltergeists, who believes in abductions, cattle mutilations and interdimensional portals in Utah. And after all that effort, once again they found nothing relevant. Of course, some of them are making money in To The Stars and the History Channel. It does not seem unreasonable that the army wants to investigate possible strange phenomena. Similarly, it doesn’t seem to me unreasonable they have established a protocol so that the military personnel can report any strange sightings to their superiors. If one day they discover something extraordinary, great. But up until now there is nothing that passes the slightest scientific scrutiny. By the way, I didn't hear anyone say anything when the British Royal Air Force carried out a similar exercise that ended in 2009 with the overwhelming conclusion that "in more than 50 years no UFO sightings have been reported to us has never revealed anything to suggest an extraterrestrial presence or military threat to the UK, "or that" UFO investigations, even from the most reliable sources, serve no useful purpose but to distract air defense specialists from their primary duties. "[27]. They are also pilots and military but it seems that they are not given the same authority by ufologists.

 

Then there is the conspiracies topic, which usually comes hand-by-hand with these stories. What if the Pentagon is hiding everything? What if they have captured spacecrafts since Roswell (and that was 70 years ago!)? As Abraham Lincoln used to say, you may deceive a few people for a long time or a lot of people for a little time, but you can’t deceive a lot of people for a long time. Things finally became known. The interesting point of conspiranoids is that they believe these dark powers (NASA, The Pentagon, official media, etc..) are deceiving us all the time but then, as soon as they reveal something that is deemed valuable, then they become authority sources. There isn’t anything more juicy that declassified information. Suddenly, the Pentagon becomes trustful because it releases UFO videos, pilots are trustful because the talk about weird encounters. But, if I have succeed on changing somebody’s mind about these videos having nothing out of the ordinary, then the person may argue that the Pentagon has released the videos to deceive us but they keep “the good ones” in secret. I personally find ridiculously hard to believe this kind of game, where I do show you a little but not all, now a little more but I hide the rest… the only real life situation where this happens is when flirting. And precisely with the same goal: to keep the mystery as long as possible.

In my opinion, the clearest evidence that UFO sightings have no real base was brilliantly expressed by Randall Munroe on his awesome online comic strip xkcd[28]:
Settled

If there were any real base on the UFO sighting phenomenon, then we would expect an exponential growth, since 2004, on the number of images and videos. However, it hasn’t been like that, and in turn the interest on the UFOs has decreased over time, as it is shown on this graph I just took from Google Trends;



It can be argued that all that large amount of sightings are just noise, that it has effectively decreased with time besides the fact that everybody carries a camera, and that the real, relevant cases are just a few. But then it isn’t possible to use the classical ufology science argument of “something must be out there if so many people to see things”. 


Let me conclude by reiterating that I do not intend to investigate every single case that somebody brings to my attention, whatever weird the situation may look like. The burden of proof should befall upon whoever that claims extraordinary things. If some day you ever find objective evidence of any extraordinary event, that we are visited by extra-terrestrial creatures, I will believe it, I promise.


References: I have saved snapshots of the linked pages on the references of this document, so its current content would be available even if the pages change or disappear in the future


Update 1: 18-Sept-2019

These days is having a great impact in media news about the Pentagon claiming videos ‘are for real’[29], that there are unaccountable phenomena or that the military “didn’t want to be published”[30]. As always, if one only counts with this information and doesn’t scratch under the surface to reach the original source and understand which is the news, one may be left with a wrong impression. It may seem that the military admits that alien ships are visiting us at last and it has been kept in secret. But if so, What sense would it make to "recognize" it now or blow the entire cover? Has their heart suddenly softened? Let’s see what actually happened and for this we have to go to the source of the story.

Black Vault, the website that we mentioned above, published two new very interesting entries on Sept 10 and 11, both signed by John Greenwald Jr. The first entry[31] cites statements from Joseph Gradisher, spokesperson for the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare, saying that the objects in the videos are what the Navy calls UAP (Unidentified Arial Phenomena). Asked about why the new denomination, instead of the old UFO, Gradisher explained that UAP is a term used to refer to observations of airplanes, unidentified or unauthorized objects that enter restricted airspace for military use".

Right after that, in the same post, Gradisher is quoted, stating that it was never authorized the release of these videos to the wider public. Here the Navy confirms the version offered by the Pentagon, whose spokesperson, Susan Gough, already said months before that the videos hadn’t been approved by the Department of State for public release. The videos were not secret, they didn’t have the “classified” seal. However, a non-classified video may contain sensitive information in the form of file headers, ID numbers, voices or people faces, etc… In order to request the publication of any documentation, it is necessary to go through a process that guarantees that it does not contain sensitive information. This process is carried out by the Defense Office of Prepublication and Security Review. Therefore, the statement from To The Stars, which appears at the beginning of the videos, that these have been released for public is wrong or misleading. Black Vault had published before (on the 16th of August of 2019) a thread of mails, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, on which Luis Elizondo requested permission to use the videos. In this thread, Elizondo made the point that, due to air traffic safety reasons, it was necessary to create a database of “unmanned aerial vehicles (balloons, drones, etc..)” and that “our collective purpose is to eventually establish a database of “unclassified” objects that would be accessible for partners such as the Navy, the Defense Intelligence Agency, companies with defense contracts and even local, state and tribal authorities..” The mail thread shows that Elizondo was granted permission to use the videos with the following restriction “U.S Government Use Only”

So, definitely, Elizondo lied when he informed of the intended use of the videos (or, at least, he published them later without authorization), and To The Stars also lies when saying that they were released for public distribution. The Navy says that the videos are not secret but still they must undergo a specific review before being approved for public broadcasting. Is this anything relevant for the discussion at hand, whether what we see in the videos are extra-terrestrial ships? I don’t think so, I do think this is interesting only to whoever is interested in the inner workings of military bureaucracy.

The second of these posts published by Black Vault is from September the 11th [32], in which Gradisher provides some figures (really few) in order to put the videos into context, in both space and time coordinates. The first video, which we call here “Nimitz”, was recorded close to the coast of San Diego on November 14th 2004 (this was already known). This is way before the AATIP program started, as we previously commented. The other two videos, “gimbal” and “go fast”, were recorded on the same day, January the 21st 2015. It is probably the same event. Gradisher didn’t want to provide the localization but, based on the ships files, it is believed it was probably 100 miles to the east of the coast of Georgia, and about an intermediate latitude along the coast line. 

Given that the UAP naming suggests it is about unidentified objects (and the spokesperson Gradisher emphasized the “unidentified” word), there is some speculation about all these being secret tests from other US military branches (both the USAF and the Navy have aircraft) given that there are not impossible or unexplainable maneuvers. In any case, we can conclude by saying that, as it is usual with these topics, there is a lot of noise with stories that are otherwise not extraordinary but nonetheless create confusion on the casual reader or viewer that does not dive deep into the news and look for the original sources. 

Update 2: 23-Sept-2019

In addition to the statements in Update 1, spokesperson Gradisher has said more things[33] that to my great surprise (well, not so much), they are not having the same impact as the previous ones in the media. First, he said that UAP terminology is introduced to refer to "unidentified or unauthorized objects or aircraft that are detected in restricted airspace for military training". In other words, when the Navy says that the UAP videos are real, we can perfectly well be talking about airplanes. Furthermore, these are not even necessarily "unidentified" cases, but could also be aircraft that are fully identified but not authorized to enter that airspace.

Gradisher also says that "most UAPs they record end up proving to be mundane objects like drones - not alien ships." But perhaps most interesting is the phrase in which he states that UAPs are taken more and more seriously because in recent years "their frequency has increased, since the appearance of drones and quadcopters." Gradisher is surprised by the great impact his words had when he stated that the UAP videos were real and he hopes that at least this will serve to "send the message that this problem is very serious".

It appears that the military is more concerned with increased human traffic (private jets, drones, and unmanned flying devices) and its incursions into restricted airspace for military use than with alien spacecraft. It is curious that neither the Nimitz video nor the Go Fast are chasing the mysterious object. The aircraft is flying straight ahead while the camera has to rotate to keep the object centered (see the azimuth indicator at the top of the screen). This suggests that the ranking officers of these pilots do not seem to have given more importance to these objects as to require a more detailed inspection.

In this update I have introduced a new simple analysis of the Go Fast video

Update 3: 28-04-2020

Now yes, the videos analyzed in this blog have been released by the Pentagon, authorizing their publication[34]. Spokeswoman Sue Gough said that  the review process had been completed and concluded that these videos did not contain any sensitive material. Important note. The videos have not been "declassified", simply because they have never been "classified". If we go to the original source, the note sent by the Pentagon refers to the videos as "unclassified" (not classified) and says that it authorizes their publication [35].

Thanks Silverine McSilver for this funny cartoon! 


Comments

  1. Estimado Héctor,

    Si bien es cierto que no he comparado ambas entradas (español e inglés) al detalle, me gustaría comentarte que ninguna de las referencias de la versión en inglés dispone del enlace que sí aparece en la versión en castellano. Desconozco si es intencionado.

    Atentamente.

    ReplyDelete

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