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"It is hovering and it's not an aircraft."
April 4, 2011 5:13 AM   Subscribe

On October 21, 1978, 20-year-old Frederick Valentich climbed into his Cessna 182L airplane and took off from Moorabbin Airport in Melbourne. He was never seen again.

Valentich, a pilot with a Class 4 instrument rating and more than 150 hours of solo flight time under his belt, planned to fly to King Island in Bass Strait. Just over an hour into his flight, Valentich contacted flight control in Melbourne to report a strange craft hovering near his airplane. According to Valentich, the object had "a green light and [was] sort of metallic like, it's all shiny on the outside." Valentich reported that he was experiencing engine problems and would proceed to King Island. Melbourne flight control then lost contact with the young pilot--the final transmission from Valentich's plane was 17 seconds of unidentified noise described as "metallic, scraping sounds."

Despite a week-long search, no trace was ever found of Valentich or his plane. Meanwhile, as news of the disappearance spread, a number of people reported seeing strange lights in the sky. Among them was Roy Manifold, a photographer who had been shooting the sunset over the ocean. When he developed them, he discovered a large, mysterious object in one. The photo was subjected to various tests by different experts, none of whom agreed on exactly what, if anything, Manifold had captured on film.

Theories abounded about what had happened to Valentich. Some claim he was abducted. Other reports claim it was a hoax. Still others say he probably became disoriented and crashed (PDF).

More than 30 years later, the Valentich case still fascinates UFO buffs and has been the subject of a number of television and radio programs:

Unsolved Mysteries; Part 1, Part 2

The Extraordinary

Radio Eye
posted by Rangeboy (175 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
The transcript of Valentich's final communication with flight control:

19:06:14 DSJ [Valentich]: Melbourne, this is Delta Sierra Juliet. Is there any known traffic below five thousand?

FS [Flight Services; Robey]: Delta Sierra Juliet, no known traffic.

DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, I am, seems to be a large aircraft below five thousand.

19:06:44 FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, What type of aircraft is it?

DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, I cannot affirm, it is four bright, and it seems to me like landing lights.

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet.

19:07:31 DSJ: Melbourne, this is Delta Sierra Juliet, the aircraft has just passed over me at least a thousand feet above.

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger, and it is a large aircraft, confirmed?

DSJ: Er-unknown, due to the speed it's travelling, is there any air force aircraft in the vicinity?

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, no known aircraft in the vicinity.

19:08:18 DSJ: Melbourne, it's approaching now from due east towards me.

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet.

19:08:41 DSJ: (open microphone for two seconds.)

19:08:48 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, it seems to me that he's playing some sort of game, he's flying over me two, three times at speeds I could not identify.

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger, what is your actual level?

DSJ: My level is four and a half thousand, four five zero zero.

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet and you confirm you cannot identify the aircraft?

DSJ: Affirmative.

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger, stand by.

19:09:27 DSJ: Melbourne, Delta Sierra Juliet, it's not an aircraft it is (open microphone for two seconds).

19:09:42 FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, can you describe the - er - aircraft?

DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, as it's flying past it's a long shape (open microphone for three seconds) cannot identify more than it has such speed (open microphone for three seconds). It's before me right now Melbourne.

19:10 FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger and how large would the - er - object be?

19:10:19 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, Melbourne, it seems like it's chasing me.[20] What I'm doing right now is orbiting and the thing is just orbiting on top of me also. It's got a green light and sort of metallic like, it's all shiny on the outside.

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet

19:10:46 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet (open microphone for three seconds) It's just vanished.

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet.

19:11:00 DSJ: Melbourne, would you know what kind of aircraft I've got? Is it a military aircraft?

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, Confirm the - er ~ aircraft just vanished.

DSJ: Say again.

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, is the aircraft still with you?

DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet; it's (open microphone for two seconds) now approaching from the south-west.

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet

19:11:50 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, the engine is rough-idling. I've got it set at twenty three twenty-four and the thing is (coughing).

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, roger, what are your intentions?

DSJ: My intentions are - ah - to go to King Island - ah - Melbourne. That strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again (open microphone for two seconds). It is hovering and it's not an aircraft.

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet.

19:12:28 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet. Melbourne (open microphone for seventeen seconds).
posted by Rangeboy at 5:14 AM on April 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


Anyone remember what happened with that Mexican Air Force pilot who claimed to have seen a UFO a few years ago? I found that very interesting, and haven't heard anything more about it.
posted by Malor at 5:39 AM on April 4, 2011


The possibility remains that Valentich staged his own disappearance: even taking into account a trip of between 30 and 45 minutes to Cape Otway, the aircraft still had enough fuel to fly 800 kilometres; despite ideal conditions, at no time was the aircraft plotted on radar, casting doubts as to whether it was ever near Cape Otway; and Melbourne Police received reports of a light aircraft making a mysterious landing not far from Cape Otway at the same time as Valentich's disappearance.
posted by DU at 5:43 AM on April 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


Yes, I should probably make it clear that I don't personally believe in UFOs, aliens, Bigfoot, ghosts, Xenu or the living Elvis. But stuff like this fascinates me in the way that any mystery, real or fictional, does.
posted by Rangeboy at 5:48 AM on April 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm not inclined to believe in the woo woo either, Rangeboy, but that transcript is haunting. Fascinating stuff. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:52 AM on April 4, 2011


It was a giant, malevolent ball of steel wool.
posted by Krazor at 6:07 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


And it was only trying to scrub off that rust stain on the right wing.
posted by Krazor at 6:07 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is why I don't fly in small planes. Shit like this always happens.
posted by Fizz at 6:10 AM on April 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I'm as big of a skeptic as the gods ever made and that transcript is really eerie. Great post, Rangeboy.
posted by item at 6:14 AM on April 4, 2011


And it was only trying to scrub off that rust stain on the right wing.

Why does the government not want our small aircraft pilots to have spotless aircraft? What are they hiding?
posted by device55 at 6:14 AM on April 4, 2011


The transcript is haunting, which is exactly why people believe in UFOs. A kind of narrative pareidolia combined with only presenting the parts of the story that are "haunting".
posted by DU at 6:15 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


That transcript reads exactly like someone who decided to fake their own death and had seen Project UFO a couple of times.
posted by bondcliff at 6:20 AM on April 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


This is why I don't fly in small planes. Shit like this always happens.

A cousin of mine was a pilot for Pan-Am (remember them?) for years, flying passenger jets to and fro. He saw things he wouldn't talk about; he said all pilots did, and no one would really talk about it, because they were afraid of losing their jobs.
posted by rtha at 6:24 AM on April 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


When he developed them, he discovered a large, mysterious object in one.

OH MY GOD. It's Jeff Goldblum.
posted by IvoShandor at 6:25 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I prefer to think he somehow became disoriented, saw an actually mundane object (a bird? Venus?) and crashed. If you read the interviews with Valentich's father--read about how he kept waiting, hoping for his son to be found right up until the day he died--then it's just too heartbreaking to think Valentich put him through all that on purpose.
posted by Rangeboy at 6:26 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I understand the importance for an individual to have a healthy skepticism. To not just accept all the stories that one is told and to think critically about the information presented.

Some of the comments above, however, are pretty frustrating because they delve into the realm of dismissal and thinly veiled insult.

For example:
That transcript reads exactly like someone who decided to fake their own death and had seen Project UFO a couple of times.

It doesn't seem likely that a pilot would have to consult a television series in order to learn how to communicate with air traffic control in a convincing manner.

As noted in the post, others witnessed something as well -- and were seemingly able to capture photos of what they saw.

So, why not, instead of just seeing this as somebody with an agenda, look at this as a mystery? Something odd happened, involving multiple people. Were they all working together with this pilot to fake his death?

I don't understand why it's so important for some people to dismiss everything mysterious out of hand.

Perhaps I'm just a bit too naive.
posted by MustardTent at 6:40 AM on April 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


When he developed them, he discovered a large, mysterious object in one.
For once, it really is Ghostbusters II.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:42 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Considering the fact that basically everybody on the planet is carrying a camera around at all times, why isn't there more UFO footage? You'd think we'd have some new video a couple of times a year, at this point. That's been the case for other oft reported but rarely believed things like police brutality.
posted by empath at 6:43 AM on April 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


I don't understand why it's so important for some people to dismiss everything mysterious out of hand.

Because if you don't, then you'll believe all kinds of nonsensical shit. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
posted by empath at 6:44 AM on April 4, 2011 [18 favorites]


I don't understand why it's so important for some people to dismiss everything mysterious out of hand.

There is definitely a mystery here. What I think most of us are doing is pre-emptively dismissing space aliens as a starting hypothysis.

If my assay at work failed a bunch of times in a row, a perfectly good hypothysis to explain the phenomenon is that a full fledged ninja wearing black pajams and carrying a katana and everything was hired by a rival pharma company and is hiding in our drop ceiling right now, coming out when no one is arround to sabatoge my assay and delay the approval of our clinical samples.

If I suggested this, I'm pretty sure I'd be dismissed pretty quickly (or at least asked to speak to a counselor or something).

Don't let this make you think I'm not watching you Genentech!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:51 AM on April 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


It's not that I'm a disbeliever when it comes to the mysterious, it's just that I've yet to experience something like that first hand.
posted by Fizz at 6:51 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Because if you don't, then you'll believe all kinds of nonsensical shit. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

I only meant that a response like "this guy is a liar and has an agenda" isn't a fair assessment.
posted by MustardTent at 6:51 AM on April 4, 2011


Occam's razor says he staged it, for whatever reason. I'm surprised that there is no record of investigators digging into his personal and business life. That being said, 20 years of age is pretty young to disappear without popping up and saying "look at me, I was abducted! Give me money and women!".
150 hours is fine, but Steve Fossett at more than 20x that time and still crashed and died, and the *first* thing everyone seemed to think was "he ran off because of x y and z". And it took almost a year to find the plane in the *desert*, not water, so loosing a small plane is trivial.
My belief, which I've held when I first heard about this 30+ years ago (old fart) is that he staged it and screwed it up, and died in the process.

The Roy Manifold pictures looks a lot like a bit of gunk that got blown onto the camera. Anyone who's taken pictures near the shore can affirm this.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:54 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


I only meant that a response like "this guy is a liar and has an agenda" isn't a fair assessment.

It's far more likely that he is a liar than that he was abducted by aliens. There might be other more likely explanations, also, such as insanity, delirium, drug use, etc..
posted by empath at 6:56 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Looks like one or more birds in the photograph.

Plane disappears over body of water. Where could it be?!!1
posted by fire&wings at 6:56 AM on April 4, 2011


It doesn't seem likely that a pilot would have to consult a television series in order to learn how to communicate with air traffic control in a convincing manner.

It's not the communicating with ATC in a convincing manner that makes me think he faked it, it's the "strange aircraft with lights on it hovering above me" that just seems like a tired cliche. I'm surprised he didn't describe some gray, humanoid-like creatures with large eyes as well.

I only meant that a response like "this guy is a liar and has an agenda" isn't a fair assessment.

You're right. This is not the only explanation. Perhaps he was distracted by whatever reflection / illusion he saw and he crashed. That's possible, though again his description of what he saw seemed very unoriginal.

Some day I hope aliens from another world visit Earth. When they do, I'm sure it will be on a scale so massive no one on Earth will be able to mistake it for anything else.
posted by bondcliff at 6:59 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


on a scale so massive no one on Earth will be able to mistake it for anything else

Yes, because according to history (and movies/tv shows), that works out so well for the indigenous populations. Re: American Colonies vs Native Americans.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:06 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyone remember what happened with that Mexican Air Force pilot who claimed to have seen a UFO a few years ago? I found that very interesting, and haven't heard anything more about it.

If you're referring to the sighting I think you are, it has been pretty convincingly debunked as being flares from offshore oil platforms.
posted by smoothvirus at 7:08 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


He's chilling somewhere with DB Cooper.
posted by bwg at 7:09 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I only meant that a response like "this guy is a liar and has an agenda" isn't a fair assessment.

We arive at this via the modified Drake Equation:

(S*F*W*P)/Si =δ

where Si is the number of star systems known to have inteligent life
S is the number of known star systems
F is peoples faith in general relativity
P is the population of the earth
W is the fracton of humanity are weasles
which gives us δ, the unmodified likelyhood that Frederick Valentich (or anyone else) is/was a weasle rather than was abducted by space aliens.

You can work out similar equations to describe the likelyhood that he was distracted by some mundane phenomenon and crashed, was shot down via some military SNAFU or any number of other hypothyses.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:10 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, because according to history (and movies/tv shows), that works out so well for the indigenous populations. Re: American Colonies vs Native Americans.

I didn't say it would work out well for us. In any event, I hope a technology that masters interstellar travel has already figured out a sustainable energy and food supply so they only need us for their interstellar zoos.
posted by bondcliff at 7:10 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The transcript is haunting, which is exactly why people believe in UFOs

The transcript says:
" 19:06:44 FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, What type of aircraft is it?

DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet, I cannot affirm,"

So whatever it was seemed to be flying, tangible, and not identified.

Thus the observer is reporting an Unidentified Flying Object - UFO.

None of us know if he was fibbing, having a stroke, effects of drugs, some new military thing, or something else.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:17 AM on April 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


I believe in UFOs. I have seen them. However, once friends who were nearby and actually wearing their glasses were able to identify them as birds, they were no longer unidentified to me.
posted by mikeh at 7:20 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


That transcript reads exactly like someone who decided to fake their own death and had seen Project UFO a couple of times.

So, this plane disappeared in October 1978. Project UFO, an American television series, ran for two seasons beginning in February 1978. Did American television series often run in Australia so close to their American series run, especially back in the 1970s?
posted by hippybear at 7:20 AM on April 4, 2011


My gut says staged too, but to be fair, pilots were reporting huge lightning bolts shooting into space for years and scientists didn't believe them either.
posted by puny human at 7:21 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ufologists ? That seems a bit high fallutin'

But drug smugglers from Tasmania in 1978?

I remember this, there was some talk anout Bass Strait Triangle when I was a youngster
posted by the noob at 7:21 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Part of the reason the Valentich case resonates even today is that it is one of very, very few cases in which someone has either disappeared or died during an encounter with a UFO. The only two other cases I know of both come from the US during the Golden Age of flying saucer sightings:

The Mantell Incident: A Kentucky Air National Guard pilot crashes while pursuing a UFO.

The Kinross Incident: An Air Force pilot vanishes while pursuing a UFO over Lake Superior.
posted by Rangeboy at 7:24 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some day I hope aliens from another world visit Earth.

They're already here. We call them cats.
posted by rtha at 7:30 AM on April 4, 2011 [20 favorites]


So, this plane disappeared in October 1978. Project UFO, an American television series, ran for two seasons beginning in February 1978. Did American television series often run in Australia so close to their American series run, especially back in the 1970s?

And that's how Encyclopedia Brown knew that Bugs Meanie was telling the truth about his alien abduction in Australian in 1978.
posted by bondcliff at 7:32 AM on April 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


someone has either disappeared or died during an encounter with a UFO.

Only he "encountered" it. It could have been an unidentified hallucination. Everyone else just heard him describing what he thought he saw, out there all by himself after dark. And then a small plane went down somewhere in a lot of water.
posted by pracowity at 7:41 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


his description of what he saw seemed very unoriginal.

To be fair, this happened over 30 years ago. Descriptions like his are what those shows are based on, so obviously his description is going to sound like those shows.
posted by DU at 7:41 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yes, I should probably make it clear that I don't personally believe in UFOs, aliens, Bigfoot, ghosts, Xenu or the living Elvis. But stuff like this fascinates me in the way that any mystery, real or fictional, does.

It fascinates me, too. However, I've always been a bit confused at why ETs are included so firmly alongside ghosts, bigfoot and un-dead Elvis as "crazy things crackpot gullible idiots" believe in. That Drake equation set pretty wide bounds of probability. There are some real smart, proven scientists out there involved in SETI. I'm not saying we should ascribe importance to every weird light in the sky seen by some stoned dudes, but it seems to me that ETs are things that do actually have the potential to exist.
posted by Jimbob at 7:43 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also that Roy Manifold photo is a bloody fly on a car windshield.
posted by Jimbob at 7:45 AM on April 4, 2011


It fascinates me, too. However, I've always been a bit confused at why ETs are included so firmly alongside ghosts, bigfoot and un-dead Elvis as "crazy things crackpot gullible idiots" believe in. That Drake equation set pretty wide bounds of probability. There are some real smart, proven scientists out there involved in SETI.

I'd be willing to bet that some of the strongest believers in extra-terrestrial life are also the biggest skeptics when it comes to claims of aliens dashing back and forth across the sky in Buick-sized spacecraft with lights all over them. I'm certainly one of them.

I also believe that we have not yet discovered every life form here on Earth. That does not mean I believe in the Loc Ness Monster or Bigfoot.
posted by bondcliff at 7:51 AM on April 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'd be willing to bet that some of the strongest believers in extra-terrestrial life are also the biggest skeptics when it comes to claims of aliens dashing back and forth across the sky in Buick-sized spacecraft with lights all over them. I'm certainly one of them.

Exactly. The Drake Equation has nothing to do with extraterrestrial encounters on Earth. Drake was taking a stab at caluculating the probability of extraterrestrial intelligence occuring somewhere, NOT the probability that they're just beyond our sight, carving up cows and cornfields and messing around with disoriented pilots.
posted by muddgirl at 7:54 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'd be willing to bet that some of the strongest believers in extra-terrestrial life are also the biggest skeptics when it comes to claims of aliens dashing back and forth across the sky in Buick-sized spacecraft with lights all over them. I'm certainly one of them.

I firmly believe that life is fairly common in the universe. I also think there's a reasonable chance of intelligent life somewhere in this galaxy.

That said, the problems of interstellar travel seem well nigh insurmountable to me, and I can't conceive of any intelligent population spending the resources it would take to launch such an endeavor, and further, the difference in difficulty between sending interstellar messages via radio waves compared to sending spaceships is so vast that I have to think that we would get a signal long before we'd get a visitor.
posted by empath at 7:59 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


> and I can't conceive of any intelligent population spending the resources it would take to launch such an endeavor,

I'm neither here nor there about ETs, and if there are any I'd just as soon they stay put somewhere else. But, this statement is a bit short sighted. If there are advanced ETs they could conceivably have transportation technology that we don't have any analogues for and perhaps wouldn't care to make a courtesy call via means we can decipher prior to a visit.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:06 AM on April 4, 2011


I am inclined to believe that either he faked it or he's dead. Or both.

I'm not familiar with Australian airspace, but there's generally no radar coverage over the ocean. King Island might be close enough to Melbourne to get coverage the whole route, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are gaps in coverage around there. Hell, I had a controller miss two aircraft flying in formation as they zipped by me while I was on short final at the local airport.

It is very easy to lose aircraft in the ocean, by which I mean if you ditch one in the water there's low probability of a rescue team finding it. Remember that Air France flight that crashed after leaving Brazil? They think they might have finally found the wreckage, two years after the crash.

Perception gets really messed up when you're flying, especially in bad weather. Distances are difficult to judge, lights standing out from the darkness are deceiving. The brain copes with them as best it knows how, because you're certainly not born knowing innately what the world looks like thousands of feet above it rushing along at hundreds of miles an hour.

Also, things like this happen (although I've never seen it on a small aircraft like a 182). Spooky!
posted by backseatpilot at 8:06 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


i think the photo of the sunset is a little suspect. i cant imagine taking the shot and not seeing an object of that size until the film was processed
posted by kitchenrat at 8:08 AM on April 4, 2011


That said, the problems of interstellar travel seem well nigh insurmountable to me

I don't understand why people think that beings which have mastered interstellar travel somehow haven't mastered stealth technology and will show up in amateur photographs.

"Kang! Oh noes our plans are foiled! They have cameras!"
posted by device55 at 8:10 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


If there are advanced ETs they could conceivably have transportation technology that we don't have any analogues for and perhaps wouldn't care to make a courtesy call via means we can decipher prior to a vis

Advanced ET's aren't magic, and they have to deal with the same laws of physics we do.
posted by empath at 8:15 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the unredacted transcript:

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, can you describe this aircraft more thoroughly?

DSJ: Uh (open microphone for four seconds) it's pulling up next to me, I can see the pilot--

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet.

DSJ: Uh, the pilot is signaling in Morse Code. (open microphone for eleven seconds)

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, over.

DSJ: He's, uh, he's saying that he's a starman waiting in the sky.

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, come again?

DSJ: He'd, uh, like to come and meet us but he thinks he'd blow our minds.

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, are you high? Over.

DSJ: Now he's signaling, beaming you u--(open microphone for five seconds)

FS: Delta Sierra Juliet, your circuit's dead, there's something wrong! Can you hear me, Delta Sierra Juliet? Can you hear me, Delta Sierra Juliet? Can you hear me, Delta Sierra Juliet? (fades)
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:15 AM on April 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


"Kang! Oh noes our plans are foiled! They have cameras eyes!"

In our hypothetical universe where Faster-Than-Light travel is possible, and sufficiently-advanced ETs care so much about Earth that they regularly show up to down a private pilot or two, and have stealth technology to prevent showing up on film... they attach big bright lights to their aircraft?
posted by muddgirl at 8:16 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Advanced ET's aren't magic, and they have to deal with the same laws of physics we do.

This is getting far afield, but I didn't say they weren't. But a sailor from the 1700s would say that a jet plane is magic.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:19 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


his description of what he saw seemed very unoriginal.

No self-respecting alien would fly a ship that was not individually handcrafted.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:20 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


> I don't understand why people think that beings which have mastered interstellar travel somehow haven't mastered stealth technology and will show up in amateur photographs.

Well, the point above is that "mastery" of interstellar travel might be theoretically impossible. But let's suppose that such advanced aliens were visiting us. Surely we'd either never see them, or they'd appear on the White House lawn? Why would we have such tantalizing, almost-there meetings?

As I've written here before, there are numerous other possibilities for UFOs that aren't "technological people from other solar systems visiting us". One possibility is something indigenous to this planet... "smart plasma," for example.

I'm skeptical, but please remember that e.g. ball lightning moved from being an obvious misrepresentation to being produced in a lab in my lifetime.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:21 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


@Halloween Jack -- whoa. That album is playing RIGHT NOW on my computer.

Whoops, wait, it's "Janine" from Space Oddity that's playing. But still: whoa.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:21 AM on April 4, 2011


It's got a green light and sort of metallic like, it's all shiny on the outside
I had no idea that Occam's razor had a green light. One learns something new every day.
posted by Namlit at 8:21 AM on April 4, 2011


> I had no idea that Occam's razor had a green light.

Occam's Razor doesn't, but Occam's Electric Beard Trimmer does.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:23 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Kang! Oh noes our plans are foiled! They have cameras!"

We have cameras.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:25 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


where Si is the number of star systems known to have inteligent life

Are you including our own? Just curious.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:31 AM on April 4, 2011


The older I get, the more certain I become that the universe is positively brimful of life. I mean, 1,235 planets and counting. And then saddened, because unless the laws of physics change, we will never, ever be able to visit them, nor they us.
posted by puny human at 8:33 AM on April 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


I can't imagine how horribly insecure you would have to be to proclaim to the world that the fellow faked the encounter and is a liar, because it suits a need to tell the whole world 'Hey, I'm smarter than you, and I'm better than all of those primitives that have stupid beliefs' By virtue of the fact that you need to ignore so many more diplomatic answers, you really show how poorly your grasp of science is in favour of insulting others in order to fill the void where talking to girls should be.

You know what, you discuss Occam's razor and say it is most likely he is lying and a fake. No matter what, you are making proclamations denigrating a dead man just to masturbate you own basement dwelling ego.

If you are going to be a skeptic, then be a good one; dismissing the 'most likely dead' with insults and accusations is a tool for basement dwellers.

What was far, far more likely- please look into this for your self so you stop presenting yourself as douchebags online- is that the pilot could have experienced any number of biological problems, like a stroke, for example, leading to hallucinations, and he believed what he saw. There are several situations of biological problems that could lead to this. Unless you have done extensive research to give a stronger motive for him faking his disappearance, the most logical answer isn't the cynical one. Cynicism isn't skepticism.
posted by Bushidoboy at 8:34 AM on April 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


That was Occam's waffle iron of likelihood...
posted by Namlit at 8:34 AM on April 4, 2011


I was actually answering puny human, but hey.
posted by Namlit at 8:36 AM on April 4, 2011


Is it time for Occam's Vibrator jokes yet? No? Sorry.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:36 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Advanced ET's aren't magic, and they have to deal with the same laws of physics we do.

Did Leonardo DaVinci have to deal with the same laws of physics we do?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:36 AM on April 4, 2011


One thing is sure, Leonardo had no razor.
posted by Namlit at 8:37 AM on April 4, 2011


Bushidoboy, are you having a stroke?
posted by bondcliff at 8:38 AM on April 4, 2011


Metafilter: just to masturbate you own basement dwelling ego.
posted by ob at 8:39 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you want to go missing, it's best not to draw attention to yourself by faking a UFO encounter just moments before.
posted by Jehan at 8:40 AM on April 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


Hmm. I was actually thinking myself that hallucinations may be a plausible explanation for this. People do have those, more often than encounters with space ships or flying waffle irons, that's sure.
But the total and complete disappearance of that guy is a little less clear to me.
posted by Namlit at 8:41 AM on April 4, 2011


I did mention delirium, drugs and insanity as possible explanations.
posted by empath at 8:44 AM on April 4, 2011


If you want to go missing, it's best not to draw attention to yourself by faking a UFO encounter just moments before.

I'm not quite sure who you're ribbing here, but either way this made me laugh.
posted by MustardTent at 8:44 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


But the total and complete disappearance of that guy is a little less clear to me.

Several people claim to have witnessed his plane going down. "Crashing into the ocean" is a pretty good explanantion for a disappearance.

It's easy to focus on the idea that he faked his own death, but disorientation (from whatever cause) is sufficient to explain both the reported "aircraft" and the crash.
posted by muddgirl at 8:45 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


"If my assay at work failed a bunch of times in a row, a perfectly good hypothysis to explain the phenomenon is that a full fledged ninja wearing black pajams and carrying a katana and everything was hired by a rival pharma company and is hiding in our drop ceiling right now, coming out when no one is arround to sabatoge my assay and delay the approval of our clinical samples."

Um, how much do you think a job like that might pay? Hypothetically speaking, of course.


Goes shopping for dogi. http://www.karatemart.com/ninjauniform.html
posted by Dodecadermaldenticles at 8:45 AM on April 4, 2011


Is it time for Occam's Vibrator jokes yet?
We are just learning that a basement dwelling ego of a horribly insecure nature is sufficient. No hardware required, clearly.
posted by Namlit at 8:45 AM on April 4, 2011


This is getting far afield, but I didn't say they weren't. But a sailor from the 1700s would say that a jet plane is magic.

Yes, but they had a lot of blank areas in the map of knowledge to fill in. We're just scribbling in the corners right now. There's still a lot we don't know, and I suppose that there might be some amazing new physics at the sub planck scale, as I said, the amount of power and resources you need to get to those energies seems like it would be impossible for any culture to sustain.
posted by empath at 8:48 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


If my assay at work failed a bunch of times in a row, a perfectly good hypothysis to explain the phenomenon is that a full fledged ninja wearing black pajams and carrying a katana and everything was hired by a rival pharma company and is hiding in our drop ceiling right now, coming out when no one is arround to sabatoge my assay and delay the approval of our clinical samples.

If I suggested this, I'm pretty sure I'd be dismissed pretty quickly (or at least asked to speak to a counselor or something).

That's for sure. No way a ninja would bother with a big samurai's weapon on that kind of mission.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:50 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


> and I suppose that there might be some amazing new physics at the sub planck scale

Well, I suppose that's better than making absolutist statements when it's not even your field.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:51 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


If there are advanced ETs they could conceivably have transportation technology that we don't have any analogues for and perhaps wouldn't care to make a courtesy call via means we can decipher prior to a visit.

Well, let's just think about this for a bit:

There's some number of planets with life. There is some smaller number of planets with intelligent life. There is some smaller number of planets who have discovered radio waves. There is some even smaller number of planets who have interstellar travel.

I suspect that before we get to a single planet with the capability of interstellar travel, that there would be many thousands of them who have discovered radio communication and we should see them all over the place. Find me even one, and I'd be a lot more open to the idea that there are planets even more advanced out there.
posted by empath at 8:52 AM on April 4, 2011



Melbourne Police received reports of a light aircraft making a mysterious landing not far from Cape Otway at the same time as Valentich's disappearance.

or

Several people claim to have witnessed his plane going down.


These are wo incompatible pieces of information.
posted by chambers at 8:53 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, I suppose that's better than making absolutist statements when it's not even your field.

What's your expertise in interstellar travel and advanced physics. Not knowing anything about it isn't a valid reason to say "anything could happen."
posted by empath at 8:53 AM on April 4, 2011


Sorry, the "t" out of two disappeared somehow from my last post. I can't seem to find it anywhere. I'll chalk it up to a ULD or 'unknown letter disappearance'.
posted by chambers at 8:57 AM on April 4, 2011


These are wo incompatible pieces of information.

My god... two planes? How could that be possible?
posted by muddgirl at 8:58 AM on April 4, 2011


These are [t]wo incompatible pieces of information.

Indeed they are not.
posted by Sutekh at 8:58 AM on April 4, 2011


In any event, I hope a technology that masters interstellar travel has already figured out a sustainable energy and food supply so they only need us for their interstellar zoos.

Some schools of thought say that we already are, and just don't know it.

In any case, I've always favored the Body Snatchers or War Against the Chtorr scenario - that is, low-energy, low-cost, low-risk biological invasion. If all you're after is spreading your interstellar seed (galactic bukkake!), then this is the way to go. Otherwise, attacking a inhabited planet for resources when there are so many others to choose from makes very little sense, energy- and resource-wise. But doing so is a very human way of solving a problem, so that's how we get rampaging aliens.

(Humans as food is a non-starter: the differences in historical chemistry between the two xenotypes would make them incompatible/poisonous).
posted by Old'n'Busted at 9:03 AM on April 4, 2011


I've always been a bit confused at why ETs are included so firmly alongside ghosts, bigfoot and un-dead Elvis as "crazy things crackpot gullible idiots" believe in. That Drake equation set pretty wide bounds of probability ... I'm not saying we should ascribe importance to every weird light in the sky seen by some stoned dudes, but it seems to me that ETs are things that do actually have the potential to exist.

I think most people agree that we're not the only life in the universe; it's probably pretty common in the grand scope. It's just that the notion of all these ETs visiting seem like a product of the human tendency to over-emphasize our own importance. If there's other life out there, why are they so intent on showing up regularly and studying humans and the earth? It's Nietzsche's "Man created God in his own image" point.

However, we can only take that analogy so far. The part about the aliens showing up stealthily just to fuck with us is not very human-like at all. Can you imagine what it would be like if homo sapiens makes it to another inhabited planet? We're certainly not going to slip in unnoticed and just shove things up the butts of extraterrestrial rednecks. Imagine if the first crew to visit another occupied planet is American:

Astronaut One: WOOHOO! We made it! We are HERE, motherfuckers! How's everyone? Nice to meet you. All right. You guys hug? No, okay, shake my hand real quick and then I gotta get this spacesuit unzipped-- my nuts ITCH! You know how it is, right? Y'all got balls? No? Huh. Well, right now you ain't missin' much.

Astronaut Two: So, we're here to tell you all about democracy. That probe we sent here 20 years ago reported that you govern by "pseudopod amalgamation" or some backwards shit, and we're here to instruct you on how to have the proper government that everyone wants. Here's how it works-- we give you some ballots and pots of purple ink, and you give us all the oil that our astro-geologists told us that you have. Fair, right? Say, do you have corporations because this democracy is going to work a lot better if we involve them. Anyway, I'll get the ballots of some of you dudes start putting the oil in our ship, please. As much as you can fit. We'll come back for the rest.

Astronaut One: [to Astronaut Two] They look kinda pissed. We're definitely liberators, right?
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:05 AM on April 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


> Not knowing anything about it isn't a valid reason to say "anything could happen."

I know nothing, and didn't say anything could happen. But you were arguing from phrases like "I can't conceive" and "seem insurmountable". The future being unpredictable, those kinds of statements are shortsighted.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:07 AM on April 4, 2011


"I suspect that before we get to a single planet with the capability of interstellar travel, that there would be many thousands of them who have discovered radio communication and we should see them all over the place. Find me even one, and I'd be a lot more open to the idea that there are planets even more advanced out there."

To gain some perspective, just look at the Tiny Humanity Bubble in comparison to the Milky Way.
posted by puny human at 9:11 AM on April 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


Neither one of those is an absolutist statement, and both express limits to my own imagination and knowledge. That said, given what I do know about physics (which isn't nothing), it seems exceedingly unlikely bordering on impossible that there are ET's visiting earth, for a variety of reasons, mostly the ratio of the difficulty of the project to the possible utility for an extra-terrestial civilization. We've already more or less abandoned manned space travel, and I don't see us picking it back up at any point in the future. No one is going to invest the wealth of the planet into sending some few people into outer space, probably not even if the planet was dying. Especially not if the planet was dying, honestly.
posted by empath at 9:13 AM on April 4, 2011


If you believe in UFOs, can you explain why all these supposed aliens have been doing fly-bys for decades now? What kind of recon takes that long?
posted by desjardins at 9:13 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you believe in UFOs, can you explain why all these supposed aliens have been doing fly-bys for decades now?

Decades? Most UFO believers think it's been going on for millenia.
posted by empath at 9:14 AM on April 4, 2011


This is why I don't fly in small planes. Shit like this always happens. I know several pilots who survived adverse events in small planes, due to pilot skill. I'd fly with them any day of the week, and would happily choose that level of safety over driving to work every day, except that flying's not a reasonable way to get to work, etc.

It's always odd to me that the many random sightings of "stuff" convince people that there are extraterrestrial beings visiting this planet on a regular basis. I figure there's other life out there, just based on my understanding of evolution, and the sheer number of potentially life-hosting planets. I hope that when/if they visit, they're reasonable and peaceful.

That one picture doesn't look like much to me. The poorly documented report of someone who sadly was lost is not very convincing.

Why ETs are included so firmly alongside ghosts, bigfoot and un-dead Elvis as "crazy things crackpot gullible idiots" believe in? Because every UFO enthusiast I've met displays the same intensity of belief, unwillingness to consider alternatives and belief in conspiracies. I have yet to be convinced by a UFO sighting, including this one, but I hope I live to see us meet whoever might be out there.
posted by theora55 at 9:14 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Especially not if the planet was dying, honestly.

This is another odd statement. The planet isn't dying. The biosphere may be undergoing a massive change, but that's not dying.

Anway, I don't believe in ETs anyway so I have no idea why I'm arguing about it on the internet. Terrible, terrible waste of time.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:15 AM on April 4, 2011


If you believe in UFOs, can you explain why all these supposed aliens have been doing fly-bys for decades now? What kind of recon takes that long?

Allow me to explain. They've harnessed the power of light so they're able to travel at speeds we can only imagine. All without the discovery of the excel spreadsheet. Amazing when you think about it.
posted by ob at 9:16 AM on April 4, 2011


And then saddened, because unless the laws of physics change, we will never, ever be able to visit them, nor they us.

I don't know if we need to change the laws of physics. Maybe we just need to change our puny human lifespans. Interstellar travel becomes far less of a problem if you don't die in 80-ish years.

Imagine beings who through technological means have managed to dramatically slow or even stop aging. Barring a freak accident or incurable disease they are functionally immortal.

This isn't that crazy. Here on earth Science-y types have found genes in lab rats which can be altered to prevent many of the symptoms of aging. It's not hard to imagine a combination of genetic engineering or some nano-tech that allows a being to live for millennia.

Now, if you and your fellow beings all live for millennia, then relativistic travel is not that big of a deal. If space-traveler Blork flies off to investigate radio signals from zz plural z alpha at near the speed of light and 90 puny earth years pass for his wife and kids at home, so what? They are all functionally immortal. They'll just have a few extra stories to tell when Blork returns.

If you had a life span of thousands and thousands of years, imagine what that might do to your perception of time. You may encounter some organized, artificial radio waves out in space. You zip over in your solar sail ship at near the speed of light and observe. Since you've lived for so long the passage of a thousand years may seem like a few moments.

Imagine watching a planet crackle to noisy life with radio waves and electric lights, buzzing satellites and then finally watching space craft zip away. Or watching that planet crackle to life and burn it self out just as quickly.
posted by device55 at 9:22 AM on April 4, 2011 [14 favorites]


Yes, but they had a lot of blank areas in the map of knowledge to fill in. We're just scribbling in the corners right now.

Unless you are god, (in which case, hail!), this assertion is unwarranted.
posted by generalist at 9:27 AM on April 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


And really, what is a "map of knowledge"? That is really borderline solipsism.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:29 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Depending on conditions, pilots can get disorientated pretty easily. JFK Jr comes to mind as a likely candidate for this. The pilot can begin to think his instruments are going crazy, or the engine is choking for no reason, and not realize they're in a spiral. This was my first thought as I read the story and the pdf seems like the most likely expanation (pilot becomes disoriented). Perhaps he was in a spiral without realizing it, and so it appeared a stationary light (on the ground?) was hovering/following him, instead of the idea that he was circling it.
posted by Crash at 9:32 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


And really, what is a "map of knowledge"?

A metaphor. Stop being so literal.
posted by empath at 9:39 AM on April 4, 2011


As a project in 7th grade, I took some UFO pictures. I tossed a frisbee in the air and took grainy pictures using a cheap disc camera. They look like every other UFO picture that has been put out there. It took me about two minutes (although I did have to have the pictures developed. Hey, it was the 80s).

The idea that a culture from another solar system could put forth the unimaginable expenditure of resources to come to Earth, and then only abduct screwballs and not make contact with governments, is beyond laughable.
posted by norm at 9:51 AM on April 4, 2011


Oops, missed your last comment, empath. I agree that it is exceedingly unlikely that there are ET's visiting earth; I just strongly object to statements implying that our understanding of the world is near total. (Ironically, statements of that sort require imagining an extra-terrestrial, or at least non-human, source of knowledge).
posted by generalist at 9:59 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just strongly object to statements implying that our understanding of the world is near total
posted by generalist

Eponi-something.
posted by hippybear at 10:06 AM on April 4, 2011


I took some UFO pictures. I tossed a frisbee in the air and took grainy pictures using a cheap disc camera.

Same here. And that photo looks pretty much like somebody flying a kite, just as people in a similar kind of place near Sydney these days fly remote control planes or go hang-gliding.

The cliffs offer great updraft for such activities, at the same time as they're good for photographs.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:06 AM on April 4, 2011


The spots in those photographs could be anything. Laughable, really.
posted by basicchannel at 10:16 AM on April 4, 2011


> Did Leonardo DaVinci have to deal with the same laws of physics we do?

Yes, he did. Almost certainly: to the best of "science's" knowledge, the laws of physics are invariant over time, and if they do change, they change only a very small amount and very slowly. He might not have known these laws but he had to deal with them anyway...


> As a project in 7th grade, I took some UFO pictures.

And this proves what about this case, where the protagonist's plane went missing...? It's certainly not a hoax in the sense of "nothing actually happened" - a plane and its pilot went missing.


> The idea that a culture from another solar system could put forth the unimaginable expenditure of resources to come to Earth, and then only abduct screwballs and not make contact with governments, is beyond laughable.

"screwballs/beyond laughable" is mockery rather than some form of rebuttal or argument, and certainly doesn't help a rational discussion.

For record, I also think it improbable (though not "beyond laughable") that the Earth has been visited by technological aliens from beyond the Solar System, but there are numerous other possibilities as I have written here before.

As for this story, well, it's hard to tell given just a transcript and a lot of vaguely relevant coincidences, but some reasoning is possible.

As I wrote in my article before, it seems as if the most common cause of UFO reports is honest individuals accurately reporting rare phenomena, either atmospheric or human (personal or governmental), and the second most common cause is deliberate misreporting ("lies").

So you'd tend to think that the most likely explanation would be that the individual in question was experiencing some sort of unusual phenomenon that he was correctly reporting. What that might be is unclear. Consider a structural fault in the plane itself - this might manifest as sounds above the canopy (as the canopy gets shifted under stress), resulting in many of details in the transcript.

Don't also underestimate hypoxia as a factor in some of the reports - the "buzz in your ears" you get during oxygen starvation might easily be misinterpreted or misreported as "a scraping sound".

Or some sort of electromagnetic phenomenon might have caused these effects, finally destroying the plane. It's well-known that there can be huge voltage differences between spots in "empty" air, even if there aren't obvious signs of "lightning".

Or the pilot could have just gone nuts and reported random shit. But that seems pretty unlikely. Generally, the idea that pilots panic during emergencies is not grounded in fact. Certainly, JFK Jr. did, but pilots are generally trained out of this beyond a certain pretty basic level and the entire culture celebrates the coolness under fire "Chuck Yeager" mentality. I'd really have to stick with the "unfamiliar phenomenon reported reasonably accurately" theory.

And my overall analysis would indicate that the second most likely reason is fraud - which would have to be something benefiting the pilot (perhaps someone might have wanted him dead, but how to do it AND come up with these weird transcripts?) But it's been so long and he never turned up, the statute of limitations would be long over for this and he'd want to make the money writing the book... hard to believe by now unless he did it and died some other way.

Such a story is interesting, and amenable to analysis, but why do we always have to go off on this "UFO means aliens driving spaceships, so this is stupid" tangent? No one brought up "aliens," did they?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:31 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't also underestimate hypoxia as a factor in some of the reports - the "buzz in your ears" you get during oxygen starvation might easily be misinterpreted or misreported as "a scraping sound".

While not disputing your skepticism, I should point out that the description of the "scraping sound" never came from the missing pilot, but instead was the description of the sound received via the open mike over the radio.

It'd be a great trick if others could somehow hear hypoxic aural hallucinations over the radio.
posted by hippybear at 10:38 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oops, missed your last comment, empath. I agree that it is exceedingly unlikely that there are ET's visiting earth; I just strongly object to statements implying that our understanding of the world is near total.

I don't think our understanding of the universe is near total. There's probably an infinite amount of things to know, but in terms of physics, at least, the stuff that we don't know is getting exponentially more difficult to study because of the energy requirements needed to look at smaller and smaller scales.
posted by empath at 10:45 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Such a story is interesting, and amenable to analysis, but why do we always have to go off on this "UFO means aliens driving spaceships, so this is stupid" tangent? No one brought up "aliens," did they?

The word "abducted" in the main post links to a story, presented as fact, about this man getting abducted by UFO people.
posted by bondcliff at 10:47 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


This sort of story always reminds me of the time in college when a bunch of us went to visit the Paulding light. We were curious what people were seeing, and we all expected something easily explainable. The place is in the middle of nowhere, a mile or so down a dirt road off a long stretch of deserted highway in Michigan's UP. The spot where you wait for the light is mostly wooded with a clearing and some nearby some power lines.

We got there around 11pm and waited around for a while, maybe an hour and a half. Nothing. We were just about to leave when this very bright light appeared. It appeared to be perhaps 50-75 ft away, and sort of swooped in. It seemed to move around quickly - up, down and side to side, over an area I would guess to be about the size of a baseball diamond infield. After maybe 15 seconds, it was gone.

We were stunned. Even though we knew there had to be some explanation, we couldn't think of anything that made sense. The easiest answer of course was car headlights, but there really was no way to explain the quick swooping lateral motions that the light made. It was definitely not a car, not a flashlight, not a plane, nothing that I could think of. On top of that, a bunch of us saw the same thing, so it wasn't just one person's hallucination.

A few years later my wife and I were visiting some friends in the area and decided to go back. This time, we went earlier, a little after dusk, and it was much lighter. When the light showed up again, it wasn't as bright, perhaps because our eyes weren't as dilated. It became clear that if you stared at the light itself, it seemed to move all over the place, but if you focused on something fixed, the light wasn't actually moving. The movement was an optical illusion caused by the lack of any frame of reference. (Also, according to the wikipedia an inversion layer may cause headlights to appear brighter and closer than normal). What had seemed so unexplainable and mysterious suddenly had a normal, boring, mundane explanation. It was especially embarrassing since I had taken my wife on a several hour-long drive just to go look at headlights.

So Occam proved right once again. Even though my curiosity was satisfied, I was a little disappointed to have one less mystery in my life. Its easy to look back on our first visit and wonder why we ever were so confused. The answer seems obvious in retrospect. But sometimes, your eyes lie to you.
posted by jpdoane at 11:28 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


For me, it's the very last detail of the story that's the tell.

19:12:28 DSJ: Delta Sierra Juliet. Melbourne (open microphone for seventeen seconds).

An open mic for 17 seconds while there's an unidentifiable metallic scraping sound? Too convenient, too neat.
posted by yeti at 11:38 AM on April 4, 2011


The idea that a culture from another solar system could put forth the unimaginable expenditure of resources to come to Earth, and then only abduct screwballs and not make contact with governments, is beyond laughable.

I have no opinion either way about UFOs, but this is not a very convincing argument to me. After all, allowing for the admittedly speculative nature of what follows:

a) why assume any visitation would require an "unimaginable expenditure of energy" on the part of those making it? Perhaps it's actually trivially easy for those making it?
b) why assume the concept of a government would have any meaning to said visitors, or why assume there has been no "contact with governments"? Perhaps there has?
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 11:45 AM on April 4, 2011


Would the mikes on a plane of that sort being used back then be VOX activated, or would they be PTT?
posted by hippybear at 11:46 AM on April 4, 2011


Good point, hippybear, so the sound is independently verifiable.

Again, it's hard to know what the cause is, but I'd still go with a "rare event, more or less correctly reported" theory, whether ball lightning, metal fatigue, some other sort of electro-magnetic phenomenon or even a dope smuggler with some fancy homing missile.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:47 AM on April 4, 2011


Either way; the guy must have been scared at the end.
posted by Senator at 11:53 AM on April 4, 2011


Is there any additional information available about Valentich's medical history? I don't know what kind of physical/mental requirements you had to pass to fly a plane in 1978 Australia, but was there any history of hallucinations or hallucination-causing problems in his background?

Did he have any history of drug use? Were his friends (the ones he was going to pick up) interviewed? Was he experiencing any financial problems or crushing debts, relationship issues? These are by no means conclusive evidence but it may help shed some light on motives or physiological issues that could have caused the crash.
posted by amicamentis at 11:55 AM on April 4, 2011


re: aliens: it's the sneaking around part, really, that's sort of offensive to logic.

Here's the rough reasoning.

There are two possibilities. Either 1) we are being visited by technological beings from other planets, or 2) all such observations are "wrong" - either honestly reported but rare events from some other realm (meteorology, military technology), or some form of hoax or fraud, but definitely not

Let's hypothesize case 2. In this case, we'd get a world very much like our world now! Because rare phenomena do occur sometimes, and people observe them, and because people are sometimes poor observers of regular phenomena, we'd get a smattering still of "UFO" reports, but nothing you could ever pin down or refute.

Now look at case 1. This is pretty hypothetical here, but in most cases you can think of when aliens visited the Earth, it'd be pretty damned obvious, in about the same way it would be if humans visited another planet.

In other words, given varying theories about "what aliens are like" you get a huge range of possible results if they visited - but only a tiny proportion of these would involve those aliens playing a complex game of hide-and-seek with the humans.

So, if you're skeptical, it's strange that IF we are in case 1, the phenomena that are in fact observed are the same as in case 2...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:00 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Metafilter: just to masturbate you own basement dwelling ego.

You "beat" me to it.
posted by mmrtnt at 12:25 PM on April 4, 2011


Actually, having a stroke, as some have mentioned above, is a pretty good explanation. 20 is pretty young to have one, but it's possible.
posted by moonbiter at 12:32 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just out of interest, do any of the assembled folk have any explanations for this little bit of news from last year? Air force officers are not known to be overly 'kooky', are they, even if retired?
posted by Duug at 12:38 PM on April 4, 2011


"screwballs/beyond laughable" is mockery rather than some form of rebuttal or argument, and certainly doesn't help a rational discussion.

Actually, my statement was both argument AND mockery. No need for mutual exclusivity here. And you can test this. Substitute "average people" and "highly improbable" for the offensive word choice, and it's an argument, right? My point is that whatever happened to the dude here, it wasn't a mid-air alien abduction.
posted by norm at 12:39 PM on April 4, 2011


> If you believe in UFOs, can you explain why all these supposed aliens have been doing fly-bys for decades now? What kind of recon takes that long?

Allow me to explain. They've harnessed the power of light so they're able to travel at speeds we can only imagine. All without the discovery of the excel spreadsheet. Amazing when you think about it.


I thought you were going to say:

"They've harnessed the power of light so they're able to travel at speeds we can only imagine. The problem is, they still haven't developed brakes that work as well, so they keep streaking past us, stomping on the pedal, frantically signalling for help."
posted by mmrtnt at 12:39 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


John Klein: I think we can assume that these entities are more advanced than us. Why don't they just come right out and tell us what's on their minds?
Alexander Leek: You're more advanced than a cockroach, have you ever tried explaining yourself to one of them?

posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:53 PM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


We're just scribbling in the corners right now. There's still a lot we don't know, and I suppose that there might be some amazing new physics at the sub planck scale, as I said, the amount of power and resources you need to get to those energies seems like it would be impossible for any culture to sustain.

That's an interesting comment from someone who has claims on expertise in physics.

I thought we were just on the start of our journey into knowledge - and here you are stating that it's a done deal and we're now just "scribbling in the corners".

Hear of the Kardashev scale? The method for measuring an advanced civilization's level of technological power?

Type I — a civilization that is able to harness all of the power available on a single planet.
Type II — a civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single star.
Type III — a civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single galaxy.

Think on that for a bit. If you could harness the power of a galaxy then I suggest that - certainly from our point of view - your options are limitless.

Assuming the Drake equation is correct, we're not the only players in the game - and certainly not the oldest.
posted by panboi at 12:59 PM on April 4, 2011


I've probably killed millions of cockroaches in my life, and there are billions and billions more.

There are only 6 billion humans - how many of their deaths are due to the fact that sufficiently advanced aliens don't give a shit about us and would have less about killing us than I would a cockroach?

I count 1, so far.

a civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single galaxy... Think on that for a bit. If you could harness the power of a galaxy then I suggest that - certainly from our point of view - your options are limitless.

How much power is available in a galaxy? Let's start there for now and work towards the fact that the amount of energy to reach and maintain even something as slow as light speed is, according to our understanding, infinite.
posted by muddgirl at 1:04 PM on April 4, 2011


How much power is available in a galaxy? Let's start there for now and work towards the fact that the amount of energy to reach and maintain even something as slow as light speed is, according to our understanding, infinite.

You're debating on a human scale. If you were a sufficiently advanced species that had (for argument's sake) extended life spans - and had also plugged into the power of an entire galaxy - I'd argue that zipping around said galaxy would be commuting for them.

My point is that we probably cannot even conceive of the motivations and abilities of any civilisation that is thousands (or even millions) of years more advanced than our own.

Regarding the Valentich incident, I would conclude that something bizarre did indeed happen - without having to include alien visitors. The claims for a staged disappearance on this thread, however, really do stagger belief.
posted by panboi at 1:17 PM on April 4, 2011


Just out of interest, do any of the assembled folk have any explanations for this little bit of news from last year? Air force officers are not known to be overly 'kooky', are they, even if retired?

Argument from authority.
posted by empath at 1:29 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


had also plugged into the power of an entire galaxy

What does this even mean?
posted by empath at 1:29 PM on April 4, 2011


Just out of interest, do any of the assembled folk have any explanations for this little bit of news from last year? Air force officers are not known to be overly 'kooky', are they, even if retired?

Do I have an explanation for what they claim to have seen? No. But I do have some questions.

The press conference was held by seven retired colonels who claimed that they experienced incidents in which their missiles became unresponsive, and these incidents were accompanied by sightings of unidentified flying objects.

It then goes on to mention that not all of these were eyewitness accounts; some of the people involved simply heard from colleagues that there were UFO sightings in the area. It doesn't specify how many saw them and how many did not. It doesn't get into how long the missiles were offline.

Anyway, in the case of Charles Halt, there are any number of possible explanations. Now, none of these are definitive but let's also bear in mind that the account of what supposedly happened has changed over time and contains a lot of glaring and unexplained contradictions. Does this mean they're full of it? No, not necessarily.

What it does mean is this: There's no actual evidence here besides taking some people's word for it - some of whom admit their information is secondhand, and some of whom have contradicted themselves regarding their experiences. This was all organized by Robert Hastings, who's got a book out about UFOs and nukes.

See, the thing is, I'd love to believe that there are other intelligent beings out there, that they've figured out interstellar travel and that they're feeling us out in whatever way. But that would be a belief that would significantly alter my understanding of reality, so I believe it's necessary to examine as critically as possible any claims of such a thing. And these claims are presented with an air of certainty but when held up to scrutiny it doesn't really seem that they compel further investigation.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:34 PM on April 4, 2011


I just don't get why when people hear "UFO" they default to ALIENS FROM SPACE WOOO

Given what we know about interstellar distances and physics, isn't any UFO that is truly unidentified much more likely to originate from an unexplored area of earth? Perhaps we share the planet with a genus of flying metallic cigar-shaped objects.
posted by tehloki at 1:48 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


My views, based on what evidence has been presented and statistical likelihoods, can be summed up thusly:

Things I Don't Believe in:

Ghosts
Bigfoot
Chupacabra
Angels

Things I Do Believe in:

Extraterrestrial life

Things I Seriously Doubt and Will Continue To Do So Until Presented With Irrefutable Proof To The Contrary:

A great Uwe Boll film
Aliens visiting earth.
posted by quin at 1:56 PM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Visitors from another galaxy are more likely than visitors from the future, but only just.
posted by Jehan at 2:14 PM on April 4, 2011


"crazy things crackpot gullible idiots" believe in.

If ya slap a label on something then you can address it the same way as everything else with that label.

I wonder what the German word is when something was stated as true/possible by one party and the other party says 'no, you be crazy' and it turns out the 'no, you be crazy' party is wrong and the 1st party rubs their nose in their wrongness.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:16 PM on April 4, 2011


Visitors from another galaxy are more likely than visitors from the future, but only just.

I'm in the future and just visited your post. It wasn't that hard.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:17 PM on April 4, 2011


Sorry about the derail. I've no idea what happened to Frederick Valentich, except that it must have been a terrible tragedy for him and his loved ones. Especially the poor father, always waiting for his son to return...

"How much power is available in a galaxy? Let's start there for now and work towards the fact that the amount of energy to reach and maintain even something as slow as light speed is, according to our understanding, infinite."

You only need infinite energy if you're traveling at the speed of light, but interstellar travel can be accomplished at mere fractions of that velocity. The key is to maintain constant acceleration, and then hopefully constant deceleration for the second half of your trip.

It's been a long time since I did this kind of math, but anyone who's interested can find a pretty good description of the engineering problems and equations involved in The Starflight Handbook or Prospects for Interstellar Travel. The books are old, but space hasn't gotten any smaller since they were written, so the information should still be accurate.

My extremely fuzzy undergraduate memory is that a spaceship traveling at one gee acceleration could reach Alpha Centauri in something like fifty years. But special relativity is our friend here, so thanks to time dilation it would only seem like five years or so to the crew. Maybe double all that if you have to decelerate. Fuel is a lot trickier, but if you've got something super efficient like a fusion powered plasma jet or antimatter reaction you can do it if ninety percent or more of the vehicle is fuel. Traveling further than the nearest stars might be impossible thanks to fuel requirements. But even that is obviated if you stop at the destination and refuel/build another ship, then set off again, hopping from star to star.

If you have something like a Bussard ramjet and fuel is not a problem, then all of space is your backyard, since the longer you accelerate you faster you can go, up to c. Then you can visit the galactic core in twenty-five or thirty years (As measured by the crew inside the ship. Countless thousands of years for everyone outside of it.), or even go see what's its like in the Andromeda galaxy within the lifetime of the crew.

But all of that assumes that you're not fried by radiation or exploded by colliding with an errant dust grain. Shielding would be the biggest problem to solve, imo.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:17 PM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Perhaps this was a hoax-- I don't know. (The pilot's audios didn't seem particularly convincing to me, and as mentioned above, that 17-second open mike seems convenient.)

And I don't have a set opinion about UFOs.

I do attempt to have an open mind about the subject, though, because, well, when it comes to the limits of human knowledge...

As a rule of thumb, I suspect that problems or challenges labeled intractable tend to be those that exceed our present resources; those labeled insoluble or infinite tend to be those that exceed our present understanding.

The claim that "We know everything but the details", in hindsight, seems often the unwitting precursor to the discovery of some entirely new avenue of approach, realm of experience, or quality of insight.

Very often, then, the things we cannot solve or do or imagine, are not the things we lack the brute force to accomplish; instead, they are simply things whose underlying principle we don't yet grasp.

All our skill at carving ivory knives or curving yew longbows tells us nothing about what our descendants might do, in a few hundred years, with some ridiculous and frankly unimaginable thing they might give the name U-238.

As for governments and Benevolent Space Brothers Who Want to Present Themselves But Don't Know How to Work a Telephone and Call the Local News Station, well...

Let us say that you are the warden of a soundproof prison.

Through repetition and conditioning, your prisoners have become more or less numbed; they receive little, yes, but they expect less. At this point, the prisoners have no desire for revolt, only to live and die more or less peaceably. As for you, well, perhaps you can imagine greater... but such rewards as this prison offers already accrue naturally to you.

Now imagine that a wondrous circus, a glamorous carnival, one full of light of noise and color, arrives next door.

You may be a bit bored... but you know that should the prisoners ever discover the circus, they will riot. They will burst through the gates. Even if your guards quell them, your authority-- indeed, the whole idea of your prison-- will become a joke.

There will be chaos, your advisors tell you. Also, you might get impaled. Besides, many prisoners will get hurt in the rioting. And the pandemonium would probably be so great that the carnies wouldn't even be able to keep the prisoners in line; the carnies, too, probably want all the prisoners standing in their usual neat little lines.

On the other hand, if you hint that Something is Next Door, the prisoners become sufficiently afraid that they give you even more power and obeisance.

And to top it off, you have no idea what the carnies really want.

Perhaps different carnies come and tell you different things at different times.

Sneaky, those carnies. If they were totally altruistic, they would have just burst on the scene and approached the prisoners directly.

Yet they seem willing to deal with you...

But not the prisoners directly.

And so there is a stand-off, a kind of prisoners' dilemma for non-prisoners:

If either of you tells the prisoners, neither of you, seemingly, gets what you want.

Do you do something bold, and perhaps irrevocable... or do you bide your time?

Personally, I know the efficacy of some things that most people would not believe, or would wish ardently were not true-- so it's not unreasonable to me that some Seemingly Highly Unlikely things might have a glimmer of truth to them as well.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:19 PM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


238
235
posted by darth_tedious at 2:26 PM on April 4, 2011


Someone's been watching too many episodes of X-files.
posted by desjardins at 2:28 PM on April 4, 2011


>Someone's been watching too many episodes of X-files.

When it comes to the X-Files, "too many" is an easy threshold to cross.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:32 PM on April 4, 2011


So you posit the entire government, which has constantly fought within itself to expose the smallest foible of the opposition, yet has managed perfect solidarity over this one issue, over the course of dozens of administrations with widely divergent goals. Multiplied by every world government that might have ever had such knowledge, some of which have undergone violent revolutions, all without ever letting this one secret spill.

Suddenly little green men don't seem so improbable.
posted by nomisxid at 2:36 PM on April 4, 2011


all without ever letting this one secret spill.

Hold up.

How do you come up with this claim?

Because in the discussion about the issue ex-government people have claimed to have had experience with UFOs.

You might want to be careful with the strawman of 'spilling secrets' as the ray guys the aliens have might make that strawman catch fire.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:57 PM on April 4, 2011


Now imagine that a wondrous circus, a glamorous carnival, one full of light of noise and color, arrives next door.

Oh man. Once or twice, my boyfriend's generally apathetic cat has, out of nowhere, gotten curious about what lies beyond our front door. The first time it happened we were amazed to see her poking her nose past the threshold, and thought it would be a fun opportunity for her to have an adventure in the wide world. Go, kitty, go!

Fast forward to three minutes later, as my boyfriend chased after the cat, which was perched on the top floor, yowling inconsolably. You see, we lived in an apartment building, so the "wide world" the cat ran into was something out of a nightmare: floor after identical floor, all sort of like the one you came from, but none quite right, and none leading you back home.

These days, she's much more content to sit in the window and harass the neighborhood's flying objects, identifiable or not.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:00 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


>So you posit the entire government

Not at all.

Back in the world of the easily-countenanced, the empirical, and the dutifully documented, if you really think Government is monolithic, that there isn't compartmentalization and byzantine layering (not to mention the compounding effects of privatization)... well, at the simplest, most obvious level, Google "CIA" and "DEA" and "conflict" and "hey wait what just happened".
posted by darth_tedious at 3:01 PM on April 4, 2011


My extremely fuzzy undergraduate memory is that a spaceship traveling at one gee acceleration could reach Alpha Centauri in something like fifty years. But special relativity is our friend here, so thanks to time dilation it would only seem like five years or so to the crew. Maybe double all that if you have to decelerate. Fuel is a lot trickier, but if you've got something super efficient like a fusion powered plasma jet or antimatter reaction you can do it if ninety percent or more of the vehicle is fuel. Traveling further than the nearest stars might be impossible thanks to fuel requirements. But even that is obviated if you stop at the destination and refuel/build another ship, then set off again, hopping from star to star.

If you have something like a Bussard ramjet and fuel is not a problem, then all of space is your backyard, since the longer you accelerate you faster you can go, up to c. Then you can visit the galactic core in twenty-five or thirty years (As measured by the crew inside the ship. Countless thousands of years for everyone outside of it.), or even go see what's its like in the Andromeda galaxy within the lifetime of the crew.


How much would this cost and how would one justify the cost?
posted by empath at 3:01 PM on April 4, 2011


how would one justify the cost?

*put on the Klaus Wolfenbach outfit*

For Science!

*takes off outfit*

Hey, science is a better answer than "for conquest" - look at how well the conquest thing been working out for humans VS humans.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:07 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


My extremely fuzzy undergraduate memory is that a spaceship traveling at one gee acceleration could reach Alpha Centauri in something like fifty years.

Very fuzzy. I get 264,073,039 years (for a 50 year travel time you'd need about 100,000 Gs), but that really doesn't matter. I don't see what the point is debating whether long-distance space travel is possible. That's not what UFOlogists claim. According to many UFOlogists, extraterrestrial contact has been occuring on more than a daily basis, every year since like 3000 BC.
posted by muddgirl at 3:19 PM on April 4, 2011


Man, I probably made a decimal place error somewhere - this site claims it would take 165,000 years, assuming constant speed.
posted by muddgirl at 3:21 PM on April 4, 2011


That's not what UFOlogists claim. According to many UFOlogists, extraterrestrial contact has been occuring on more than a daily basis, every year since like 3000 BC.

Exactly this; I don't doubt that interstellar travel is possible, hell the most common compliant is that it would "take too long" but this assumes that any aliens live on a time-scale similar to ours; an alien race that lived in 500,000 year life cycles might view relative c travel as perfectly reasonable, similarly, a race that could comfortably take 100,000 Gs might be able to go even further.

My argument has always been that it isn't in any way impossible (well maybe for us with our short lifespans and weak constitutions...) but that all the evidence I've ever seen for UFOs and aliens visiting earth can almost always be explained by much more mundane circumstances.

Shorter: I don't doubt it can happen, but until someone hands me a case where I don't have to do some mental gymnastics and the proof seems unquestionable, I'm going to continue to consider UFOs a fanciful distraction.
posted by quin at 3:42 PM on April 4, 2011


At the risk of replacing one bad theory with another I saw a documentary that claimed the US government encouraged UFO hysteria to cover up their testing of experimental aircraft.
That, or he was drunk.
I used to love stories like this and I still love the eeire feel of them but I know a few too many believers who trot this incident out as 'proof'.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:03 PM on April 4, 2011


At the risk of replacing one bad theory with another I saw a documentary that claimed the US government encouraged UFO hysteria to cover up their testing of experimental aircraft.

This is true, in the case of Area 51. Or they didn't discourage it, at least.
posted by empath at 4:27 PM on April 4, 2011


Laugh all you want, doubters, but I will tell you this. If one of you happens to be abducted, as I was, you'd better hope that you keep a small supply of lube on you at all times. While the probing itself isn't bad, alien lube tend to sting a bit and has an odd odor that lingers for several weeks.
posted by perhapses at 4:33 PM on April 4, 2011


"How much would this cost and how would one justify the cost?"

It would be incredibly expensive, and require a great many engineering and scientific breakthroughs to achieve. Interstellar travel might be out of our reach for centuries, and be really hard even then. But there's nothing about it that would break the laws of physics, so it should be possible. As for justifying the cost, I dunno. Humans are always doing crazy stuff like building pyramids, counting stars and constructing ever larger particle accelerators. Maybe someone will eventually go to the stars just because they can.

"Man, I probably made a decimal place error somewhere - this site claims it would take 165,000 years, assuming constant speed."

Well yeah, but that's space shuttle speed. I'm talking about constant acceleration - speed that increases at a constant rate.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:08 PM on April 4, 2011


I know what acceleration is. I re-ran the numbers but this article is a lot more thorough.
posted by muddgirl at 6:17 PM on April 4, 2011


Thus the observer is reporting an Unidentified Flying Object - UFO.

In the sense that it was unidentified but I hate when people pretend that they don't know that the usual connotation of UFO is alien spaceship.

As noted in the post, others witnessed something as well -- and were seemingly able to capture photos of what they saw

Funny how said photographer only noticed the massive alien spaceship after the photos were developed.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:01 PM on April 4, 2011


Well yeah, but that's space shuttle speed. I'm talking about constant acceleration - speed that increases at a constant rate.

Acceleration doesn't actually increase relative velocity at a constant rate; it approaches the speed of light asymptotically. Plus you have to start slowing down halfway there if you don't want to blow up the planet when you land.
posted by empath at 7:17 PM on April 4, 2011


I haven't the faintest if UFOs and aliens are out there or not. I've never seen any. However, given the total skepticism going on about anything even a tiny bit weird, I suspect nobody would buy aliens landing unless they landed on the White House lawn at noon on a Wednesday. And even then most wouldn't buy it. The vast majority won't believe no matter what proof there is of anything.

And I hope for the sake of the aliens that they don't, because some human beings can't stand and want to kill members of their own species with a slightly different skin color, just for being different. We sure as fuck can't handle anyone with three tentacles and six eyes showing up here, can we?
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:51 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have plenty of three tentacled, six-eyed friends. I resent your accusation that I am prejudiced against them.
posted by bondcliff at 9:10 PM on April 4, 2011


"What I'm doing right now is orbiting and the thing is just orbiting on top of me also"

Is he saying that he was flying around in circles here?
posted by dabitch at 10:51 PM on April 4, 2011


The thing that bothers me about the Drake equation is that it seems to vastly overestimate the likelihood of intelligent life developing. If we look at our own case, we have exactly one species of life capable of releasing detectable signs into space. That's one species out of how many millions in existence now, and how many more that died out before we showed up? So shouldn't we consider the possibility of such lifeforms developing as one in 100 million or whatever it is? And if that's the case, then the odds of other forms of intelligent life in our galaxy become very remote.

Unless I'm misunderstanding how this works, and if so some then somebody please correct me.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 11:49 PM on April 4, 2011


Is he saying that he was flying around in circles here?

Yeah, it sounds like he was imagining bright lights hovering over him and was trying to veer away from them.

If he had been driving a Volvo down a highway, there would have been a crash and a wrecked car and a body, not a story. An autopsy might have revealed a stroke or carbon monoxide poisoning, something like that.

But because he was flying a Cessna over open water, there was instead a crazy conversation with the control tower, then he blacked out, and then there were the odd sorts of sounds you might hear in a plummeting, spinning Cessna with unusual frame and engine stress and loose stuff flying around the cabin and perhaps a human being writhing and kicking. No one found a wreck or a body because the ocean is as big as the ocean.
posted by pracowity at 12:04 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Is he saying that he was flying around in circles here?"

Yeah, pretty much. I guess he started going in circles when the weirdness started, maybe so he could pay attention to what was happening outside and not constantly check the controls.

"Acceleration doesn't actually increase relative velocity at a constant rate; it approaches the speed of light asymptotically."

That's true, but from the reference frame of the crew inside the ship it would still feel like a smooth one gee.

"I know what acceleration is. I re-ran the numbers but this article is a lot more thorough."

I'm not sure what we're disagreeing about anymore, but if it's the feasibility of travel to the nearest star, check out the results on that page: to travel 4.3 light years (to Alpha Centauri) takes 3.6 years ship time, and to travel to the Andromeda galaxy would only take 28 years ship time. It's actually about ten times faster than what I said, but this is a purely theoretical approach that assumes a totally efficient spaceship. Any real world vehicle would be significantly slower.

And in terms of fuel, a trip of 4.3 ly (where you decelerate and stop at the end) would take 38 kg of fuel for each kg of payload. That again assumes some kind of perfect efficiency, so a real world spacecraft would have to take a lot more.

All in all, it looks totally feasible to hop from star to star. A trip to Andromeda would take 4.2 thousand million tonnes of fuel and is totally impossible, of course. But if somebody ever gets ramjets working, then it might be a different story.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:20 AM on April 5, 2011


If we look at our own case, we have exactly one species of life capable of releasing detectable signs into space. That's one species out of how many millions in existence now, and how many more that died out before we showed up?

But if we hadn't evolved into the only appreciably intelligent species on this planet, would we have left room for another species to evolve into that niche? If a planet has any life at all and that planet supports that life for a sufficient number of years, percolating the species over X billion years, throwing the genetic dice over and over, it may be that one intelligent species will almost inevitably evolve and then outcompete (or simply slaughter and eat) all contenders.

It might be better to look at Earth as a living planet. If a planet is alive and stays alive long enough, it will eventually grow a brain big enough, mouth loud enough, and arms and legs long enough for it to contact and visit other living planets. And then destroy them.
posted by pracowity at 1:20 AM on April 5, 2011


I'm not sure what we're disagreeing about anymore, but if it's the feasibility of travel to the nearest star, check out the results on that page:

I initially made a math error, probably in hand-converting from seconds to years. But when it comes to feasibility that page is pretty clear - the amount of energy needed to accelerate constantly for that distance is not feasible, and we can pretty much rule out any sort of return trip.

Short of some dimension-hopping (much more likely to me than galaxy-hopping), these aliens that have been visiting every day for years are either locals, or on suicide missions. Maybe they're hanging out on Planet X.
posted by muddgirl at 5:59 AM on April 5, 2011


So shouldn't we consider the possibility of such lifeforms developing as one in 100 million or whatever it is? And if that's the case, then the odds of other forms of intelligent life in our galaxy become very remote

I think you might be underestimating the number of stars out there: one in a hundred million, hell one in a hundred billion would still yield an absolute fuckton of potentially ideal circumstances for intelligent life.

Wiki suggests that one current view of the sky yields "an estimate of the number of stars in the observable universe of 9 × 1021 stars (9 billion trillion stars)." which is, if my math is correct, a lot.
posted by quin at 7:43 AM on April 5, 2011


Is he saying that he was flying around in circles here?

He may simply have misspoken. That said, if he was flying in circles and turning his head to get a better view of the green lights, it could have led to a particular form of disorientation.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:27 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I haven't the faintest if UFOs and aliens are out there or not. I've never seen any. However, given the total skepticism going on about anything even a tiny bit weird, I suspect nobody would buy aliens landing unless they landed on the White House lawn at noon on a Wednesday. And even then most wouldn't buy it. The vast majority won't believe no matter what proof there is of anything.

I guess we'll find out when we have some proof.
posted by empath at 8:41 AM on April 5, 2011


Is he saying that he was flying around in circles here?

I think that's exactly what he's saying, and from the last PDF link based on the trajectory of a few witnesses he would have had to bank pretty sharply. Disorientation IS a danger, even with experienced pilots.
The fifth most commonly reported SD illusion (54%) was autokinesis...which is the apparent movement of a solitary light. And the sixth...(52%), was the Coriolis illusion...
150 hours of solo flight time sounds like a lot, but the pilots in this study had a mean flight time of 2886 hours.
posted by muddgirl at 8:45 AM on April 5, 2011


A trip to Andromeda would take 4.2 thousand million tonnes of fuel and is totally impossible, of course.

Is that calculation based on taking things like Uranium and breaking it down to, say, quarks and using that liberated energy?
posted by rough ashlar at 9:40 AM on April 5, 2011


It's based on 100% conversion of mass to energy (which isn't possible).
posted by empath at 9:48 AM on April 5, 2011


(well, isn't possible with any real or currently theorized future technology, i don't think it actually breaks the laws of physics to have 100% conversion)
posted by empath at 9:50 AM on April 5, 2011


Considering the fact that basically everybody on the planet is carrying a camera around at all times, why isn't there more UFO footage? You'd think we'd have some new video a couple of times a year, at this point. That's been the case for other oft reported but rarely believed things like police brutality. --empath

Let's assume for the sake of argument there are UFOs, and since it's pretty clear that there are sometimes objects flying in the sky that are unidentified, that's not too much of a stretch.

Thing is, these are moving aircraft. The next time a plane passes overhead, go ahead and take a picture of it with your cell phone, which is what I'm assuming empath means when he says everyone has one. You know, your cell phone with the crappy, wide-angle lens? Yeah, that one. Now put that photo up on your computer monitor and see if you can spot the plane--I'll bet you ten dollars you can't.

But wait, there's lots more! If you need to ZOOM IN on the object, you'll probably just have a digital zoom, which is tech speak for "fucking useless". Now you have a pixelated, grainy shot of the plane. Most people don't have decent zoom lenses in their back pocket nor do they have tripods. And to make it even more difficult, do all the above at night, when the camera's ability to take a decent picture is reduced by orders of magnitude.

Bottom line: UFOs are hard to photograph. You're talking about something (probably) very far away, and (probably) moving very fast, from the evidence I've read about. Another way to think of it--go out and try photographing a bird with your cell phone. A nice, clear pic of a bird. Ain't easy.

There are TONS of blurry, grainy, poor-quality UFO videos and photos out there. The ubiquity you speak of is actually there. But because of the terrible quality, they could be aliens from Ursa Minor or the streetlamp on the corner. Folks like empath are just waiting for someone in authority to tell them what's going on, rather than investigating it for themselves.
posted by zardoz at 4:26 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wiki suggests that one current view of the sky yields "an estimate of the number of stars in the observable universe of 9 × 1021 stars (9 billion trillion stars)."

Yes, but I said our galaxy, not the universe, so the one-in-hundred-million odds would mean a significant impact.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:36 PM on April 6, 2011


Folks like empath are just waiting for someone in authority to tell them what's going on, rather than investigating it for themselves.

Don't do this. It's obnoxious.
posted by empath at 5:06 AM on April 7, 2011


You're right, empath, allow me strike that last line, it is obnoxious. But the previous thoughts are relevant.
posted by zardoz at 5:17 PM on April 7, 2011


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