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KGB's secret UFO files finally made public
January 2, 2006 6:33 AM   Subscribe

KGB's secret UFO files finally made public Files comprising the famous Blue Folder have been declassified a while ago. The prominent Soviet cosmonaut Pavel Popovich got the folder from the KGB in 1991. These days Mr. Popovich holds the position of honorary president of the Academy of Informational and Applied Ufology. The folder contains numerous descriptions of UFO flights and reports on some (mostly failed) attempts taken by the military in order to catch the aliens.
posted by Postroad (101 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
The Mexican government claimed very strongly that it saw one or more UFOs a year or two ago... whatever happened to that story?
posted by Malor at 6:59 AM on January 2, 2006


once while flying in a passenger plane from Washington to Moscow.
UFO - Undisclosed Flying Objects - case closed.
posted by thomcatspike at 6:59 AM on January 2, 2006


Disclaimer: I want to believe.

If a putatively open society like the US can't produce any proof that surpasses the government-coverup-conspiracy threshold, I despair of the (former) Soviet Union opening up to itself and the world about any indisputable evidence.

As for the Mexico, I wonder if you're referring to this or this or this...there's also some famous footage I've seen of an apparently silvery sphere playing tag with a flyby of military helicopters during a parade, but I couldn't finda link to it.
posted by alumshubby at 7:15 AM on January 2, 2006


Actually, it was a request to set up a special organization for the study of UFOs.

Uh huh. Vested interests.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:20 AM on January 2, 2006


I saw a UFO once, in broad daylight. It was a small dot that looked like a star, moving across the sky with about the speed of a quick cloud.
This is the first time I've disclosed this to the public.
posted by Citizen Premier at 7:44 AM on January 2, 2006


Oh, and I've also seen what looked like three satelites moving together at night. ISS and a space shuttle maybe. Being bothered by an alien ship.
posted by Citizen Premier at 7:45 AM on January 2, 2006


Yeah, the Mexicans saw some UFOs, that was about the extent of the story. There's not much for them to do besides say, "Yeah, some weird shit went down, didn't happen again. Nope, don't know what it was."
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:49 AM on January 2, 2006


US spy planes - including exotic ultra-fast, semi-stealth planes like the SR-71 - made a habit of flying over the USSR for decades. It's not too surprising that the USSR would have more than its fair share of UFO reports. The USSR was also fairly notorious for official government interest in stuff like ESP, telekenesis, and Lysenkoism. It's not too surprising that they may have taken UFO reports a little too seriously.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:56 AM on January 2, 2006


Surely this could have gone in this thread?

Homeopathy, UFOs... what happened to the famous MeFi rationality?
posted by languagehat at 8:11 AM on January 2, 2006


Wasn't the Soviets who were into that kind of stuff.
posted by the cuban at 8:11 AM on January 2, 2006


Supposedly, Stalin wanted to breed humans and apes to create super-warriors. Given that the USSR spent much of its time in a state about as cunductive to science as the middle ages, one shouldn't be inclined to take their reports too seriously.
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:14 AM on January 2, 2006


"Given that the USSR spent much of its time in a state about as cunductive to science as the middle ages"

Say again?
posted by funambulist at 8:21 AM on January 2, 2006


(mostly failed) attempts taken by the military in order to catch the aliens.

mostly failed?
posted by stbalbach at 8:41 AM on January 2, 2006


Yeah, I was about to ask that too. So where are they keeping the 4 grays they did catch?
posted by NucleophilicAttack at 9:02 AM on January 2, 2006


stbalbach, was thinking the same thing....'mostly'?
posted by j.p. Hung at 9:03 AM on January 2, 2006


Area 51, baby. They've got, like hundred of aliens on ice in that place.
posted by maxsparber at 9:04 AM on January 2, 2006


"Hide us from your leaders"
posted by nervousfritz at 9:38 AM on January 2, 2006


Well, the former head of the KGB dismisses the whole UFO thing:
We have never received any proof whatsoever that UFOs or other supernatural phenomena actually exist.

The authorities asked me many times to prove or refute reports of this or that inexplicable incident on the planet. Most frequently I received requests concerning UFOs and yetis, the “snow people”. I would commission our best specialists and agents to find out where the reports that worried society so much came from. In the end it always turned out to be pure imagination. Sometimes an ignorant observer would interpret an unfamiliar phenomenon in a mystical way, sometimes a perfectly ordinary event would be called supernatural to make news. Often the people would add the KGB knew about the supernatural phenomenon, but wanted to keep it secret.

With full responsibility I have to state — never ever during the long period of my work with the intelligence service was anything really supernatural spotted, either in Russia or in any other country. When I say “other country”, I rely on the information from the highest officials, military, research and of course the intelligence agencies of foreign states.
posted by talos at 9:41 AM on January 2, 2006


I saw a UFO once, in broad daylight. It was a small dot that looked like a star, moving across the sky with about the speed of a quick cloud.
This is the first time I've disclosed this to the public.


As did I, with a similar appearance, although what I saw moved much quicker than any cloud, across about 20% of the sky almost instantaneously, then further behind the mountain just as fast. At the time I was setting up a satellite dish with my father, otherwise I wouldn't have been looking up at all and would have missed it.

I've said this before, and did an 'official report' a few years ago. I'm not going to pretend I know it was anything more than an unidentified silver dot, but I haven't found any reasonable explanation of it in the 18 or so years since it happened.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:42 AM on January 2, 2006


What a load of arse.
posted by Acey at 9:46 AM on January 2, 2006


You have to admit though: if there really were a field called "Applied Ufology", it would be fun to work in.
posted by gimonca at 9:48 AM on January 2, 2006


I saw a UFO once (circa 1995). It was evening. It looked to be about 100 yards above the ground. When viewed directly it was difficult to see but it was clearer when seen peripherally. I couldn't make out any details except that it was a gray triangle, maybe fifteen feet across, with a thin straight tail about two times longer than the main body. It didn't make any noise, didn't have any lights and flew at a steady pace of about 20 mph. My friend and I followed it in her car for about a mile before it flew out of range.

It wasn't in Russia, though.
posted by effwerd at 9:59 AM on January 2, 2006


I saw a Russian once.
posted by maxsparber at 10:02 AM on January 2, 2006


Um, I highly doubt this is true simply by looking at the source. Let's just say that India Daily competes with Pravda for the accuracy of their stories on UFOs.

Case in point: http://www.indiadaily.com/editorial/01-09a-05.asp
posted by enamon at 10:03 AM on January 2, 2006


It was a small dot that looked like a star, moving across the sky with about the speed of a quick cloud.
I've seen the same thing numerous times, both during the day & night. They're man made satellites that can be seen by light reflecting off of them. Every place humans have been, they have left evidence. Usually it's trash, ask a hiker, they know. So when someone find's the aliens' trash, then I'll open my mind to them, not until.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:05 AM on January 2, 2006


Alien trash sites are clearly marked.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:31 AM on January 2, 2006


They are real, guys!!!
posted by basicchannel at 10:54 AM on January 2, 2006


I've always liked Robert Anton Wilson's take on UFOs.

Dublin, 1986. I had given a talk to the Irish Science-Fiction Society and the question period began.

"Do you believe in UFOs?" somebody asked.

"Yes, of course," I answered.

The questioner, who looked quite young, then burst into a long speech, "proving" at least to his own satisfaction that all UFOs "really are" sun-dogs or heat inversions. When he finally ran down I simply replied,

"Well, we both agree that UFOs exist. Our only difference is that you think you know what they are and I'm still puzzled."

posted by Edame at 11:07 AM on January 2, 2006


nervousfritz: that's a good one
posted by jouke at 11:12 AM on January 2, 2006


aliens on ice

I saw that, fell asleep after the second act.
posted by CynicalKnight at 11:47 AM on January 2, 2006


I saw a UFO once, in broad daylight. It was a small dot that looked like a star, moving across the sky with about the speed of a quick cloud.

Sounds like a daytime Iridium Flare to me. I've seen them hundreds of times. Bright ones are easily visible in broad daylight and at night, the brightest flares (magnitude -8) are dazzlingly brilliant. Their appearances are trivial to predict.
posted by AstroGuy at 11:55 AM on January 2, 2006


my pet conspiracy theory about UFO's is that they are the concocted boogeyman that governments have in storage for the time if/when nation on nation wars become obsolete.

they'll need something to keep the masses cowering in fear and obedient, so at that point we'll learn that all those ufo reports... they were real!!! and the bad ol' aliens are coming to GET us! oh noes! So keep your head down and your mouth shut, and by gum, we can beat those comm^H^H^H^H aliens.

Of course, now that we have the war on terror, that might suffice in the never-ending-war dept.

just my 1e-43 cents.
posted by modernerd at 12:03 PM on January 2, 2006


Coincidentally Jeff Wells posted about this today.
posted by hortense at 12:03 PM on January 2, 2006


I see things I can't recognize sometimes.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:19 PM on January 2, 2006


Homeopathy, UFOs... what happened to the famous MeFi rationality?

belief that aliens are visiting the earth isn't rational?
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:38 PM on January 2, 2006


As regards the post I put up a short time ago: I do not belive in UFOs. But then I did believe there were WMD in Iraq till I discovered I was wrong. I had some time ago come across a quote from Jimmy Carter, who, soon to run for president, claimed that he saw one or knew that they existed and that if elected, he would open up govt. files. He got elected. He did not open any files. I wrote him at his home address and asked why he never followed though with his promise. He did not answer.

I will continue to disbelieve in UFOs till such time as I am presented with strong evidence of their existence. However, I no longer trust this or any other govt on what it will make known to the public. Let us say the govt is not saying anything because there is nothing to say. Then I want to know how much money they have in programs to detect such things; what they have thus far come up with, and if such programs are still running...and WHY they are still running after How many years? Is that rational? reasonable?
posted by Postroad at 12:47 PM on January 2, 2006


This is a fascinating find, regardless how you may feel about UFOs. Just consider the context - late stages of a regime with near total control of information. What a beautiful way to winnow out a little pocket from the Iron Grip of the USSR intelligence apparatus! All you need do is convince one or two people you've seen a UFO, and it's relevent to Security, and you're good to go.

Maybe noone even starts it as a conscious fake, or sees a real UFO - it doesn't matter.It seems like it would propagate itself, and the very nature of it would keep it secret from all but people already either in on it or convinced. It barely anything to start with - with an entire (sub)society dedicated to finding and keeping secrets, to looking for what's hidden, you'd barely need a seed for they crystal to form around.


All the points about US spyplanes are good ones, but I find it more poignant as a story about the way systems which try so hard to control information end up *more* susceptible to bad intelligence.
posted by freebird at 12:56 PM on January 2, 2006


Sigh:"it barely needs anything to start with" and "for the crystal of Secret Projects".
posted by freebird at 1:00 PM on January 2, 2006


It's pragmatically rational (i.e. reasonable) to assume that aliens exist. What isn't rational is the assumption that they're visiting Earth. Earth must be like New Jersey to any sufficiently advanced civilization. I'd certainly never vacation here.
posted by nixerman at 1:29 PM on January 2, 2006


UFOs are hardly a mystery. In fact, they are nothing but teasers, which are "usually rich kids with nothing to do. They cruise around looking for planets which haven't made interstellar contact yet and buzz them. They find some isolated spot with very few people around, then land right by some poor soul whom no one's ever going to believe and then strut up and down in front of him wearing silly antennae on their heads and making beep beep noises. Rather childish really."

(Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)
posted by nlindstrom at 1:46 PM on January 2, 2006


What isn't rational is the assumption that they're visiting Earth.

It's not an assumption, it's a hypothesis to explain observation(s).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 1:54 PM on January 2, 2006


I still don't understand how anyone can claim not to believe in UFOs. UFOs are not something you can believe in! If you see something that's moving through the air and you can't identify it then that is a UFO! I can understand people saying "I don't believe in space aliens" or "I don't believe in flying saucers" or things of that sort. However, saying that one does not believe in UFOs is like saying one does not believe in the unknown - a foolish statement.

I myself have seen a UFO or two. In my case I wasn't sure if the object in sight was a plane or a helicopter. That made it a UFO for me since I could not identify it. I did not think it was something esoteric or anything of such sort. It was simply far away and I only caught a 2 or 3 second glimpse of it since I was on my way someplace.

A UFO is an Unidentified Flying Object. Nothing more, nothing less.
posted by enamon at 1:59 PM on January 2, 2006


The International Space Station is often highly visible during the daytime. At the right angle, other non geo-stationary satellites can also be very visible.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 2:02 PM on January 2, 2006


Ugh, ufology. Its like the 'intelligent design' for liberals. Or has this taken its place?
posted by skallas at 2:04 PM on January 2, 2006


belief that aliens are visiting the earth isn't rational?

That's correct. Or rather, it's no more and no less rational than belief in God, since both rest on a firm foundation of "I had a personal experience that I can't explain otherwise" combined with a strong resistance to attempts by others to provide rational explanations. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of other forms of life in the universe and am probably too susceptible to the idea that they exist, but I refuse to believe that they're in the habit of buzzing around Earth blinking mysteriously and occasionally plucking people up for anal probing. If they have the technology to come here in the first place, they could certainly conceal themselves more effectively; if they want to make contact, they could certainly do it more effectively. It just doesn't make sense except in psychological terms (people have a strong need to believe).
posted by languagehat at 2:10 PM on January 2, 2006


I can understand people saying "I don't believe in space aliens" or "I don't believe in flying saucers"

That actually seems irrational (a perverse denial of provisional consent to factual argument) to me.

A UFO is an Unidentified Flying Object. Nothing more, nothing less.

if every case of UFO was just some light up in the sky, or some yokel somewhere saying he found some UFO dust, then the field would not be so interesting. There are a quite a handful of cases that exceed these evidentiary standards.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:12 PM on January 2, 2006


Heywood:

What evidentiary standards? If it's unidentified it's a UFO. If it's identified, it's not a UFO. It doesn't matter if some weird metallic ship landed on your front lawn in the middle of winter. If you can't identify it it's a UFO. If you can it's not.

And anyway, my whole point is about people saying that they don't believe in UFOs which is a rather silly statement.
posted by enamon at 2:18 PM on January 2, 2006


If they have the technology to come here in the first place, they could certainly conceal themselves more effectively;

Irrational argument of imputing motive. We don't necessarily "conceal" ourselves when studying "lower" lifeforms.

if they want to make contact, they could certainly do it more effectively.

Indeed, but this is another irrational/unsupportable argument from you imputing motive.

It just doesn't make sense except in psychological terms (people have a strong need to believe).

I agree the psychological dimension dominates the field; things are quite weird. I prefer to avoid the dross and arguing about the true WTF? cases. The psychological element still exists (fraud, pranksterism, honest misreading of instrumentation, etc) but the cases are more interesting on their merits.

I see no reason to invest a lot of time or belief in UFOs until they do, indeed, present more incontrovertible evidence, but I find the out-of-hand dismissal of all UFO cases interesting for its own psychological bases.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:19 PM on January 2, 2006


From talos's link/quote - I would commission our best specialists and agents to find out where the reports that worried society so much came from.

Huh. I guess the KGB had a kinda-sorta "X-files" investigation. I wonder if the (real) FBI devotes any time to investigate odd phenomena?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 2:24 PM on January 2, 2006


What evidentiary standards?

There are a core of cases, generally involving military sightings, that exhibit:

1) Multiple witnesses in different locations
2) Multiple evidentiary collecting (radar, infrared, visual)
3) Inexplicable aerodynamical performance exceeding known technology

The ET hypothesis is forwarded as one explanation for these.

Additionally, there are a few cases where people who had been the military say they have investigated/collected unusual objects while serving. These are not dispositive since these accounts are worth only the teller's credibility, but they are interesting from a bayesian inference angle (the value of the information they say is very high (if true) which means dismissing their story as absolutely false is a loss).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:26 PM on January 2, 2006


Of course, all the UFOs that the Soviet Russians actually did manage to take down turned out to be commercial airliners (KAL 007 anyone?)
posted by sour cream at 2:39 PM on January 2, 2006


>We don't necessarily "conceal" ourselves when studying "lower" lifeforms.

You're anthropomorphising them, which is the *exact* criticism you're handing out.

As for my out of hand dismissal, well, anything that requires so much sophistry because its so riddled in not only complete and obvious BS and the need to believe to polish the very few interesting turds is certainly a sign that the ufology community is hurting and has been hurting since the fall of the soviet republic. One of the big assumptions was that the KGB or another non-friend of the US would expose the big UFO cover-ups never happened. Roswell is a running and profitable joke. Crop circles have been proven over and over to be man-made. Every ufologist claim has either been completely dismissed or is seriously questionable.

Also, the fact that the ufology community is very much attached to the hip with the ET explanation shows a great deal of bias and wish fulfillment sadly under the guise of science. Just because alien life may exist all over the universe is a bazillion different forms does not mean the most plausible explanation for ufo sightings. Considering the amount of "proof" that the ufologist has, its just as likely bigfoot is joyriding Atlantis produced spaceships from the bottom of the sea.

This is the last big conspiracy theory and its patheticly sad that adults take it seriously. I don't see much difference between the ufo crowd and the "moon landing is fake" crowd which only recently, and thankfully, died off. Here's hoping I never have to hear about another anal probe or Fox alien autopsy against because the credulous can't simply give up on their green martian fantasies.
posted by skallas at 2:44 PM on January 2, 2006


Well, absolutely there are unidentified objects in the sky. I'm just astounded by the leap of logic it takes to decide that those things are aliens visiting us from another planet.

I mean, if you're going to make a prepsoterous logical leap like that, why not simply declare them to be angels, or valkyrie, or giant flying potatoes?

Mmm. Potatoes.
posted by maxsparber at 2:45 PM on January 2, 2006


Yes, I said prepsoterous. Why?
posted by maxsparber at 2:46 PM on January 2, 2006


Can't let this thread expire without a shout-out to the work of my late uncle.
posted by JDC8 at 3:22 PM on January 2, 2006


The universe is vast on a scale that defies comprehension.

Is there life out there somewhere? Almost certainly. In fact, the universe is quite likely teeming with it.

Is this life single cellular, or small and furry, or giant and scaly, or look just like humans but with sideways eyelids? I have no idea.

Are they doing interstellar drive-by abductions in Iowa? Almost certainly not.

Finding the earth would be like finding a particular grain of sand on a distant island beach.

The vastness of the universe practically guarantees that we are not alone, but likewise virtually guarantees we'll never see anyone else.
posted by Ynoxas at 3:24 PM on January 2, 2006


Ynoxas: Is this life single cellular, or small and furry, or giant and scaly, or look just like humans but with sideways eyelids?

Probably all of the above, and so much more...
posted by fingers_of_fire at 3:33 PM on January 2, 2006


You're anthropomorphising them, which is the *exact* criticism you're handing out.

Well, describing them as possibly intelligent actor (like us) isn't really an anthropomorphization. I'm just saying we have no idea of what they're motives are, so imputing our expectations on their observed/ putative, behavior is unscientific.

This is the last big conspiracy theory and its patheticly sad that adults take it seriously.

I think it's interesting that people piss on UFOlogy so thoroughly.

I'm agnostic about the ET hypothesis, I'm not willing to go beyond some combination of fraud, pranksterism, mistake/malfunction, secret program, etc. "I want to believe" is basically where I stand, eg. Marcel Jr's story of his dad bringing home some pretty weird stuff that night in 1947 is a fun factoid to file away in the "possibly true as described" bin.

So I do find the ET hypothesis interesting, and I also find the reaction otherwise intelligent, scientific people have to it also interesting, perhaps more so. Eg, your:

Roswell is a running and profitable joke. Crop circles have been proven over and over to be man-made

is a case in point. Roswell has been effectively poisoned in the public mind, either by covert actors or profiteers. Nobody even knows what the principals originally stated in 1947, or in the late 70s when the Marcel story was first publicized by Friedman. And crop circles have nothing to do with the more interesting cases like Roswell.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:39 PM on January 2, 2006


I mean, if you're going to make a prepsoterous logical leap like that, why not simply declare them to be angels, or valkyrie, or giant flying potatoes?

The induction of hypothetical existence is not necessarily unscientific if the underlying bases are scientific.

ET coming here requires 1) ET out in space-time and 2) a way for them to get here.

I comfortable asserting the possible existence of ET civs in this galaxy is scientific, unlike the examples you give above.

Within living memory, powered flight meant a skip down a sand-dune on a windy day, so I am equally comfortable asserting as scientific that humanity does not necessarily know jack about how the universe works.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:47 PM on January 2, 2006


"I want to believe" is basically where I stand

That's evident, and I can respect it as long as you're upfront about it. The desire to believe can awaken two opposed reactions in people: the more common one, which is to embrace the hypothesis one likes, and what I think of as the scientific or rational one, which is to scrutinize with special severity hypotheses that you personally find attractive, discounting heavily for your emotional bias. What I find puzzling is your insistence that "otherwise intelligent, scientific people" must be resisting emotionally rather than rationally. Surely you admit that, rationally speaking, the evidence is slender; why is it irrational to resist it? Show me a walking, talking bug-eyed monster and I'll be tickled pink; tell me a tale of how you saw weird lights one evening or how the Air Force is hiding something, and I'll assume there's a better explanation than aliens. Is that wrong?
posted by languagehat at 3:52 PM on January 2, 2006


Within living memory, powered flight meant a skip down a sand-dune on a windy day, so I am equally comfortable asserting as scientific that humanity does not necessarily know jack about how the universe works.

You know, by that same logic, I can argue in favor of angels and valkyries. Potatoes -- not so much.
posted by maxsparber at 4:02 PM on January 2, 2006


Surely you admit that, rationally speaking, the evidence is slender; why is it irrational to resist it?

'polished turds' goes beyond resisting. It is unscientific dismissal.

Show me a walking, talking bug-eyed monster and I'll be tickled pink; tell me a tale of how you saw weird lights one evening or how the Air Force is hiding something, and I'll assume there's a better explanation than aliens. Is that wrong?

This goes to the root of the phenomenon. I too, am not willing to go beyond agnosticism without more ... meaningful... examples of "visitation".

The way I approach this is the Bayesian inference that I alluded to above. The value, to me, of the ET hypothesis is massive, so I am more attuned to keeping the data as I find it in gray-zones of neither absolute true/false -- one's man turd is another's treasure, I guess.

I just think it is unscientific to dismiss the solid cases for all the dross that has been generated these past 50 years; the best way to poison a field of inquiry it to just pile it with crap, and of course because the question is so full of import it will attract all kinds of fraudsters and profiteers, anyway.

While USG interference/misinformation is not a necessary part of the ET hypothesis, it is certainly an important implication that one should keep in mind.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:25 PM on January 2, 2006


I can argue in favor of angels and valkyries

You would need to show supportable modes of existence first. Should angels exist on Gamma Cetulis, then, yes, they could possibly get here by means that exceed the capabilities of present-day human technology.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:27 PM on January 2, 2006


NEO surveys routinely pick up objects as small as a few meters across from a few million miles away. So far, there's only been one item I'm aware of, after years of global searches, that made anyone stop and go "Hmmm". Even on that one, the consensus guess seems to be that it's an escaped rocket booster or something. To me, this tends to argue against a large number of visible objects visiting the Earth from far away. Such as the classic illuminated craft that people report--which would be visible from even further out than the inert chunks o' rock that are tracked for impact hazards, and would certainly leave tracks on photographic plates.

Or that LGM would successfully cloak themselves for millions of miles, then accidentally flick on the lights once they get over some town in Wisconsin.
posted by gimonca at 4:28 PM on January 2, 2006


For those of us still in the reality-based community, I highly recommend the book Watch the Skies!: A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth.

Kills every sacred cow of the UFO crowd dead.
posted by frogan at 4:29 PM on January 2, 2006


Such as the classic illuminated craft that people report--which would be visible from even further out than the inert chunks o' rock that are tracked for impact hazards, and would certainly leave tracks on photographic plates.

This is assuming the in-atmosphere craft are identical to the long-haul/interplanetary craft.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:49 PM on January 2, 2006


Finding the earth would be like finding a particular grain of sand on a distant island beach.

Anthropomorphizing again. We know precious little of the reality beyond our atmosphere. The original Hawaiians probably thought they were hard-to-find, too.

I am very uncomfortable ascribing technological limitations to putative civilizations 1 million ~ 1 billion years older than us.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:09 PM on January 2, 2006


I remember to this day first accepting that true, direct, useful Faster Than Light travel was simply not going to happen. It was one of the roughest days of my youth, like giving up The Santa Clause.
posted by freebird at 5:15 PM on January 2, 2006


Get back to me with evidence that our present understanding withstands the next million years of investigation, freebird.

though I must say with that attitude it just might.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:19 PM on January 2, 2006


My evidence is hardly scientific - Relativity, and the Universe it implies, are Too Beautiful to not be True.
posted by freebird at 5:24 PM on January 2, 2006


Dunno, Intelligence & Craft seems to be able to Trump even the Universe, given Enough Time.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:30 PM on January 2, 2006


I mean, if you're going to make a prepsoterous logical leap like that, why not simply declare them to be angels, or valkyrie, or giant flying potatoes?

Or giant flying spaghetti monster?

I saw a UFO once (under the "I dunno what that is" definition, not the ET definition) with a buddy of mine.
Wasn't an aircraft of any kind and I don't think it was a satellite since it changed directions several times. Could have been a reflection of some sort. Didn't bend me out of shape really. More of a "WTF is that?" sort of thing. Then we went back in and got sandwiches.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:16 PM on January 2, 2006


If you're at all interested in the UFO field, take a look around and you'll find there's much more to it than "it's Venus or the ISS" or "Space aliens are coming to visit us."

There is a deep, strange history around things we now call UFOs or Aliens, and it persists to this day. Throw in the bizarre disinfo campaigns of the American and Soviet defense & intelligence agencies and you've got something truly weird and often intentionally wrong. Add a healthy helping of professional skeptics, professional "ufologists," outrageous frauds, dingbat Space Brother gurus, Karl Jung, Our Lady of Fatima, L. Ron Hubbard, Col. John B. Alexander, Aleister Crowley, William S. Burroughs, Gary McKinnon, CalTech founding father Jack Parsons, Ronald Reagan, popular culture and the wildly stretching boundaries of science (parallel dimensions, etc.), and you've got a field that is infinitely interesting. (Sorry no linky; add UFO to any of those names and watch what Google & Amazon bring up.)

For the curious who don't subscribe to a pro- or anti-UFO dogma, I highly recommend all of Jacques Vallee's books.

We should all know better, by now, than to believe anything a government (any government) says about anything -- especially anything that involves space monsters, secret weapons, the Cold War, remote viewing, etc.
posted by kenlayne at 6:28 PM on January 2, 2006


enamon: It doesn't matter if some weird metallic ship landed on your front lawn in the middle of winter. If you can't identify it it's a UFO. If you can it's not.

No, no, no. That would be a ULO.
posted by strawberryviagra at 6:54 PM on January 2, 2006


How do humans respond when faced with technology clearly outside their understanding? Whenever the UFO debate comes up, cargo cults come to mind. Not to say that UFOs really are non-human. But considering how much our scientific understanding of the universe has changed in the last 100 years, let alone the last 4000... If one accepts the premise that sentient life is present elsewhere in the universe, and that it's species that may be 1 million to 1 billion years older than ours... Well, that's the rub. How likely are those two premises?
posted by Nquire at 8:17 PM on January 2, 2006


ULO... hah! that's freakin' funny, you lusty fruit.
posted by saketini99 at 8:21 PM on January 2, 2006


UFO != Aliens.
posted by HTuttle at 10:47 PM on January 2, 2006


>Whenever the UFO debate comes up, cargo cults come to mind.

That can be interpreted two ways. Your way which seems to be saying, "Humans have been fooled before" or another way, "Humans look for meaning and favor from the sky when realistically there is none."
posted by skallas at 11:41 PM on January 2, 2006


Back to the article:
KGB agents looked high and low trying to figure out what happened at the airport of the city of Mineralnye Vody on December 15, 1987. According to the airport dispatchers, at 23.15 the flight No 65798 reported an incoming "object resembling an aircraft with its headlights on." The radars showed no aircraft whatsoever. Three minutes later the UFO was gone as reported by the flight No 65789.

The crew of another plane also observed the UFO flying in that area. The clock read approximately 23.20. According to crewmembers, the UFO left a fiery trail in the air. The crews of the both planes reported that the UFO had disappeared after the flash resembling an explosion. A villager reported a burning plane flying over his village at 23.30. The eyewitness said the plane then disappeared. The eyewitness found no wreckage or other evidence of a plane crash.
I suppose a lot of people reading that would figure there must be something to it if the KGB couldn't determine what it was, but when strange lights appear in the middle of a winter night over a Cold War Soviet airport, there are more likely reasons than visitors from space, and it wouldn't be surprising if some KGB agents were (or claimed to be) unable to determine the cause. If one agent from the right department visited the control tower, he could make the flyover of an entire air force disappear in three minutes.

The evidence for aliens not being here and not contacting people is great, but if people are willing and able to believe in gods, believing in their chariots is easy.
posted by pracowity at 12:15 AM on January 3, 2006


pracowity: that sighting is of course noncompelling. Not all cases are so "what-ever" though. Project Blue Book was able to write off ~95% for the vaguest of reasons, but even they were left with a core kernel of ~1% that exceeded "WTH?" and were more in the "WTF?" category.

And as for the 'cargo cult' element, that is a good point; Guilty as charged. One angle I like to entertain: the sheer quality & quantity of information these purported aliens could share with us; eg. a hundred or so "foo fighters", metallic disks that were actually pretty similar to the Mt Rainier sighting of 1947, were reportedly observed flying over Tulagi on the opening day of the Guadalcanal campaign. As a history nut, this particular infrormational "cargo" -- "video" of past events as it were -- would be immensely enriching to me.

so yeah, I "want to believe". Short of aliens landing on the White House lawn though, I withhold judgement. The thousands of witnesses could all be lying -- I discount the "mis-identification" possibility in many cases where the lights (or visual objects in the daytime) just do plain weird stuff. Eg. the specific attributes of Jimmy Carter's sighting in 1969 wasn't "Venus", despite what the debunkers glibly assert (Venus doesn't appear "slightly smaller than the apparent size of the moon" nor appear "maybe 300-1000 yards away" to observers).

My problem with the field is that the debunkers are often as full of crap/unscientific as the wildest of proponents. Tough forming any definitive opinion, so I sit on the fence.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 1:19 AM on January 3, 2006


> Not all cases are so "what-ever" though.

Maybe, maybe not, but I am reminded of the Catholic Church and the proving of miracles when I read accounts of UFO sightings.
posted by pracowity at 4:46 AM on January 3, 2006


The Last Will and Testament of Philip J. Klass:
To UFOlogists who publicly criticize me…or who even think unkind thoughts about me in private, I do hereby leave and bequeath THE UFO CURSE: No matter how long you live, you will never know any more about UFOs than you know today. You will never know any more about what UFOs really are, or where they come from. You will never know any more about what the U.S. Government really knows about UFOs that you know today. As you lie on your own death-bed you will be as mystified about UFOs as you are today. And you will remember this curse.
posted by dontrememberthis at 7:58 AM on January 3, 2006


Perhaps they’re tourists from the future.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:11 PM on January 3, 2006


The subtle point I was trying to make with the Cargo Cult comment was that Japan and America during WWII had no interest in the nearly stone-age cultures that inhabited the islands in the south pacific. We did not land on their beaches and state "take me to your leader". Further, our presence had to be something spiritual or metaphysical because it was simply impossible for the natives' current understanding of nature and technology to account for such phenomenon. By analogy, if one accepts the premise that intelligent species much more advanced than our own might exist, the idea that some UFOs might be evidence of an alien presence doesn't seem that outlandish.

It took around 10,000 years for our species to go from stone tools to spaceflight. Newton's laws got modified in less than 500 years, Einstein's have been around for ~100, and at least some astrophysicists aren't against the idea that relativity may have to be tweaked. Now (deep breath) consider our understanding of nature in another 10,000 years. I guess I'm confused as to why the hypothesis that some UFOs might be extraterrestial in origin is treated with such disdain.
posted by Nquire at 2:28 PM on January 3, 2006


We have never received any proof whatsoever that UFOs or other supernatural phenomena actually exist.

UFOs wouldnt' be supernatural, of course.

And crop circles have nothing to do with the more interesting cases like Roswell.

uh, why do you think Roswell is a "more interesting case"? Have you seen the actual pictures? it's just shiny aluminum looking crap, obviously man-made.
posted by mdn at 3:29 PM on January 3, 2006


I guess I'm confused as to why the hypothesis that some UFOs might be extraterrestial in origin is treated with such disdain.

defense mechanism. Only incompetent people, insane people, and pranksters report seeing UFOs.

it's just shiny aluminum looking crap, obviously man-made.

"The material shown in the photographs taken in Maj. Gen. Ramey's office was a weather balloon. The weather balloon explanation for the material was a cover story to divert the attention of the press."

Col DuBose, Gen Ramey's CoS
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:53 PM on January 3, 2006


I guess I'm confused as to why the hypothesis that some UFOs might be extraterrestrial in origin is treated with such disdain.

How do you look at claims that Jesus and the Virgin Mary regularly appear as stains on various walls and bagels and so on?

The fact that there is no real evidence (good photos, leftover debris, etc.) made public that looks absolutely convincingly extraterrestrial is an indication that

(A) there are visitors but they don't want to communicate except maybe through patterns in corn fields or even to be found except by farmers coming home late from the bar and they are very good at hiding from entire air forces but not from people driving alone at night and any few stray bits of real evidence left behind have been buried by long-term government cover-ups involving the extreme measures (murder, etc.) it would take to make people not talk about alien visitors and so on...

or

(B) there are no visitors from outer space but there are illusions, Ilyushins, delusions, dreams, and drams.

Both are possible, and maybe it's a combination of both (most claims are wrong but a very few are right?), but I shave with the patented Occam One-Blade Simplicity Razor® (Numquam ponendo est pluritas sine necessitate™ -- The git a man can best) and believe that people are not seeing visitors from space.

I am fairly convinced by the mathematics of the Drake equation that other smart life was, is, or will be out there somewhere (but where are they?). Meanwhile, the sorts of loons who are attracted to conspiracy theories and the like make people who try to find evidence look foolish by association.

Hence the general disdain for talk of UFOs. Come back with an inarguably genuine physical artefact from a spaceship and people will take you seriously. You won't even have to open your mouth to convince us. But come back with another unverifiable story about lights in the sky following your car when you were driving home late by yourself and people will nudge one another and smile.
posted by pracowity at 1:49 AM on January 4, 2006


where are they?

um, hello?

But come back with another unverifiable story about lights in the sky following your car when you were driving home late by yourself and people will nudge one another and smile.

that is profoundly unscientific, and more interestingly to me, quite a reinforcing social dynamic.
Nearly all of my scientific colleagues, I regret to say, have scoffed at the reports of UFO's as so much balderdash, although this was a most unscientific reaction since virtually none of them had ever studied the evidence. Until recently my friends in the physical sciences wouldn't even discuss UFO's with me. The subject, in fact, rarely came up. My friends were obviously mystified as to how I, a scientist, could have gotten mixed up with "flying saucers" in the first place. It was a little as though I had been an opera singer who had suddenly taken it into his head to perform in a cabaret. It was all too embarrassing to bring up in polite conversation.
Hynek, almost 40 years ago.

I scoffed at UFOlogy too, until I noticed that one side had (at least) some people trying to get the science of it. The debunkers, on the other hand, are normally full of crap and switch to character assassination when the bullshit fails.

Why this is, dunno. It's an interesting phenomenon to study. The "Want to Believe" aspect amps up every sighting into a Close Encounter (cf. the Phoenix Lights which were apparently mass hysteria at some rare high-altitude flare drops) while the snickering anti-scientific peanut gallery pisses on people trying to keep an open mind about the more compelling cases.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:10 AM on January 4, 2006


I scoffed at UFOlogy too, until I noticed that one side had (at least) some people trying to get the science of it. The debunkers, on the other hand, are normally full of crap and switch to character assassination when the bullshit fails.

You're forgetting the rest of us, the great mass of people who aren't active "UFOlogists" or active debunkers, but just people who ask for reliable evidence before they will give serious attention to claims of something so unusual. I think this group includes almost all scientists (and almost everyone else), people who generally have better things to do than to comment on (never mind quit their day jobs and start looking into) every funny light someone claims to have seen. It's not anti-science to ask for some real evidence, something beyond anecdote. People would be interested as hell if someone brought back evidence that was anything close to convincing. Without the evidence, though, you're with the Jesus-on-a-bagel crowd.
posted by pracowity at 3:21 AM on January 4, 2006


I scoffed at UFOlogy too, until I noticed that one side had (at least) some people trying to get the science of it.

The problem is that if they use science as we know it - we'd have spotted them. If they use science that might as well be magic then what's the point of discussing it? We may as well be trying to prove the existence of angels.
posted by longbaugh at 4:09 AM on January 4, 2006


I was going to make this a fpp, but just read this if you're interested...

After a witness told his tale in person to a police dispatcher, four police officers, in communication with each other over the radio, were able to independently observe the object at it tooled around over the Illinois countryside.

This is basically what they say they saw that night (compare with the Belgian UFO triangle sightings of 1989-90.

Kindly debunked at a distance by various "scientists" in this story that ran later that month.

Writeups of the case here, and here, and here.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:40 AM on January 4, 2006


longbaugh: by "science" I meant rational, forensic analysis of the phenomenon, not just idle conjecture on alien technology (which is prima facie unscientific). The Illinois case above is a good example of this; the science-community debunkers basically said "Venus, or hysteria, or fraud", while the UFO community actually took the time to interview witnesses and construct timelines and apparent flight paths.

One of these groups was acting scientifically, the other was not.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:01 AM on January 4, 2006


I was going to make this a fpp...

That story indicates that a handful of people saw some lights or at least believe they saw some lights. Cool. I would love to see something like that. But what was it? Angels or aliens or demons or strange optical effects or unusual aircraft or group delusion or what? Ghosts? Dragons?

As is usually (always?) the case with such stories, none of these can be proved or disproved. There were no dragon droppings found, no dragon bites, no dragon scales collected. But no one can say that it wasn't a dragon. We can, however, say that it wasn't very likely to be a dragon because, as far as we know, there are no dragons. It's not unscientific to state that from the start.

Without hard evidence (maybe physical samples or markings, maybe good photos and radar tracking data, maybe similarity to past cases for which we had hard evidence) indicating something that could only be from another world, to insist that these lights are evidence of visitors from space rather than visitors from the local air base (or visitors from the imagination or whatever) is a bit of a stretch.

To me, aliens from this universe seem more likely than angels from some supernatural place, because we obviously know that living beings in this universe are possible while we know nothing about angels but anecdotes and old tales. (Likewise, dragons also seem more likely than angels, because we know about flying animals and we know about animals that generate light patterns and we know about large lizards.) But aliens seem a lot less likely than various terrestrial explanations (optical illusions, mental delusions, strange aircraft, planets, clouds, etc., perhaps in combination) because we have lots of experience with such terrestrial explanations and absolutely no verified experience with beings from other planets. It would be unscientific to assume the less likely explanation.

Judging only from your pro-UFO links, the particular story you link to sounds to me like people maybe saw some aircraft or balloon, maybe with a pattern of lights that made it difficult to determine the speed and distance of the thing. For example, something (a glider? a dirigible? airplane with quiet engine? manned or remote? real or model?) flying low but assumed to be flying high (it was dark and there was nothing in the sky to judge it against) might seem larger and faster than it really is.

It is futile to grouse about people assuming a more likely explanation over a less likely explanation. Maybe no explanation we know about seems obviously, undeniably, provably right for a particular event, but explanations more closely rooted in the everyday (such as aircraft and balloons) tend to be more likely (and more scientific) than explanations (such as visitors from space) rooted in speculation about things never seen before.

However, because it is also futile, generally, to try to convince UFO fans that the evidence for visitors from space is too thin, I think I'll stop now.
posted by pracowity at 7:12 AM on January 4, 2006


Heywood, if you read the link I posted above, it debunks that "oh the photos were cover ups" line. At the time, they were the evidence. Now that they look obviously ridiculously non-alien, a new explanation has emerged, but if you read the full descriptions of the debris from the time, they are talking about these high-tech, weirdly moving, very bright "weather balloons" from a classified cold war project. There was a flying saucer craze going on and the debris covered a very large area & was very unusual, especially back then. But it wasn't extraterrestrial.
posted by mdn at 8:13 AM on January 4, 2006


...CalTech founding father Jack Parsons...

This little nugget of misinformation always irritates me. It was propagated by R.A. Wilson in Cosmic Trigger, and is symptomatic of either his credulity or his inability to perform even the most basic fact-checking.

If you are going to make extraordinary claims, you had better make certain your mundane facts are unassailable.
posted by malocchio at 8:19 AM on January 4, 2006


There was a New Jersey reference up there, and (even putting the right or wrongness of anthropomorphism aside) I should make the point that New Jersey probably has had tourists! I think every country, city, town and village on the planet has had (or will eventually have) at least one visiting tourist.

Now which of these is more likely?
1) Earth is the only inhabited planet and mankind is the most advanced species in a practically infinite universe.
2) There are other lifeforms on other planets.

Now, personally, I think it's the second. And I keep an open mind.
posted by dickasso at 10:56 AM on January 4, 2006


but explanations more closely rooted in the everyday (such as aircraft and balloons) tend to be more likely (and more scientific)

NOT if these explanations don't explain the evidence! That is profoundly UNscientific.

We can't cherry-pick evidentiary statements we don't like, like how the Illinois object was sighted flying supersonically.

Now, I have NO clue what that object was. Hoax? Bona fide UFO? Secret USG program?

It's a gray zone to me. Such gray zones still have scientific value. Unlike you, I neither dismiss or believe the witnesses story. I just file it away for future reference.

At the time, they were the evidence. Now that they look obviously ridiculously non-alien, a new explanation has emerged, but if you read the full descriptions of the debris from the time, they are talking about these high-tech, weirdly moving, very bright "weather balloons" from a classified cold war project.

The payloads were classified, the balloons were not. The Army didn't even care where these particular balloons went during this time period.

Nobody saw any "weirdly moving" things during Roswell proper. Just allegedly a big mess on a ranch that required substantial cleanup, and some weird material properties (i-beams with markings, a satiny foil that smoothly unfolded itself after crumpling, and tough, lightweight material that couldn't be damaged with a sledgehammer.

At the time, they were the evidence

So which is it? That's not a "secret weather balloon" in that picture? Your explanation doesn't hold together at all.

:) The photos were taken in Texas, at group headquarters. The original PR that the AAF had found a flying saucer went out from the New Mexico base earlier that day.

What fascinates me about Roswell is that we have to assume that the only nuclear-qualified military unit in the world didn't know what common weather balloon looked like that day.

Possible, sure. SNAFUs happen all the time. But once you dig beneath the debunker BS (and believer BS) there's an interesting kernel there.

In the end, to me, it just comes down to Marcel's story, with Marcel Jr's testimony. Like I said, it's an interesting tale.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:22 AM on January 4, 2006


pracowity, thanks for the Drake equation reference. Actually had that in mind but forgot what the actual equation was called.

You're forgetting the rest of us, the great mass of people who aren't active "UFOlogists" or active debunkers, but just people who ask for reliable evidence before they will give serious attention to claims of something so unusual. I think this group includes almost all scientists (and almost everyone else), people who generally have better things to do than to comment on (never mind quit their day jobs and start looking into) every funny light someone claims to have seen. It's not anti-science to ask for some real evidence, something beyond anecdote. People would be interested as hell if someone brought back evidence that was anything close to convincing. Without the evidence, though, you're with the Jesus-on-a-bagel crowd.

Couldn't agree more. However, there actually is physical evidence out there that is consistent with the ET hypothesis. Among the best evidence are metal fragments purported to be taken from crash sites that are composed of isotopes (i.e. different number of neutrons giving the same element different atomic weight) not seen on earth (or extremely rare). Obviously isn't conclusive, and I don't think anyone is claiming it is. But these are anamolous findings that are consistent with an ET hypothesis (e.g. eyewitnesses see craft in sky performing aerial maneuvers that conventional aircraft can't, craft crashes, improbable that metal from the crash site came from Earth).

Maybe some of these "crashed UFOs" are top-secret military aircraft being built with materials being secretly mined from passing asteroids. Maybe the eyewitnesses are lying or seeing things, and the independent labs where the materials are tested are in on the joke. My guess is that an impartial observer would conclude that, heh, maybe the simplest explanation is just that the craft didn't come from Earth. Except that this hypothesis is ruled out a priori because everyone knows that a) there aren't other intelligent species out there and b) even if there were, the laws of physics prevent interstellar travel unless you have a few centuries to spare. Personally, I don't strongly believe in these assumptions, and because of that, think that the field deserves a little more attention. Well... maybe a little less ridicule.
posted by Nquire at 3:36 PM on January 4, 2006


(I liked your closing thought, Nquire, couldn't've said it better)

but, personally, I don't give a crap about physical trace evidence -- the chain of custody / provenance of these things as they come out is generally entirely suspicious.

I am/was more interested in the human angle, both the witnesses and the debunkers, of cases with reasonably good at-the-time corroboration: eg. radio transcripts, radar returns, etc. These provide the gist of a more interesting discussion IME.

I find the debunking side more gullible than the believers, eg. blindly believing Klass' assertion that the Illinois incident was the witnesses mistaking a "house-sized" black object (that was lit up like a pinball machine) was "Venus".

The first baby step for the debunkers is getting them to admit that nobody (among casual investigators) can know for certainty (> 80%) what the hell is going on.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:18 PM on January 4, 2006


Nobody saw any "weirdly moving" things during Roswell proper. Just allegedly a big mess on a ranch that required substantial cleanup, and some weird material properties (i-beams with markings, a satiny foil that smoothly unfolded itself after crumpling, and tough, lightweight material that couldn't be damaged with a sledgehammer.

At the time, they were the evidence

So which is it? That's not a "secret weather balloon" in that picture? Your explanation doesn't hold together at all.


I don't understand your question - my explanation is that that is a secret weather balloon in the picture, which at the time was weird enough (being a 'satiny foil that smoothly unfolded' etc, as you describe above) that it seemed possible it was extraterrestrial to a rancher who came across a whole mess of it. But if you look at it now, the fact that there was some shiny material that "couldn't be damaged with a sledgehammer" does not seem like any kind of proof of alien life. It seems very likely proof of human technology.

Now which of these is more likely?
1) Earth is the only inhabited planet and mankind is the most advanced species in a practically infinite universe.
2) There are other lifeforms on other planets.


Whether intelligent life is random ripple or a teleological necessity (or perhaps more likely, something in between) is certainly an interesting question, but that has very little to do with whether or not anthropomorphic aliens secretly land on earth.

Which is more likely, that people believe weird things because they want it to be true, or that alien life, that just happens to exactly match our TV/film imaginings of what alien life ought to look like, regularly shows up but has somehow never been caught on camera, or landed near a large crowd, or during the day, and has never revealed any information to anyone (if they can travel interstellar distances without harm, they could probably help us technologically) nor left any physical evidence of their existence?

I do not debunk the possibility that extraterrestrial life exists, and even that we may contact it. However, I think it is much more likely that we will receive interstellar radio signals or something of that nature long before we have any physical interaction. If there were flying saucers up there, I am simply convinced that they would be another fact in the world, not something in question. What possible motivation could anyone have for covering it up? The motivation for believing it is clear ("I want to believe" has even been quoted in this thread).
posted by mdn at 4:37 PM on January 4, 2006


We don't really know how our own brains work, do we? And our brains invent the "reality" around us. So just because we can't "see" something, it doesn't mean it's not there.

It doesn't seem likely that people would visit New Jersey, yet they do.
posted by dickasso at 8:13 AM on January 5, 2006


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