Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Astronomers and the UAP(UFO)

It came with a regular batch of astronomy news from an online news service devoted specifically to that topic. Usually, there are news releases from JPL and NASA about something the Mars Rover was doing, or a new photo that the Hubble took, or the first light of a new telescope. But today, there were two news releases that attracted my attention, mostly because they were so unusual.

First, there was a release from Harvard about a paper published next week in Nature will announce that an exoplanet has been found that is not only within 40 light years of Earth, but this planet displays the spectrum of water.

A planet with water within 40 light years? Practically our next door neighbour. In fact, it would be the best candidate in my opinion for our first real search for extraterrestrial biological life.

This humid world is also thought to be only two or three (or ten) times as massive as Earth, and resides in the constellation Ophiuchus. It's currently rising just above Hercules in the early winter morning sky.

Great news for SETI fans.

But then the second news release came in, this time from a group calling itself UAP Reporting ( It was a legitimate astronomical news release. What was most remarkable is that the release announced the opening of a website where astronomers could report sightings of Unidentified Aerosapce Phenomena (UAPs).

As many ufologists will know, UAP is a term used in place of UFO by some scientists who don't want to call them UFOs because of the stigma associated with it. (Actually, UAP originally has stood for Unidentified or Unusual Aerial Phenomena, but we can go with Aerospace if they really want. See:

Anyway, the website is the brainchild of Philippe Ailleris, a Dutch financial officer working for the Euopean Space Agency. An amateur astronomer, he has been quietly presenting papers at astronomical conferences on SETI and topics related to UFOs.

Ailleris cites the 1976 study by Peter Sturrock on professional astronomers' UFO sightings (in this case a revision published in 1994) and also the reports on the Hessdalen lights over the past few decades. He doesn't note (or is aware of) the Gert Herb report on amateur astronomers' sightings. (http//, page 12)

This comes at a particularly interesting time, as "Bad Astronomer" and outspoken debunker (but not a skeptic) Phil Plait has been arguing in his blog during the past year that me and Stan Friedman simply don't understand his view that astronomers should be seeing all the UFOs if any really existed. This is a slight change from an earlier viewpoint that astronomers don't see UFOs. Since Phil doesn't think I understand the difference, I won't dispel his belief. (He really went after me and Stan Friedman recently:

Anyway, Phil and good skeptic Tim Printy (who also went after me, come to think of it: I still disagree with him, since none of the professional astronomers at three academic institutions I know well do any significant night sky observing) both insist these days that astronomers do see UFOs but can usually explain them. In fact, astronomers reporting UFOs is actually no big deal. There are many such reports on record. Some have explanations, and some do not. Astronomers don't seem to report ant more or any less UFOs than the general public.

What is lost in all this, however, is the point that amateur astronomers, who do most of the dedicated real-time human observing of the night sky these days, do observe and report UFOs. These are people who know what should be moving against the backdrop of stars and what should not. On the other hand, many amateurs with whom I have been acquainted don't spend much time looking into the sky at all, some simply setting their guiding motors on a target nebula and heading inside to a warmup room for an hour or so.

Since the astronomers/UFO debate has been raging this past year, it will be interesting to see how Ailleris' project is received by debunkers and the scientific community. My guess is that he will he ridiculed, mocked and drawn-and-quartered. (Not necessarily in that order.)

Or is it possible the project will be received for what it is: a scientific study of unidentified phenomena observed by astronomers.

Monday, December 14, 2009


British Ministry of Defence announcement

I've been reading a lot of comments by experts on the MoD announcement. If you haven't heard, on December 1, 2009, they posted a note saying the British government would no longer be investigating UFO reports received by their office:

The MoD noted that it would be "inappropriate" to use Defence budgetary funds and resources to investigate UFO reports and therefore it was closing its UFO hotline and not respond to email inquiries.

This isn't the least surprising. Given the popular scientific opinion that UFOs are nonsense, it was becoming increasingly difficult to justify having MoD personnel spend their valuable time dealing with UFO reports. Imagine the comments in MoD corridors: "Chasing after little green blokes again, are you, Wiggins?"

Canada did the same thing in the 1990s. For decades before then, an unassuming woman named Denise answered the phone and received teletypes then faxes about UFO sightings reported toe National Defence and the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (now the Canadian Space Agency). She filed the reports in a green four-drawer filing cabinet marked "Non-Meteoric Sightings." Denise and that filing cabinet were the Canadian version of the X-Files for many years.

Several times, I flew into Ottawa and was greeted by Denise in her office. I spent many hours poring through UFO case files before she transferred them to National Archives at the end of each year. I would have coffee or lunch with some of the astronomers there, including Ian Halliday and Peter Millman, then wander to the National Archives to look through the older files there.

That's why I find this whole thing about "disclosure" so silly. The Canadian files were always available, and the only thing that has changed recently is that National Archives has been scanning the original case documents and putting them online as a convenience to UFO document seekers. But I and others have been looking at these docs for decades.

Anyway, when the Canadian government felt they would be getting some heat for having someone on the payroll taking calls and filing reports, they began unloading the task. To be fair, Denise did a lot of other work for the department, and suffice to say that her UFO-related activities were "other duties as assigned."

The Canadian "UFO desk" was shut down in stages. In 1995, the Canadian Space Agency suspended its agreement with the RCMP to investigate UFO reports. The police had been investigating sightings with the expectation that UFO reports were often meteors and that good investigations would allow the discovery of meteorites. This actually happened successfully a few times, most notably near Innisfree, Alberta, in 1977:

Obviously (at least to anyone who actually took a look at UFO sighting reports), most reported UFOs are not meteors, so most cases ended up in the "Non-Meteoric Sightings" file. "Non-Meteoric Sighting" in this case simply meant "UFO."

The reality is that Denise did not (and could not) investigate the reports received, so they all ended up just getting filed neatly in a drawer. Only one drawer in the four-drawer cabinet was used for UFO reports. I was told she put her lunch and purse in other drawers.

Occasionally, a few people like myself and Stan Friedman would visit and we were allowed to look at some files. I easily explained some reports as aircraft and other things, but I don't think Denise noted my comments anywhere. Several cases were very unusual and and I took the liberty of investigating them myself.

Alas, with the coming of tight budgets, the luxury of a UFO office in the Canadian Space Agency was not prudent, so it was closed. A significant chapter in the history of Canadian ufology was closed.

Fear not, young ufologist, for since 2000 I have been receiving such UFO reports. Canadian UFO reports filed through official channels are still accessible, and I suspect that's what will happen with the British reports as well. People will still report their UFO sightings to the MoD or other British departments, and they will be accessible in some form or another. As for investigation, that's up to British ufologists...

Pilot UFO report

I don't get many pilot reports these days. In fact, UFO report numbers in Canada are way down, despite what some people are saying. I look over all the available cases and the number count is much lower than this time in 2008, which was a banner year, admittedly, but the drop appears considerable. I'll know when I start compiling the 2009 data early in 2010.

Anyway, I received the following report data:

CIRVIS report
12 December 2009, 0050Z

A commercial flight from Winnipeg to Thompson, Manitoba, was nearing its destination when "a bright light at approximately 1000 feet AGL NW of Thompson" was seen by pilot (and possibly the co-pilot).

The report further noted: "The single light was travelling East to West... The speed of the object is unknown."

The report concluded: "No further identification details available."

With so few cues to go on, it's impossible to say what was seen. We can note that the Geminids reached their peak on Sunday, December 13th, so this light might have been a meteor, since the radiant is in the East. One would hope that pilots would be able to identify a meteor, though.

Back at it

Okay, I know it's been a while. Have you ever seen the short film Non-Abductees Anonymous? (No? Then take a look. It's at:

Anyway, there's a line in there when a woman who has not been abducted is in role-play therapy, and asks a guy in an alien suit: "Why wasn't I abducted? Why? Why?" and the the "alien" answers: "Well, I was busy..."

Okay, So I've been busy.

But in the next few days I hope to be able to blog about some of the things that have been making the rounds of ufodom. Norwegian spirals, MoD posts, and things like that.

To start off easy, though, my next post will be of a recent pilot UFO report.

Keep looking up.

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