# There’s always an excuse

Gizmodo points out the obvious: isn’t it strange that as hand-held, reasonably high quality cameras become ubiquitous, the number of UFO photos is dropping? You can also insert “bigfoot”, “ghosts”, “chupacabra”, or “angels” for “UFO”, they’re all the same thing. You’ve got an unlikely phenomenon that you claim has a physical manifestation, and yet as it becomes easier to record things, your phenomenon vanishes off into the distance.

But don’t worry. They have excuses.

While there are still hundreds of reports each month, that data doesn’t include many clear photos. Harzan had an explanation for why so many of the UFO photos are blurry: “UFOs are basically manipulating space-time. And when they do that, it requires a high electromagnetic field. That distorts the images.”

Harzan did have some tips for anyone who wants to see a UFO. “Just being outdoors, being in a quiet place, and thinking about it tends to be one way you could attract these crafts,” Harzan said. “There appears to be some kind of a consciousness connection.”

Here’s what bugs me, then. Does this Harzan bozo now repudiate all of the old photos of lights in the sky, flying pie plates, etc.? Because their existence would repudiate his claims of UFOs being space-time manipulating objects lost in a fog of electromagnetic haze. It’s the inconsistency that kills their arguments.

1. Holms says

Harzan did have some tips for anyone who wants to see a UFO. “Just being outdoors, being in a quiet place, and thinking about it tends to be one way you could attract these crafts,” Harzan said. “There appears to be some kind of a consciousness connection.”

He all but openly admits that UFOs are only spotted by UFO believers out of their wishful thinking.

2. says

Aliens are well-known for looking for people thinking about UFOs and saying “hey, hey, let’s totally freak them out!”

3. Bruce says

I’m sure the UFO fans would say that, although the UFOs had super-advanced technology for millennia, they had to rush and struggle to develop EMF distortion once they heard about the iPhone. Fortunately, it took zero time to tell their labs, develop the technology, install it, and transport it to earth. And because it’s super-advanced, it doesn’t distort anything when I get an MRI scan, as happens constantly, even though by definition it is happening inside an intense electromagnetic field. But super something anyway.

4. says

This just proves that aliens are shy and have gone into hiding. Now that we have ubiquitous camera-technology, they have drastically reduced their public appearances. Shy!

5. sqlrob says

“Just being outdoors, being in a quiet place, and thinking about it tends to be one way you could attract these crafts,”

Gee, that sounds familiar.

You can’t know GodAliens without accepting GodAliens into your heart.

6. jimmyfromdelaware says

I have been saying for the last couple years that it is no coincidence with the ubiquitous of high quality video cameras on smart phones that police brutality sightings have gone way up and UFO sightings have gone way down.

7. Larry says

“Just being outdoors, being in a quiet place, and thinking about it tends to be one way you could attract these crafts”

Of course, the key requirement, left unstated here, is that one must be alone.

8. Matt Cramp says

I remember XKCD pointing this out years ago, but it bears repeating because it’s the most convincing argument that UFOs never were extraterrestrial visitors.

9. phlo says

I’m fairly certain an electromagnetic field strong enough to “manipulate space-time” would do more than distort camera images. Rip apart the atoms in your body, more like.

10. Reginald Selkirk says

While there are still hundreds of reports each month, that data doesn’t include many clear photos.

There never were clear photos. Go back and look at all the classic UFP photos, and they’re just lights or smudges.
Except occasionally when the photos were too clear, and showed the strings suspending the pie pans…

11. says

‘Teasers are usually rich kids with nothing to do. They cruise around looking for planets that 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 unsuspecting soul whom no one’s ever going to believe and then strut up and down in front of him wearing silly antennas on their head and making beep beep noises. Rather childish really.”’

12. davidnangle says

Interstellar visitors here for sexual experimentation… absurd!

Clearly, if anyone with superior technology was visiting us, it wouldn’t be aliens. It would be us. From the future. Time travelers going to interesting times and places. Of COURSE they’d avoid high concentrations of accurate cameras. There will be laws, after all.

But interesting events of the past… Think of the Last Stand of the 300… the sky would have grown dark with observers!

/s

13. If your hypothesised cause can have any ad hoc property required to explain any observation it becomes completely unfalsifiable, and thus useless.

Just another nargle.

14. blf says

The mildly deranged penguin points out everyone has this mostly wrong — or at least sideways — the Earth is one of the most popular vacation spots (zillions of flying saucer visits each day) since (1) The locals are so gullible; and (2) The locals haven’t discovered slood. Whilst neither “advantage” is unique, the combination is so rare it could be unique, and so has attracted the attention of the Vogons, Sontarans, V’Ger, and other cosmic muffins (albeit, strangely, not the locals).

Some put this lack of local’s knowledge / interest in the obvious down to the Earth being a computer for the mice, and thus full of bugs — such as there being a massive flud which inconvenienced the pineapple-eating T. rex (local legend is coconut-eating, but that clearly is a bug in the computer’s programming) — but bug-prone computer programming is a myth of fantasy, just like worlds without dragons or the tale of the benign pea.

15. Pierce R. Butler says

…as hand-held, reasonably high quality cameras become ubiquitous, the number of UFO photos is dropping…

Our esteemed host fails to consider the Big Picture here. As cams proliferate, they become increasingly distracted by the proliferating antics of frolicking felines – all of whom, of course, are In On It.

16. “It’s the inconsistency that kills their arguments…”
No, no, no, no, no; it’s the inconsistency that _saves_ their arguments. Inconsistency is not a glitch, or even a feature; inconsistency is the operating system.

17. jrkrideau says

Just being outdoors, being in a quiet place, and thinking about it tends to be one way you could attract these crafts”

Where I live, at this time of the year, one tends to attract deer flies and the odd mosquito. Good heavens, deer flies are really UFOs!

There must be millions of UFOs every summer. As tourists go, they do not seem to contribute much to the local economy.

18. Susan Montgomery says

To be completely fair, has anyone ever tried to take a picture or video of a moving object in the sky at night with a middle-range smartphone? Or in the daytime for that matter?

19. Ed Seedhouse says

You manipulate space/time with electromagnetic fields. So I guess the standard model of particle physics is just all wrong? Because it says that it’s *mass* that warps space/time to “cause” gravitation. And that electromagnetism is a separate quantum field altogether. Silly physicists …

20. Ed Seedhouse says

@8: “I remember XKCD pointing this out years ago, but it bears repeating because it’s the most convincing argument that UFOs never were extraterrestrial visitors.”

No it’s not. There are plenty of more convincing arguments and there have been for about 60 years or so. One of them being the laws of physics, which just plain rule them out. If !!UFOs!! THEN “A hundred years of physicists have been blindingly, amazingly, stunningly, stupidly and utterly WRONG”.

21. Rob Grigjanis says

Ed @19: First, the Standard Model of particle physics doesn’t say anything about gravity. Second, it’s not just mass that affects spacetime. On the right side of the Einstein field equations is the stress-energy tensor; this contains the density and flux of energy and momentum, whatever the source. And electromagnetic fields certainly have energy and momentum, so they do contribute to the “warping” of spacetime.

22. Owlmirror says

In the 2017 Chapman survey, 26.2% reported believing that “Aliens have come to Earth in modern times”, up a bit from 2016 (24.7%). I don’t know how that tracks with the proliferation of small powerful cameras, though.

Far more people believe in hauntings (52.3%; 46.6% in 2016) and ancient advanced civilizations like Atlantis (55%; 39.6% in 2016). There’s some pretty huge variations — I wonder what is up with that?

Maybe there’s correlation with popular media on the topics? A more generally skeptical set of respondents in 2016?

Bigfoot is actually the least believed in (16.2%, 13.5% in 2016).

23. whheydt says

Many years ago, John W. Campbell Jr. ran an article on the problem of UFO claims by writing about hypothetical reports from the late-19th century about mysterious “flying crosses”. What he had (deliberately) was a series of bad photos (out of focus, blurred by motion, manipulated in the darkroom, etc.) of aircraft, together with supposed descriptions of what the observer said he say. The very last photo was sharp and clear, and appear to show (at least at first glance) a delta-winged craft. The description of the last one was supposed to be taken at the end of October and included the sound of rumbling and a sort of wailing scream (okay, so he heard a train going over a trestle in the distance), but *what* is that thing in the photo? If you examined it, it turned out to be a witch riding a broom.

All in all, a very good send up of the UFO claims of the day.

24. Larry says

they become increasingly distracted by the proliferating antics of frolicking felines

It’s been a position of mine, held for a number of years, that the “frolicking felines” are, in fact, the aliens we’ve been seeking. They live amongst us, performing the most devious experiments, usually involving balls of twine and laser pointers, and big galoots that we are, we totally fail to recognize that fact. We play their games in ignorance, believing we’re amusing them. Meanwhile, notes are being taken, assembled, and distributed throughout their kind in preparation for ???. Do not assume that we humans are the top of the food chain. Take precautions and (oh, hi Buster. You want to play?) What? No! Put that down!! *(#*#@ no signal…

25. Ed Seedhouse says

Rob Grigjanis@21

My admittedly fuzzy understanding of things is that the “standard model” is a quantum field model and one of the fields included is indeed gravitation. As a field it is expected to be a quantum field like all the others, but a successful formality for that has not yet been developed. But Einstein’s formalization of gravitation is indeed in the standard model.

All energy has mass, and “mass warps spacetime”. But the electromagnetic field does not warp spacetime directly whereas the gravitational field does. Or to be more precise the gravitational field *is* the warping of spacetime.

You can use mass to “warp” spacetime directly (i.e. black holes), but you cannot directly warp spacetime with the electromagnetic force or with the strong or weak nuclear forces except insofar as all energy has mass.

26. Rich Woods says

@davidnangle #12:

Think of the Last Stand of the 300… the sky would have grown dark with observers!

At least they would get to fight in the shade.

27. sparks says

It’s perfectly simple:
Aliens on vacation. They come to Earth because of their well known fondness for beef. So, they’re having a nice steak, have 4 or 5 Martini’s too many, and next thing you know, it’s on to the anal probing.

And tentacles.

28. Rob Grigjanis says

Ed @25:

All energy has mass, and “mass warps spacetime”. But the electromagnetic field does not warp spacetime directly whereas the gravitational field does.

In the Standard Model*, photons (and gluons) are massless, but they certainly have energy. So no, not all energy has mass.

Yes, the EM field warps spacetime just as “directly” as mass does, via the Einstein field equation I linked to.

Now England is playing Colombia, so I’m gone until 4 pm ET.

*I’m capitalizing to make clear I’m talking about this, and not some model which is accepted as standard in some sense.

29. mordred says

A similar effect happened with ghost photos a few decades ago. When more modern camera designs which reduced the chance of accidental double exposures became more common, the number of really impressive spirit pictures dropped quite noticeably.

30. Ed Seedhouse says

“In the Standard Model*, photons (and gluons) are massless, but they certainly have energy. So no, not all energy has mass.”

I think you misunderstand what “mass-less” means in the case of force carrying particles. They have no REST mass – but they are never at rest. They carry energy in the form of momentum, because they are moving. Photons definitely have mass when they are moving – how else does a light sail work?

But I was wrong about Gravitation being part of the standard model – it isn’t, if the Web search I did turned up reliable pages.

Anyway all these “particles”, massy or mass-less are technically just resonances in quantum fields…

31. Rob Grigjanis says

I think you misunderstand what “mass-less” means in the case of force carrying particles

No, I don’t misunderstand. The 4-momentum of a particle is (with units in which c=1)

(E, p)

where E is the energy and p is the spatial momentum. The energy E satisfies

E = ( p² + m² )^(1/2)

where p is the magnitude of p and m is the mass. Yes, the rest mass: that’s what “mass” means. So for a massless particle

E = p

Photons definitely have mass when they are moving – how else does a light sail work?

No, they have momentum, which is transferred to the sail. You don’t get to define “mass” to mean what you want it to mean.

32. chrislawson says

Ed Seedhouse@30–

In the current model of physics, massless particles are indeed massless. The “no rest mass but has mass when moving” argument is one of those odd fallacies one can find on the internet but has no basis in physical theory.

As for light sails (and more prosaically, the Crookes radiometers you can pick up cheap in most science shops), the explanation is this:

1. Most of us were taught in high school that momentum = mass x velocity.
2. This would imply that a massless particle can have no momentum to impart to another object.
3. Which would mean that light sails and Crookes radiometers wouldn’t work.
4. However, momentum = mass x velocity is a Newtonian mechanic that was superseded by Special Relativity.
5. The current physical equation is E^2 = p^2.c^2 + m^2.c^4, where E is energy, p is momentum, m is mass, and c is the speed of light.
6. You can see that an object at rest has no momentum, so its total energy simplifies to the well-known equation E = mc^2.
7. For a massless particle like a photon, however, m = 0, so E^2 = p^2.c^2, so E= pc
8. So a massless particle’s energy is 100% made up of its momentum.
9. You will also notice that the only way for a particle to have zero energy is to be massless AND momentumless, which should make us question whether it counts as a particle.
10. This explains why a massless particle can impart momentum to another object and why a massless particle cannot be at rest.

Now for added fun, we can use natural units (i.e. c = 1) and those equations become even easier to use. The total energy formula simplifies down to E^2 = p^2 + m^2.

You might notice that this is Pythagoras’ Theorem. That is, energy is the hypotenuse of momentum and mass. And as an object increases its velocity (and thus its momentum), it is effectively rotating through a unit circle. Which is (a) why some physicists describe acceleration as rotating in space-time, and (b) an easy visual explanation for why objects with mass can never reach the speed of light — because if there is even a tiny bit of mass in the object, you can never get the graph to go perfectly along the axis, which is the only place where velocity can be c.

Whee!

33. chrislawson says

I see Rob beat me to it.

34. Johnny Vector says

Clearly the aliens are creating a magnetic field, which warps the photos. Ever seen the unprocessed photos of Jupiter from the Voyager missions? I have. They’re a mess, for lots of reasons, one of which is the huge amount of warping done to the images by Jupiter’s magnetic field. The exact same thing happens with the Vidicon camera in your iPhone. I know it’s true because I’m too stupid to imagine any progression of technology from when I first learned how TV works. So you can take it from me!

I thought UFO’s were reflections of Venus off swamp gas. . .got to look up that Blue Book.

36. Rob Grigjanis says

chrislawson @32:

The “no rest mass but has mass when moving” argument is one of those odd fallacies one can find on the internet but has no basis in physical theory

I think it comes from the outdated notion of “relativistic mass”, which strictly speaking doesn’t apply to particles with zero rest mass, since it’s defined as

where m is the rest mass and γ = ( 1 – v²/c² )^(1/2). Of course, this is just the energy divided by c². Einstein hated the term “relativistic mass”, as does any physicist who doesn’t want to confuse the meaning of “mass”.

But I’m guessing the idea that “mass” increases with velocity is easily, if wrongly, transferred to particles with zero rest mass, maybe aided and abetted by the well-known nonrelativistic expression for momentum p=mv.

37. Rob Grigjanis says

γ = ( 1 – v²/c² )^(-1/2)

which is why relativistic mass goes to ∞ as v approaches c.

38. chrislawson says

Rob@36–

Agreed. I also think it’s a way for people who are confused by the concept of momentum without mass to play a mental shell game that allows them to keep p=mv as their intuitive momentum equation. Certainly when I was first grappling with relativity this was one of my cognitive hurdles. What they’re doing is working out the total energy of a particle and converting to the equivalent mass by E=mc^2 without realising that the energy in equivalent mass is not the same thing as actual mass.

It’s like thinking that dollars and gold are the same thing because you can exchange them. And as we know, outside of absurdly priced audio cables, dollars can not match the electrical conductivity of gold.

39. wzrd1 says

Of course, magnetism can effect electromagnetic radiation, polarizing it, twisting it about a bit and far earlier than any theoretical effects upon space-time would be anticipated (if any at any realistic energy levels (such as below the environment of a neutron star or black hole).
That all said, the effect is modest and of quite short range. Useful for polarizing a microwave antenna or similar tricks, not making some flying object blurry.

Gizmodo points out the obvious: isn’t it strange that as hand-held, reasonably high quality cameras become ubiquitous, the number of UFO photos is dropping?

Not strange at all, with ubiquitous reasonably high quality of cameras, one would expect those unidentified objects to be swiftly identified.

I’ve saw many an unidentified flying object – right until it was identified. A few months ago, a group of men were watching an unidentified object floating overhead. A few seconds with a telephoto lens revealed it to be a weather balloon, without a payload. Either it had already dropped a sonde, which isn’t likely, as it was over downtown Shreveport or a hobbyist lost control of a weather balloon.
Sorry, didn’t wast time taking a picture.
Other times, I saw some downright unearthly shapes. We now know them as drones.

Of course, I do have fun with the flying saucer crowd by asking, “If *you* could travel across interstellar space, would *you* come *here*, with all of the idiots scampering about here?”.

40. Owlmirror says

Just to remind everyone, we can use latex equations:

$latex E=\sqrt{p^2+m^2}$

$E=\sqrt{p^2+m^2}$

$latex \displaystyle \gamma = ({1-{v^2}/{c^2}})^{-\frac{1}{2}}$

$\displaystyle \gamma = ({1-{v^2}/{c^2}})^{-\frac{1}{2}}$

(or)

$latex \displaystyle \gamma = {1}/{\sqrt{1-{v^2}/{c^2}}}$

$\displaystyle \gamma = {1}/{\sqrt{1-{v^2}/{c^2}}}$

(or)

$latex \displaystyle \gamma = \frac{1}{\sqrt{1-{v^2}/{c^2}}}$

$\displaystyle \gamma = \frac{1}{\sqrt{1-{v^2}/{c^2}}}$

41. Owlmirror says

@mordred, #29:

A similar effect happened with ghost photos a few decades ago. When more modern camera designs which reduced the chance of accidental double exposures became more common, the number of really impressive spirit pictures dropped quite noticeably.

And yet, belief in hauntings still seems relatively high (see #22 above). Ghosts may just be more plausible to some people, perhaps because of a desire for there to be something after death.

42. Rob Grigjanis says

Owlmirror @40: Thanks for that! If you mentioned it before, I must have missed it.

43. chigau (違う) says

So I could just copy/paste some formula and substitute shit …
$\displaystyle \epsilon = {42}/{\sqrt{42-{v^42}/{c^-42}}}$
cool
Did I open a wormhole?

44. chrislawson says

Thank you, Owlmirror. I will use latex notation next time!

45. chrislawson says

$e^{i \pi} + 1 = 0$

Cool.

46. chrislawson says

OK, so let’s try an equation that’s on topic:

$proximity(t) \propto \frac{1}{resolution(t)}$

where the proximity of any non-existent object in available images is inversely proportional to the available resolution of mass-market cameras, as a function of time.

47. methuseus says

@Owlmirror #41:

And yet, belief in hauntings still seems relatively high (see #22 above). Ghosts may just be more plausible to some people, perhaps because of a desire for there to be something after death.

I have to say, an afterlife of being a ghost is seemingly more plausible than an MMORPG that my brain is uploaded to a la Missy’s Nethersphere in Doctor Who’s Dark Water. Though I don’t know that any of it is truly plausible.

48. rietpluim says

Now that you’ve mentioned it, we haven’t seen a picture of Bigfoot lately. I wonder how he is doing.

49. blf says

Now that you’ve mentioned it, we haven’t seen a picture of Bigfoot lately. I wonder how he is doing.

50. robert79 says

@6 – So basically, as smartphone use increased it became easier to film the police doing bad things. So videos of police doing bad things went up. The aliens, who obviously have mostly been watching our electronic emissions, realise that cops are not friendly neighbourhood cops from 1950’s movies but quite the opposite, realise we’re not worth bothering with and so their visits go down. As a result, UFO sightings go down.