Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tall tales swirling around UFOs

Aug 13, 2011
By Andy Ho

AN OBVIOUSLY determined UFO acolyte of a reader asked if The Straits Times were too 'chicken' to touch the issue. For true believers, 'UFO' is no longer 'unidentified flying object' but simply alien spacecraft. There were YouTube videos of UFOs sighted in and near Singapore, he claimed. More importantly, declassified UFO reports were released by Western governments recently, he said.

Well, discussing flying saucers does tend to make one look a tad flaky. In March this year, Her Majesty's government released a tranche of UFO files which revealed how dismayed it was in 1977 when Sir Eric Gairy called on the United Nations to investigate UFOs.

Britain managed to get the then Prime Minister of Grenada to withdraw his proposal. But he next asked the UN to designate 1978 'Year of the UFO'. Fortunately for all concerned about the UN's image, a coup saw Sir Eric go in 1979.

That year, the British Parliament had its one and only UFO debate. The just released files picture officials struggling to nail down a stand which was eventually this: 'There is nothing to convince Her Majesty's government that there has ever been a single visit by an alien spacecraft.'

In April this year, however, a Cold War-era document appeared on a free online archive of the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), called The Vault. Written in 1950 by FBI agent Guy Hottel and directed to the legendary FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, it related how 'flying saucers had been recovered in New Mexico (which were) circular in shape with raised centres, approximately 50 feet (15m) in diameter'.

It added: 'Each one was occupied by three bodies of human shape but only three feet tall, dressed in metallic cloth of a very fine texture'.

The document is real but the details hearsay. Investigators have traced the origins of this story to a lecture given at the University of Denver two weeks before the document was written.

The speaker was a scammer who tried to convince investors he had secret alien technology to locate oil. That story was then passed on, with Mr Hottel's informant being eight times removed from the lecture. Genuine document, false details.

In 1969, along with 10 other people, Mr Jimmy Carter reported sighting a UFO as 'big as the moon'. It changed colours, moved back and forth, and flew away.

During his 1976 run for the White House, Mr Carter promised a policy of openness on UFOs, if elected. Once in office, however, he declined disclosure, citing 'defence implications'. What Mr Carter saw is now officially said to have been Venus.

Then there is former astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who has been claiming for years that the US authorities have had contact with alien intelligences or extraterrestrials (ETs).

Besides his Apollo glory days, Dr Mitchell earned his doctorate in astronautics and aeronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), no less.

But he also grew up in Roswell, New Mexico, allegedly the site of an UFO crash in 1947, that was reported on the front page of The New York Times.

The authorities later said it was a crashed weather balloon (now known to have been carrying a gadget to spy on Soviet nuclear tests).

However, fans believe that Roswell was the beginning of a massive UFO cover-up. Because he is a local boy, Dr Mitchell says, old-timers have entrusted him with eyewitness accounts. Again, no physical evidence, just second-hand stories.

But even astronauts and presidents are subject to the same optical illusions and cognitive biases like the rest of us. We are all suggestible and our memories also pliable. And then there are hoaxes.

In practice, natural phenomena do not explain satisfactorily every UFO sighting, so some unexplained reports do remain. But there has been no objectively verifiable evidence for ET visitation.

A UFO wreckage or pieces of one fabricated from ET alloys, or recovered bodies of aliens would be great.

Conversely, there are good reasons why ET visitation is not happening. Basically, if an alien civilisation existed on a planet circling just one of the 300,000 billion billion stars, it would be located so far away that the energy requirements to get here would be impractical.

Suppose ETs lived just 10 light years away. If they could fly at 90 per cent of the speed of light, they should get here in 11 years. Experts figure that to fly a spacecraft four times as big as the whole space shuttle system, say, would require the energy output of about 4.5 million of the largest hydrogen bombs. Just stopping the vehicle would require just as much energy. And then there is the trip home. That comes up to 14 million big ones.

If ETs could afford to take 200 years to get here instead, they could fly at just 10 per cent light-speed. But this would still require 17,000 hydrogen bombs one way. Now imagine if ETs actually lived much farther than 10 light years away. In a purely physical cosmos, the fundamental laws of physics make it simply impractical and implausible for ETs to visit us.

Only in a metaphysical universe might these considerations be moot. If ETs existed in dimensions alongside with but not identical to our physical cosmos, then the energy requirements to get here might not have to obey the laws of physics.

There might be laws of metaphysics they have to obey. But contemplating what the laws that metaphysical UFOs might have to obey would still be flaky.

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