A topic about outer-space and everything in it, from little green men to big spirally galaxies

Your Daily Dose of Awe: The Milky Way Over Uluru

Milky Way over Uluru, by Babak Tafreshi

Here's your daily dose of awe: the centre of the Milky Way hanging over Uluru, in Central Australia.

Image taken a couple of weeks ago by Babak Tefreshi, and posted as NASA's Astronomy Pic of the Day on July 30.

The central regions of our Milky Way Galaxy rise above Uluru/Ayers Rock in this striking night skyscape. Recorded on July 13, a faint airglow along the horizon shows off central Australia's most recognizable landform in silhouette. Of course the Milky Way's own cosmic dust clouds appear in silhouette too, dark rifts along the galaxy's faint congeries of stars. Above the central bulge, rivers of cosmic dust converge on a bright yellowish supergiant star Antares. Left of Antares, wandering Saturn shines in the night.

Click to embiggen!

1959 Comic Featured 'The Face on Mars' - 17 Years Before a NASA Probe's Famous Photo

'The Face on Mars' in a 1959 Comic Book

Here's your daily dose of weird: Almost four decades ago a strange photograph was taken of Mars by the Viking 1 space probe, which appeared to show a massive humanoid-looking face carved into the Red Planet's landscape, staring back at the orbiter's lens. The so-called 'Face on Mars' would go on to become a fixture in theories about extraterrestrial alien life, though later more high-resolution photographs of the region had NASA dashing thoughts of it being an artificial creation.

Interestingly though, the idea of a 'Face on Mars' was already present in popular culture, through a 1959 comic book illustrated by the great Jack Kirby - 17 years before the Viking photograph. And the weirdness doesn't end there - see this fun article at the Secret Sun blog to go right down the rabbit hole...

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A History of Aliens on Film

Digg has put together a super-cut of some of the most well-known movie extraterrestrials in 'The History of Aliens on Film', with Radiohead's "Subterranean Homesick Alien" as the soundtrack:

From their earliest cinematic appearance in Georges Méliès's "A Trip to the Moon" in 1902, our conception of life beyond Earth has changed to reflect our hopes and fears, the technology we've mastered, and our growing knowledge of the universe. Watch our depictions of extraterrestrial life change over nearly 100 films and 112 years.

Would have been nice if some of the cuts were a bit longer...bit hard to keep up at times. Any of your favourites not in there?

I enjoyed noting that some of the depictions matched reasonably closely with this half-facetious 'History of Science Fiction' graphic (posted by @neverjessie):

History of Science Fiction

"UFOlogy Has No Ontology": Jacques Vallee at the CAIPAN Workshop 2014

Last year, back when a few reporters took a look at the sorry state of UFO conventions in the United States, and wondered whether UFOlogy as a field had finally come to an end, some of the best minds in the world were meeting behind close doors on the other side of the Atlantic, having serious discussions about a subject which is still regarded as a form of deranged entertainment by the majority of mainstream media.

Those who were invited to participate didn't have to waste time convincing the audience about the reality of the phenomenon; nor was this a reunion of 'true believers' spinning yarns of contact with benevolent Space Brothers or malevolent alien invaders (and they were certainly NO Kodachrome slides of child mummies displayed on cheap glass showcases!). The multinational team of scientists and members of the military gathered at the CAIPAN workshop, sponsored by the French space agency CNES, were gathered in the city of Paris on the second weekend of July of 2014, because they were already convinced UFOs are more than fodder for the supermarket tabloids. But more than that, they were keenly aware of an utterly embarrassing realization for those who claim to be 'professional UFOlogists': That almost 70 years after Kenneth's Arnold seminal sighting in June of 1947, we still don't know $#!t about what UFOs *are*.

Which was precisely the point of Jacques Vallee's participation during the CAIPAN workshop. "Suppose the so-called Disclosure happened tomorrow," Vallee proposes at the beginning of his presentation titled A Strategy for Research; were that to occur, and the press actually began to take the subject seriously and ask UFOlogists for information about the phenomenon, "we would be unable to answer a number of very basic questions."

By getting back to basics, Vallee is setting forth a number of very straightforward and logical questions highlighting our monumental ignorance about the phenomenon:

  • Are there global patterns in the data?
  • What are the physical facts of the phenomenon?
  • Are there special locations where it manifests?
  • What are the social and cultural factors?
  • What is the impact on humans?
  • What methodology is applicable?

The most shocking aspect of the strategy proposed by Vallee, is the fact that ALL those issues can be researched today with the tools available to modern Science. UFOlogy does not require a 'Moon-shot' approach in which we have to patiently wait for the development of new technologies, in hope of one day starting to catch up with the elusive phenomenon. Parsing the databases already gathered by the few civilian groups conducting research --or the files left behind by defunct organizations, like APRO-- could begin to throw some light about patterns observed by UFOs throughout history.

So why are we not doing it?

"UFOlogy has no Ontology" says Vallee, as a phrase meant to encapsulate the stagnation of a field which is already suffering from rheumatism, even though it has barely given its first few steps. With UFOs we try to study cases by exclusion alone --"it wasn't a plane, or a balloon, or Venus, or a meteor, ergo it's an unknown"-- and until we come up with a useful methodology devoid of ideology, with which we can go beyond what UFOs aren't and start to describe what UFOs are, another 70 more years will come and go, and our children's children will still be wondering about those pesky lights in the sky.

The Search for Extraterrestrial Life Just Got Real

Radio Telescope Scans the Sky

Today marks 46 years since Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on extraterrestrial ground, when the Apollo 11 mission successfully landed on the Moon. Russian billionaire Yuri Milner certainly has a sense of occasion, because he chose this auspicious date to announce what may be the next big step in learning about our universe: a $100 million project to search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

SETI has fought for decades to secure a decent amount of funding to conduct a thorough search of the skies, although until recently they were also hamstrung by the technology available to do so. Both of those problems have suddenly been solved through the wallet of Milner, who made his fortune through a number of smart investments, including being an early funder of Facebook.

Milner announced his 'Breakthrough Initiatives' today, flanked by the likes of Stephen Hawking, SETI pioneer Frank Drake, and exoplanet hunter extraordinaire Geoff Marcy:

  1. 'Breakthrough Listen' will conduct the most comprehensive search for signals from alien civilisations ever, using the best technology available. Included is a large amount of observation time on two of the world’s most powerful radio telescopes: Green Bank Telescope in the United States, and Parkes Telescope in Australia. Previously only allowed a day or two per year on these big telescopes, SETI researchers will now have thousands of hours of listening time.
  2. 'Breakthrough Message' is the complementary project to send a message back to listening aliens, “to describe ourselves and our planet in language that other minds can understand", according to Milner. This will involve a million dollar prize pool for a competition to create the message, as well as some debate as to whether sending a message is in fact a smart move (ie. should we broadcast our existence in case there are nasty aliens out there).

Stephen Hawking voiced his support for the project in the following statement:

To understand the Universe, you must know about atoms. About the forces that bind them.

The contours of space and time. The birth and death of stars, the dance of galaxies. The secrets of black holes.

But that is not enough. These ideas cannot explain everything. They can explain the light of stars. But not the lights that shine from planet Earth.

To understand these lights, you must know about life. About minds.

We believe that life arose spontaneously on Earth. So in an infinite universe, there must be other occurrences of life. Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps, intelligent life may be watching these lights of ours, aware of what they mean.

Or do our lights wander a lifeless cosmos. Unseen beacons, announcing that here, on one rock, the Universe discovered its existence.

Either way, there is no bigger question. It’s time to commit to finding the answer - to search for life beyond Earth. The Breakthrough Initiatives are making that commitment.

We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know.

The data from the Breakthrough Listen project will be open, allowing anyone to search through and process it, and will be integrated with SETI@home, allowing volunteers to contribute time on their home computers to sift through the SETI data deluge.

For more information, see the Breakthrough Initiatives website, and as always, science writer Alan Boyle is doing a great job keeping us all up to date with the latest happenings.

Artist Accurately Predicted How Pluto Would Look in 1979

Pluto, painted by Don Dixon, 1979

85 years ago, American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered a distant planet in our Solar System - the tiny world of Pluto. In less than an hour's time, his ashes will whiz past the now 'minor planet' at almost 50,000km/hr, aboard the New Horizons space probe.

If you'd like to track the probe as it makes its fly-by, go download NASA's 'Eyes on Pluto' app, which gives you a simulated real-time telemetry and view of the progress of the mission. Note though that as Pluto is around 4.5 light hours from Earth, no actual signals (including images) from the probe will be available until that time has elapsed.

Though one person did manage to give us a decent image of Pluto, some 36 years in advance. The image at the top of this post was created by astronomical artist Don Dixon in 1979, and it bears a striking resemblance to the images of Pluto received so far:

Pluto painting by Don Dixon compared to New Horizons photo

Before the Pluto fly-by conspiracies begin though, Dixon has pointed out that his image was based on some fairly safe guesses:

I'd like to claim prophetic powers, but the painting was guided by the reasonable assumption that Pluto likely has a periodically active atmosphere that distributes powdery exotic frosts into lowland areas. The reddish color of the higher features is caused by tholins – hydrocarbons common in the outer solar system. The partial circular arcs would be caused by flooding of craters by slushy exotic ices. Pluto is apparently more orange than I painted it, however; I assumed the exotic ices would push colors more into the whites and grays.

Link: Pluto Predicted

Link: NASA's New Horizons Missio

Project Nimbus: Cloud Movies & PSYOPS Deception

Sorry, the above clip is not evidence of the mythical Wild Hunt, although its potential is equally eerie: The video demonstrates the capacity to project moving images on a cloud, by way of a laser system installed on a small airplane.

“Project Nimbus is the exploration of digital and analogue techniques to project moving images onto clouds from the ground, sea level and aircraft including planes, paragliders and hot air balloons.”

Project Nimbus is the brain-child of designer Dave Lynch and Dr. Mike Nix, a chemist from the University of Leeds. Lynch came up with the idea while he was completing his master's degree, after he stumbled upon a paper titled Nonlethal Weapons: Terms and References, edited by Robert J. Bunker in 1997. The paper is a wide compendium of many different technologies, some of them from a theoretical level and others already in use by several governments, intended to incapacitate personnel or materiel without causing permanent or terminal damage, especially for riot control situations.

One of those technologies would be the projection of an 'ancient god' over an enemy city, once their public communications had been seized, as a Psyop operation of a massive scale.

Both the RT article I first read about this, and the New Scientist post it references, go on to describe how Lynch became inspired by Bunker's paper and spent 3 years unsuccessfully experimenting, until he got funded in 2012 by the AND festival and the arts incubator Octopus Collective. Lynch and Nix based their projecting technology on Eadweard Muybridge's pioneering exploration with moving images in the 19th century; using a 2.5W 532 nm laser as a light source with hemispherical lenses transforming the laser beam and creating the shape of the image, they decided to project the vision of a galloping horse over the city of Nottingham as an homage to Muybridge.

Everybody reading these articles --or visiting Project Nimbus' website-- would probably be left with the impression this technology is only meant for artistic or recreational purposes. However, neither RT nor New Scientist give much thought to the idea of weaponizing images projected in the sky, which was why Bunker mentioned them in his paper.

[Fun fact: John B. Alexander, a name you should know well if you're interested in UFOs and the Military psychic program, is credited by Bunker as one of the paper's contributors. Alexander is, among many other things, an expert in non-lethal weapons; his name is also at the top of the contributors' list]

RT mistakenly stated that aerial imagery had been used against the Vietnamese, but after reading Bunker's paper I found no reference of it. In fact I hardly found any description of these Psyops holograms at all --the document is more of a glossary of concepts, rarely extending beyond 5 lines to describe each weapon system listed. What we do know is the CIA did research the possibility of projecting an image of Jesus onto the clouded skies of Havana --from a Navy submarine-- as a way to undermine Castro's communist regime, and possibly trigger an uprising in Cuba, by deceiving the Catholic faithful into believe it was the Second Coming and the fall of Castro was ordained from on high.

This, BTW, is not the first time a 'higher power' has directly criticized Communism, but that's a story for another day…

Obviously, this operation was never carried out, possibly due to the enormous technical problems involving its feasibility; something Lynch and Nix learned the hard way with their Project Nimbus, given how they spent hours searching for the "right type of cloud" for their laser projection.

A question arises almost inevitably, though: If a galloping horse can be 'painted' in a cloud, why not a flying disc? This is the idea behind the controversial Project Blue Beam conspiracy theory, which posits how the powers that be will seek to fake an alien invasion in order to convince the citizens of the world to relinquish their liberties in order to instaurate a Police State as the New World Order.

Project Blue Beam as an idea has many flaws IMO; the biggest one being how you don't really need to pull off such an elaborate plan to establish a Police State --you just give consumers affordable smart phones, and Voilá!. That said, it's always important to be mindful of how intelligence agencies have *always* tried to exploit the UFO phenomenon --and the will to believe it inspires among some people-- for their own advantage. Mark Pilkington's Mirage Men is a great example of this, and although he didn't really look into Project Blue Beam per se, one has to admit how faking a UFO sighting as part of a Psyop campaign is not outside the realm of possibility.

As Forteans we always have to be on the alert and, contrary to popular opinion, make sure to look at a gift horse in the mouth --even if it's flying above our heads.
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LINKS:

Ferryman of the Vasty Deep: Pluto's Moon Charon Comes into View

The New Horizons space probe is fast approaching its rendezvous with Pluto, and in a new image just released the first real details of the dwarf planet's moon Charon have emerged, showing it to be a world of chasms and craters:

The most pronounced chasm, which lies in the southern hemisphere, is longer and miles deeper than Earth’s Grand Canyon, according to William McKinnon, deputy lead scientist with New Horizon’s Geology and Geophysics investigation team.

“This is the first clear evidence of faulting and surface disruption on Charon,” says McKinnon, who is based at the Washington University in St. Louis. “New Horizons has transformed our view of this distant moon from a nearly featureless ball of ice to a world displaying all kinds of geologic activity.”

The most prominent crater, which lies near the south pole of Charon in an image taken July 11 and radioed to Earth today, is about 60 miles (96.5 kilometers) across. The brightness of the rays of material blasted out of the crater suggest it formed relatively recently in geologic terms, during a collision with a small body some time in the last billion million years.

The darkness of the crater’s floor is especially intriguing, says McKinnon. One explanation is that the crater has exposed a different type of icy material than the more reflective ices that lie on the surface. Another possibility is that the ice in the crater floor is the same material as its surroundings but has a larger ice grain size, which reflects less sunlight. In this scenario, the impactor that gouged the crater melted the ice in the crater floor, which then refroze into larger grains.

A mysterious dark region near Charon’s north pole stretches for 200 miles. More detailed images that New Horizons will take around the time of closest approach to the moon on July 14 may provide hints about the dark region’s origin.

Link: Charon's Chasms and Craters

Jacques Vallee on UFOs, Remote Viewing and the COMETA Report

This is a short, little video of which I wished I had more information regarding when and where it was taken: Jacques Vallee, possibly our favorite UFOlogist in the world* --even though he deliberately chose to move away from the public eye of UFOlogy, because he grew tired of all the asinine in-fighting between 'researchers' promoting their favorite BS (Belief System)-- is shown discussing a few things about the phenomenon and its undeniable link with what we call 'psychic phenomena' --something MANY nuts-and-bolters refuse to acknowledge to this day.

He also briefly mentions his participation with SRI, the non-profit research institute which originally branched out of Stanford University --fun fact: SRI was responsible for the AI research behind Apple's Siri-- and was focusing on study the possible military and security applications of 'Remote Viewing' under the guidance of Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ during the 1970s and until 1995, when the program was (officially) cancelled.

It wasn't long before the UFO phenomenon become 'entangled' with the members of the Stargate Project, something which likely hurt the credibility of an already outlandish pursuit. A brief study of Remote Viewing, however, will bring anyone with an open mind to the conclusion that the program's (apparent) cancellation had nothing to do with its actual effectiveness though, but because the seemingly 'occult' properties of Remote Viewing did not sit well with the religious sensibilities held by the higher echelons of the US top brass --not to mention that spending billions of dollars in spy satellites is part of what makes the wheels of the Military Industrial Complex turning...

Finally, Monsieur Vallee brings up the famous COMETA report, which involved credentialed scientists and retired generals presenting the best available evidence in support of UFOs' existence, whose objective was to request academic circles and government bodies to take the phenomenon with the seriousness it deserves.

Unfortunately the report never gained the traction its redactors' hoped for, and Vallee thinks the reason for that has to do with what is still the biggest blight plaguing this field: The Roswell Mythos.

Why, the fact that 'World UFO Day' is supposed to commemorate what many researchers still believe is the be-all and end-all of UFOlogy, is proof enough of how this field is still too American-centered; ironic, considering how this is supposed to be a global mystery.

C'est la vie...

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(*)If you want to understand why Vallee is our fave, you should probably grab a copy of Passport to Magonia [Amazon US & UK] and Messengers of Deception [Amazon US & UK], both re-issued by Daily Grail Publishing.

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UPDATE: Our friend Eric Wargo informs us the video above was taken during the Q&A session of Vallee's talk at the 2007 IRVA (International Remote Viewing Association) conference. The entire presentation is available here.

Incidentally, you should also check out Eric's interview at The Paracast, in which he delivered a lot of thought-provoking ideas about synchronicities and UFOs.

Abduction Animations

Trying to transmit the narrative of the abduction mythos in all its surreal, quasi-oneiric complexity to an outsider is an almost insurmountable task, due to both the limitations of language as much as the intrinsically personal nature of the experience itself.

Because of this the medium of classic, hand-drawn Animation seems to provide a more suitable approximation than other conventional methods of expression. It's not just about the cliched "a picture is worth a thousand words," though. To me there's something in creating the illusion of life and movement out of lines drawn into some canvas or piece of paper, that is nothing short of magical --and, perhaps, closer to the mystery of what's behind these liminal experiences.

The first clip, above, was produced in 1995, based on recorded interviews of some of the subjects researched by the late Budd Hopkins --a recognized visual artist on his own merit-- including a few sessions of hypnotic regression. The second one, below, is a sand animation created in 2009 by artist GingerAnne, to tell the story of what happened to her own mother in 1986. Both videos choose the approach the subject from a different perspective, both artistically and narratively, and both IMO make a very good job in communicating their message to the viewer in an honest, and almost visceral way.

Please note this is not about 'endorsing' the veracity or validity of these stories. As you may or may not know, by the end of his life Hopkins and his research methodology came under heavy attack by both skeptics and UFO advocates alike, particularly with regards to the controversial Linda Cortile/Napolitano case, which is featured in the video. Likewise we don't have ways to vet the account portrayed by GingerAnne, and the fact that it seems similar to the famous Hopkinsville 'goblin attack' of 1955 would be perceived to either corroborate or undermine the story, depending on your particular bias.

What I'm interested here is in how the medium shapes these narratives, which in my mind are the ultimate cultural paradox; because on the one hand the alien abduction mythos has penetrated every instance of our civilization, particularly when it comes to pop culture --what teenager in the Western world doesn't know what 'probing' is thanks to South park?-- yet on the other hand, not one of these mass-consumed artistic representations has ever done justice in capturing the TRUE alienness of these experiences.

The artists responsible for these videos came close, and for that they get my praise.

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Thanks to 'Burnt State' for pointing out to these great vids.