Is there life on Venus? Most planetary scientists would say 'no', or at least 'unlikely' - despite being almost a twin to Earth in size, the second planet from the Sun is the closest thing we might imagine to being hell. With surface temperatures close to 900°F, even the Devil might be looking for a vacation to a cooler climate.
And yet, in 2012, a senior Russian planetary scientist claimed not only that Venusian creatures existed, but that they had already been photographed. With all the modern publicity for Mars exploration - especially by the Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers - it is often forgotten that the former Soviet Union successfully landed probes on Venus nine times in the thirteen year period between 1972 and 1985. By virtue of the hellish conditions on the planet's surface, these missions were short affairs - the longest any of them survived once on the ground was a little over two hours.
But during their short Venusian encounters, a number of these probes did transmit photos back to their orbiters, taken from a camera that repeatedly scanned across the panorama. Apart from giving us a glimpse of the alien landscape, Russian scientist Leonid Ksanfomaliti has suggested these images might also show us alien life.
Ksanfomaliti was inspired to re-analyse the images by the many recent discoveries of exoplanets of many sizes and conditions, which made him question whether we have made a mistake in thinking that life likely only exists under Earth-like conditions. Another factor might have been the ongoing discovery in modern times of many 'extremophiles' on Earth: organisms that live in conditions well beyond what we previously thought life was capable of.
To search for signs of life, Ksanfomaliti compared multiple images of the same area, taken at different times as the cameras scanned backward and forwards over the landscape, looking for changing - that is, moving - elements. The challenge then was to figure out whether anything that moved was living, or instead some sort of non-biological phenomena (e.g. dirt being blown by wind), or effects of changing light, digital imaging artifacts and so on.
His startling conclusion: the images do indeed show forms of life, including one that he nicknamed a 'scorpion'. Because Venus isn't hellish enough already, am I right?
At the blog of the Planetary Society, Emily Lakdawalla was impressed enough by Ksanfomaliti's credentials that she decided to critically evaluate his claim, despite it seeming "so obviously ridiculous" that she would "ordinarily not give it a second thought." With a strong understanding of image transmission and processing in planetary exploration, she was less than impressed by his analysis:
With all of these natural and artificial reasons why there may be changes in pixel values from one image to the next, it's hazardous to read too much into small changes of blobby shapes. But that's exactly what Ksanfomaliti goes on to do. There is a bold sentence in the paper that I asked Twitter help in translation, and it reads: "It must be emphasized that in the present work on the processing of the initial images images any retouching, drawing-in, additions to, or adjustment of images was completely ruled out." And he says that the use of Photoshop was "categorically ruled out." Yet he goes on to say that adjustments were, in fact, made. Missing bits of images were filled in with data from other images, contrast and brightness adjusted, and (most strangely), the "Blur" and "sharpen" functions in Microsoft Windows Paint were sometimes employed. These are all fairly standard operations in image processing (except for the use of Windows Paint instead of Photoshop for blur and sharpen filters, which is just odd), but they are most definitely "adjustments" of images, especially that blur and sharpen business. Sharpening, in particular, can have weird effects on noisy images.
...There is so much variation in noise among these five images, and they have been so processed with sharpening and infilling of data, that I think it is pointless to micro-analyze tiny little features and whether they have changed, much less whether they represent the presence of moving, living creatures or not. These images are much less convincing even than those of the Mars Sasquatch.
What was perhaps most surprising to Lakdawalla was how such a respected and knowledgeable planetary scientist could come up with something "so patently off the wall". Someone noted to her that Ksanfomaliti has always been interested in ideas "slightly on the edge of reality", while another suggested that perhaps three decades of analysing old data sets might make anyone crazy. Her own thoughts, however, were more about the dangers in being so smart that you convince yourself that your new theory is the start of a new paradigm:
I've seen before when successful people become so convinced that they are smart and right that they go over some edge and suddenly think that any crazy idea that flits into their head must be right, because they thought it and they're always right, right? There's no way for me to know what's made Ksanfomaliti make so much out of absolutely nothing. All I know is, there's nothing here. Move along.
Dammit, I was so hoping that Venusian scorpions were a thing.
My friend Adnan Ademovic, who runs the Youtube channel and website UFO Hub, had the chance to interview Richard Dolan at the 2015 Ozark Mountain UFO conference in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. In the clip, Richard talks about how the UFO phenomenon has such an underestimated importance in both the Sciences as well as the political arena.
Richard also gives his opinion about the highly-charged UFO Disclosure movement. He believes Disclosure critics --of which I happen to be one-- are seeing the issue from a wrong perspective, and it's not that we should expect our governments and elected officials to "do everything for (us)," but that we as citizens should never forget that governments are supposed to be accountable to their people, and therefore owe us some answers re. the UFO phenomenon.
A valid point, though one that presupposes governments have in fact reached some answers with regards to what UFOs are, their origin and intentions --but what if they haven't?
I personally feel the extinction of the nation-state as we currently know it is far more likely, than to see those states openly recognize the reality of a phenomenon that is clearly beyond their control. UFOs are the ultimate symbol of Anarchy --why they don't even bother to obey the law of Gravity for crying out loud!
Thanks to the Robertson panel and the Condon report, by the 1970's UFOs were no longer considered a story worthy to be covered by 'serious' newspapers, and thus were relegated to the supermarket tabloids. That suddenly changed in 1975, when the mysterious disappearance of a young logger by the name of Travis Walton, drew the attention of media outlets from all across the globe.
Their co-workers were suspected of murdering him, and accused of trying to cover the crime with a fantasy tale involving flying saucers and death rays. Then the case did a complete 180° when Travis reappeared, suffering the effects of physical and mental shock. His amazing account of interacting with non-human entities became one of the most famous UFO cases of all time, and was brought to the silver screen with a motion picture under the same title as the book he wrote --Fire in the Sky.
Unfortunately, Travis' story suffered a lot of distortions under the Hollywood treatment, and many elements of his abduction were completely omitted --for instance, the fact that along with the short, big-headed aliens we've come to know as "the Grays," Travis also came into contact with beings that looked completely human. The film's producers were convinced no-one would bother to watch a movie about aliens if they weren't portrayed as terrifying monsters; after all, if they zapped him and abducted him against this will, that means their intentions are evil… right?
Well, Travis himself is not so sure about that. His opinion about the events have shifted over the years, and now he's convinced his abduction was his own fault after his reckless decision of coming too close to the UFO's 'energy field'.
“An accident happened and they didn’t want to leave me behind.”
Seeking to set the record straight, Filmmaker and MUFON state section director Jennifer Stein created a new documentary, in which he managed to gather the personal testimony of Travis and his old co-workers, along with several high-profile researchers like Richard Dolan, discussing the importance of this fascinating case. The film was premiered at the International UFO Congress last February, where it won 2 awards --Best UFO Film of the Year and People's Choice Award-- and it will be screened in several other venues in the United States, and also in Canada and Australia.
This year will also mark the 40th anniversary of Travis' experience, which will be suitably commemorated at the Skyfire summit on November 5th, near the same location where the event happened in 1975. Prior to that He will also be a speaker at the Paradigm symposium in Minneapolis, where I myself will be thrilled to finally meet him in person.
Are alien civilisations out there, sending us signals? If they are, it seems we can scratch one candidate off the list of possibilities: the previously mysterious 'perytons', strange radio bursts that have been recorded at a few radio telescopes around the globe. Though perytons have always been shrouded in doubt: they're named after a mythological creature that casts the shadow of a human, appearing as something it is not - a reference to the way in which perytons seemed very much like 'Fast Radio Bursts', except FRBs appear to come from deep space, while perytons were likely to come from an Earthly source.
Earlier this month, however, a paper was published which seems to have solved the peryton mystery. Rather than an advanced alien civilisation communicating through time and space, the radio bursts appear to be coming from.....drumroll....kitchen microwaves:
There have been dozens of reported perytons, some dating back to the 1990s, and theories about the signals’ origin included ball lightning, aircraft, and components of the telescopes themselves.
...[Emily Petroff of Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology] and her colleagues discovered the source of perytons after they installed a real-time radio interference monitor at the Parkes telescope. In January, the telescope detected three of the signals – and the interference monitor picked up three simultaneous interference signatures. The team recognized the interloping frequencies as possibly belonging to a microwave oven.
When Petroff and her colleagues tested their hypothesis, they found they could create perytons on demand simply by opening the oven door before the timer had dinged.
Today I was planning on write about how Stephen Bassett & Michael Salla hope that another Clinton in the White House might just be what finally makes the trick to kickstart the whole UFO disclosure thang --the 'exopolitical blue dress' as Bassett put it; and don't expect *me* to 'splain that political reference...
But instead, I decided to share with you guys this video, recorded on early October of 2014 at the 'UFOs and the Media' conference organized by Exopolitics Denmark, in which my good bud Robbie Graham talks --among many other things-- on why the UFO community should do well in turning the page on 'Disclosure'; at least, the way Bassett, Salla and others envision it...
Robbie, for those of you who may not know it, is the man behind the highly recommended Silver Screen Saucers blog*. He holds a Masters degree with Distinction in Cinema Studies from the University of Bristol and a First Class Honours degree in Film, Television and Radio Studies from Staffordshire University; Robbie sought to combine his life-long interest in UFOs with his academic background, so what was originally intended to be his PhD thesis slowly transformed into a full book soon to be released (Sept 21, 2015) detailing the impact of the UFO/Extraterrestrial mythos in cinema, and how Hollywood's influenced might have been used by intelligence agencies in order to shape our views and expectations of the phenomenon.
- Silver Screen Saucers
- ETs for Hillary: Why UFO Activists Are Excited About Another Clinton Presidency
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(*) The blog has fallen into a hiatus in the last few months, on account of Robbie's focus to finish the book and other personal reasons. However, there's lots of good stuff in the archives for you to look around, including a couple of essays written by yours truly (1) (2).
Always wanted to have a UFO sighting? To improve your odds, why not consult this new 'UFO map', showing the number of UFO sightings per county in the U.S. (both in total, and per capita). The interactive map, embedded below, allows you to mouse over the United States to find the numbers associated with each county.
Created by California-based technology company FindtheBest, the map's data was culled from over 61,000 reports in the sightings database of the National UFO Reporting Centre (NUFORC). According to Lane Allison, product manager of FindTheBest:
We downloaded UFO sightings from the National UFO Reporting Center and took all of the locations and tried to standardize them. After we got latitude and longitude pairs, we could determine the number of UFO sightings that have been reported in counties. Then, we cross-referenced that with the American Community Survey population estimates of those counties, resulting in UFO reports per capita number.
One fact that is illustrated clearly by the map is the larger number of sightings towards the West Coast of America. Extraterrestrial tourist hotspot, darker skies, more potent swamp gas, greater number of military bases, or better weed? Let us know your theory for the lop-sided UFO sighting distribution in the comments below!
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Once again, the subject of UFOs is brought up between a late-night talk show host and the president of the United States. Will it come a time when the subject is not treated as a gag on national television?
"That's what we're instructed to say." I wonder if Mr. Obama realizes the sub-rosa acknowledgement embedded in that joke: That at the end of the day, when it comes to certain sensitive matters, even 'the most powerful man in the world' has to follow orders from somebody else...
Mind you, this isn't the first time Mr. Obama has resorted to the 'cannot confirm or deny' pun in order to dodge the UFO bullet. Remember when Jaden Smith felt his belief in aliens was somewhat confirmed by the president?
Personally, I feel president Clinton's response to Kimmel was much more interesting and revealing:
Do I believe some people in the government are hiding important information about UFOs? I do. However, I'm more inclined to think that, rather than secret deals with the Grays or reverse-engineering programs of recovered disks, what they may be really hiding is their own befuddlement and astoundment with a phenomenon over which they have absolutely no control and explanation.
Meanwhile, given John Podesta's recent Twitter revelations expressing his personal frustration over his failure to disclose "the UFO files" --which were received with a deafening silence by most of mainstream media-- and his assured involvement in Hillary Clinton's upcoming attempt to secure the presidential nomination under the Democratic ticket, I'm very curious to see if anyone will dare to confront her with the UFO question on a public forum...
[H/T Open Minds]
It seems paranormal-type podcasts are a dime a dozen nowadays, but the one which started the trend way back in 2005 --when most people didn't even have an iPod, and Blackberries were still a thing-- was Jim Harold's Paranormal Podcast. If Jim's show has managed to withstand the test of time, while many others have quickly expired like digital mayflies in an online stream of information, is because he's managed to captivate his growing audience with his superb story-telling skills. Indeed, by now Jim has become a published author and his Campfire: True Ghost Stories e-books remain among the #1 bestsellers in Amazon's Occult & Supernatural department.
I met Jim in 2013 at the Paradigm symposium, but unfortunately we didn't have much of a chance to chat then. This year however things were different, since Jim functioned as the panel moderator for the event, and we also managed to have a few drinks and engage in a really interesting conversation. For instance, I remember Jim sharing with our small group at the hotel lobby that when he was in college studying Journalism, one of his teachers told the class how when he was an Air Force officer stationed at the 1369th Photographic Squadron at Vandenherg Air Force Base, he was tasked in 1964 with the mission of photographing tracking footage of a very important missile test. But shortly after he handed down the film he was called by one of his superiors who made him watch the footage, and there in the was the unmistakable image of a disc-like object intercepting the Atlas rocket, and shooting what looked like 'energy beams' onto its metallic fuselage; immediately after this the flying disc flew out of frame and the rocket lost its course and tumbled out of its set trajectory.
The name of the professor was Robert Jacobs, and what he told to his students is famously known as the 1964 Big Sur UFO filming, which has been mentioned in several documentaries like James Fox's Out of the Blue.
Talk about a UFOtastic synchronicity! Jim also told us at the hotel gathering how he once had a chance to defend his old professor's reputation from one of those snarky debunkers who are so fond of ad-hominem attacks. Oh how I wished I'd been able to witness THAT [Read the update below].
As part of his UFO Encounters series on his Paranormal Plus service Jim recently interviewed me (Ep. 77) and I took the opportunity to talk --among other things-- about one of my favorite UFO cases of all time: The aerial encounter of Carlos Antonio de los Santos in 1985.
Unfortunately the Skype gods didn't smile upon us that night, so we were forced to resort to using my cell phone; but despite the subpar sound quality on my end I'm hoping Grailers will still find it enjoyable to listen to --for my part, it sure is flattering to think someone considers my thick-accent ramblings to be 'Plus-quality' material…
So if you haven't already, subscribe to Paranormal Plus and get access to plenty of entertaining material; and also check out Jim's other podcasts, including the Paranormal Report he produces with my Cosmic Compadre, Micah Hanks --those 2 other shows are free BTW. You should also consider Jim's Campfire books if you haven't finished with your Xmas gift list yet.
- Jim Harold's Homepage
- True Ghost Stories: Jim Harold's Campfire 1 [Kindle Edition]
- True Ghost Stories: Jim Harold's Campfire 2 [Kindle Edition]
- True Ghost Stories: Jim Harold's Campfire 3 [Kindle Edition]
[UPDATE] Jim contacted me to clarify that the anecdote of professor Jacobs was about him defending himself against Bill Nye on a Larry King Live show --and basically tearing "the Science guy" a new one on live TV! Here's the video:
Sorry about that, guys. I guess that's the problem when you end up having 1 beer too many...
Oh, and he also was kind enough to give us permission to give a direct link to my interview on UFO encounters, so that you can listen it to without subscribing to his Paranormal Plus service. [Link]
One of the most influential and famous books on the UFO phenomenon, Jacques Vallee's Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers, has long been out of print. Most true Forteans would know this because, like me, if they've wanted a copy in the internet age they've probably had to fork out exorbitant sums for a second-hand copy.
Well, if you've been holding off getting a copy of this must-have book for any serious UFO buff, I've got good news! Today, Daily Grail Publishing has released a reprint of this classic book - both in paperback and hardcover. You can find it at most online bookstores, but I've added handy links to Amazon below if you want to get an early start on your Xmas shopping:
- Paperback of Passport to Magonia: Amazon US / Amazon UK
- Hardcover of Passport to Magonia: Amazon US / Amazon UK
- Kindle eBook of Passport to Magonia: Amazon US / Amazon UK
The book has not been revised at all - we decided that the book should be released 'as is' (apart from the addition of a new Foreword from Jacques), as the seminal historic work in ufology that it was (and still is). For anyone wanting more up-to-date commentary about the topic, be sure to grab Jacques' books Dimensions and Wonders in the Sky.
For a number of years, since publishing Messengers of Deception, I've had many, many readers asking me to convince Jacques to republish Passport to Magonia. I'm excited and proud to bring that to you today.
And for those that will no doubt ask: the gorgeous cover image is by Chris 'Isoban' Butler.
In the tradition of Charles Fort, our good friend (and Darklore contributor) Blair MacKenzie Blake has collected a newspaper 'clipping' (more correctly, found an eBay listing for a collectable newspaper) that discusses an anomalous meteor shower way back in 1803.
This electrical phenomenon was observed on Wednesday morning last at Richmond, and its vicinity, in a manner that alarmed many, and astonished every person who beheld it. From one until three in the morning, those starry meteors seemed to fall from every point in the heavens, in such numbers as to resemeble a shower of sky rockets.
...Several of those shooting meteors, were accompanied with a train of fire, that illuminated the sky for a considerable distance. One in particular, appeared to fall from the Zenith, of the apparent size of a ball of eighteen inches in diameter, that lighted for several seconds the whole hemisphere.
...Since writing the above, we have been informed that several of the largest of these shooting meteors, were observed to descend almost to the ground before they exploded.
However, rather than being - as the eBay listing has it - an "1803 headline display newspaper UFO / Flying Saucers seen over RICHMOND Virginia", this report was likely witness testimony of a particularly magnificent manifestation of the Lyrid meteor shower. In fact, an article written about this newspaper story, which collated it with other witness reports, was published in Popular Astronomy in 1931 (click for a PDF of the article).
What I found interesting about the testimony, however, was the mention of the sounds heard:
During the continuance of this phenomenon, a hissing noise in the air was plainly heard, and several reports, resembling the discharge of a pistol.
The 1931 article also mentions a witness at another location as saying that "we distinctly heard a hissing in the air, but heard no reports".
This mention of a hissing sound (and pistol-like reports) reminded me of a fascinating article which appeared in the Journal of Scientific Exploration (Volume 7, Issue 4), "Progress in Explaining the Mysterious Sounds Produced by Very Large Fireballs" (which I originally discussed in this Grail story). In it, author Colin Keay notes that "for about ten percent of those who do witness a very luminous meteor fireball, the mental impression is heightened by strange swishing, hissing and popping noises coincident with its passage across the sky. Such sounds are quite anomalous in that they imply acoustic propagation at the speed of light."
A suggested explanation for these anomalous sounds has been that the plasma trail produced by a fireball as it ionises the air in the atmosphere might be generating extra low frequency (ELF) radio waves. And in June this year a sky survey offered possible confirmation of this theory.
And to finish with an interesting sidenote regarding meteors and anomalous science: just a few days after the report above, a meteor shower in France occurred, the investigation of which (by Jean-Baptiste Biot) provided some solid evidence to the scientific establishment that rocks did actually fall from the heavens - marking a change from previous skepticism of eyewitness reports of this unlikely occurrence - and it is perhaps the event which could be said to have given birth to the science of meteoritics.