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Episode 2: You Can't Know the Distance, Size, and Speed of UFOs

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Recap: Often you will hear "expert" witnesses proudly and with certitude declaring the distance, size, and enormous speeds of UFOs (where "UFO" despite its actual meaning is taken to be an alien craft). I discuss why this is simply not possible based on a visual observation.

Puzzler: In searching for extrasolar planets, one of the most favorable scenarios is where a planet passes directly in front of their star as seen from Earth, so we see it transiting (hence why it's called the "transit" method). Let's say an Earth-sized planet transits in front of a Sun-like star, and a Jupiter-like planet also transits in front of that star. They are very slightly offset so that they don't overlap as seen from Earth. First, does it matter how close either planet is to the star to how much light it will block? Second, does it matter how far away we are (assuming we're at least several light-years) as observers to how much light each will block? You can assume that the system is many light-years away from us.

Solution to Episode 1's Puzzler: From first quarter through third quarter, the moon would appear full, and from third through first, it would appear new. Click here to see a visual explanation of this.

Additional Materials:

Transcript of the Main Material:

First, before I really get into this topic, I want to define my terms. I realize that a "UFO" stands simply for "Unidentified Flying Object." Unfortunately, that term has been taken over by the alien visitation community such that when you hear "UFO" today, it almost always is equated with aliens. That's how I'm using the term in this episode because that's what I'm going to be discussing.

Claim: One of the claims that I often hear of the UFOs = aliens community is that they see an object they can't explain, think it's an alien craft, and then proceed to give an estimate for exactly how far away it is, how big it is, and how fast it was traveling.

On its face, this may seem to be completely reasonable. After all, when you see a car on the road, you can usually estimate how far away it is, how fast it's traveling, and how big it is... [Clip from Coast to Coast AM, Feb 12, 2009, Hour 2, 5:09]

But, this completely breaks down when you look up in the sky and have no reference point. All we can really know are two things: The angular size, and the angular speed.

"Angular Size" is a term meaning how big an object appears to be. This is measured as an angle. If you stare straight ahead and turn around in a complete circle, you have just turned 360°. There are 360° in a circle, and we can divide each single degree into 60 minutes. Each minute can be divided into seconds. So angles work very much like time in terms of using a hexadecimal system. Astronomers often refer to objects having an angular size in terms of seconds because we usually look at small objects.

An "Angular Speed" is just like a size -- we measure how fast something is moving in terms of the angular distance between its starting and ending location.

Putting these terms together, I could say, for example, that I observe a comet that is 10 arcseconds in size that moves across the sky 2° per day.

To put any physical units to these - like how far away it is, how big it would be if I measured it with a ruler, or how fast it's moving through space - I would need to know IN PHYSICAL UNITS one of those measurements along with the two angular ones.

Now, I realize that I've just gone through what may seem to be like a lot of geometry. To try to simplify things and show you why ANYONE who claims they know the distance, size, and speed of a UFO is fooling themselves, let's go outside. [Clip from Coast to Coast AM, Apr 13, 2009, Hour 2, 32:30]

Imagine that flying overhead are two birds. They're fairly high up, so you don't know what kinds of birds they are. You see one that looks big and is moving slowly and one that looks small and is moving quickly. Which is farther away? Which is really bigger, and which is really moving faster?

You could guess that the one that LOOKS bigger is actually closer, meaning that it's just lazily gliding along, while the one that looks smaller is farther away and is really booking it across the sky.

Or you could guess that because of the speeds, the one that's farther away is the one that's moving more slowly, so in reality it must be HUGE because it looks bigger than the one you're assuming is closer.

You know their angular size - how big they APPEAR to be - and their angular speed - how fast they APPEAR to be moving - but without making an assumption, you can't actually know which is bigger, which is farther away, and how fast they're really going. [Clip from Coast to Coast AM, Feb 12, 2009, Hour 4, 6:02]

As another example, we observe the moon very often from Earth. It looks big and bright relative to other objects in the sky, but we really have, as humans, no concept of how big it REALLY is relative to the stars and planets we also see.

And from our vantage point, we think it's not moving at all, but it's actually moving about 36 times faster than a car going the speed limit on the highway.

A final issue I wanted to raise is the claim people make that the craft "shoots straight up" [Clip from Coast to Coast AM, Dec 14, 2010, Hour 3, 16:30]. There is no "up" in the sky that we can tell. We tell "up" by things getting smaller. This is simply another case where human perception is incredibly flawed, and people don't seem to realize it.

So by this point, I've hopefully convinced you that anyone who makes a visual observation of a UFO and then claims size, speed, and distance, is very much misguided, to put it mildly. I don't care if you're a pilot, a member of the armed forces, a police officer, a firefighter, a beloved grandmother, or a former U.S. President. If you claim that based on your by-eye observations that you know these three pieces of information, you are wrong.

Provide Your Comments:

Comments to date: 6. Page 1 of 1. Average Rating:

John   TVFbFvpsnjYBH

5:50pm on Wednesday, September 12th, 2012 

Thanks ~LOVED IT!DISCLOSURE has of course long staertd, but now, we just need those controlling dark n evil Illuminati sods to untie poor Obama's hands & offer him the FREEDOM to be the AWESOME person that he truly is, & then DISCLOSE all their hidden agendas all these wasted EONS in their hands alone. Greedy bastard$! Thanks God their days are numbered & best of all, is that THEY KNOW IT! HOORAY!Welcome to our exquisite Mother Earth dearest Galactic family & friends!Can't wait!SA ~ VO

nzchris   New Zealand

3:09pm on Tuesday, December 13th, 2011 

Excellent podcast! Thanks very much for sharing this.

Stuart   Boulder, CO

9:42pm on Saturday, October 8th, 2011

Thanks Jason. You are correct that because of the angles involved you would see a very small sliver when the moon rose and set, but that's a very minor detail. In asking these kinds of questions, we like to pretend things are simple in order to convey the basic concept, in this case the basic orbit and tidal locking. As for shading, I suppose there may be a very slight effect, but again, it would be very minor and likely not visible to the naked eye.

Jason Goemaat   USA

3:47pm on Saturday, October 8th, 2011 

Great podcast, keep them coming. About the puzzler, I originally thought that although there wouldn't be phases, the brightness of the side of the cube facing us would vary greatly or linearly depending on the angle that sunlight hit it, so with a 135 degree angle between the sun-earth-moon system it would be about 1/2 as bright. Your animation didn't show dimming until very close to 90 degrees and I thought about it and during a full moon the sides of the moon (which are at close to 90 degrees) aren't noticably dimmer. Is this because of the rough terrain? If the moon were "a perfect white cube" would that make a difference?

Also wouldn't you be able to see the sides sometimes for the same reason that you said we see more than 50% of the moon's surface? If the cube-moon was perfectly aligned with the Earth, we would one side as a sliver as the moon rose and the other side as a sliver as the moon set, wouldn't we?

Autymn D. C.   CA

4:48pm on Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Oh, and
away from -> froward.

Autymn D. C.   CA

4:22pm on Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 

Do you say near away? Then don't say far away. Big is not a size: big -> great; large = broad -> great. Fast is not a speed: Glue is fast; rockets are swift; motes are fleet; pizza is speedy; birds are quick. Liht doesn't travel; one travels by foot, stick, or oar: travel -> fare. Hexadecimal is of 16: hexadecimal -> sexigesimal. Anyone is not a they or them or themselves and has no their: a person -> one; the person -> who.

Someone may still put bounds on a UFO's range: between tops of trees or buildings and 10 miles. If something were so far at eye-size there are likely to be other observers, and likely would be the evening news' top story. At the upper range, 1 is almost 1000'. Note, at such a heiht, lenticular clouds do not dart.

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