UFO UpDates
A mailing list for the study of UFO-related phenomena
'Its All Here In Black & White'
Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2005 > May > May 13

How To Crack Weird Space Cases

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Fri, 13 May 2005 10:05:06 -0400
Fwd Date: Fri, 13 May 2005 10:05:06 -0400
Subject: How To Crack Weird Space Cases

Source: MSNBC Interactive


May 12, 2005

How To Crack Weird Space Cases

Lone sleuth uses the Internet and his wits to solve UFO

By James Oberg
NBC News space analyst
Special to MSNBC

HOUSTON - When a space station astronaut made an offhand remark
about an unusual formation of lights he saw passing in front of
him during a spacewalk, the report had all the earmarks of an
unsolvable space mystery. But it didn't take long to crack the
case, thanks to the power of the Internet and one amateur space
sleuth=92s passion to find out.

It turned out that the case of the formation-flying lights was
only the latest in a string of spooky space effects with
perfectly natural explanations.

The investigation began when NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao told
Aviation Week & Space Technology about "something interesting"
he saw during a March 28 spacewalk with Russian crewmate
Salizhan Sharipov.

"As the sun started rising after the first dark period, I looked
out in the opposite direction of the sun and saw a line of five
lights," Chiao said. The lights seemed to be flying past fairly
quickly "in an echelon formation, except that 'No. 2' was
offset," he said.

Chiao admitted that he didn't know what the lights were, but he
speculated that they might have been a constellation of
satellites catching the sun's glint. Or perhaps they were
"bright lights from oil platforms actually down on the Earth"
that seemed to move due to the space station's own orbital

Whatever they were, Chiao was delighted to have seen them. "It
just shows you that after spending a lot of time in space and
out on EVAs, there are still things that you can see that still
surprise you," he mused.

Enter the investigator

One person who read the story was not surprised, since he had
long been fascinated with unusual visual phenomena associated
with space missions. James C. Smith, an aerospace engineer in
Fairfax, Va., doesn't believe such phenomena are signs of alien
visits. What he does believe =97 and what makes his work on this
and other cases so impressive =97 is that such mysteries can often
be solved, using resources available over the Internet. You just
have to know where to look and what to do.

Based on Chiao's descriptions, Smith figured out the time and
the station's location over Earth when the lights were sighted =97
and deduced that Chiao must have been looking toward the coast
of South America, which was still shrouded by night.

Smith knew that the place to go for images of bright lights on
the night side of Earth was the home page of the Defense
Meteorological Satellite Program, a military weather satellite
network now closely integrated with the National Oceanographic
and Atmospheric Administration.

After a day's worth of research, Smith came up with a solution
to the mystery.

"A little research on the Internet shows that the area has a
fleet of squid fishing boats which are the ones that use bright
lights to attract the squid," he reported by e-mail. "These
unusually bright zones are the result of fleets of fishing
vessels using powerful electrical lights at night to attract
squid. The fleets regularly show up in images from weather
satellites and from space stations."

Smith said Chiao was most likely looking at the fishing boats.
"Since they are in the middle of a dark area of sea, and he was
likely seeing them near the edge of his area of possible
viewing, it may have been so dark opposite the sun that
determining whether they were on the Earth surface or not may
have been difficult," Smith said.

"You can see that the lights are apparently brighter than any
other lights around there," he concluded. In photographs he
obtained of the fleet that night, one light blob is indeed "off
line" with a number of others. Viewed in the darkness below the
onrushing space station, the lights would rapidly zoom off
toward the horizon.

Decades' worth of anomalies

Reports of space anomalies are almost as old as the space
program itself: For instance, John Glenn, the first American to
orbit the Earth, reported seeing clouds of "fireflies" outside
his window outside his window during the 1962 spaceflight =97
sparkles of light that were later attributed to ice particles
coming off his Mercury capsule.

Smith himself recently came up with the solution to a three-
decade-old mystery, involving a strange image from the Apollo 16
moon mission in 1972: The picture, widely distributed among UFO
investigators, showed a disk-shaped structure that was seen in
16mm movie footage shot out the window as the Apollo spacecraft
left the moon and headed back toward Earth.

None of Apollo 16's astronauts mentioned the disk at the time.
Later, one NASA photo technician misidentified the disk as the
crescent Earth (it was in the wrong part of the sky), and other
space experts speculated that it might be a window reflection of
the camera lens itself. But there was no truly satisfactory
explanation, and UFO enthusiasts seized upon the picture as
evidence that a flying saucer may have been monitoring the moon

In 2003, the Journal of Scientific Exploration, a scholarly-
sounding publication that focuses on "anomalies and topics
outside mainstream science." contained an article about the
Apollo 16 disk by Japanese engineer Hiroshi Nakamura. "We
believe that the object is a large extraterrestrial artifact.
... This is the only hypothesis that is consistent with the
data," Nakamura wrote.

Another case cracked

Smith=92s interest was piqued, and he began digging into the case.
On Sept. 29, 2003, he posted his own findings.

"I ordered all possible 16mm film and reviewed them all to
locate the above image and to see if any explanation (lens
flare, reflection, etc.) could be the cause of the image," he
reported. He also searched all NASA online references about the
Apollo missions and the Apollo spacecraft mechanical systems,
seeking potential correlations between the image and candidate

"Of interest is the more or less horizontal line or bar sticking
out part of the UFO," Smith pointed out, noting a feature that
was visible in the high-quality film he had received =97 a feature
unnoticed by all previous analysts. He then pored over the web
pages for any disk-shaped structures mounted on long booms =97 and
found one.

"The most likely cause of the UFO object is the EVA floodlight,"
he said. The pole-mounted lamp was set up to illuminate shadowy
areas on the Apollo spacecraft, during an unusual spacewalk
aimed at retrieving film from a mapping camera. The spacewalk
occurred a day after the picture was taken.

NASA weighs in Meanwhile, a parallel line of inquiry was being
set in motion by Donald Ratsch, a Maryland truck driver and UFO
enthusiast. Ratsch was apparently unaware of Smith's
conclusions, and on Oct. 27, 2003, he sent a letter to his
congressman asking that NASA be required to explain the images.

About six months later, he received his reply: NASA had looked
at the original flight film, and concluded that the image showed
... the EVA floodlight.

Gregory Byrne, a NASA imaging expert at Johnson Space Center in
Houston, explained to MSNBC.com that the review was conducted
"only because it was requested of us by NASA HQ in response to a
congressional inquiry."

"I had no choice in the matter," Byrne said, "and reluctantly
had to pull image analysis resources away from shuttle return-
to-flight to work Apollo 16.  It actually turned out to be an
interesting diversion from the tedium, and almost like stepping
back in time."

NASA posted Byrne=92s results on its Web site on April 19, 2004 =97
including an overdeveloped image that showed clear traces of the
underilluminated structural elements behind the dish. There was
no doubt that Byrne and Smith had independently reached the same

Byrne didn't comment on how his results matched up with Smith's,
but he clearly has no intention of going into competition with
the amateur investigator: "We don't plan to make a habit of UFO
analysis," Byrne said.

Have Internet, will solve UFO cases Smith does not feel
competitive about solving strange space cases. "I don't really
care if I get credit of not for the whole thing, as long as the
truth gets out there," he explained.

"I wouldn't make me the subject of the article," he insisted,
preferring that the search tools and data available via the
Internet were portrayed as the real stars of his investigations.

Smith believes that Internet resources have provided a solution
to yet another famous UFO case: the "Mexican UFO Fleet"
encounter of March 5, 2004. Smith did a video analysis using
Landsat and DMSP data, found other images of the apparent source
of the mystery lights, and concluded that the UFOs were actually
burn-off flares from oil platforms off the Mexican coast. He
laid out the evidence last July in Skeptic magazine.

Is Smith an incorrigible UFO debunker, interested only in
shooting down unusual sightings? Far from it, Smith insists: "I
keep looking at this stuff only because I hope that I can
someday find something real." But thanks the Internet and his
own dogged, insightful investigative techniques, that day hasn=92t
yet come.

NBC News space analyst James Oberg is a lifelong enthusiast and
"sympathetic skeptic" regarding UFO phenomena, and has
investigated and solved many pseudo-UFO sightings. He first
publicized the Apollo 16 saucer image but was unable to reach
the correct explanation that Smith found.

c.2005 MSNBC Interactive

[Thanks to Stuart Miller of http://www.uforeview.net for the lead]

[ Next Message | Previous Message | This Day's Messages ]
This Month's Index |

UFO UpDates Main Index

UFO UpDates - Toronto - Operated by Errol Bruce-Knapp

Archive programming by Glenn Campbell at Glenn-Campbell.com