Thursday, April 10, 2014

Yes - Scientific Analysis of UFOs Is Certainly Possible!

ABOVE: Images in two different perspectives of the UFO observed at McMinnville, Oregon, 11 May, 1950 and designated as Case 46,  in The Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, which was conducted by the University of Colorado under contract to the United States Air Force.

When I gave my first and only course on UFOs at the Harry Bayley Observatory in the summer of 1978, entitled: The Scientific Investigation of the UFO,  I commenced by having the attendees - 35 in all - seated in the Observatory's Planetarium room downstairs, then darkened the lights. Within a minute or two,  I  simulated a UFO on the "sky" ceiling with a duration of roughly four seconds - emulating many actual UFO sightings. The lights were then turned on and the students were asked to complete an observation form, based on their sighting. The information asked for included: i) estimated altitude in degrees above the horizon, ii) estimated velocity in angular degrees per second, iii) color and any change in color, iv) shape, v) change in shape - if any and vi) presence or absence of sound.

Most attendees discovered that they were ill-equipped to provide complete answers, and many weren't even aware of how angular measure was applied to sky objects (despite the fact it is a more reliable measure than attempting linear estimates - which make no sense unless one actually knows how distant an object is). Of course, this was part and parcel of the course, showing the students they had much to learn if they were ever to properly complete a UFO observation report, such as the ones formalized by NICAP.

I then went on to elaborate the topic for  the benefit of all those who'd been subjected to this on the spot test of their observational faculties:

"Unidentified Flying Objects or UFOs are an observed and recorded fact, as much as the Sun rising every morning. The existence of UFOs is a matter independent of "belief".  

What remains open to question is the particular interpretation of the UFO. Here is where the astronomer can provide useful insight by introducing his or her audience to the notion of scientific hypotheses. Several are applicable to UFOs, which I will explore in detail later. They include: 1- a misidentified known object (planet, airplane, or balloon); 2- an unknown natural-meteorological phenomenon; 3- a psychological phenomenon and 4- a genuine craft from another planetary civilization"

I then provided the comprehensive definition of UFO as given by astronomer J. Allen Hynek (From his book, UFOs- A Scientific Inquiry):

“A UFO is the reported perception of an object or light seen in the sky, the appearance, trajectory and general dynamic behavior of which do not suggest a logical, conventional explanation and which is not only mystifying to the original percipients but remains unidentified, after close scrutiny of all available evidence by persons who are technically capable of making a common sense identification, if one were possible.”

The next several lectures covered how the UFO might be treated in an objective manner, using quantitative methods and physical -optical evidence. It was in the last lecture that I focused on Case 46 from the U.S. Air Force - Condon Study, using that as a linchpin for further discussion. This was important because most of the participants couldn't fathom how anything like a UFO could be subjected to deep scientific inquiry or any mathematical analysis. Thus, a Table (Table 2) comparing the luminance or apparent brightness of the object in different photographic plates proved useful.

The investigation proceeded by computation of the luminance, or the apparent brightness of the object at a distance r, normalized relative to some intrinsic value B(o) at r(o), viz p. 402:

B = B(sky) (1 - exp(-br)) + B(o) exp(-br)

where b is the scattering coefficient. In the equation, the first term (with B(sky)) represents scattered light and the second term, extinction. As the investigators noted (ibid.):

"Since all measures must be based on the witnesses' two photographs, we will determine b for the given day from the photographs themselves. Normalizing all brightnesses (measured from the film and assuming that the images fall on the linear portion of the gamma curve (see- e.g. to that of the sky near the horizon, i.e. on a line within a few thousand feet of the ground, where the UFO is constrained to be by the reported cloud height and probable nearness to the camera, we have:

B  = 1 + exp(-br)[B(o) - 1]"

From the above, if the object is sufficiently distant one would have:

exp(-br) -> 0

so therefore,

B = 1 + exp (0)[B(o) - 1] = 1 + [B(o) - 1]

and B equals the sky brightness. (in optical terms, the optical depth t >> 1)

To ascertain whether the claimed sighting photographed is a fake then, all that's needed is to solve for the distance r, given a zero distance luminance B(o) compared to an observed luminance B. As can be seen from the equation, to do this one needs to obtain the scattering coefficient, b.

The investigators used densitometric analysis to obtain an assorted range of values for the luminance B, for different objects appearing in the photographic image - these are presented in Table 2, from the Case Study. (Shown, with comparison of two plates, 23 and 24). Since the investigators knew the distance of 'Hill 2' at 2.2 km then photometry indicated B = 0.685 for the distance hill, while the foreground foliage yielded B = 0.403.

Processing all this data in concert, the investigators obtained the distance r = 0.32 km, or just over 1,050 feet as the distance to the object - nearly one fifth of a mile. The investigators graphically illustrated the domains of the two hypotheses via their graph (Fig. 3) which is appended below:

 As they note (p. 406):

"If the object is a model suspended from a wire only a few meters away the surface is some 37% brighter (B = 1.21 v. B = 0.885) than the tank and the shaded portion is probably more than 40% brighter than the shadow on the tank...nearly impossible to maintain in the face of the photometry.

The shadowed side of the UFO appears so bright that it suggests significant scattering between it and the observer

In other words, conforming with the distance calculated from the luminances.

The point of all this is there was quantitative evidence for an extraordinary craft- hence compatible with hypothesis (4) of my rendering of the  particular interpretation of the UFO.

Indeed, the conclusion of the investigators was, p. 407:

"This is one of the few UFO reports in which all factors investigated: geometric, psychological and physical appear to be consistent with the assertion that an extraordinary flying object- silvery, metallic and disc shaped flew within sight of two witnesses. "

All of this astounded the course participants, many of whom had been confirmed skeptics - refusing to accept any serious scientific approach was possible.

Decades later, and if I'd have had the opportunity to give a follow-up course, I'd have cited the contribution of solar physicist Peter Sturrock, from his  (2000) book: The UFO Enigma: A new Review of the Physical Evidence, Warner Books. The book is an outgrowth of the findings of a scientific panel formed to provide an evidentiary consensus for what would constitute: a) acceptable physical evidence for UFOs - especially in train with hypothesis (4), and b) how that evidence might be obtained. None of the panel members were lightweights, and most had serious backgrounds in either astrophysics or plasma physics. Left unsaid too, is that most who "roll their eyes" harken from the less quantitative sciences, like psychology, or sociology or anthropology.  Also left unsaid is that most astronomers and astrophysicists take the UFO phenomenon far more seriously than the corporate mainstream media would have you believe.

Reports of UFOs, as Sturrock indicates, can be at least subjected to statistical tests (e.g. z-test, chi-squared) to test my hypothesis (4) for example, against a stated null hypothesis: e.g. that the phenomenon is as likely to be caused by random meteorological or other agents as artificial craft from "another world".

In terms of a comprehensive scientific process of investigation, Sturrock notes the following are all of use (pp. 94-95):

Soil has the capability of retaining the effects of several processes including mechanical, thermal, magnetic, radioactive, and physico-chemical:

i) Mechanical – A continuous or brief mechanical pressure distorts the soil, and this can be measured by a penetration instrument.

ii) Thermal – Measurement of the quantity of water in the soil as compared to other nearby control samples, allows determination of the amount of energy required to reduce the water content to that level.

iii) Magnetic: Some soils have a high magnetic remanence. In this case it is useful to examine the magnetic pattern of the soil with the help of magnetometers either in situ, or in a laboratory.

iv) Radioactivity: Soil samples can be analyzed either in situ, of in the lab using recovered samples.

v) Physico-chemical: Samples from the trace region and control samples (recovered far from trace region) can be analyzed for molecular, atomic and isotopic composition.

Even if only photographic (or video) imagery is available, numerous physical analyses can be applied (cf. p. 178-179), such as attending to:

Basic film properties (to see if the profile is compatible with the imagery obtained)

i) Measurement of the diameter of the film’s crystals
ii) Obtaining the Modulation Transfer Curve (plot of response vs. spatial frequency)
iii) Obtaining spectral sensitivity curve (log of sensitivity vs. wavelength in nm)

Image Analysis:

i) Linear measurements made on an enlarged print – in tandem with elevation angles made using a surveyor’s transit of the location and objects in the vicinity (buildings, Mountains etc)

ii) Micro-densitometry scans: e.g. using the Joyce Loebl Recording Micro-densitometer to ascertain variations in optical density in the print. The result is obtained as a scan through the disc image (of the UFO for example)

iii) Black and white enlargements on different wavelength sensitive papers: Comparison between UFO (disk) images on panchromatic and blue-green paper may show features visible in one, that are not evident in the other (cf. Fig. 25-7, p. 185, with dome on disk visible on panchromatic image (a) not visible on blue-green sensitive paper (b).

iv) Computer-based contrast enhancement: e.g. digitize negatives using a scanning densitometer. Comparisons of enhancements using various filters (e.g. blue, green, orange, etc. ) show differential detail that must be accounted for. (E.g. Figs. 25-9, 25-10, and 25-11 on pages 188-89).

Digital enhancements may include high-reverse contrast images of the disk itself, e.g. Fig 25-20 on page 207 of Sturrock, which discloses the left side of the particular disk is not a circular extension of the rest of disk – but is rather flattened to some unknown extent.

All of the above are eminently doable in terms of available modern  technology. All that's required is the right confluence of circumstances - that is, an encounter or proximate sighting of a UFO which allows all or most of the preceding to be applied.

Sturrock's book, to be sure, is not an easy read for the layman. But for those- say in the "soft" sciences - who think or believe that the "UFO" is the province of mental misfits or those inhabiting "La-La land" it delivers an excellent wake up call. Alas, most of those would -be skeptics likely would not be able to navigate even the most rudimentary chapters.

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