Friday, December 20, 2019

Navy pilot speaks about the tic-tac

        Last Monday was the second anniversary of the New York Times article Glowing Auras and Black Money (bylines Helene Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal and Leslie Kean), reporting on two unexplained sightings by US Navy pilots over the Pacific Ocean back in 2004. The article revealed that a $22 million pentagon project, the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, had been tasked with investigating those and other reports. This blog covered the story on 19th December 2017, and a wikipedia article was created by "No Swan So Fine" two days earlier.

        What, as they say, captured the public imagination was the report of "impossible" aerobatic behavior by one of the mystery objects, which was described as a "tic-tac".

        Now the navy pilot who coined  that description has told his story. In an extended interview with Matthew Phelan, published in the New York Intelligencer (an online project of New York Magazine), Chad Underwood said "It Wasn’t Behaving by the Normal Laws of Physics", but also:
"At no point did I want to speculate as to what I thought this thing was — or be associated with, you know, “alien beings” and “alien aircraft” and all that stuff. ... It is just what we call a UFO. I couldn’t identify it. It was flying. And it was an object. It’s as simple as that."
       It was Underwood who recorded the now-famous video from his FLIR (forward-looking infrared) camera. The best description he and another witness, Dave Fravor, came up with was "a 40-foot-long, white, oblong shape, hovering somewhere between 15,000 and 24,000 feet in midair and exhibiting no notable exhaust from conventional propulsion sources". In the Intelligencer interview, Underwood adds:
"The thing that stood out to me the most was how erratic it was behaving. And what I mean by “erratic” is that its changes in altitude, air speed, and aspect were just unlike things that I’ve ever encountered before flying against other air targets. It was just behaving in ways that aren’t physically normal. That’s what caught my eye. Because, aircraft, whether they’re manned or unmanned, still have to obey the laws of physics. They have to have some source of lift, some source of propulsion. The Tic Tac was not doing that. It was going from like 50,000 feet to, you know, a hundred feet in like seconds, which is not possible."
The whole Intelligencer article is worth reading, but if you don't have the time, that's the gist of it.


Saturday, December 7, 2019

Questions for Richard Hoagland

         Hoagland's blogtalkradio show this coming Sunday night is billed as "Open Hailing Frequencies — RCH answers questions." I'm not going to be able to listen live, so I sent him these advance questions:
-----------------/ \--------------------
You have stated that NASA has an “obsessive, relentless”note 1 preference for scheduling events such as launches only when certain astrological conditions are met. According to your "Ritual Alignment Model," any of five stars has to be at any of five elevations.

There were 135 Space Shuttle launches and, sadly, two fewer landings. Why is it that your published “Table of Coincidence” lists only ONE of these 268 events as coincident? Why is even that one event self-disqualified per your stated criteria?note 2

© Richard Hoagland

You cite four pseudo-coincidences for the launch of STS-88:

1] Encke at -33° seen from Phoenix, 12/4/98 03:36
2] Mars at -3.33° seen from Phoenix, 12/4/98 03:36
3] Encke at 0° seen from the Apollo 12 landing site, 12/4/98 03:36
4] Encke at -19.5° seen from the Viking 1 landing site, 12/4/98 03:36

Richard, there are seven  reasons why these observations do not support your contention that NASA likes to launch when your stated criteria are satisfied.
  • Encke is not one of the 5 stars you cite
  • Mars is not one of the 5 stars you cite
  • -3.33° is not one of the elevations you cite
  • Phoenix has no connection to the STS-88 mission
  • Apollo 12 has no connection to the STS-88 mission
  • Viking 1 has no connection to the STS-88 mission
STS-88 launched 12/4/98 03:35:34. However its originally intended launch was 12/3/98 03:58:19. You have stated that the time to consider for these coincidences is the planned launch time, not the actual. You called it the “birthing” time.note 3 Yet you have not cited any coincident star elevations for the planned launch time of STS-88. Why not?

In light of the above, do you think STS-88 should be eliminated from your tabulation, leaving NONE of the 268 Space Shuttle events qualified per your stated criteria? On further consideration, do you still believe that NASA is "obsessive, relentless" about this?

        The show was cancelled. For the second night in a row, RCH was unable to restore the electrical supply to his office. Pity, I'm sure he would have given a full answer to my questions if he had been able to find the right circuit-breaker..

=======================/ \======================
1] “Dark Mission” 2nd edn. caption to Fig. 5-10
2] “Dark Mission” 2nd edn. p.14. The stars are Sirius, Regulus, and the belt stars of Orion. The elevations are -33°, -19.5°, 0°, +19.5°, and +33°, as seen from the launch or mission control site. Note that this means you give yourself 50 chances of a coincidence every time.
3] Facebook, 19th April 2011

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Tenth anniversary of the ‘Norway spiral’

The Birth Of An Internet Mythology

by James Oberg

In northern Norway in December, the sun never rises. For a few hours around noon the southern sky glows with bright twilight of the hidden sun, passing just below the horizon.

But human activity remains fixed on artificial timekeeping technology, and on December 9, 2009, residents awoke 'on schedule' to prepare for work and school. Many were outside shortly before 8 AM, the sky still dark, when an amazing light rose into the eastern sky where the sun would have appeared in a different season. But it wasn't a single bright shining orb they saw, it was an amazing spinning spiral that left a blue trail and lingered a few dozen seconds and then was swallowed up by a totally black nothingness.

Many of the witnesses had grabbed their pocketcams or cell phones, then quickly raced for their Internet connections.

That's how the sensation of the 'Norway spiral' was born, ten years ago. Combined with some tantalizing terrestrial coincidences, and soon reinforced by similar subsequent "sky spiral sightings" in Russia and Australia, an entirely new folklore phenomenon sprang up. A dozen bizarre theories burst into life, spread across the internet. As search engines can demonstrate, they still thrive.

It soon turned out that it really "just" was a rocket, performing strangely to be sure under unusual illumination conditions, but entirely terrestrial in origin [as were all the others]. It was a military missile code-named 'Bulava', with three solid-fuel stages, designed for launch from submarines.  But in the modern Internet culture, that prosaic [if 'Space Age'] explanation has been vehemently rejected in favor of more exciting theories, all of them mutually exclusive but all of them firmly based on the conviction that no human rocket could ever look like this [and subsequent] events.

Aside from the delightful story of how the mystery was correctly solved there is a less pleasant challenge. It's a sad realization that vast pockets of popular culture are not merely uninformed about the basics of 'rocket science', they are actively and enthusiastically misinformed. Worse, they are often cynically DISinformed by on-line media outlets which make their money by attracting credulous visitors.  What can be done to remedy this remains as uncertain as any genuine outer space mystery.

Almost immediately, a dozen different explanations for the 'Norway spiral' sprang up on the Internet. Aside from the stock claim of UFO aliens, there were proponents of 'wormholes' [widely depicted in movies and video games], an ionospheric manipulation of a local research facility called ' HAARP', a similar secretive lab called 'EISCAT', or a mythical Pentagon secret weapon called 'Blue Beam', an upward projected hologram, or some other fictional device designed by Nikola Tesla, or some kind of supernatural manifestation such as a demon or an angel, or a magical warning [or congratulations] to the Nobel Committee which was about to grant Barack Obama a 'Peace Prize in Oslo, or another stab at space aliens.

Disbelief in the 'official explanation' was both instinctively distrustful and based on a number of serious questions. The apparition appeared very close, stopping dead still in the sky in Norwegian airspace, yet no advance warning had ever been given.  It didn't look like any rocket most folks had ever seen before, and the weirdly glowing cloud implied an unknown energy source.  It appeared to float and defy gravity by drifting horizontally. At the end of the perfect spiraling the apparition the plume was swallowed by an expanding 'black hole' that closely matched Hollywood SFX. And previously failing rockets as shown in videos always dropped in flaming zig-zags  after exploding loudly, leaving wreckage falling to Earth.

The event was quickly identified as a Russian missile test, an explanation just as quickly rejected by dubious netizens. The 'missile explanation' united all the different theory promoters into harmonious derision. Here's a selection of typical comments on youtube videos .
Agumonkk -- if it was a rocket, then how is it that the "exhaust trails" are in a PERFECT spiral? that thing has to be pretty far away, and that would mean that the spiral is HUGE. how can the exhaust from a rocket stay in a perfect spiral for that long? the wind surely would have dispersed it.

phuckoff mmkay -- Bright blue circular light from a failed missile? They usually explode and fall down in a flaming fireball, wouldnt you say? 
Vladolenin --A missle? L.O.L. They DO think we're stupid. Missles dont grow into dark spheres that CONSUME LIGHT.  
Sxr5a -- a Russian missile flies DIRECTLY over Norway, violating their airspace, and the Norweigians do not make a peep about it? Does this make sense? 
Poopdome56 -- its sad that there are still ignorant people out there that actually believe this is a rocket. 
The.PhantomPain -- that is not a missile i don't care what anyone says. the large hadron collider created a wormhole. it even behaves like a wormhole. it doesn't behave like a missile  
NassimHarameinVedas -- ANYONE who thinks this was caused by a "failed missile launch" is beyond brainwashed and retarded. Missiles have been launched since the 50's ok . . . and we've NEVER seen anything like this or heard about it.

Sylph Viper -- That UFO was seen during NIGHT HOURS. And rocket fumes or exhaust DO NOT GLOW OR EMIT LIGHT. The missile theory is by far the most idiotic thing presented yet.  
WinduChi6 -- The other major problem for this being a rocket is, a rocket normally will be traveling at velocities in range of 1,000s mph. For anybody having knowledge of the dynamics of motion; a slight change in trajectory angle of a object traveling at several 1,000mph will generate enormous g-forces or centrifugal forces that will tear a rocket in to pieces, that will generate a, with combustive fuel on board, a explosive fire ball of bright orange-yellow-red color. So, the ICBM missile story is a LIE!
Special conditions
It would turn out that missile and space activity could [and had been] creating various forms of sky spirals for many years. The key feature which made them unusual ['once in a lifetime' for most observers] was the requirement for a narrow range of illumination conditions that rarely coincided. The rocket had to engage in plume-forming activity, either thrusting or dumping leftover fuel.  The sky had to be dark [and clear], but to illuminate the plume, the sun had to be only slightly below the horizon, preferably lighting the plume from behind [as seen by observers]. Calculations with Internet-based astronomy tools showed this was exactly the situation in these two December 2009 spiral events.

Mathematics also helped solve the initial mystery: WHERE exactly was the source of the apparition? How far away was it, really, since judging distance to an unknown-sized out-of-focus blob in the night sky is notoriously prone to random guesswork. That's especially true for objects near the horizon, which based on analogies with familiar objects such as aircraft lights, can be imagined to be nearby, perhaps within tens of meters, perhaps a few tens of kilometers at most.

Trigonometry came to the rescue, aided by old-fashioned 'orienteering' [finding true direction]. Accurate line-of-sight azimuths could be derived from the photos, which showed recognizable silhouettes of nearby mountains [and star backgrounds]. Combined with exact knowledge of the observer locations this gave quite accurate angles.  Because such azimuths could be derived from several sites along the northern Norwegian coast, they allowed triangulation of the geographic location of the object forming the spectacle. It was far to the east, over Russian territorial waters. This was fully consistent with the explanation that a military missile test aimed at the normal impact zone in Siberia was the cause of the sightings.

An entirely reasonable follow-on question is to ask why, if the rocket was over Russian coastal waters, it was only seen from Norway and Sweden, but not from Russian cities in the northwest corner of that country that were much closer. The valid explanation involves timing and the round shape of the Earth. 

Over northern Norway [the only part of the country that wasn't cloud-covered, as weather satellite images show] the skies were still dark. At the same time, regions farther southeast would be experiencing pre-dawn sky brightening, when stars become invisible behind the sky glare. Meanwhile, any object at very high altitude [such as an artificial satellite or long-range missile] would be fully lit by the still-not-risen sun [as indeed the missile plume was].

So even if the skies were cloudless over Murmansk and Arkhangelsk and nearby regions, the dawn sunlight would have masked any space objects passing nearby. Numerous websites [such as, or] offer programs to determine exact solar illumination conditions for any site at any date/time. One can also obtain the sun's "depression angle" for a  nighttime location, and from it then approximate the altitude required to be in sunlight ["Grahn's Law" states that the altitude of the overhead shadowed region boundary in kilometers is close to the square of the depression angle in degrees].  

The TIMING of this launch near dawn at launch site meant that while observers to the west still had a dark sky, the plume was high enough to be in sunlight. So it was visible from regions to the west but not in sky-brightened regions east of the launch site.

Some skeptics of the missile explanation suggested that a missile test would have been announced in advance, and the "missile explanation" would not then have appeared until only AFTER the event, as a made-up ad hoc excuse.  

But the missile test launch was indeed openly discussed ahead of time. Moscow's "Kommersant" newspaper reported on November 3, 2009, that the launch would occur in a few weeks. Closer to launch, official warnings [called NOTAMS]  were released for the period in early December where the test had been delayed to. An article by Vladimir Voronov, "Bulava Stupidity", in Moscow's 'Sobesednik' newspaper, reported on November 17: "The Bulava missile complex with which it is intended to equip our submarines is terminally unfortunate: either it doesn't fly, or it flies -- but off course, or it completely explodes. The next tests have been officially announced for 24 November, but there are major doubts that these, too, will be successful." A few days later, Moscow Interfax-AVN news agency reported on November 24, "The next test launch of a Bulava sea-based intercontinental ballistic missile is expected to be carried out in early December, a missile industry spokesman told Interfax on Tuesday."

As already stated, all worldwide activities that are hazardous to air and sea traffic are announced in advance in a system called 'Notice to Airmen and Mariners' or NOTAMS. The USSR and China did it, too. There are standard public-accessible data bases containing all such notices that sea and air traffic controllers consult regularly. The notice contains the locations, altitude ranges, and the time intervals that traffic is warned to avoid. True, the messages are written in technical formats that must be used for interpreting them, but the coding is straightforward. News agencies rarely if ever note or publicize such routine information

All these precursor warnings in both the Russian news media and on world air/sea travel websites effectively answered the 'not-a-missile' claim that an absence of such warnings prove it was not a missile. Just the opposite is true.

Some 'rocket science' may cast more light on the nature of the apparition, and of the failure. 
The frequency of spiral effects for Russian missile tests, and their rarity during US military missile tests from Florida and California, may merely be due to a difference in geography. The central issue is the distance to the target zone and how this influences the missile's ascent performance. The US has entire wide oceans to shoot missiles to full range, but although Russia  is a wide country, even the farthest part of eastern  Siberia is still well short of matching the range needed to reach North American targets, which determines the maximum operational capability of any ICBM.  Full-range Russian tests [which do occur occasionally] would impact in mid-Pacific, near Hawaii. They are rare because they are easily tracked by US surveillance systems and may leave top secret hardware where it can be retrieved by US devices. 

This range limitation means that to avoid overshooting the far end of the in-country test range, Soviet missiles had to restrain their final velocity well below the maximum. They had to cut off thrusting earlier than what they were designed for.

Thrust termination
Rocket engines that use liquid fuels could accomplish this easily, by just closing the fuel flow valves. But solid rocket motors, burning not from the hind end but from a length-wise central cavity, were next to impossible to extinguish on demand. So a design was developed [both in the US and the USSR] to allow the engines to continue burning to fuel exhaustion, but while doing so, just stop thrusting forward during this terminal phase. 

This was accomplished by installing openable windows ["thrust ports"] near the nose of the booster, to enable venting exhaust gasses forward so as to null out the continuing [but much reduced] backwards flow.  Since usually there was a nuclear warhead sitting directly atop this stage, the thrusting had to be accomplished with twin opposite-side vents facing sideways but canted forward, like a letter 'Y'. As a result, at the moment chosen by the control program, it could cut off pushing forward while continuing to burn harmlessly until all fuel was consumed.  

Solid-rocket builder THIOKOL discusses this on its website: "Thrust Termination Port. == A port provided in the rocket motor case to vent combustion gases so that rocket operation can be terminated. The port usually is provided for in the head end of the motor so that gas flow is effectively diverted from the nozzle. The port is formed by firing a shaped charge of explosive placed against the outside of the forward end of the motor."

As an additional flight technique, the last stage also usually also rotates rapidly, both for stability and also as countermeasure to the effects of anti-missile energy weapons. This rotary motion creates strikingly regular double-spiral patterns similar to rotating twin-nozzle lawn sprinkler. As with the lawn sprinkler, nothing is spinning AROUND the central point, every particle is moving directly AWAY from the origin, but each subsequent particle is ejected in a slightly different direction, creating the visual impression of a solid, moving ring. 

This is worth repeating. A spiral form can be created by linear expulsion of material from a spinning object. Nothing is actually MOVING in a spiral AROUND the central object.  


What exactly HAD gone wrong is still a deeply guarded military secret in Moscow. The Bulava ICBM program was most troubled Russian missile development effort in half a century. Officially, this failure occurred late in ascent during the third stage performance. Its exact nature has never been disclosed, but it might have been loss of attitude control and tumbling, or partial rupture of propellant casing wall, or [my preference] the premature activation of thrust venting. But it any case, the malfunction was high enough for its consequences to remain visible for a minute or so. 

The second Russian test may not have been pure coincidence, but merely reflect practical operational limits. Sometimes, different missile tests that rely on common tracking facilities are timed close together to keep special deployed teams on station. The December 10 launch [announced in Moscow] was part of a new program to test maneuverable warheads to evade US missile defense system [ten years later, the test program continues, it most recently launched on November 29, setting off new UFO panics in Russia and central Asia]. Launch of a surplus 'Topol' missile from Kapustin Yar [on the lower Volga] to Sary Shagan [in Kazakhstan] was right over ground observation points just after sunset, on purpose, presumably to enable high-precision optical tracking.

To sum up, the technological puzzle was straightforward in its iron-clad solution, but the sociological/cultural puzzle is more amorphous and daunting. 

The spectacular apparition observed in Norway on December 9, 2009 was created by a Russian sub-launched ICBM, called 'Bulava'. The missile was following a standard test profile into Kamchatka. Weather was clear and plume was backlit by the pre-dawn sun. Some anomaly during third stage caused the object to eject plumes laterally. This spiral-forming phase lasted unusually long but there had been a few earlier precedents. Because of its great distance, it was easy to misinterpret speed and location. 

These kinds of events will be occurring more frequently [and video recordings will be spread even wider] in years to come. Only by recognizing these 'new-normal' prosaic stimuli will people be able to identify and isolate any truly anomalous aerial phenomena.

Monday, December 2, 2019

George Noory, oracle of our age

        In case anyone doesn't already know all too well, George Noory is the principal host of the four-hour overnight radio show Coast to Coast AM. He also sometimes appears as a talking head on the ridiculously popular History Channel series Ancient Aliens, now in its 14th season. He therefore joins such well-known numbskulls as Mike Bara, David Childress and Giorgio Tsoukalos as custodians of the astounding mendacity of a show that Jason Colavito has mocked better than I ever could.

        Noory isn't the sharpest knife in the box, especially when the topic is physics or astronomy. He has two standard questions for any physicist that comes his way as an interviewee: "How did the Big Bang happen, I just don't get it?" and "What could Einstein have accomplished if he had had a modern computer?"

Mining the Moon
        Last night's interviewee wasn't exactly a physicist, but a sort-of-expert on space science, Rick Sterling. Sterling didn't commit any howling errors, and said several times that the future of US space exploration was mostly in the hands of private enterprise now. He's right about that, of course, but the show's own titular science adviser Bob Zimmerman could have said the same thing only better.

        It was in discussing the possibility of the remnants of an ancient civilization on the Moon that George Noory brought the level of the conversation down to Ancient Aliens -style pseudo-fact. He remarked that the late Ingo Swann had "remote viewed" the far side of the Moon and had seen structures, buildings, roads and all the features of a civilization. He then pushed the topic even further away from any semblance of truth or logic by stating that he believes humankind was once very advanced, technically, with H-bombs and spacecraft and all the trappings of modern society, but then "something happened." He clearly thinks it quite possible that this former version of mankind inhabited the Moon and built stuff before, for unknown reasons, it lost all that capability and reverted to a hunter-gatherer society.

        It just astounds me that the moon-anomaly crowd don't go to the obvious place to find out what's up there. Why TF would you get your information from a laughably inaccurate form of woo such as "remote viewing" when you can simply look up the library of images returned by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter? That marvellous piece of engineering has been in orbit now for more than ten years and has sent us images of more than 75% of the lunar surface at 0.5m/px resolution.

        Case in point—Sterling said his group (The Society for Planetary SETI Research) has been investigating some "anomalous" features near the satellite crater Paracelsus C that look a lot like mining operations. Paracelsus C is at 21.7° S, 165.1° E. Here's the LRO image at 64 m/px:

        I can offer Rick Sterling better. Here's a permalink to the zoomable version, and the lunain can be examined all the way down to 0.5 m/px. See any mining, Rick? See any of the solar panels that would obviously be required for a technical civilization to do its thing???

Social media
        By sweet coincidence, that interview aired on the same night as Lesley Stahl's in-depth interview with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki on CBS's 60 Minutes. Wojcicki, a very confident and appealing personality, talked about the difficulty of policing YouTube content considering that 500 HOURS OF NEW MATERIAL ARE UPLOADED EVERY MINUTE. She basically admitted that the best her reviewers can do is to remove content that can be defined as actually harmful, and allow generalities that most of us would consider trash. The example she gave was nix to “Don’t hire somebody because of their race," but OK to “White people are superior.” She also said that the platform is viewed for A BILLION HOURS A DAY, making it the most-used of the social media after Google itself.

        So it seems we have raised a YouTube generation, exposed to inevitable lies. Facebook is full of propaganda. Lightweights such as George Noory are considered in some sense opinion leaders. Truly, my friends, our culture is in danger.

Update 7th December:
        Today Jason Colavito commented on Randall Carlson's YouTube video asking "Why is there NO record of ancient humans?" Carlson has the same idea as Noory, and I'm sure Jason won't mind me quoting him—his reasoning is impeccable, as usual:
"He alleges that catastrophes have wiped out every trace of prior cycles of advanced civilization, though he declines to explain the infrastructure of said civilization and how comets and volcanoes could eliminate every nut, bolt, and screw; destroy every domesticated animal; and burn away all traces, even the very pollen, of the domesticated plant species they would have had to farm to feed such a civilization. Where are the alterations in the record of the environment from their agriculture and industry? In other words, beyond temples and fortresses, there should be many other traces of a lost global Atlantis-like civilization, and no disaster could both destroy all of them and leave enough humans to carry on in its aftermath."