The Rational wikipedia describes David Sereda as an "all-purpose wingnut" — a believer in contact with Pleiadians, zero-point energy, and the healing power of solfeggio frequencies, among other crackpot ideas. He's one of those people who don't thoroughly understand what the U part of UFO means, and proclaims, in at least one book, that he can identify the unidentified, and explain the unexplained. Those blobby things, he says, are spaceships carrying hostile extraterrestrial intelligences.
He was interviewed last Thursday by another all-purpose wingnut and conspiracy theorist, Kerry Cassidy. His theme was not at all topical—it was a theory that has been hashed and rehashed on websites and in books and TV shows for 17 years. The theory is nothing less than the idea that one of those blobby things was responsible for the breakup and destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia, 1st February 2003. His evidence is this strange time-lapse photograph taken from Bernal Hill in San Francisco by an amateur photographer as Columbia streaked overhead.
To Sereda, the squiggle is an incoming extraterrestrial attack. He quite rightly says that lightning—an explanation that some have come up withnote 1—is not a possibility. Columbia was too high, and lightning does not last for any substantial fraction of ten seconds. However, he's so enamored of his attack theory that he fails to consider any other mundane explanation.
Just a jolt
Sereda did not identify the amateur photographer who shot this and four other images over San Francisco. It is, in fact, a man by the name of Peter Goldie. Goldie himself was puzzzled enough by what he had captured that he went to great lengths to contact NASA and offer his photographs as forensic evidence. NASA took notice, and sent astronaut Tamara Jernigan to examine the shots personally. Goldie willingly allowed his camera to be taken to the FBI lab at Quantico, and the story hit the crackpot headlines. Goldie writes:
« Pick a fringe group, be it anti-government, fundamentalist believer, HAARP, chemclouds, right wing, left wing, secret dreams of psychics, etc… they all seem to have an angle on what really happened to the Columbia Shuttle, and it always involves the “purple corkscrew”, my “confiscated” camera and that “they” are forcing me to hide the truth.»Goldie's own explanation? He goes with the result of the FBI investigation: a jolt was all it took. He did not have a cable release, so the mere act of opening the shutter would have jogged the camera enough to cause the squiggle. Consider this, too: Goldie took five ten-second shots, panning the camera between each. During the minute that took, at a reentry speed of 17,500 mph, Columbia would have traveled nearly 300 miles. And yet, in every shot the squiggle ends at the point where the spacecraft is. If the squiggle was an attack the intercept point would have fallen further and further back in each photo.