Monday, November 2, 2009

A Signal in the Noise

It’s easy to dismiss the UFO debate. With thousands of sightings and not one piece of viable proof there isn’t much of an argument. Which makes it all the more intriguing that Andrew Clark and David Clark call for a rational look at ufology in their 1999 book “Aliens.” Dr. David Clark is a researcher in space technology and astronomy. He’s written many books on the subject and has been published in many research journals. His son Andrew, a postgraduate student at the time, joins him in a rational discussion of UFOs. They freely admit that to even enter the UFO realm of discussion is dangerous to career and not a topic most scientists want to approach. The reasons are obvious. The vast majority of UFO sightings have been proven to be caused by natural or manmade reasons. In 2008 a set of lights over Arizona set forth a wave of media coverage. It turned out to be an elaborate hoax involving helium balloons and flares. 10 years previous the famous “Phoenix Lights” were blamed on flares from an Air National Guard training mission.

Dr. Clark and his son point out that the thousands of UFO sightings create a screen of sorts, which would make it very difficult to investigate a real extraterrestrial craft in Earth atmosphere. There are a few UFO events that go unexplained. They may be due to meteorological conditions that we don’t understand or unreported flights. They could also be the real thing. With so many reports we may never know.

It is possible that a visiting extraterrestrial civilization is not interested in establishing First Contact. They may want only to observe. They may be operating drone robot probes to do research. There are plenty of reasons why a craft would enter Earth atmosphere without intending to say hello.

The authors point out that one group is examining the deluge of reports. The French space agency CNES has investigators charged with examining UFO reports. Currently called Geipan the group made its files available to the public in 2007.

Such a mission faces significant challenges. Even if a sighting is shown to have no natural or manmade possibility, it is still unproven without further evidence. You would need an alien craft to be found in order to have any real proof. Still, the only way a particular sighting could eventually lead to real evidence is through a close examination of all of the sightings.

To be fair the Clarks make this UFO discussion just a small part of a much larger work. They spend most of “Aliens” taking a closer look at SETI programs, which is the more likely form of contact.

So why should we even waste our time examining UFO sightings? The impact of extraterrestrial visitation is simply too huge to ignore completely. If extraterrestrials are visiting Earth and not saying hello, you want to know why that is occurring. It raises the possibility that they are performing acts that we would not approve of or preparing for hostile actions. Of course that leads to a whole other set of claims that quickly combines conspiracy and fear. How do you sort out a rational idea when there is so much emotional fiction surrounding that idea?

Personally, I believe that the vast majority of UFO sightings are a simple misunderstanding by the people viewing the phenomena. This is ramped up by the very human reaction of gossip and excitement, often fueled by the news media and the internet. Does that mean that all UFO sightings are bunk? Perhaps not. It is this very slim possibility that needs to be considered.

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