The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘alien’

“Teach Alternate Views” Humor from Non Sequitur

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 19, 2012

In some of my recent blog posts, I wondered about the utility of calling the bluff of creationists and going with their argument of “teaching all views” regarding evolution, creationism, etc.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, this June 18th cartoon from Non Sequitur just nails it 🙂

Image Source

Posted in creationism, education, humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Mysterious Planet-Sized Object” Is… A Planet!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 9, 2011

A couple of days ago I came across this article titled “Mysterious planet-sized object spotted near Mercury” and it contained some shocking images.  I reproduce some of these images and related commentary from the article below…

The mystery image of a “cloaked alien ship”… the Romulans, perhaps?

… Theorists have seized on the images captured from the “coronal mass ejection” (CME) last week as suggestive of alien life hanging out in our own cosmic backyard. Specifically, the solar flare washing over Mercury appears to hit another object of comparable size. “It’s cylindrical on either side and has a shape in the middle. It definitely looks like a ship to me, and very obviously, it’s cloaked,” YouTube-user siniXster said in his video commentary on the footage, which has generated hundreds of thousands of views this week. Now, how this user was able to determine that the object was “obviously” a cloaked spaceship with no other natural explanation remains as much a mystery as the object itself. …

Note the staggering level of argumentation from ignorance here.  I like to call this sort of reasoning (if you can call it that) from various UFOologists the “alien-of-the-gaps”, because much like the related “god-of-the-gaps” argument from ignorance, what they do is find some kind of strange image and/or phenomenon for which they do not have en explanation and then they immediately give it an explanation unsupported by evidence.  In short, because they don’t know what it is, they know it’s aliens!  Huh?!

This, of course, is a direct contradiction and points out just how ludicrous the general argument from ignorance can be.  If the object is an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO), then by definition it is unidentified – which means that you admit right off the bat that you don’t know what it is!  So if you don’t know what it is then how can you suddenly turn around and, seemingly without any kind of scientifically-valid or evidence-based reasoning, state that it is an alien spacecraft?  Using such loose argumentation, I could just as easily claim the object in question is Santa Claus (but no, that would be silly).

Of course, a little more research shows that astronomers actually have figured out what this “mysterious planet-sized object” is hanging around next to the planet Mercury.  It seems the answer is that the object is… the planet Mercury itself.  Here’s a fuller explanation from the article…

Of course, there’s another scientifically sanctioned explanation for the curious images, though we’re not certain that skeptics and UFO enthusiasts such as SiniXster will endorse it. Natalie Wolchover of Life’s Little Mysteries put the question to scientists in the solar physics branch at the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). They’re the people who analyze data from the Heliospheric Imager-1 (HI-1)–better known in this context as the camera that shot the footage in question.

Head NRL group scientist Russ Howard and lead ground systems engineer Nathan Rich say the mysterious object is in fact Mercury itself. And what we’re seeing in the footage is the equivalent of Mercury’s wake, “where the planet was on the previous day,” as it travels through the solar system on its natural gravitational path:

To make the relatively faint glow of a coronal mass ejection stand out against the bright glare of space—caused by interplanetary dust and the stellar/galactic background—the NRL scientists must remove as much background light as possible. They explained that they determine what light is background light, and thus can be subtracted out, by calculating the average amount of light that entered each camera pixel on the day of the CME event and on the previous day. Light appearing in the pixels on both days is considered to be background light and is removed from the footage of the CME. The remaining light is then enhanced.

So there you have it.  The object in question is basically an artifact that results from the combination of taking multiple images of that region in space over multiple days, the planet Mercury moving in that time, and processing the light in the image to enhance the coronal mass ejection to make it more visible.

What stuns me about situations like these is just how quickly so many people are willing to invoke magical thinking and jump to conclusions (the “cloaked alien ship” explanation) in the absence of any real evidence.  What is it about openly and honestly admitting that sometimes the most truthful answer is simply “we don’t know” that disturbs so many people?  That, to me, is the real mystery.


Posted in aliens & UFOs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Alien Life in a Meteorite? Ummm, Not So Much

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 13, 2011

Last week the media was all abuzz about a story that a NASA scientist had discovered “definitive evidence” of alien life in a meteorite.  In fact, they apparently even had photos of the little critters…

Here’s the headline:

NASA scientist finds evidence of alien life

Aliens exist, and we have proof.

That astonishingly awesome claim comes from Dr. Richard B. Hoover, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, who says he has found conclusive evidence of alien life — fossils of bacteria found in an extremely rare class of meteorite called CI1 carbonaceous chondrites. (There are only nine such meteorites on planet Earth.) Hoover’s findings were published late Friday night in the Journal of Cosmology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

“I interpret it as indicating that life is more broadly distributed than restricted strictly to the planet earth,” Hoover, who has spent more than 10 years studying meteorites around the world, told in an interview. “This field of study has just barely been touched — because quite frankly, a great many scientist [sic] would say that this is impossible.” …

The “field of study” to which Dr. Hoover is referring is astrobiology, and it is a legitimate scientific endeavor that attempts to study the question of life beyond Earth.  Unfortunately, Dr. Hoover is somewhat of a crank, and his claims are quite overblown, as evidenced by the ruthless criticism he and the “peer-reviewed” Journal of Cosmology received from the wider scientific community.  Here are just a few samples of how these trumped up claims of “alien life” simply wither under scrutiny…

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Posted in aliens & UFOs, scientific method, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

The Blurring of Science With Media Spin: NASA’s Announcement About “Arsenic-Based Life”

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 11, 2010

I have to say that last week I was pretty upset with NASA, because – if you recall – there was a lot of hay being made by NASA about a big scientific discovery they were going to announce.  In the process, there was a great deal of media spin & speculation on whether or not it was going to be an announcement of the discovery of “alien life” or something similar.

But when it came time for the announcement, it ended up being something quite less spectacular: it was about how a group of NASA scientists had uncovered a form of bacterial life which seems to have adapted itself to living in the harsh conditions of a lake laced with heavy concentrations of arsenic – the original NASA press release can be accessed here.

NASA has made a pretty big deal out of this discovery, but there are some problems with how they’ve rolled it out, in my opinion.  I am of the view that they’ve oversold this thing, with overly dramatic phrases (from the above press release) such as…

NASA-funded astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth.


This finding of an alternative biochemistry makeup will alter biology textbooks and expand the scope of the search for life beyond Earth.

Upon hearing about this discovery, and not being a biochemist or evolutionary biologist myself, I decided to look past the spin being put on this by both NASA and the news media in general and go to people who know the field far better than me.  In a short amount of time, I found a great post by PZ Myers over at Pharyngula on the matter, wherein he states, among other things…

It’s not an arsenic-based life form

… I finally got the paper from Science, and I’m sorry to let you all down, but it’s none of the above. It’s an extremophile bacterium that can be coaxed into substiting arsenic for phosphorus in some of its basic biochemistry. It’s perfectly reasonable and interesting work in its own right, but it’s not radical, it’s not particularly surprising, and it’s especially not extraterrestrial. It’s the kind of thing that will get a sentence or three in biochemistry textbooks in the future. …

… So what does it all mean? It means that researchers have found that some earthly bacteria that live in literally poisonous environments are adapted to find the presence of arsenic dramatically less lethal, and that they can even incorporate arsenic into their routine, familiar chemistry. …

… This lake also happens to be on Earth, not Saturn, although maybe being in California gives them extra weirdness points, so I don’t know that it can even say much about extraterrestrial life. It does say that life can survive in a surprisingly broad range of conditions, but we already knew that. [emphasis added]

And, unfortunately, it seems that the story could get worse for NASA, because if you know anything about how the scientific community operates, you know that when someone makes a really bold claim (such as how the NASA researchers did) then other scientists are going to want to review the work & offer criticism.  Well, upon doing so, there has been some quite withering criticism coming from many DNA & biochemistry experts about the manner in which the NASA researchers conducted their work…

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Posted in aliens & UFOs, media woo, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Area 51 Unveiled by CIA Veterans

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 20, 2010

In a quickie post for all you UFO & alien buffs (whether you are a skeptic or believer), here’s a bit of news that is guaranteed to give the conspiracy theorists among you absolute fits.  It seems that some former workers at Area 51 (yes, that “Area 51”) are now going public with the work they conducted there many decades ago.  And none of it involved crashed alien spacecraft or bodies of ETs near Roswell, etc.

Apparently, there was a real conspiracy to cover-up research on experimental aircraft such as the A12 and SR71 reconnaissance planes.  And it did involve scaring witnesses into shutting up about what they saw, confiscating photo equipment, and even paying off some people with hush money (to the tune of $25,000 per person – in the 1950s and 60s!)

Read the entire article here. Here are some highlights…

After nearly five decades, guys like James Noce finally get to tell their stories about Area 51.

Yes, that Area 51.

The one that gets brought up when people talk about secret Air Force projects, crashed UFOs, alien bodies and, of course, conspiracies.

The secrets, some of them, have been declassified.

Noce, 72, and his fellow Area 51 veterans around the country now are free to talk about doing contract work for the CIA in the 1960s and ’70s at the arid, isolated Southern Nevada government testing site.

Their stories shed some light on a site shrouded in mystery; classified projects still are going on there. It’s not a big leap from warding off the curious 40 or 50 years ago, to warding off the curious who now make the drive to Area 51.

The veterans’ stories provide a glimpse of real-life government covert operations, with their everyday routines and moments of excitement.

Noce didn’t seek out publicity. But when contacted, he was glad to tell what it was like.

“I was sworn to secrecy for 47 years. I couldn’t talk about it,” he says.

In the 1960s, Area 51 was the test site for the A-12 and its successor, the SR-71 Blackbird, a secret spy plane that broke records at documented speeds that still have been unmatched. The CIA says it reached Mach 3.29 (about 2,200 mph) at 90,000 feet.

But after September 2007, when the CIA displayed an A-12 in front of its Langley, Va., headquarters as part of the agency’s 60th birthday, much of the secrecy of those days at Area 51 fell away.

Advance warning to UFOlogists: Sorry, although Noce and other Area 51 vets say they saw plenty of secret stuff, none make claims about aliens.

Of course, the conspiracy theorists will say, all of these explanations are just part of the bigger, wider cover-up to conceal the Roswell aliens from us… right?  I can almost hear the conspiracy nuts getting out their aluminum foil hats 🙂

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The Skeptical Teacher Talks About “Ghost Meters” on SETI Radio’s Skeptic Check

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 7, 2010

Okay, shameless plug time 🙂

This past Friday I had the priviledge of being interviewed by SETI astronomer Seth Shostak on SETI Radio’s monthly “Skeptic Check” segment. Apparently, Seth and executive producer Molly Bentley had caught the article that I wrote to Skeptical Inquirer magazine about the Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific ghost detector (my blog post on the subject is here) and how that once respected science teaching outlet had now decided to go down the rabbit hole of nonsense.

It’s a short interview (only about 6-7 minutes long), and you can listen to it here (fast forward to the 24:00 mark to get to my interview)…

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Scientology: A History of Violence

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 28, 2010

While surfing the interwebs over at the JREF Forum, I was made aware of an upcoming CNN special with Anderson Cooper called “Scientology: A History of Violence” which is to air for four nights starting on March 29th.  Details to be found here.

I’ve made few posts here before about the Church of Scientology, which I consider to be a dangerous cult, and I’m all for having mainstream media outlets challenge them openly.  And I think CNN’s Anderson Cooper is a good person to do the sleuthing on such nonsense (just recall how well he publicly debunked psychic Sylvia Browne).  The biggest problem I personally have with Scientology isn’t their outright goofy beliefs about the alien-god Xenu and space-ghosts called “thetans”, though that’s some pretty damn weird stuff, but the manner in which they deceive & cheat their followers out of literally hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time they learn the Church truths (which are little more than a really bad sci-fi story).  Not to mention, the organization actively works to conceal these “truths” from their members until they’ve paid so much money to the Church that it’s very difficult for them to extract themselves from it.

In addition, those who dare oppose the Church and publicly criticize them are often subjected to all manner of personal attacks and/or harassment under the Church’s policy called “Fair Game” which declares such critics (using very Orwellian lingo) “suppressive persons”.  I am also opposed to the Church because they encourage their followers to “disconnect” from their families & friends who might otherwise attempt to talk some sense into them.  And then, as the CNN expose is likely to show, there are other things done in the name of the corrupt & power-hungry Church of Scientology which the Church would rather not have you know.

Here are some details, provided by Anderson Cooper, about what the program is all about.  I wonder if he’ll be listed as an SP anytime soon?…

Next week we begin a four-part investigation into allegations made by a number of former high ranking members of the Church of Scientology. The allegations are about physical abuse they say took place within the Sea Organization, the international management branch of the church.

These former members, many of whom dedicated their lives to Scientology, allege that the leader of the church, David Miscavige, has used physical violence against a number of Sea Organization members. The church adamantly denies these allegations, and back up their denials with numerous affidavits and testimonials defending Mr. Miscavige and attacking those who are speaking out.

Interestingly, the church spokesman, Tommy Davis, admits there was a history of violence in the Sea Organization, but the people he blames for it are those who are making the allegations against David Miscavige. He says they were demoted by Mr. Miscavige, and are bitter and disgruntled. Some of those making the allegations admit they did engage in violent acts, but say it was at the urging of Mr. Miscavige.

There is no real proof offered by either side, but viewers can make their own assessment. We have spent several months working on this series, and believe it is a fair look at the allegations and the counter claims made by the church.

I have already received a number of emails from church members complaining about the series, and accusing me of attacking the church, its beliefs, its membership, and its activities.

Given that the emails are all very similar in content, I assume this is some sort of organized email campaign. None of those writing the emails have seen the series, but I appreciate hearing from all concerned viewers, and I certainly understand any church member, of any religion, being concerned about the portrayal of their beliefs.

For the record, I just want to point out that this series is not about the beliefs or activities of the Church of Scientology. It is not about the religion or the vast majority of Scientologists. This series simply has to do with what some former high ranking church officials say went on within the upper management of the church, and what happened to them when they left the church.

Posted in cults | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

More iPhone/Touch Fun – Fake Your Own Ghost/UFO Photos!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 4, 2010

In keeping with the melding of modern technology with good ol’ fashioned skepticism, I’ve found out about a few neat iPhone/Touch apps that are, in my opinion, a must-have for any skeptic.  These apps allow one to take photos and manipulate them into giving the appearance of having captured images of ghosts and/or UFOs & aliens. And while such photo manipulation is not proof positive that ghosts & aliens do not exist, when such manipulation is so easy to accomplish it should give one cause to pull out their Occam’s Razor in an effort to slice away the b.s.

Using these apps, take a look at how I added a ghostly spirit and alien UFO to a couple of my photos…

So what sort of goodies are available at the iTunes store for such skeptical fun?  Read on…

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Posted in aliens & UFOs, ghosts & paranormal, humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Pale Blue Dot — An Alien View of Earth

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 24, 2010

Recently we celebrated the 20th anniversary of a remarkable photograph that was taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it began its long, slow exit from our solar system.  That photo was of the Earth, and the image was immortalized by astronomer Carl Sagan in his book called Pale Blue Dot. For a fuller story on this image, I suggest reading up on it all at this excellent NPR story.

Here’s the photo, and Sagan’s eloquent words about it…

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

Posted in space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Failed Missile Launch a Russian Roswell Incident?

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 11, 2009

In a story that is making the rounds on the Internet, a UFO was spotted in the skies over Norway.  It took the form of a strange, spiraling bright light high in the sky that had a mysterious glow to it.  Here’s a photo of the UFO…

And a Youtube video about the phenomenon has gathered a whopping 1.9 million hits in just a single day!…

Needless to say, this is a very interesting phenomenon, with some – to say the least – very interesting explanations being offered by various people for what it could have been.  These, as the reporter in the video above, range from the relatively mundane (such as a failed Russian missile launch) to the usual nonsense from the woo-crowd (alien visitors) to the outright bizarre (a rogue black hole).  So, in the absence of solid evidence, what is the most likely explanation?

Perhaps this news article can shed a little light on this mystery…

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Posted in aliens & UFOs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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