Oct. 19, 2010 at 7:35 PM ET
The Internet has made it easier for reports of UFO sightings to make it into the media mainstream, but it's also easier to track down the truth that's out there. The past week's X-Files from New York and El Paso are two classic cases that demonstrate how perfectly natural phenomena can lead to way-out interpretations.
Take the New York sightings on Oct. 13, for example: The strange lights visible in daytime skies above the city sparked TV reports from Manhattan to Moscow, particularly because a retired military officer named Stanley Fulham predicted there would be a "massive UFO display over the world's principal cities" on that day.
The likelier explanation, however, is that the lights were actually party balloons glinting in the sun. The New York Daily News went so far as to pinpoint the source of the balloons: a party held at a suburban New York elementary school in honor of a teacher's engagement. A parent bringing 40 of the iridescent pearl balloons lost a bunch of them on the way in to Milestone School in Mount Vernon, N.Y., about an hour before the sightings began. The wind would have taken the balloons southward at just the right time.
"UFOs? They're crazy -- those are our balloons," Angela Freeman, the head of the school, told the Daily News.
The local TV report shown above embellishes the balloon report with a shot of a bright blip in the evening sky, surrounded by a few smaller blips. "Was that anything? Was it what people saw earlier? I don't know, I can't tell you," the reporter says. But what's on the video is a classic close-up of Jupiter and its largest moons. Jupiter happens to be about as close to Earth as it ever gets, which means the planet would be big and bright in the skies over New York. That seems to prove the point that planets are often mistaken for UFOs. Or does it?!
Just a couple of days later, the UFO buzz picked up again, with claims that strange lights had been seen in the skies over El Paso. The video at the very top of this item presents a report from KTSM-TV about the sightings. It looks as if a bright spot breaks into three teardrops of light that float earthward. Britain's Daily Mail gushed over the incident, showing a picture of three shining specks over New York as well as the three specks in Texas. "They said the 'UFO' over New York was just balloons ... so how do they explain the mirror image over El Paso?" the Mail asks in its headline.
Here's how: It didn't take long for folks to recall that there was an air show in El Paso over the weekend, and that one of the featured attractions was a nighttime parachute show by the U.S. Army's Golden Knights. The YouTube video below, captured a year earlier, shows three members of the parachute team falling through the skies with flares blazing, a sight very similar to what was seen in El Paso over the weekend.
The Golden Knights themselves link to the TV report from their Twitter page with this commentary: "Black Team causes panic in El Paso." And there's this: "Wow, GK blog is crashing due to Black Team's jump in El Paso. For the record we are not aliens in disguise."
If the El Paso lights look as if they're floating in the air, that may simply be because of the way the video camera was held. But what about the "mirror images" of the three New York lights and the three El Paso lights? In order to achieve that mirror effect, the El Paso video frame had to be turned 90 degrees clockwise. Whenever you have video of three things floating through the air, chances are you'll always find a frame in which that triad forms a triangle of some sort.
On Monday, KTSM broadcast a follow-up report that went along with the air-show explanation.
So does this close the case? Or are the Golden Knights and KTSM in on the alien conspiracy? Either way, the UFO hit parade just keeps rolling along. Now there's talk of a sighting in Florida, as well as the "God in Google Maps." Trust no one...
More on UFOs and aliens:
For your regular dose of paranormal sleuthing, check out the Tucson Citizen's "Paranormal Old Pueblo" blog, penned by Cherlyn Gardner Strong.
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