Thursday, January 17, 2008

Stephenville UFO, pt 4 - MUFON Prepares to Investigate as the Fever Turns into a Flap

January 16, 2008 - ABCNews puts the number of people claiming to have seen the UFO at over 30. By now, major news organizations have correspondants on the scene. Read here for more details on that, and the $5000 reward one of the witnesses is offering for a photo.

The next expected development is MUFON sending an unusually large investigative team this weekend. MUFON Texas Senior Investigator Steve Hudgeons is interviewed by San Angelo Live!, which you can listen to here. Findings from that investigation may take time. Though we should expect media coverage of the MUFON investigators talking to people and addressing the community. Realizing that MUFON is about to become a much more household name, the organization has set up a MUFON YouTube account to post their own videos and news media videos associated with the Stephenville case.

I'm using the word flap again because according to that interview with Steve Hudgeons, MUFON is now getting numerous UFO reports in Texas, apparently 19 since the incident broke in the media.

Meanwhile, a pilot who was flying in the area has suggested the sightings may have been due to military flare activity. Within the UFO community, this has become almost as detested an explanation for UFO sightings as swamp gas, weather balloons, or Venus. This is due to the explanation being offered for the Phoenix Lights episode in March, 1997. There, thousands of people stopped to watch lights over the city of Phoenix, Arizona. The case, both as a sighting and as a historical case, is complex, but in summary, after much military hemming and hawing and ridicule by state officials, the military declared that flares, dropped from an exercise, were responsible for the sightings. It does seem likely that the largest group of sightings, which were videotaped, may have been due to flares, but some dispute that and others point out that sightings were made in the area earlier in the evening of a structured craft. This was in turn followed in 2007 by a retired military pilot claiming to have seen a large UFO over Arkansas, only to immediately turn around and call the incident flares. The fact that this story was primarily run in WorldNetDaily, an openly politically hard-right media outlet, followed by a very quick debunking by the pilot, did not help matters. So this explanation is not a popular meme in the community. Completely randomly, also in shades of the Phoenix case, the city secretary has taken to wearing an alien mask as a humor response to the events (link has picture). This recalls former Arizona Governor Fife Symington's dressing of an aide as an alien in order to defuse a press conference on the Phoenix Lights. Ten years later, after ridiculing the people who reported sightings, Symington claimed to have seen the Phoenix UFO himself. So the mask thing isn't going over well, either.

On top of that, a random report on SETI has merged with the intense interest in the Stephenville sighting. Oakland, California television station KTVU ran a piece on January 15 that mentioned SETI possibly receiving an alien signal.


As you might expect, in the midst of a huge public and media interest in a mass UFO sighting, the news that aliens may be contacting earth perked up more than a few ears. Numerous observers were baffled by the report, both by the tone of the report (relatively light given the earth-shaking news) and that no other media were mentioning this. My suspicion was that this was a matter of confusion, involving a signal SETI received last fall, and tonight my suspicion appears to have been borne out. Not that this will help matters, as despite the media (and I suppose public) linking of SETI and UFOs, the camps are for the most part somewhat hostile, a relationship going back decades and in part fueled by the cancellation of federal funding for SETI due to Senator William Proxmire's belief that it searched for "little green men with misshapen heads." As you can imagine, in the context of a big UFO sighting, this hiccup involving SETI will only further some notions that the story of a signal was accurate, but silenced.

This is all happening because many people are following this story intensely, and are waiting for new developments.

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