Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s a bird, Sergey…

By Frederic Friedel

Sergey is a very intelligent, very talented person. He is a world class chess grandmaster who travels the globe and sends me wonderful cultural pictorials of the places he visits. He is a lucid and interesting conversationalist, whose company I enjoy. But: Sergey believes in magic, he believes in paranormal phenomena. And he believes in aliens and UFOs.

Some year ago I receive the following email from Sergey:

Dear Frederic! I managed to shoot this object in Ohrid (Macedonia).

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This is a photo of me in Ohrid, Macedonia, with an unidentified object…
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… in original 1:1 resolution
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and in higher magnification

I sent the photo to the leading Russian UFO expert Mikhail Gershtein, and I got an answer from him:

Well, he couldn’t give a definite conclusion about the nature of the object. But, I would like to attract the attention to the fact that the object has the aura around it!

With best wishes.
Sergey

Here is my reply to Sergey:

Dear Sergey!

For some time now we have been discussing the possibility of getting together for a debate on the subject of your interests in extraordinary phenomena — a debate that is bound to be quite belligerent. We have not managed so far, and for this reason I will reply to you this way.

Your picture, Sergey, could also well be a bird, smudged by the digital resolution of your camera. In the vast majority of all UFO pictures we are looking at smudged birds — the creatures are constantly flying through the sky.

Let us turn to the “aura” you noticed in both pictures. The Exif information in your picture tells us you took it on with a Canon PowerShot S40 with an exposureTime of 1/1002 seconds, an aperture of 4.51, a focal length of 7.09 mm and using a 3 bits/pixel compression. That can easily lead to smudging at this length, and more importantly to chromatic aberration and blooming.

Let me explain: chromatic aberration is an optical defect of a lens which causes different colours or wave lengths of light to be focused at different distances from the lens. It is seen as colour fringes or halos along the edges of highly contrasted objects.

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Note that the halo or “aura” is visible not just around the flying object in your picture, but also along the stone ledge and indeed on the diffuse edges of the hills in the background. They are the result of CCD physics and sensitivity, produced by image contrast on the pixels of the chip, not by the objects being photographed.

I spent ten whole minutes searching for UFOs in my digital photo archives. Here are two quick examples, both from the first directory I examined with outdoor pictures:

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Here’s a UFO I found near the top of the Eiffel tower on a trip to Paris last year…
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The object at high magnification — a bird, probably a swallow, with a chromatic halo
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Here’s another identifiable flying object above the hazy skyline of Paris
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A plane, we would say, once again with a clear digital halo around it

It may interest you to know, Sergey, that modern picture processing programs have chromatic aberration filters which attempt to remove the effects of both traditional transverse chromatic aberration as well as the very common “purple fringing” which plagues most digital cameras.

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A bird trying to catch a piece of bread I tossed in the air. This picture was taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 with a Leica lens. It shows almost no chromatic aberration or blooming at the original magnification (inset).

We now come to the reason for my “narrow-minded” rejection of the theory that some of the pictures are actually not birds, planes, blimps and other natural objects, but are indeed space ships or other flying objects that originate from other star systems. As with everything that does not contain a blatant logical fallacy the possibility that they might be extraterrestrial objects cannot be refuted. But I reject the theory on the basis of probability.

Occam’s razor tells us that the simplest explanation is the best, and all extraterrestrial explanations are horribly complex and improbable. In particular I have problems with the following assumptions:

  1. I cannot understand why interstellar travelers would cross such gigantic distances, which is very, very hard, and then try, more or less unsuccessfully, to carefully hide themselves from the native species. What is the point?
  2. It is difficult to believe that alien spaceships, which have apparently been sighted in many millions of instances, and have indeed conducted countless abductions and the infamous probes, have never left the equivalent of a Hershey Bar wrapper for us to find and analyse.
  3. I find it disturbing that the creatures described in cases of abduction tend to have great similarity with the comic book and movie aliens of the corresponding countries and for relevant eras. It is interesting to compare the tall, slender aliens that visit Europe and Scandinavia with the reptilian beings that tend to land in Japan and the Far East; and how over the last fifty years or so the aliens people claim to have encountered mutated in sync with science fiction movies produced in Hollywood.
  4. But the key problem for me, Sergey, is the following: if we assume there have been alien landings, the people who would best know about this are scientists, the military and politicians. Each would have a tremendous motivation to bring the information to public attention. Scientists have great trouble keeping anything a secret — they are dying to announce discoveries and publish papers. The military knows that the moment they can plausibly confirm the visit of some reclusive alien beings with space ships and, in all likelihood, powerful weapons, their military budget would immediately be doubled and tripled. They would be able to build all those “gorgeous toys” they have been longing to do all these years. And finally politicians know that this type of “crisis” inevitably leads to the widest possible support for those currently in power — people need their leaders to steer them out of danger.

In view of this I find it very hard to believe that all three groups would join forces, as never before in history, to suppress this vital information, and that they would do so for one reason that is inevitably cited: to avoid world panic. Have they really been covering up the evidence, which is apparently available in great profusion, so meticulously and to their own considerable disadvantage, mainly because they fear that people will be running out on the street screaming? Sorry, I don’t buy it.

Sergey, you are still invited to come to Hamburg for our long-planned discussion on the subject. I know that you intend to leave me converted and a true believer — you have told me to expect that to happen. But do bring more than lens flares and chromatic aberration when you eventually come to visit.

With best wishes.
Frederic

Addendum: Sergey did eventually visit me and the anticipated adversarial debate ensued. Check it out in “Iridium magic — how to fool believers.”

Written by

Frederic Alois Friedel, born in 1945, science journalist, co-founder of ChessBase, studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford.

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