By Seth Shostak
Are We A Blog
Are We A Blog
Editor's Note-The following is a piece written by Seth Shostak, the Public Programs Scientist at the SETI Institute which can also be found at his Blog, "Are We a Blog?" along with a host of his other penscript. For clarity's sake, I have published his piece in toto with my comments (as posted on his Blog) in postscript. See Mike Fortson's rebuttal as well.
Some people are convinced that extraterrestrials are visiting Phoenix, presumably because they like the feel of wide-open spaces or have a penchant for Tex-Mex cuisine.
On Monday, April 21, strange lights once again lit up the night sky of this sprawling Arizona burg, and hung in the air for enough time that they were seen by hundreds (and probably thousands) of residents. Most of these Arizonans remembered that more than a decade ago, in March of 1997, there were two incidents of strange luminance in the darkened skies of Arizona, events that some people still think are mysterious -- and possibly due to alien visitation. These were the original "Phoenix Lights" (which sound like a cigarette brand, but aren't.)
Those two long-ago events actually have prosaic explanations, however. The first, a triangular pattern of lights that swept in from southern Nevada, seems to have been a small phalanx of aircraft. To me, the most convincing evidence that this is true is the report of an amateur astronomer who looked at the formation with his scope, and could see that they were planes. Amateur astronomers (unlike the general public) are experienced observers of the sky. They're also clever enough to realize that if they had seen true extraterrestrial craft, nothing could be more interesting. I don't think they'd lie. I don't think this amateur did lie.
The second 1997 event was a string of lights that was visible over the city for quite a while (tens of minutes). This can best be ascribed to flares dropped during a (later announced) military exercise miles from the city. Indeed, there's confirmation that this explanation is correct from some work done by an Arizona State astronomer in which he matched the appearance and disappearance of these lights with their expected obscuration by the Sierra Estrella mountain range southwest of Phoenix. Call me biased (and in this regard I am), but I trust the work of astronomers.
So, putting it bluntly, I don't think there's any reason to believe that the luminous phenomena that were on display on March 13, 1997 were anything other than human activity. This is important, because the Phoenix Lights are frequently cited as one of the most compelling events supporting the contention that Earth is being visited by beings from afar.
As for the Phoenix Lights of this week... well, they seem to have been a "knock off" hoax by someone who set off some helium balloons to which some lit road flares were attached.
It's not impossible, of course, that aliens could come to Earth. It's also not impossible that they would choose to entertain the residents of central Arizona with their light shows. But if you think this is true, then the evidence has to be better than what it is. Ranting about cover-up and closed minds isn't evidence -- it's merely whining.
And one should always consider simple explanations first. If you find a dead raccoon on the side of a road, you might consider that it was killed by aliens. But you should also weigh the possibility that it was hit by a car.
Kudos to you for being one of the few "SETI folk" who compels me to respond when you address the "UFO bailiwick."
"Some people are convinced that extraterrestrials are visiting Phoenix . . ."
This statement (pertaining to the recent balloon/flare hoax) IMHO is akin to saying that the "WOW signal" was a phone call from a galactic neighbor.
Sadly there are most certainly people that hold that mindset in both examples; however, methinks the number is minute.
" . . . in March of 1997, there were two incidents of strange luminance in the darkened skies of Arizona . . ."
I'm afraid that statement is fallacious to be polite; in March of '97 there were multiple "UFO related events" seen from coast to coast in several states; many which described a "huge V-shaped craft"; sightings were predominant in Arizona with witnesses in the tens of thousands (given the fact that eyes were to the skies in anticipation for Hale/Bopp).
"The first, a triangular pattern of lights that swept in from southern Nevada, seems to have been a small phalanx of aircraft. To me, the most convincing evidence that this is true is the report of an amateur astronomer who looked at the formation with his scope, and could see that they were planes."
Most researchers/investigators of the "Phoenix Lights" do not discount the declaration of "Mitch Stanley" (the amateur astronomer you cite) although some have questioned "planes flying wing tip to wing tip" at night.
In general however, his statement(s) is accepted as fact. That said, this certainly doesn't negate the daytime sightings that occurred on that date, as well as the multiple reports of a "huge low flying craft" that evening all throughout the state of Arizona.
"The second 1997 event was a string of lights that was visible over the city for quite a while (tens of minutes). This can best be ascribed to flares dropped during a (later announced) military exercise miles from the city."
Again you are mistaken; first this is one of many events (as stated above), and second this event only lasted minutes as evidenced by several video tapes of this particular happenstance. It is agreed by most however, that the images were of "flares."
"So, putting it bluntly, I don't think there's any reason to believe that the luminous phenomena that were on display on March 13, 1997 were anything other than human activity."
Since you have only cited "two events" that occurred on that date, both of which most researchers/investigators agree with your conclusion, one can only nod in the affirmative; however, to draw a conclusion based on a small portion of the data regarding the "observation of multiple phenomena" with respect, isn't prudent. Moreover, it certainly doesn't conform to scientific methodology, which given your position, title and academic credentials, one would anticipate.
Finally, I am reminded that you have said on more then one occasion that "you are not a Ufologist and you don't research the subject"; this is certainly "apparent" here as evidenced by your missive.
I equate this behavior to condemnation of a book one hasn't read.