Random Weirdness In The Interstellar Void

The Voyager 1 probe, like the crew of the starship Enterprise, has literally gone where no one–or at least no person or machine associated with the planet Earth–has gone before. It is 14.5 billion miles from its home planet, which it left in 1977. Voyager 1 has traveled beyond the orbit of Pluto and is now out in interstellar space. It is so far away that it takes two full days for a message sent by the spacecraft to reach NASA on Earth.

Apparently, things are weird out in the interstellar void, because Voyager 1 has started behaving . . . strangely.

Voyager 1 still receives and executes commands from Earth, and transmits data back to NASA. That means the probe’s attitude articulation and control system is working and keeping its antenna pointed precisely at Earth. But the problem is that the telemetry data that the spacecraft is beaming back home doesn’t make any sense, or reflect what Voyager 1 is supposed to be actually doing. NASA engineers described the data being received as “random or impossible.”

What’s up with Voyager 1? NASA’s project manager for the probe notes that it is 45 years old, which is far beyond its anticipated lifespan, and the interstellar space that Voyager 1 is now traveling through is high radiation territory, which could be messing with the probe’s systems. So maybe Voyager‘s random or impossible data transmissions are just a glitch from an aging machine. But isn’t it curious that Voyager‘s issues came to light at the same time Congress was holding its first, highly publicized hearings into UFOs in decades?

Perhaps it is just a coincidence. But anyone who remembers the plot of Star Trek: The Motion Picture will feel a little unsettled when they hear that V’ger is behaving . . . strangely.

The Year Of The UFO

Some people have dubbed 2021 “The Year Of The UFO.” A Forbes article published this week recounts some of the UFO-related event that have occurred this year. They include a spike in UFO sightings, as well as the release of UFO-related reports and documents by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Forbes summarizes the latter report as addressing “144 UFO sightings by Navy pilots since 2004, with intelligence officials unable to explain 143 of the sightings, but concluding they are likely real objects that could pose a threat to national security.”

The most recent milestone in “The Year Of The UFO” came just a few days ago, when the Pentagon issued a press release announcing the creation of a new program called the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group. The AOIMSG will collect and review reports of UFOs in special use airspace, like the areas around military bases, to “assess and mitigate any associated threats to safety of flight and national security.” The new initiative suggests that the U.S. military is taking the issue of UFOs seriously–which is quite a difference from the days when UFO sightings were routinely dismissed as reflections from “swamp gas” or other figments of overactive imaginations.

Of course, UFOs don’t necessarily mean we’ve been visited by technologically advanced extraterrestrial beings. But if other life out there wanted to visit Earth, it’s worth noting that our little planet wouldn’t be especially hard to find–as an interesting article published earlier this year points out. An Austrian astrophysicist considered whether other nearby star systems would be in a position to see our planet transiting the Sun, which is one of the techniques that our scientists currently use to identify planets in other star systems. She concluded that hundreds of star systems could have used that method to spot Earth since the dawn of recorded human history, and hundreds more could do so in the future.

Who knows? If there is life in those other star systems, maybe they’ve decided to pay us a visit. Let’s face it: as weird as 2021 has been, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility.

The Pentagon, On The Mulder Beat

The New York Times is reporting that the Pentagon recently created a highly classified project to examine claimed UFO sightings.  The project, called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, came into existence in 2007 at the urging of former Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who in turn was reacting to conversations with a friend, a billionaire aerospace company founder, who believed in UFOs and alien visits.

i-want-to-believe1The secret program, which was funded with “black” money and was never discussed during debate on the floor of the Senate, also was supported by other senators, including Ohio Senator John Glenn.  The AATIP studied video and audio footage of “close encounters,” including an incident where a Navy jet was surrounded by a glowing object of unknown origin traveling at a high rate of speed, and interviewed people involved in the encounters.  The program was shuttered in 2012, and a Pentagon spokesperson explained:  “It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change.”  According to the Times, however, the Pentagon is still involved to a certain extent in investigating new close encounters.

Is it worth checking out credible reports of close encounters with UFOs?  Sure, why not?  I’m not sure I believe there are aliens among us — if they are, why haven’t they stepped forward and shared the advanced technology that allowed them to get here in the first place? — but there is certainly enough room for doubt to justify investigating such incidents.  UFO report investigation is at least as worthy of funding as many of the boondoggles the federal government is involved with.

But here’s the disturbing thing — the thing that might cause Fox Mulder on the X-Files beat to nod knowingly.  The program was funded with “black” money and kept totally secret from the American public.  Why were the Senators involved unwilling to allow the people to know what was going on at the time?  Did they really think the American public wasn’t ready to hear about a UFO investigation unit, and what it concluded from its investigations?  It smacks of appalling paternalism, at least — and Mulder and Scully might detect a whiff of deep-state conspiracy, too.  It also makes you wonder:  how many other super-secret programs are out there, being funded with “black” money at the direction of our elected representatives, that we don’t know about?

On The Road To Carlsbad

Route 285 is a straight shot.  You head directly due south, from the Santa Fe area through the ranch lands of New Mexico down to Carlsbad.  The road is pretty much straight as a die, as if it were drawn with a straight-edged ruler, like the border line of a state shown on a map.


At Clines Corners you stop, because everyone who drives Route 285 has to stop at Clines Corners.  It’s a way to relive the America of the Route 66 era.  You eat a hearty breakfast — the Truck Drivers’ Special is highly recommended– and you wander a bit through the massive “gift shop” area, marveling at who might actually collect thimbles representing each of the 50 states or Zippo lighters with NASCAR markings, or who might make an impulse purchase of “trophy husband” boxer shorts while at a roadside store in the middle of New Mexico.

And then it’s back on the road, motoring over the mostly dry and barren countryside, blessedly free of billboards but with not much else to see, either.  Scrubby trees, small, dessicated bushes, and spiny looking plants roll by outside the car window, with an occasional herd of cattle to break things up a bit.  Your eyes feast on every shade of brown you can imagine, and after a while the world becomes focused solely on the landscape and the road.  You wonder if that UFO crashed in Roswell because the aliens manning the craft were suffering from highway hypnosis.

At a roadside rest stop, there is a commissioned piece of public art that prominently features road signs — as well as a towering lance that is easily the tallest object on the horizon.  Why not?  On Route 285, it’s all about the road, the road, the road.

Nazis Under Antarctica

Ten years ago, satellite observations by NASA detected a gravitational anomaly in the Wilkes Land section of Antarctica.  The gravitational changes caused scientists to discover a massive impact crater and, at its center, a huge object buried under the Antarctica ice.  The object is more than 151 miles long and a half mile thick.

So . . . it’s an asteroid, right?  We know that, from time to time, Earth has been struck by asteroids, leaving impact craters scattered across the globe.  Some scientists believe that large asteroid strikes, and the impact they have had on the planet’s climate, are responsible for some of the mass extinctions seen in the fossil record.  An enormous asteroid striking Antarctica could be responsible for the great Permian-Triassic extinction event, when something happened that wiped out almost all of the plant and animal life on Earth, on both land and in the sea, about 250 million years ago.

Not so fast!  Ancient meteor strikes aren’t really all that interesting, are they?  I mean, that just makes this intriguing anomaly a super big rock buried in ice.  And in fact, when the massive object under the icy wastes of Wilkes Land was first discovered, nobody paid much attention to it.  But when a UFO hunting outfit recently posted a YouTube video about the Antarctica anomaly, suddenly the conspiratorially minded among us started to get interested.

So now the internet with abuzz with the possibility that the massive object could be an ancient UFO, or maybe an alien landing base.  Or the lost city of Atlantis!  Or the entrance to the creepy underworld lair called “Hollow Earth.”  Or — my favorite — a massive base secretly built by the Nazis where they planned to develop and use “flying saucers.”  Lucky for us that those inventive Nazis spent the time, money, and effort to build an enormous snow-encased base for flying saucers, when they could have used those resources, and those flying saucers, to avoid losing the war instead!

I think the possibility that we’ve located a gigantic asteroid that almost killed off every life form on Earth seems pretty interesting, but for some people nothing is as fascinating as speculating about Nazis and UFOs.

The New X-Files

The X-Files is back for a brief run on prime time television.  I’m glad it’s here, because once I watched a new episode I realized that I had really missed my heady, weekly dose of sprawling, remotely plausible governmental conspiracy theories.

They’ve consciously set up the new X-Files episodes to connect as much as possible to the old series.  So we’ve got the same famously eerie whistling opening, with Mulder’s and Scully’s old ID badges, and the old characters like by-the-book-except-when-he-isn’t Skinner and, at the end of the premier episode . . . the Cigarette Smoking Man, who now needs to puff on those cancer sticks through a disgusting hole his esophagus.

xf_sc7_0067rjw_hires2And Mulder and Scully really haven’t changed much, either.  They still call each other “Mulder” and “Scully,” for one, even though they’ve had a romance and had a child they put up for adoption and wistfully dream about.  (There’s a plot line for you!)  Mulder still is willing to check out just about any speculation about any far-fetched plot, and for all of her doctor-trained skepticism and demands for proof, Scully will inevitably be drawn into Mulder’s weird, dark, but ultimately hopeful world.

The first episode allowed us to catch up on our two heroes, learn that they’ve lost touch and gone their separate ways, and see how the ever-present UFO conspiracy can bring them back together and return them to their highest and best use of investigating the X-files.  And as Mulder rattled off some rapid-fire conspiracy theory about how the Roswell crash is still being kept secret after all these years by shadowy government figures and greedy corporate types who want to hide the news that there is free energy for all, you couldn’t help but be struck about how our current world — with its drones and ever-present surveillance cameras, routine monitoring of everyday activities, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, government bailouts of huge corporations, secret collection of data about world leader cell phones, and allegations of conspiracies and cover ups about virtually everything — fits neatly and seamlessly into the paranoid X-Files world view.

By the time of the second episode, with Mulder and Scully investigating a creepy doctor who experimented on his own kids and used alien DNA to give them supernatural powers, the show was back in full stride, as if it never left.  (I haven’t watched the third episode yet, so don’t spoil it for me.)  These days, who doesn’t want watch to a suspenseful TV show that features soulless evildoers dying horrible deaths because sound vibrations caused by their own kids have caused them to bleed out from their ears and their eyes?

Welcome back, guys!  Now, get to work, will you?

 

The UFO At The Bottom Of The Sea

There is a UFO at the bottom of the Baltic Sea — maybe.

Sonar has located a curious disk-shaped object on the floor of the Baltic Sea, between Sweden and Finland.  Enthusiastic treasure hunters and UFO buffs say it looks like the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars.  (I think it looks more like Pac Man.)  It’s about 200 feet in diameter and lies at the end of a churned up track of sea floor.  No one knows for sure what it is, and the speculation is that it might be a Russian spacecraft or a UFO.

The discoverers don’t think they can get investors to underwrite exploration of the object, because there is no promise of lost gold or silver.  So, they’re hoping a TV production company will shell out for a Geraldo Rivera-type expedition to find out what the object is. Of course, in all likelihood the result would be as disappointing as the show where Geraldo opened an old safe and didn’t find anything of note.

It’s wildly improbable, and it sounds like a trite and fantastic science fiction plot — but let your mind wander for a moment, and imagine the reaction in the world if we discovered a spacecraft burrowed in the silty bottom of the Baltic Sea.

Welcome, Alien Overlords!

Don’t look now, but aliens are circling Mercury in an enormous, cloaked spaceship.  At least, that’s what some people believe.   They point to an image recorded by NASA’s STEREO spacecraft, which shows a coronal mass ejection from the Sun flowing over Mercury and, apparently, another object of comparable size.

UFO enthusiasts contend that the image captures a planet-sized cloaked spacecraft, rendered visible only by the electronically charged material from the Sun.  However, scientists say the apparent shape really is just Mercury, at its position the previous day, that shows up as a result of the enhanced imaging techniques NASA uses for space photographs.  The scientific explanation is boring, so it’s a lot more exciting to speculate about huge spaceships.

If there are aliens orbiting Mercury in a masked spacecraft, what the heck are they doing there?  After all, any alien race that could build and power a planet-sized spaceship, send it careening to a distant solar system, shield it from our perception, and park it into orbit around Mercury without anyone noticing obviously has technological capabilities far beyond ours.  If they want to conquer Earth, what are they waiting for?  They could waltz over and pulverize us in short order.

Of course, it could be a ship of alien scientists who just want to study the puny affairs of humans, like we might study an ant farm.  It’s hard to imagine that we are of interest to an advanced alien race, but we humans have always found ourselves fascinating, so perhaps aliens would, too.  Hey, if the aliens can hide a spaceship as large as a planet, maybe they’ve landed already!  Maybe they’re here right now, invisible and undetectable, observing us, taking notes, and getting ready to file a report about whether we should be permitted to survive or whether we should be stamped out before we spread across the galaxy like a virus.

We’d all better be on our best behavior, in hopes that we impress our alien overlords as a promising race that is well worth saving.  I’m looking at you, Congress!