UFO caught on video? Skeptics weigh in on weird footage

A mysterious blip in a Navy airplane video has alien enthusiasts talking about a UFO. But skeptics have some different explanations.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
3 min read

People are fascinated by UFOs and the implications of alien visits. That's why a video released last week by alien-believers organization To The Stars Academy has nearly 3.5 million views. 

We have a whole lot of Fox Mulders out there who want to believe. But we also have a whole lot of Dana Scullys who are chiming in about what the video shows.

First, take a look at the video.

To The Stars says the video, caught with an infrared camera system, comes from a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet flight in 2015. It appears to show a fast-moving UFO flying over water. One of the voices on the video seems to be a pilot saying, "Wow! What is that, man?"

The video is only a few seconds long. "The Department of Defense did not release those videos. I cannot confirm their authenticity. I don't have any additional info to provide," said Tom Crosson, a spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

To The Stars calls the UFO an "unidentified vehicle." Mick West, who operates the Metabunk debunking website, has a much different idea. 

"I think the most likely explanation is that it's a relatively slow-moving object like a bird or a balloon," he tells me. "The jet filming it is moving fast, so this creates an illusion of speed against the ocean, especially after the targeting system locks on."

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Alien aficionados won't like West's explanation, but he and some fellow skeptics have analyzed the footage in great detail on Metabunk, if you want to dive into the fascinating thought process that led to the bird-or-balloon theory. 

Joe Nickell, a senior research fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, has investigated previous videos released by To The Stars. "Science has not authenticated a single extraterrestrial craft," he says, adding that To The Stars videos "are attempting to create a mystery." 

So why are people so ready to believe a blip in a video is aliens and not a bird? 

Nickell thinks some of it ties in with the naturally self-centered human worldview. He says we see mythical creatures like Bigfoot as a remnant of the human past, and big-eyed, big-headed aliens as a futuristic version of us. We would like to think Earth would draw a highly advanced extraterrestrial race to come visit. "Hopes springs eternal," he says.

Aliens are exciting. Birds ... not so much. "It would be great to discover alien visitors, but you really need to fully eliminate the boring explanations first," West says. 

This is probably a good time to remind ourselves birds can be very fast. Peregrine falcons have been clocked at speeds of 242 mph (390 kph). 

West encourages viewers to pay attention to the audio of the pilots talking and note how it sounds like they're just having fun using the aircraft's advanced tracking system and aren't concerned about possibly spotting an alien spacecraft. 

Unless further evidence comes to light, the entity in the video will remain a UFO in the strictest sense. It is an unidentified flying object. It's just that it's probably a bird or a balloon and not some bored aliens with an inconceivably high-tech spacecraft who've come to take a look at our planet. 

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