"A Bright Object Can Been Seen"

A pretty reliable rule when you’re dealing with what passes for journalism these days is that any headline containing a question mark generally warrants an answer somewhere between “probably not” and “of course bloody not”.

For example, a recent article in the Daily Mail, the anglosphere’s most terrible “news”paper, carried the headline:

“Has Nasa’s Curiosity rover spotted a UFO on MARS? Rover images reveals conical object streaking through the sky”

The answer to that question is, of course, “no” – if you interpret the term ‘UFO’ as the British media generally does: as a synonym for ‘alien spaceship’.

If you take ‘UFO’ to mean what it actually means – “Unidentifed Flying Object” – then the answer is “yes”; but in that case, the question is unnecessary.  There’s clearly something in the sky; it’s apparently unidentified, making it a UFO.  But that’s so self-evident that the question “has Curiosity spotted a UFO” wouldn’t need asking; and certainly wouldn’t merit a comically grave-sounding article in a newspaper that loves to pretend it should be taken seriously (and is taken seriously by a depressingly large number of people).

This particular item, which is doing the rounds on Social Media as proof of alien activity on Mars, shows this image:

Circled: Obvious aliens.

That right there?  That’s a UFO.  Straight up; no messing.  No argument.  It appears to be flying, and we don’t know what it is.  So it’s an Unidentified Flying Object.

Says Britain’s worst newspaper:

“In the image, a bright object can been seen appearing to leave a trail in the Martian sky.”

Well, yeah.  Still no complaints from me.

“The video, posted by prolific UFO hunter Streetcap1 uses an image stored on Nasa’s servers.

‘Enlargement of the object reveals a spherical top cone, a rounded center mass and what looks like some kind of propellant ejecting from its tail,’ the Bublews site claims.”

Sweet Auntie Agatha.  “Prolific UFO hunter Streetcap1”?  That’s the Mail’s standards for sources these days?  Some conspiracy nut on YouTube?

I shouldn’t be surprised.  This is the same disingenuous rag that, as part of its occasional campaign against paganism, regularly quotes one or more sources as saying that pagans are religiously obliged to dance round gravestones at night, drink “the honey wine mead”, and indulge in “unabashed sexuality and promiscuity”.  The Mail doesn’t even bother to identify those sources, despite using the quotes in numerous articles; presumably because the claims emerged from the fevered, outrage-addled imaginings of Mail staffers.  Well, apart from the mead bit, I guess.  That’s actually quite nice.

Anyway, still – as every good conspiracy theorist knows, if something looks as though it could be aliens, the burden of proof, quite logically, lies on those claiming that it’s not aliens to prove their case.  If they can’t prove it’s not aliens, then it must be aliens.  And if they can prove it’s not aliens, then they’re clearly in on the conspiracy and everything they say should be considered proof that it is, in fact, aliens.

Meanwhile, in the real world, of course it’s not possible to prove that this object isn’t an alien spaceship.

But realistically?  It’s infinitely more likely to be a meteor.  The Mail deflects this suggestion by quoting another conspiracy theorist, who dismisses this probability on the most bizarrely flimsy reasoning imaginable:

“One Youtube commenter points this out, saying ‘I’m sure they will have a meteor excuse but the trail says otherwise.'”

“The trail says otherwise”?  As in, meteors don’t have trails?  I can only assume this is someone who’s heard ‘meteor’ defined as ‘a rock that falls from the sky’, and has never actually seen one, and reasons that rocks lying on the ground don’t leave trails, so rocks in the sky shouldn’t have them either.

Nope.  No trail there.

‘Meteor’, in this case, isn’t an excuse.  It’s simply what’s most likely to be shown in that photo.

Mars, like the Moon, is a funny old place.  It’s hard to overstate the peculiar characteristics of these truly alien environments.  As tempting as it is to assume that what happens on Earth will happen in the same way with the same effect on Mars, the truth is that very little works in quite the same way. Light doesn’t look the same; sound doesn’t sound the same; the air’s different and moves differently; and gravity acts differently too.  For example, you know what colour Mars is, right?  It’s red, yes?  We can see it’s red in the night sky.  And you’ve seen pictures from the landers and probes that prove it’s red.  A sort of sandy, red-beige sort of colour.  Like this:

So, what colour is Mars?

Answer: we don’t know for sure.  We’ve a pretty good idea – it is red, broadly speaking, and probably similar to the piccie above; but we can’t be entirely sure because these remote cameras all use false-colour imaging to transmit their pictures back to Earth in layers of distinct wavelengths.  These layers then have to be processed here on Earth and colour-corrected; which means there may well be considerable variation between what we might see on a computer screen on Earth, and what we might see if we actually stood on the surface of Mars and looked at it directly.

Colour is just one example.  The point is that in alien environments even systems and mechanisms we’re familiar with will behave oddly.  Predictably oddly, in most cases, but still differently to what we lay people might observe on Earth.  Yet legions of conspiracy theorists the Internet over use their Earth-based, amateur-level knowledge of photography and image processing, atmospherics, geology, engineering, chemistry and physics to declare that some observed effect is “impossible” or “anomalous” – and they attribute this to aliens and government cover-ups, rather than to the simmple fact that, well, of course it’s bloody anomalous: it’s another freaking planet.

We’ve got a little robot trundling around taking pictures of another freaking planet.  Why is this not exciting enough for you on its own, that you have to crowbar cheap Weekly World News bullshit in there as well?

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