Balloon-like UFO Photo from The Debrief

Mick West

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2020-12-03_10-37-59.jpg

Article:
The Debrief reached out to Terry Hock, In-situ Sensing Facility (ISF) Manager at the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Earth Observing Laboratory
[...]
In Hock’s opinion, the object most closely resembles a mylar balloon.

“There are scientific research groups that do launch balloons which they refer to as drifters,” Hock told us. “[T]his may be a possibility.”

Another possibility is that the photo depicts some variety of military radar-reflector or research balloon. However, two defense officials we spoke with said pilots who encountered the object described that, unlike a balloon under similar conditions, the object was completely motionless and seemingly unaffected by ambient air currents.

While they did not describe the photo as compelling, all three officials we spoke with seemed dismissive of the idea that it depicts a balloon. According to these sources, the photo would not have been issued if there were reasonable estimates that the object was a balloon, given the nature of the intelligence report in which it appeared.

The Debrief has not been able to speak with any of the pilots involved,


The big problem with saying it's not a balloon because it was " completely motionless and seemingly unaffected by ambient air currents" is that's exactly what a balloon looks like from the perspective of a fast-moving object.

And the other justification "the photo would not have been issued if there were reasonable estimates that the object was a balloon, given the nature of the intelligence report in which it appeared" seem circular. Once it's in some report it becomes slightly significant, then it simply remains that way because it's impossible to rule out that it might be an advanced technology craft that simply looks and moves like a balloon.

What type of balloon? Maybe just a loose partly balloon. But given the highlooking altitude, it might be something specifically designed for that, like a pico radio balloon, wich have very small payloads that might not show up in a photo.
Planning to Launch Pico Balloon WB8ELK Balloons High Altitude Balloons | AMSAT-UK

They do use common party balloons, but seem to use partial inflation to allow them to reach higher altitudes without bursting. Sometimes using clusters
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpCJD9q4w_I


And there's a hint of a payload under the very low-resolution image of the object2020-12-03_11-31-04.jpg
 

Mick West

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The Pico balloon people (amateur ratio balloons) use mylar party balloons. The outline is odd, but a couple of people (starting with therealpmoney on Twitter) noted it's very similar to this shape of balloon.
2020-12-03_11-40-42.jpg
 
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Mick West

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I've seem some people argue that is this was a smaller object then there would be visible motion blur, due to the jet going 300mph+

However, here is a frame from a video shot at 100mph. The only motion blur is the rails very close to the camera. The sign, and the small parts of the sign are not blurred. 2020-12-04_15-10-04.jpg

The UFO photo's EXIF data shows a shutter speed of 1/1656s, which is very fast, and would easily capture similar quality to the above, even at 3x the speed or more. 2020-12-04_15-14-41.jpg
 

DavidB66

Active Member
The Mail Online today has a report on the 'Debrief' article, including the subsequent cockpit photo of an unidentified object as shown in this thread. The article is here: Leaked photo from Pentagon UFO task force shows silver cube hovering over the Atlantic | Daily Mail Online

Interestingly, the Mail are interpreting this as showing the 'silver cube' allegedly described in the 2018 internal Pentagon report, and not the 'triangle with white lights' object in the 2019 report. This is odd, as the photo shows a roughly triangular object (without lights), and surely not a cube of any kind, whatever else it may be.

But my main reason for mentioning the Mail (which I do not usually read), is that it quotes 'UFO expert' Nick Pope commenting on the Debrief article. As Mick West has had previous contacts with Nick Pope, this might be another point of entry to discuss this with the UFO 'community'.
 

JMartJr

Member
Worth noting that this balloon shape, or similar, shows up with more than one graphic. Just to be prepared for inevitable claims that somebody can make out the blur in that picture and that the graphic does not match.
batmanstreettreatshape-300x300.jpg
 

Mick West

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2020-12-05_10-56-08.jpg

More about the "but it would be blurred" argument. Here's a photo from the German Autobahn. Travelling at 255km/h, the car on the other side would have a closing speed of something like 400 km/h, which is about 250mph. And yet there is basically no motion blur
2020-12-05_10-57-00.jpg

And this car is much closer that the balloon-like UFO, and at larger angle to the direction of travel.

So the motion blur argument hold no water.
 

Mick West

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Here's a clip from the Autobahn video, sped up 2x, so all speeds are doubled. Watch full screen to better simulate being in a jet.


The car is travelling at 200-255 km/h, so simulated 400-510 km/h, or 250 to 316. This is a possible low end speed for a a F/A-18. So here we could look at static objects in the scene, like on the far size of the road, to see how long you can see them for.

Cars on the other side would be going maybe 150 (300) km/h in the fast lane (quite possible more). So that gives a closing speed of 700-810 km/h for car headlights, or 435 to 500 mph.

The car headlights are often obscured, but are still visible for between 1 and 3 seconds.

So consider the same speed, and closing on a brightly reflective object against a clear blue sky, it seems perfectly plausible that it would be visible for over three seconds with little initial angular motion. Assuming the pilot already had his camera out, then taking a photo is not impossible.

This is probably not the best example video, and I'd like to find something better. Ideally in the air, but of course they generally like to avoid flying close to things, except for situations like:

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PME5NCQyMwg
 

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Mick West

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And while I generally assume photos are genuine until there is evidence otherwise, we would be remiss not to include the possibility of a fake image.

photo-2-1-EDITED.jpg

The EXIF data on the original does seem consistent with an iPhone photo, however that can be edited.
 
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gtoffo

Member
Here's a clip from the Autobahn video, sped up 2x, so all speeds are doubled. Watch full screen to better simulate being in a jet.


The car is travelling at 200-255 km/h, so simulated 400-510 km/h, or 250 to 316. This is a possible low end speed for a a F/A-18. So here we could look at static objects in the scene, like on the far size of the road, to see how long you can see them for.

Cars on the other side would be going maybe 150 (300) km/h in the fast lane (quite possible more). So that gives a closing speed of 700-810 km/h for car headlights, or 435 to 500 mph.

The car headlights are often obscured, but are still visible for between 1 and 3 seconds.

So consider the same speed, and closing on a brightly reflective object against a clear blue sky, it seems perfectly plausible that it would be visible for over three seconds with little initial angular motion. Assuming the pilot already had his camera out, then taking a photo is not impossible.

This is probably not the best example video, and I'd like to find something better. Ideally in the air, but of course they generally like to avoid flying close to things, except for situations like:

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PME5NCQyMwg

Great simulation. I think it proves that the pilots had to either:
- be aware that the object was there and be ready to take the pic at the first pass
- be making a second pass on the object to take the pic after seeing it
- be holding the phone in their hands for some reason
Otherwise the time would be insufficient to react.

Interesting point: there don't seem to be regulations against having phones on board according to this quora reply by a Navy flight officer so this being a phone picture is possible:
"Are naval aviators allowed to bring their phones with them on flights? Sure. Can’t do much in flight with it - no signal - but I usually put my cel in my helmet bag when I went flying."
https://www.quora.com/Are-naval-aviators-allowed-to-bring-their-phones-with-them-on-flights

The EXIF data on the original does seem consistent with an iPhone photo, however that can be edited.
The EXIF data is unclear. It shows that the picture shared was taken in 2019 while it was supposedly: "confirmed that the leaked image is the same photo provided in a 2018 intelligence position report issued by the UAPTF." (from theDebrief article).

According to Tim's tweets the file he shared is a picture of the original picture. Source: https://twitter.com/LtTimMcMillan/status/1334937747426062342?s=20


So the EXIF data is not from the original. But how does he know? Does he have both? Is he showing the original picture in the tweet quoted above?
 

DavidB66

Active Member
Lt Tim McMillan's Twitter page on 5 December states that:

The mention of “cube shape” was in quotes in the article because it’s a quote of how one person who’d seen the report described it. Another called it “like a weird medieval shield looking thing.” The released photo *IS* the photo referenced as “cube shaped” in the article

That seems to resolve one doubt, but leaves the question how anyone could mistake the object for a cube. 'Weird medieval shield looking thing' is not a bad description.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Larger version

Article:
In order to download the original photos, unaltered the way TheDebrief published it with metadata attached, you need to download the following .zip file which contains the original “photo-2-1.jpg” and “photo-2-1-2048×1536.jpg” images as posted by The Debrief.

DOWNLOAD [.zip, 1MB]


also here
https://u4m6u3u8.stackpathcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/photo-2-1.jpg
 

gtoffo

Member
Interesting point in the EXIF data: it contains accelerometer data. For the image linked here: https://u4m6u3u8.stackpathcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/photo-2-1.jpg

We get:
AccelerationVector-1.013545817 0.05369000906 0.2268022181

I tested it with my phone. It is consistent with a phone in landscape slightly tilted backwards (so pointing to a subject slightly "higher").

This is not consistent with the original image of an FA/18 in an approximatelt 15° bank.

I would assume it corresponds to someone taking a picture of a printed image hanging from a wall? With very bright lights according to the ISO setting
ISO Speed20

Zooming in on the original image I think we can also see some strange artefacts that don't seem to be just due to focus (see attached image).

Could that be the texture of photographic paper? Anyone with more photo experience here?

All in all (unless someone explains the artefacts in some other way) this seems consistent with Tim's story that this was a picture of a picture and not the original picture.
 

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Mendel

Senior Member.
Interesting point in the EXIF data: it contains accelerometer data. For the image linked here: https://u4m6u3u8.stackpathcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/photo-2-1.jpg

We get:
AccelerationVector-1.013545817 0.05369000906 0.2268022181

I tested it with my phone. It is consistent with a phone in landscape slightly tilted backwards (so pointing to a subject slightly "higher").

This is not consistent with the original image of an FA/18 in an approximatelt 15° bank.
Could you please elaborate on that assertion?

An aircraft flying a coordinated turn will experience acceleration straight down ("through the floor"), as the bank angle matches the centrifugal force that would be registered by the accelerometer.

If the aircraft accelerates, the sensation will be the same as if the aircraft was tilting up. (This can manifest as a somatogravic illusion in pilots flying in fog or at night -- a major reason why instrument training is vital to prepare for these situations.)

Could you also comment on why the value of the resultant acceleration vector is greater than 1? How is that calibrated? A phone held motionless should register 1g, an aircraft in a turn would register more.

Thirdly, how well are these accelerometers calibrated to their position? I recall from people using their phones with theodolite software that these accelerometers could be off quite a bit if not zeroed correctly. This would also happen if you moved the phone a large distance (e.g. in a fast aircraft) without cross-correlating the change of the direction of down, e.g. via GPS, as the navigation computer (ADIRU) in an aircraft would.
 

gtoffo

Member
Could you please elaborate on that assertion?

An aircraft flying a coordinated turn will experience acceleration straight down ("through the floor"), as the bank angle matches the centrifugal force that would be registered by the accelerometer.

If the aircraft accelerates, the sensation will be the same as if the aircraft was tilting up. (This can manifest as a somatogravic illusion in pilots flying in fog or at night -- a major reason why instrument training is vital to prepare for these situations.)

Could you also comment on why the value of the resultant acceleration vector is greater than 1? How is that calibrated? A phone held motionless should register 1g, an aircraft in a turn would register more.

Thirdly, how well are these accelerometers calibrated to their position? I recall from people using their phones with theodolite software that these accelerometers could be off quite a bit if not zeroed correctly. This would also happen if you moved the phone a large distance (e.g. in a fast aircraft) without cross-correlating the change of the direction of down, e.g. via GPS, as the navigation computer (ADIRU) in an aircraft would.

Hmm interesting..

We are seeing .0135 excess force on the X axis and I was assuming it was within a calibration/small movement error. In my testing my device recorded values on the X axis slightly beyond 1g even as I tried to keep the device steady as if taking a picture. Most of the time it was impossible to have my iPhone 7 record exactly 1g and I was seeing slightly less (I am currently at 2000m above sea level) although with a lot of noise.

I was assuming a coordinated turn would register on the accelerometer with higher g values. Measuring better, the bank angle seems around 18° which is not a hard turn and in this case I would assume the pilot was probably just banking the aircraft to better see the object and not actually trying to change direction of travel. But this is just an assumption. Pro pilots might always unconsciously use rudder to ensure coordination.

According to the formula here: https://aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/51715/how-much-g-force-is-experienced-in-a-45-turn if the turn was coordinated and level flight (which it seems) the load factor for a 18° bank would be around 1.05. This value would require perfect coordination.

The accelerations would still be pretty small apparently. A pretty significant difference but not as clear as I thought....
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
Summing up the acceleration vector, sqrt(1.013545817^2+0.05369000906^2+0.2268022181^2)=1.04, so that's about what we'd expect.
 

DavidB66

Active Member
Someone on Twitter, going by @MiddleOfMayhem, has posted an image comparing the published photo of the mystery object with a large object (a boat) photographed from approximately 1000 feet, like the supposed distance of the object from the plane when the published photo was taken. I screencapped his image here:

Screenshot (152).png

He argues, reasonably enough, that if the stated distance is correct the object is too large to be a balloon of only 28 inches across. We don't know the exact size of the boat, but assuming it is at least 25 feet long (the minimum length given in Wikipedia for a 'cabin cruiser'), the balloon would need to be over 3 feet wide (as it is about 1/8 the length of the boat). The discrepancy is perhaps not quite as large as the poster supposes, but then he estimates the length of the boat at 30-45 feet.

All this assumes that (a) the distances are correct, and (b) the images are comparable (e.g. neither of them is zoomed or otherwise enlarged or reduced). As to the distances, I checked the boat photo location on Google Earth, and the distance is slightly over 1000 feet (as the poster mentions). I wouldn't make a big issue of this. The photo from the plane is another matter. All we have to go on are anonymous and second or third hand estimates, with no clear basis for them. Even if we assume good faith on the part of the sources, it is difficult to see how they could make such an estimate without additional information, such as the size of the object (which is the point at issue) or sufficient data about the closing speed and the time elapsed before the plane passes the object.

That leaves the question of comparability of the images. In the screencap above both images are somewhat enlarged from the original version (also attached to the Tweet), but this should not affect the relative sizes. I do not know whether the 'original' version of the image from the cockpit is zoomed or enlarged in the published form (which may be a photo of a photo, as stated by Lt Tim McMillan). I leave it to photographic experts to decide whether this issue can be resolved from the photos themselves or their metadata.
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
1000 feet, like the supposed distance of the object from the plane
I think right there is the problem: how was that distance determined? If it was a visual estimate, it would depend on how big the person doing the estimating thought it was; and they're used to watching for fighter-sized objects.
 

jarlrmai

Active Member
I think right there is the problem: how was that distance determined? If it was a visual estimate, it would depend on how big the person doing the estimating thought it was; and they're used to watching for fighter-sized objects.
Yup see all Mick's work on showing how we often fail at estimating distance when we are without context clues or have made a wrong assumption about the object in question.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I think right there is the problem: how was that distance determined?
Yep, huge problem. If it was a balloon, and they did not recognize it as such, then there could quite easily be a misjudging of size, and hence distance.

A huge compounding probelem here is the third (or maybe fourth) hand nature of the accounts. There's no quoted statement from a pilot. People supposed knowledgeable are saying both 1,000 feet and 1,000 meters. And 1,000 is a very round number, so likely a very rough estimate.
 

gtoffo

Member
Summing up the acceleration vector, sqrt(1.013545817^2+0.05369000906^2+0.2268022181^2)=1.04, so that's about what we'd expect.
I guess those sensors are pretty accurate after all... wow

If the subject of the pic was balloon sized why did the iPhone select a very high shutter speed to avoid motion blur? The scene and accelerometer data are pretty static and the tiny balloon would appear in the scene briefly (above we estimated between 1 and 3 seconds) so it might be unlikely that the iPhone would select it as the subject of the photo and focus on it.

Would the pilot have enough time to force the phone to focus on the object manually?

The subject IS at the center of the picture so in my experience the iPhone will normally focus automatically on it given enough time. But not if it appears for less than a second and zooming past very quickly.

Some tests might give some clues in this direction. Although not simple to replicate the conditions.

Maybe driving on a highway with the phone pointing to the sky (to avoid any fast moving foreground objects)? I wonder what shutter speed the iPhone would use in that case. And a good timed balloon might complete the test :)
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
If the subject of the pic was balloon sized why did the iPhone select a very high shutter speed to avoid motion blur?
Shutter speed is not determined (on the iPhone) by subject size and motion. It's determined by the brightness of the scene. Here 90% of the image is brightly lit by the sun. The phone is trying to expose nicely for the sky and the clouds. This needs a high shutter speed. The ISO is already at the lowest setting (20) and the aperture is fixed.

The scene and accelerometer data are pretty static and the tiny balloon would appear in the scene briefly (above we estimated between 1 and 3 seconds) so it might be unlikely that the iPhone would select it as the subject of the photo and focus on it.
It's almost certainly just focussed on the clouds.
 

gtoffo

Member
Pretty cool.

I don't think the right distance values you set as max (100m) in your simulation are realistic. The pilot would have probably passed by the object at way more than 100meters of lateral displacement just to be safe. I think 100m is actually the minimum lateral distance probably.

A small balloon sucked into a jet engine would not be a happy day. Especially if it contained even a small metal part (even a single bolt can severely damage the fan blades. Foreign object damage is a significant problem with carrier operations https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_object_damage)

I wonder if someone might be able to recreate this scene with a 0.5m balloon in a flight sim. It would probably be very hard to identify and fly towards such a small object at F-18 cruising speeds.

Could be a fun challenge... probably impossible without some radar contact. And even then... If you just saw it once you would probably not find it again easily once you turn back.

Balloons aren't as easy to target and shoot down with a fighter as one may think... very hard to spot and very hard to target at high speed. Hence barrage balloons (which were approximately car sized) and their use as anti-aircraft defense during WW2 (even at those lower speeds) https://airandspace.si.edu/stories/...ons-d-day-and-320th-barrage-balloon-battalion
 
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