Black UFO At Skinwalker Ranch (A Fly)

Mick West

Staff member

In episode 7 of The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch, an unfortunate cow dies of natural causes. The team of scientists on cast study security camera footage for clues. As the cow is laying there dying small black object whizzes by.

It's only visible for two frames on the footage, meaning it travels between the two positions in 1/30th of a second. Possible more, as security camera footage is often a low framerate. But let's assume 1/30th.

How fast is it going? That depends on how big it is, or to put it another way, is it small, or far away?

The cast members choose to interpret the object as being at the same distance as the cow is - mysteriously flying over it as it dies, presumably with some intent. I think it's actually much closer to the camera.
Metabunk 2020-05-22 17-13-48.jpg

The image quality is quite good. Unfortunately the bit we are interested in is the two smaller trees on the right. You can just make out the cow laying underneath themFly Camera Wide.jpg

Fly Frame 1.jpg

The best look we have of the object is when they zoom in. Here I've overlaid two frames. Frame 1 is on the left, and frame 2 on the right.
Metabunk 2020-05-22 16-39-40.jpg
You can see that in frame 1 (right) it's a bit longer and flatter than frame 2. This possibly indicates it's slowing down or changing direction. With only two frames we can't tell if it is traveling in a straight line.

How fast? We can calculate this as a multiple of its length. It's hard to say exactly how wide it is, as it is so blurry and there's a little bit of motion blur, but we can make a reasonable crop, and then stack them end-to-end between the two positions:
Metabunk 2020-05-22 16-43-33.jpg

The result is about 33 lengths.
Metabunk 2020-05-22 16-44-19.jpg

So we know that it travels about 33 lengths in 1/30th of a second. so in one second that's 30*33 = 990 lengths per second. Let's round that up to 1000 lengths per second.

From this we can insert a guess at the size, and see what speed it gives us.

Speed = 1000 * (size in inches), giving you inches per second. To convert to mph we divide by 17.6. It's always best to verify conversion with Google.
Metabunk 2020-05-22 16-50-13.jpg

So speed in mph = size in inches * 1000 / 17.6

If the size is 1/4 inch, roughly the size of fly, then the speed is about 14 mph

If it's a large bird-sized object at cow distance, then that's more like 12 inches, and the speed is 681mph

So it would seem the far more plausible interpretation is that it's a fly, close to the camera.

This interpretation is confirmed 100% simply by viewing footage of actual flies, like in this video

We can take two frames of this (about 28 seconds in), overlay them to get two fly positions - again 1/30th of a second apart.
Metabunk 2020-05-22 17-04-46.jpg
Counting the lengths between them, using a similarly cropped version of the fly on the right.
Metabunk 2020-05-22 17-05-43.jpg

33 again! A minor coincidence, given the resolution, but demonstrates that we are certainly in the correct ballpark.

It looks like a fly. It flies like a fly. It's probably a fly.
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Mick West

Staff member
So if it's a 1/4" fly, then how far away is it?
We need the angular size. Which we can calculate as a fraction of the horizontal field of view, which appears to be about 90° Metabunk 2020-05-23 16-28-49.jpg

take frame 1, and over on the full image
Metabunk 2020-05-23 16-31-04.jpg

I upscaled it to 5760 pixels wide, then zoomed in on the fly

Metabunk 2020-05-23 16-32-54.jpg

Hard to saw where it starts and ends, but I'm going with 10 pixels. So simplistically it's 10/5760*90° = 0.15625°

So since tan(angular size) = size/distance
distance = size/tan(angular size)
distance = 0.25 / tan(0.15625 degrees)
distance ~= 92 inches
distance ~- 7' 8", but this is all very rough, so let's say between 6 and 9 feet away.

As it's a wide angle, the actual calculation would depend on the distance from the center, and any distortion from the lense, but it would still be within the above error bounds. 6-9 feet. Or 5-10 to be on the safe side.

Cow Fly FOV.jpg

If it was at 5 feet, would it be in focus? Yes, this is wide-angle surveillance camera. It will probably keep anything more than 1 or 2 feet away in focus. The limit would resolution here, as it's so small. Ultimately it's just as much in focus as the trees are:
Metabunk 2020-05-23 16-45-12.jpg

So all entirely consistent with a fly.
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Mick West

Staff member
If the size is 1/4 inch, roughly the size of fly, then the speed is about 14 mph

In Episode 8 yesterday, they said the frame rate was actually 15 fps, not 30 fps. So that makes it just 7 mph for a 1/4" fly - i.e. even more fly-like

They claim it is "directly over the tree-line" but give zero evidence of this.

Mick West

Staff member
They attempt to link this fly to the "halo" effect seen in the Gimbal video. Taylor talks about a "temperature differential" causing the halo - seemingly failing to realize this would be entirely invisible in normal photography.

They show this "zoomed in" image:
Metabunk 2020-06-03 07-49-49.jpg

This "halo" appears to be fake. In the previous episode (and later in this episode, 7:42 in the YouTube version) they showed the same zoom, but with no large halo. Instead, we just see the normal edge sharpening seen elsewhere in the image, like the trees. Fly Zoom 1.jpg

Taylor even tries to say he sees a halo around an older UFO photo:
Metabunk 2020-06-03 08-02-52.jpg

But of course it's just image sharpening. You can see it elsewhere in the image. Light halo around darker objects
Metabunk 2020-06-03 08-04-32.jpg

And a dark halo around lighter objects (like the ridge of rocks, or the distant plane "UFO")
Metabunk 2020-06-03 08-07-50.jpg
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