Explained: Exmouth UFO Flying Saucer - Sunlit Contrail and Motion Blur

Trailblazer

Moderator
Staff member
From comment on the FB thread, Tyron noticed a bright light (like a star) at 2.30PM, then did not see anything again until 4:15 when it seems like they first saw the object in the photos (which I'm 99.999% sure is a plane leaving a contrail) shortly after 4:30 he took 13 pics in three minutes, of which the above are the last two.

Just to add a bit more detail, this is what Tyron Osborne posted:

He was in Brixington, which is marked by the red pin here:

upload_2017-1-3_14-36-44.png

So Dawlish is roughly southwest, and he saw something in that direction at 2.30pm. It's not at all clear that the object he saw at 4.15pm is the same one, but he watched it and it was moving from southwest towards the southeast (Budleigh Salterton), ie moving roughly west to east but staying south of his location.

This is a sky chart for 2:30pm on December 28 from Exmouth:

upload_2017-1-3_14-41-19.png

The sun was towards the southwest, i.e. in the direction of Dawlish. (Note that the sky map has east and west reversed, because it represents the view as if it was held above your head.) It would be interesting to know where he saw the bright star-like object in relation to the sun. I can't think of any astronomical object that would have been visible at that time (Venus can sometimes be seen during the day, but unlikely that early in the afternoon, and it was to the east of south anyway). Could it have been the sun reflecting off another, unrelated aircraft?
 

Willie Kay

Member
I have made an attempt to sharpen the object on the original file, however, it doesn’t really reveal anything we didn’t already know. There is also a danger of enhancing artefacts which can add to the confusion.
 

Trailspotter

Senior Member.
The original file size is 108.37cm Wide (3072) x 60.96cm High (1728) @ 72ppi. The OP’s image has had about 18.45cm of sky cropped from the left side of the image.
Is there indication of a digital zoom or crop in Exif? For example, the camera has Zoom Bracketing option:
Screen Shot 2017-01-03 at 14.25.45.png

Without digital zoom or crop, at the full optical zoom the horizontal FOV is about 3.5° and the trail's angular width is about 0.22°. For a 60 metres wide trail, the distance to it would be about 16 km (10 miles), which, incidentally, is pretty close to the distance of the closest approach of MON 741 to the photographer's location (37,000 ft altitude is included), which happened at 4:29 PM.

At 1.4x zoom, the trail would be about 14 miles away, where the plane was a minute and half earlier.
 

Trailblazer

Moderator
Staff member
I have made an attempt to sharpen the object on the original file, however, it doesn’t really reveal anything we didn’t already know. There is also a danger of enhancing artefacts which can add to the confusion.

I know Mick has already posted a comparison shot, but I just did this (using one of Mick's photos from this post and adding a bit of motion blur. To my mind you can even see a bit of the shadowed wing on the right hand side.

exmouth.jpg


I agree with Mick that this is 99%+ definitely a plane. The only real mystery, as far as I can tell, is what the photographer saw at 2.30pm, because it can't have been the same plane.
 

Willie Kay

Member
Is there indication of a digital zoom or crop in Exif?
Not to my knowledge, however, I will have another look at the data. I’ve personally never heard of Zoom bracketing (I only use full frame DSLR’s) and the Metadata screen grab I supplied was the only information revealed about the image.
 

Trailspotter

Senior Member.
Another thing about the camera is that it probably would have problems with focusing on a bright object (i.e., reflecting the sun), so the disc-like shape could also be slightly out-of-focus image, not just a motion blur. For example, for my bridge camera with even more powerful zoom it takes a while to focus on a sun-reflecting plane:
ezgif.com-gif-maker.gif
 

Willie Kay

Member
Another thing about the camera is that it probably would have problems with focusing on a bright object (i.e., reflecting the sun), so the disc-like shape could also be slightly out-of-focus image, not just a motion blur. For example, for my bridge camera with even more powerful zoom it takes a while to focus on a sun-reflecting plane:
ezgif.com-gif-maker.gif
Yes I know the problems that you can have with auto focus systems on cameras. However, the trail is reasonably sharp on Tyron’s image and I suspect the poor quality is more down to the slowish shutter speed and some slight camera movement. A pro would have instinctively adjusted the camera settings to suit the situation. Tyron by his own admission is not a photographer. And lets be honest, bridge camera’s are not the best in these situations. However, to state it’s 99%+ definitely a plane I think is being a little premature (although personally I think it probably is).
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
the trail is reasonably sharp on Tyron’s image
if you are talking about photos not available already within this thread, then you will have to present them or not comment on them.
Metabunk focuses on specific claims of EVIDENCE. this means photos available to us. The photos in the OP are not 'reasonably sharp' and there is an ID'd plane at the location and time the photographer said the photos taken. The colors of the contrail match exactly other contrails in both color and shape. The blurred plane also matches other camera artefacts of planes
ex:
a340-contrail-compare-ufo-perspectve.gif


The story about [possibly/allegedly] seeing a bright something hours earlier, is inadmissible on Metabunk anyway, vague memory recalls aren't what MB does.
 

Willie Kay

Member
if you are talking about photos not available already within this thread, then you will have to present them or not comment on them.
Metabunk focuses on specific claims of EVIDENCE. this means photos available to us. The photos in the OP are not 'reasonably sharp' and there is an ID'd plane at the location and time the photographer said the photos taken. The colors of the contrail match exactly other contrails in both color and shape. The blurred plane also matches other camera artefacts of planes
ex:
a340-contrail-compare-ufo-perspectve.gif


The story about [possibly/allegedly] seeing a bright something hours earlier, is inadmissible on Metabunk anyway, vague memory recalls aren't what MB does.
I was talking about a image that is already available on the OP’s post, And the main image that I have been analysing. I didn’t see the point in reposting it, again and again. However, I will if you want me to?
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
I was talking about a image that is already available on the OP’s post, And the main image that I have been analysing. I didn’t see the point in reposting it, again and again. However, I will if you want me to?
No, its not your fault there are two sites of discussion happening. maybe just say in the future 'the photo is the OP is reasonably sharp', so outside readers arent confused.
 

Trailspotter

Senior Member.
However, to state it’s 99%+ definitely a plane I think is being a little premature (although personally I think it probably is).
The other OP image does look like an ordinary short contrail of incoming twin engine airliner.

It is illuminated by the setting sun exactly like the trail of my candidate flight would be illuminated at around the sunset time. Its dimensions are about right for the plane of this type, as deduced from the focal distance of the photo. Of course, it is not a 100% proof of the trail being from that particular plane, but it fits all available data, including Exif that you kindly shared with us.

It won't be the first time when a sunlit contrail is mistaken for a "UFO", see previous threads here and on a sister site "contrail science":
https://www.metabunk.org/threads/ex...re-over-argentina-short-sunlit-contrail.5654/
http://contrailscience.com/short-sunlit-contrails-look-like-ufos/
 

Trailspotter

Senior Member.
Incase it helps, I have the Metadata from that image as well.


Thanks. It's good to know that it was taken 3.5 minutes earlier that the first OP image. The plane would be farther away and its trail would look relatively shorter due to the perspective shortening.

Was this image panned in the same way as the first OP image? Could please you compare it with the original, as you did in #37?
 

Willie Kay

Member
Thanks. It's good to know that it was taken 3.5 minutes earlier that the first OP image. The plane would be farther away and its trail would look relatively shorter due to the perspective shortening.

Was this image panned in the same way as the first OP image? Could please you compare it with the original, as you did in #37?
No problem, I will compare it to see if it has been cropped. To my knowledge the image was panned in the same way as the first OP image.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
The blurred saucer image:
20170103-102815-jffu5.jpg

We can look at the shape of the blur, and the more solid looking bits of the trail to clean that up.
20170103-102920-66jpv.jpg

And then apply the same type of removal to the highlights
20170103-103005-1m5f5.jpg

Which suggests to me that the highlights are the underneath of one wing and the tail. The contrails kind of line up like this:
20170103-103135-ht4k2.jpg

Roughly matching the proposed tail/wing highlights.
20170103-103248-19uzm.jpg
 
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Willie Kay

Member
Thanks. It's good to know that it was taken 3.5 minutes earlier that Could please you compare it with the original, as you did in #37?
I have compared it to the one I was sent and it doesn’t quite match. This has either been shot a few seconds after or before the OP’s image. The camera has obviously moved slightly, however, I can confirm that the plane shape and trail match almost perfectly. Without breaking too much confidence I have attached a copy of the file that I was sent. You can see that it matches almost identically size wise to the OP’s image. Feel free to compare the two side by side.

 

Willie Kay

Member
There is a Royal Navy air base nearby in Yeovilton, which according to their website is one of the busiest military airfields in the UK. Is there any possibility the object which was photographed was a drone, similar to the Taranis (see attached images)? Or some other military plane. If so, is there any data available as to whether any military planes were flying that day, or is that all top secret?

 

Trailspotter

Senior Member.
You can see that it matches almost identically size wise to the OP’s image. Feel free to compare the two side by side.
I compared them (by superposition) and see what you mean. However, this grainy photo suggests a digital zoom was applied. Unfortunately, I cannot say to what magnification, but the maximum for this camera is 6.7x.

Edit:
In 3.5 minutes the plane would fly about 30 miles. Assuming the first OP photo was taken from the closest distance to the camera (i.e., about 10 miles), an extra 4x zoom in the other photo would be required to make the trail image being about the same apparent width as in the first one.
 
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Trailspotter

Senior Member.
is there any data available as to whether any military planes were flying that day, or is that all top secret?
The flight tracker, e.g., FR24, playback show a lot of regular commercial air traffic over the area in criss-crossing directions. It seem unlikely for a "secret" military plane flying there at the same time.
 
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Trailblazer

Moderator
Staff member
There is a Royal Navy air base nearby in Yeovilton, which according to their website is one of the busiest military airfields in the UK. Is there any possibility the object which was photographed was a drone, similar to the Taranis (see attached images)? Or some other military plane. If so, is there any data available as to whether any military planes were flying that day, or is that all top secret?

It seems unlikely to say the least. Based on the contrail shape, the photos of the mystery object seem to show a twin-engined aircraft, and the Taranis only has a single engine. Not only that but it is designed to be a stealth aircraft, and flying at contrail altitude at sunset is a pretty surefire way of drawing attention to yourself!
 

Willie Kay

Member
I compared them (by superposition) and see what you mean. However, this grainy photo suggests a digital zoom was applied. Unfortunately, I cannot say to what magnification, but the maximum for this camera is 6.7x.
Here are both the images overlapped for comparison.

 

Willie Kay

Member
Yes, I've done the same comparison.
The question here is what was extra (digital) zoom applied in the taking this image?
That I couldn’t say and I suspect the ‘photographer’ won’t know either. If he zoomed he certainly never mention it to me. Both the images he sent to me were shot at the same settings.
 

Trailspotter

Senior Member.
the OP photos are from the newspaper article, yes? so perhaps the editor of the paper just zoomed it in a bit?
The editor apparently panned the images by cutting the sides, but did not alter their relative sizes.
That I couldn’t say and I suspect the ‘photographer’ won’t know either. If he zoomed he certainly never mention it to me. Both the images he sent to me were shot at the same settings.
It is possible that both images were shot at the same settings, that is, there was the same amount of digital zoom in the first OP image as in the other one. In the twin-engine jets of A320 and B737 types, the short contrail expands about three times compared to the engine separation. In the first OP image, we see just a narrower part the trail in the beginning that could be about half of the full actual width of the complete trail in the other image. This would mean that the trail in the other image is only about 2-2.5 times farther away than in the first image. And, if there was a digital zoom in the second image, the trail could easily be not 10 but say about 20 miles away, whereas in the second image with the same settings, it would be 40-50 miles away. This still would be consistent with MON 741 flight.
 

Trailspotter

Senior Member.
I have compared it to the one I was sent and it doesn’t quite match. This has either been shot a few seconds after or before the OP’s image. The camera has obviously moved slightly, however, I can confirm that the plane shape and trail match almost perfectly. Without breaking too much confidence I have attached a copy of the file that I was sent. You can see that it matches almost identically size wise to the OP’s image. Feel free to compare the two side by side.

This photo is very likely taken at the full zoom (optical plus digital) available for this camera. In this case, the horizontal FOV will be about 0.52°. The angular width of the trail will be about 0.06 of this value, or 0.031°. Assuming the trail's linear width being about 40 metres*, the distance to the trail will be 40/sin(0.031°) = 73,500 metres or about 46 miles.
*the width of a short contrail is constrained by the wake vortices and just slightly wider than the plane wingspan.

The ratio of apparent contrail length to its width in the photo can also be used to deduce the distance to the trail. Note that the length of a contrail is determined by its lifetime and the plane speed. Short contrails usually last 7 or more seconds. At the plane speed of 442 kts = 225 m/sec, the short contrail length will be 225x7=1575 metres or ~1 mile.

The ratio of the contrail length to its width will be 1575:40 or about 40:1, in agreement with direct observations, e.g.:
a320 Contrail by Ben Senior, on Flickr

In the "UFO" photo, the apparent ratio of the trail length to its width is only about 6:1 due to the perspective shortening. For a horizontal contrail, this degree of shortening suggests a shallow angle of observation, arcsin(6/40)=8.6°. At this angle, for the trail altitude of 37,000 ft = 7 miles (as in MON741 flight), the trail will be about 46 miles away, that is, the same distance as deduced by the first approach. This corroborates the suggestion of the full total zoom have been used in taking this photo.

The suggestion of the full total zoom also having been used for the first OP photo is consistent with the MON741 location at the time, as deduced from its flight track (orange line below):
Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 10.31.58.png
The thick orange segment shows the path travelled by the plane in 3.5 minutes (the time interval between the OP photos). In the beginning the plane was near Plymouth some 45 miles away from the photographer's location, whereas at the end it came about 17 miles away from it, or 2.6 times closer. This approach would change the trail appearance, stretching it longer. If the camera settings remained the same, the most of the trail would be cut out of frame, leaving only a much narrower tip in the beginning. The angular width of this tip seems to be consistent with the full optical plus digital zoom settings.

Moreover, these settings, equivalent to 3,860 mm focal length, could have contributed to a substantial apparent amount of motion blur in the first OP photo.
 
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izz

New Member
I have spoken directly to the photographer who took the images. He has supplied me with two original jpegs from the camera for me to have a look at. I do not have permission to upload them on to here, however, I did screen grab the Metadata from one of the main files he sent me. I am a professional photographer and offered to verify to our group that the images have not been tampered with. I can confirm that is the case. Attached is the screen grab from the file Metadata. Note the date created is wrong, as the photographers camera has been set to the wrong date. However, the time is correct.

So it was taken 4:25:17 and modified at 4:54:18 which suggests it was being edited for 30 minutes?
 

Trailblazer

Moderator
Staff member
So it was taken 4:25:17 and modified at 4:54:18 which suggests it was being edited for 30 minutes?
No, they are on different dates. The "date modified" shows as "today". It would be when the file was saved onto whatever computer it was being examined on.
 
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