Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

UFO zaps red beam? The Sun attacks again

A RED beam of light shoots to the ground from what is believed to be a UFO. The Sun was yesterday handed dramatic footage of the mysterious craft hovering over Bristol.

Shellie Williams, 20, and her mum Betty, 53, filmed it on their mobile phones. When they zoomed in, they also caught red and white vertical beams not visible to the naked eye.”
From The Sun: “What’s Zap?

The beams are extremely quick near the end of the clip, screencaps below:


As Emps at DamnData already noted, “given how shaky the footage is and that it was filmed on a mobile phone (where the picture would be grainy and compressed) that beam is dead straight, perfectly perpendicular and consistently coloured across the width and down the length (it also appears to start just slightly below the speck of light)”. A telling sign that that’s not a real beam – aside from the fact it was also not seen by the alleged witnesses.


So what was it? Assuming it was not a crude hoax, which I think it was not, then it was very probably just a common artifact of cheap cameras, including those on cell phones.

blooming2 That was simply pixel blooming or bleeding. It occurs when sources of light exceed the full well capacity (the electron-holding capacity) of the pixels on which they are being recorded. As a light-gathering pixel exceeds its capacity to hold captured photons, the excess energy spills over into the adjacent pixel (or pixels, if the second pixel also fills to its capacity). This spillover, called “blooming,” produces a spike of light.

This artifact is so common with digital images, and yet, source of so much confusion and shameless exploitation. For instance, it has already been the culprit behind alleged “Sun Cruisers”, supposedly gigantic flying saucers near the Sun that for some strange reason always appear in profile:


Click on the image for clarifications on NASA’s website, and if you doubt people would be so… what could I call it? Let’s say “ignorant” so as to claim these things were real and anomalous, just remember that it was announced with fanfare a few years ago, and it’s still on some guy’s space anomalies website. A search for “Sun Cruiser” on Google is dismaying.

These common artifacts can also be seen on many images from the Martian Rovers, and sure enough, there are people claiming they are evidence of tampering or something.


That’s, by the way, is one authentic artificial object on Mars. Some people may be disappointed that it was made by us, somehow quite forgetting just how amazing it is that if there wasn’t anything artificial on Mars, now there is, because we, as evidence of our intelligence, ingenuity and pure curiosity, sent those things over there.

And who knows? Someday we may find evidence we are not alone. But certainly not through ignorance.

Oh, I was almost forgetting. If the “beams” in Bristol were just pixel bleeding, then what were the “UFOs”? I’m not sure, but they don’t seem to move nor do they look very high in the sky, which means they appear like common urban lights. Were they? I don’t know.

UPDATE: Eileen points out (thanks!) that over at Alien Casebook, the same camera (d)effect can be seen in an October 18 video from Brandenburg, Germany.

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Posted in Skepticism,UFOs | 3 comments

3 Comments so far

  1. Damn Data November 9th, 2008 6:01 pm

    Beam me up Bristol…

    That great bastion of truthfulness, The Sun, has brought us another UFO video (they do love them so) displaying some pretty odd behaviour – apparently firing beams down into Bristol or perhaps accepting beams from the ground. Scotty would love such s…

  2. Carlos Magno November 10th, 2008 7:06 pm

    Dear Mori:

    UFOS definitely does not exist. Once a psychologist told to the Discovery Channel that one see UFOS because the idea about UFOS is already impressed in one’s memory. That’s all illusion, imagining, animism creation, nothing real at all.

    But she didn’t explain about videos and photos whose memories are but mechanical and 10 percent of them are officially recognized as real.

  3. […] the British case, captured in Bristol this past November. We ranted about the case at the time, suggesting that the beams were “simply pixel blooming or bleeding. It occurs when sources of […]

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