“An unidentified flying object (UFO) disrupted air traffic over Zhejiang’s provincial capital Hangzhou late on Wednesday [July 7], the municipal government said on Thursday. Xiaoshan Airport was closed after the UFO was detected at around 9 pm, and some flights were rerouted …
A source with knowledge of the matter, however, told China Daily on Thursday that authorities had learned what the UFO was after an investigation. But it was not the proper time to publicly disclose the information because there was a military connection, he said, adding that an official explanation is expected to be given on Friday.” [source: People’s Daily, July 9, 2010]
And yet, no official explanation has come after more than a week. Though the Internet is still buzzing with speculation about why the Chinese government wouldn’t clarify the case, perhaps the most immediate question should be why should we trust that anonymous source. Did the source really had “knowledge of the matter”? Or was it simply an unreliable source, which may not even exist?
Because, you see, in the case of the UFO that stopped the Xiaoshian airport, no source seems to be reliable.
Identifying the initial photograph
The image that first circulated with the news, seen at the beginning, is described as “a photo taken by a resident in Hangzhou shows an unidentified flying object hovering over Hangzhou, capital of East China’s Zhejiang province, late Wednesday, July 7, 2010. Photo/Metro Express”.
It’s supposedly the UFO in question.
However, as many have quickly pointed out, the photo is simply a long exposure of a common airplane. You can notice the long exposure by the double image more clearly seen in the house at left, but motion blurs are seen everywhere in the image.
Especially in the "UFO”, which is simply a luminous object with blinking lights flying in the sky. Which is just a common jet airplane. The landing lights generate the more intense white streak, while strobing lights on top generate the points which some have misinterpreted as the windows of a spaceship.
The effect is well-known to UFO buffs. The photo below, captured by a long-exposure webcam in Washington, is almost identical, and though it provoked discussion when it first appeared in 2005, other images quickly showed it’s simply an airplane:
Similarly, the photo allegedly captured by a resident in Hangzhou is also simply an airplane. Case closed? Have we identified the UFO? The story is a bit more complicated, because the sources are so unreliable that even when they promote a misidentification, the mistakes may go even further.
Identifying the other photos
As more news reports came up about the case, new photos showed up along. Even ABC apparently swallowed all them up, presenting them along with the case.
All of these other photos, with the exception of a single one, are also simply long-exposure photos of aircrafts, but in this case, helicopters. Not only that, they have nothing to do with China and were published on the web long ago.
The two photos above, largely circulated with the recent Chinese case, were originally published on the ATS forum by greeneyedleo in April 2010. The amazing thing is that he clearly labelled them as “pictures of helicopter as an example (all I had in my MATS folder)”.
Another image published with the Hangzhou case is actually from Russia, published in 2008:
The actual source of these images was tracked by user “elevenaugust” from the UFOcasebook forum (reply #19). He identifies some other images, none of them from China, having nothing to do with the airport closing.
We can identify these other images as helicopters rather than airplanes because of their characteristic floodlight. The illustrations below, created by Zoucas, member of the Brazilian Center of Ufology (CUB), where Caetano Júlio Neto also helped clarify the case, may help to understand the effect of lights in a moving helicopter captured in a long-exposure of several seconds.
It’s now quite clear what must have happened. To illustrate the news of the Xiaoshan airport UFO incident, several newspapers simply scoured the web for any UFO images that looked like the original Hangzhou photo – which was, in itself, simply a long-exposure photo of an airplane. They found several long-exposure photos of helicopters. And again, with nothing to do with the actual case.
One image that went along with the Chinese case does not involve long-exposure nor an airplane or helicopter.
It does, however, has a simple and clear explanation. It’s the sighting of a Russian Soyuz-U launching a Progress M-06M vehicle to the ISS on June 30, 2010. A week before the Chinese case. Images from the launch can be seen at the NASAspaceflight forum. The spectacular images were captured quite a distance from Baikonur, on Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. And they were also captured on video:
The launch was seen in large areas of Central Asia, including Kazakhstan. Another video from a local news report can be seen on KTK.
If on the first photos the nice effect is due to long-exposure, a camera effect, here the effect could be seen by naked eye, caused by albedo, by rocket propellant reflecting the sunlight at great altitude, in particular contrast at twilight, just after the night comes down at ground.
It’s the same light show and effect displayed by the Norwegian and Australian spirals, caused by Russian and American rockets, respectively, and a similar show in Tomsk, Russia, caused by another Russian Soyuz.
So what about the UFO?
With all the images published along with the case explained and identified, the thing is that none of them has any actual relationship with the UFO case discussed, and are therefore completely of no use to identify it. So what caused the closing for around an hour of the Xiaoshan Airport?
According to Oberg, as also quoted by Tim Printy on the latest SUNlite, from the best one can extract from the many conflicting reports, apparently “an airliner coming in for landing around 8:40PM saw an UFO”. From the orientation of the Hagzhou airport runway, one can assume the plane was heading to the airport from the southeast.
“If so, this meant the UFO hovering over the airport was to the northwest/west. A prime candidate was in the western sky that evening, Venus.”
Could a confusion with Venus fool pilots and air controllers, closing an airport for an hour? “There are some historical analogs that may provide suggested avenues of genuine research”, says Oberg. “Here’s one that immediately comes to mind:” the case of Barnaul Airport in Russia back in 2001.
“As it turned out, the runway that the taxiing aircraft stopped on was pointed directly at the horizon where brilliant Venus was setting. The crew reported "a bright UFO", but never mentioned two bright objects, or a "UFO next to Venus". When Venus set, the crew reported that the UFO had flown away.”
The Russian case is evidence that crewmen and traffic controllers may close an airport due to Venus, as unbelievable as this may sound. We are prone to error, much more than we would like to assume.
Pending further, and much better information, it’s possible that the Hangzhou Airport case may have simply involved a confusion with Venus. Or not. In any event, the media only furthered the confusion by quoting anonymous sources on “military connections” and circulating illustrative images of airplanes, helicopters and even rocket launches seen in Kyrgyzstan.
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[The basic information for this post came from Tim Printy‘s short note on the latest SUNlite]
UPDATE 07/21/2010: Bruce Maccabee takes a look at the photos and confirms that “the images are consistent with being the result of taking nighttime, ‘long’ exposure photographs of a helicopter with a searchlight”. As for what actually caused the airport shutdown, Maccabee is, like Oberg and everyone else, at a loss from the lack of reliable information. “It may have been a ‘military vehicle’ as suggested by recent stories or something else. … We may never know”.
As the description informs us, it’s a photo of “helicopters watching for possible rioting or protests following the 2007 presidential election in Lille, France; the helicopter is equipped with a powerful light, which is seen as a line because of the long exposure time of this photo.”
The image was taken on 6 May 2007, by “ChtiTux”.
As if the total mess of sources wasn’t already amazing in itself, now there’s a purported video of the UFO allegedly captured from inside the airplane:
As the folks at ATS have already noted, first, this video also has nothing to do with the Chinese case, as it was already being posted promoted as an UFO captured in 2009. And second, this video may be simply another signalling light on the wingtip:
In the photo above, of an ERJ190 winglet light (also with long exposure), one can get the idea, though it also shows that a winglet light would probably show parts of the winglet. The light source could be another kind of signalling light in the wing. Some have suggested it could be the Moon, but it seems much too bright in my opinion.
What can be said with more certainty is that the lights around the main source (on which the cameraman zooms in) are secondary reflections from the double glazed aircraft window. At 0:59s, when the camera zooms out and moves, you can see the change in geometry of these secondary lights in relation to the main source, characteristic of reflections.
And, again, what we do know for sure is that this video has nothing to do with the Chinese case as it was already on Youtube at least since last year.
Finally, for this update at least, Linda Moulton Howe published an alleged new image which would actually be of the Hangzhou UFO case:
But if you read all down to here, you will probably agree this just looks like another long exposure image – which can be seen from the noise and the details in the very dark houses — of yet another common airplane – with bright landing lights and red signalling lights. And you may also doubt that the photo is even from China, taken on July 7, in Hangzhou. Even if it’s confirmed as being taken when and where the anonymous source claims, this is hardly of much use and interest, unless the case actually involves confusion with an aircraft with the right signalling.
The spontaneous generation of images and videos allegedly of the Hangzhou case reminds of the O’Hare Airport UFO, which also prompted the appearance of fake images. Both cases became newsworthy because they involved somewhat credible facts involving airports. And UFOs. On the other hand, there’s absolutely no image, no video, nothing to illustrate the news reports. Apparently, this situation just isn’t bearable. Thus…
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