Italian UFO

By Phil Plait | December 14, 2007 9:08 am

A whole bunch of BABloggees have sent me email about a video floating around purportedly showing a UFO flying over the Moon:

OK, let’s assume the video is legitimate. It shows the Moon through a telescope, and a small black dot moving across it. The object is resolved; that is, it’s not a tiny point. I can see smaller features on the Moon, so we can assume this object really is roughly circular in shape.

If we assume the object is just over the surface of the Moon, it would be kilometers in diameter. That seems unlikely! Remember, too, that just because we see it silhouetted against the Moon doesn’t mean it’s on the Moon. It could be just a few hundred meters over the Earth.

So from the shape we know it’s not an airplane or a bird. It’s not a satellite; satellites move more quickly across the sky, and besides, we see it change direction.

So what can it be?

I would bet 83.7 bazillion dollars ($5.95 Canadian) that it’s a balloon. Why? First, the shape. It’s round, and balloons are round. Second, the motion. It tracks relatively straight, then sorta languidly moves off in another direction, just like a balloon wafting on the breeze. Third, I have seen many, many balloons floating in the sky, and this looks just like one. Fourth, the video caption says it was taken in the town of Busto Arsizio, which has over 80,000 people. If this were a very rural location a balloon would be less likely, but that’s a bustling town. The video was shot at 11:00 at night, which is rather late, but a balloon can stay aloft for many hours.

So I’m giving this one a 3 on the "what the heck is it?" scale, where a 1 = something as familiar as seeing your face in a mirror, and a 10 is whatever Britney Spears is wearing.

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Comments (52)

  1. Ken B

    Fifth, if it were near the Moon’s surface, going at a relatively constant speed (once it “turned”), you would expect it to appear to move much slower as it approached the “edge” of the Moon. (That is, “went around to the far side”.) Certainly points to something much nearer the observer. I can’t comment on the balloon theory, however, as I don’t have the experience in that area.

  2. Haven’t watched the video yet – the player’s giving me problems for some reason – but I love your “what the heck is it?” scale. And your bet of “83.7 bazillion dollars ($5.95 Canadian).” Made me giggle.

  3. Bancho

    “I would bet 83.7 bazillion dollars ($5.95 US)”

    Fixed that for you :). On the bright side, Canada is now officially the most expensive place in the world to build cars.

    On topic, I vote for the balloon as well for all reasons stated.

  4. Billy (A Liberal Disabled Vet)

    Technically, since it is flying, it is an object, and it is (presumably) unidentified, then it is a UFO. Whether it is exotic, extra-terrestrial, extra-lunar, extra-solar sustemical, I would doubt. But it is a UFO.

  5. Gary

    There is a meteorological upper-air sounding site located in Alessandria which is located just to the south Busto Arsizio. In addition, sounding sites are located at Verona to the east and Nice to the southwest.

    Any one of these sites could have launched weather balloons which if under-inflated a wee bit could float in the upper atmosphere for many hours.

    Knowing what time this occurred would be helpful. My eyesight can’t make out the teeny-tiny print on the video. If it were sometime between 1am and 3am local Italian time, the 83.7 bazzllion dollars would be a sound bet.

    In the vernacular of MythBusters, the balloon idea is plausible at many levels.

    Gary

  6. Nate

    Anyone else think it looks like a ladybug walking across the telescope?

  7. Scott

    Thats exactly what I was thinking Nate.

  8. Bad Albert

    “…but a balloon can stay aloft for many hours”

    Absolutely true. I know from personal experience they can travel a long way before the gas leaks out. A few years ago I was sailing across the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia when I came across a pink balloon floating on the water. I picked it up and the label on it said it was from a car dealership in San Jose, California.

  9. The Malpensa International Airport is not far from Busto Arsizio – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malpensa

  10. Sergeant Zim

    Is it just me, but when I said the name of the place aloud: Busto Arsizio, I got a quick mental image of Dolly Parton speaking Italian???…

  11. We’ve seen a lot of “Bug on the Camera” videos lately, so I wouldn’t rule that one out either.

    That’s really interesting. If it were a balloon in our atmosphere, it would have to be moving about as fast as the apparent motion of the moon, right?. The telescope would have to be tracking with the moon, and the balloon would be traveling slightly faster (or slightly slower) than the moon. (I can’t tell from the video which way is “Lunar North”)

    Taking the average size of a weather balloon, and the apparent size on the video, we can determine its approximate distance from the scope. With that, we can determine the approximate speed of the balloon in the atmosphere. With that, we can say either “Busted” or “Plausible.” If the speed of the balloon is calculated to something implausible, like supersonic speeds, then we’ll say Busted.

    It kind of makes my brain spin, but if I get bored, I might throw something together.

    B-)

  12. Will. M

    Sgt. Zim, that’s hilarious (to me, at least); Bancho, I agree, the U.S.$ is now worth less than the Canadian (Thank You, George).

  13. Doing a really rough estimate for the balloon height, I would estimate it to be between 5 and 20km high while the pictures were taken.

    Cheers,
    Tijl

  14. Nigel Depledge

    Balloon? Hah! It’s obviously the dead body of the cow that jumped over the moon.

  15. Mapnut

    There’s no such thing as Bazillion dollars. Bazillians use Reals:
    http://wwp.greenwichmeantime.com/time-zone/america/brazil/currency.htm

  16. alfaniner

    Maybe it was a kid on a bike.

  17. Carey

    Will M. and Bancho – Phil’s version of the hyperbole was right. Accounting for inflation, a few bazillion US dollars would only be worth C$5.95. It’s worth less, so it takes more to be worth so little.

  18. zeb

    I remember I once tracked a balloon in my telescope. I was observing some object when it suddenly drifted through my field of view. At first it surprised me, but I followed it for a few minutes and this really reminds me of it (though I wasn’t tracking it across the face of the Moon).

  19. PK

    I think the balloon hypothesis is more likely than the bug hypothesis: Insects tend to stop quite often and change directions a lot, while this object kept on moving at quite a constant speed.

    Therefore, I am matching the BA’s bet for €4 that it is a balloon.

  20. Michelle

    Well, as far as UFOs go, it’s an UFO since we don’t know exactly what it is! But to claim it’s little green men… That’s going pretty far. If you can’t prove it’s no balloon then you can’t prove it’s ET.

  21. Michelle

    …you know, at some points I could swear you can glimpse a rope hanging off the round circle, but it’s so hard to be sure. I mean, it’s as if the guy filmed this over a stove.

  22. I think I whine to Phil about the weakness of the US dollar on an almost daily basis. As a Canadian, getting paid in US bucks, it’s really painful when our currency is higher.

  23. A little bit of inanvertent comedy there, just thought I’d point out:

    “It’s round, and balloons are round.”

    Sounds kind of like:

    “…you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal…so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.”

    Just saying.

  24. Chip

    # Skepteriston writes:
    >>>”…That’s really interesting. If it were a balloon in our atmosphere, it would have to be moving about as fast as the apparent motion of the moon, right?…”<<<

    I don’t know if the scope through which the video segments were shot is stationary relative to the drifting moon or tracking with the moon. If the latter, then the trajectory of the balloon has a different interpretation from the former. Also, to the human eye, the moon is about the size of an aspirin tablet held at arm’s length relative to the entire sky. (We psychologically often assume the moon is much larger when not looking at it.) Therefore, the balloon would have to be high altitude in order to meander, slow down and make a turn all within the moon’s very small area.

  25. Michael Lonergan

    I’m willing to go along with the balloon theory. It would be interesting to see if there was a concert in the city that night, as this would add to that theory. Something similar to this occurred in Edmonton, where I lived a few years ago. A farmer noticed his livestock acting up, noticed an object over his property, filmed it and sent it to the U of A. It was found to be a plastic grocery bag caught in the wind. On this note, I’m wondering if the BA has seen the images supposedly caught by a John Lenard Walson on his 8 inch scope. They supposedly show objects in orbit, that rival the size of the ISS. I believe they are fake, but wondering if anyone else has an opinion.

  26. I don’t know what kind of equipment the folks were using to make this video, but a bug on the camera is unlikely for many reasons. The biggest is that it would be grossly out of focus, and the object is a bit fuzzy, but not too bad.

  27. Michelle

    well the stats are written on the left of the video. Pretty hard to read though…

  28. Doctor,

    The United States Air Force wants its boilerplate coverup story back. Send the letter to Groom Lake, c/o of Project Blue Book, and make sure to send it in your time machine back to some time around 1963. 😉

  29. Nate

    Fair enough. I admit to knowing absolutely nothing on the subject of telescopes. I hadn’t thought of the focus at all.

    I suppose the balloon hypothesis it is, then. 😛

  30. Yojimbo

    I’m not even sure we can say it is a UFO. It appears to be flying but there’s not enough to go on to be sure of that. It is more of a UO. For that matter, IS it an object, or some artifact from the film process or the camera?

    I think we can say for sure it is a U.

  31. Quiet Desperation

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, you think you is teh smart, but how do you nots know it wern’t an ALIEN balloon! Huh? Huh? Huh? Yeah, thought so! Ha!

  32. Quiet Desperation

    mean, it’s as if the guy filmed this over a stove.

    Or through a bunch of turbulent atmosphere.

    Hmm.

    Could a comparison be done on the magnitude of the distortion of the Moon’s features versus the distortion of the objects outline? Might give a rough distance estimate for a close object.

  33. BradC

    — Could a comparison be done on the magnitude of the distortion of the Moon’s features versus the distortion of the objects outline? Might give a rough distance estimate for a close object.

    Not likely. Although the turbulence likely gets worse the further you go up, I would be surprised if it were very uniform–there are probably some layers of air at different altitudes that are very turbulent, and others that are not.

    Plus, it would be hard to measure the “degree of turbulence” to any accuracy.

  34. It’s the Vogons!!!

    Grab your towels!

  35. MandyDax

    “That’s no moon!”

    But seriously. It’s a balloon. Too bad they didn’t call someone with better equipment to record the transit. I wonder what Kayuga and Chang’e recorded?

  36. Christa Cochran

    I like the idea of the weather balloon – it also makes identifying how high up it was and why the movement changed, you just have to look up the data from the sounding online, that is, if the video is from around the time when it would be launched – O Z and 12 Z

  37. Michael Lonergan

    “That’s no Moon, it’s a Balloon!” Sorry Mandy, couldn’t resist! Resistance is futile, as they say.

  38. CS

    This is a translation of the answers given in an interview by Alberto Mayer, the author of the footage. I skipped the questions.

    The evening of 29 April I was proceeding to focus a video camera attached to a telescope. The focusing procedure was complicated by the high enlargement and the elevated atmospheric turbulence, The image of the moon appeared trembling, but I immediately perceived the presence of a small black dot on the side of the moon. At the moment, I thought that it was some dirt, particles of dust on the sensor of the video camera. But after a closer observation I realized that the dot was slowly moving and showed the typical distortions caused by a bad seein (atmospheric turbulence). At that point I started rather frantically to start the filming, hoping to obtain the most clear and stable footage.
    At first I though that it was a geostationary satellite at the liberation (launch?) stage, or the transit of a weather balloon collecting meteorological data, but mostly I was focusing on framing the object in the best possible way, recording the spacial and temporal data.

    The first hypothesis, a geostationary satellite, was dismissed after a preliminary analysis of the data, also if the observed area matched the trajectory of a GeoSync satellite. But the dimensions did not match, as the size object would have been of about one kilometer and that ruled out the theory of a satellite. The second hypothesis, a weather balloon, seemed more plausible at first. But also in this case, on the basis of trigonometric calculations, the perspective dimensions and the sighting time, too far from the launch time from the air bases, did not match.

    After years of observations, of nights passed observing and photographing the skies, I reached the opinion that the universe could contain millions or billions of life forms, from the most elementary ones to the so called “intelligent” ones. The structure of the universe is essentially uniform, and as far as we know, all the stars obey to the same physical laws and they all have the same chemical composition. However, supporting the theory of a universe rich with life, does not mean that one should accept the fact that alien life forms roam our skies undisturbed, with the purpose of studying us, analyzing us, making fun of us by creating strange patterns in crops, or making rare appearances that few chosen people have witness.
    I am strongly convinced that what I filmed has nothing to do with little green mans looking for some press coverage.
    Often, when we find ourselves facing some mysterious events, their real nature is revealed by the simplest explanation, and a less fascinating but more human theory haas prevailed.
    Supported by the Astrofili Sheratan group that has enthusiastically asked for opinions all over the world, the satellite, weather balloon, and strange flying objects theories have been dismissed, and an hypothesis less exiting and more human prevailed.
    At the end of this long story, in the squares of Northern Italy could resound with the desperate cry of a child that saw his balloon escape from his hand. But there are no certainties….

  39. unbreak

    Balloon???? Ohhh its the same excuse they gave for the the Roswell crash.. they said that too was a balloon…

    Im sure it is not a balloon… who knows what it is?

    The turm U.F.O is correctly used for this until someone says for sure what it is with proof, not speculation…

    Balloon>… lol

  40. mike burkhart

    may be its a seen from the upcoming close encounters meets et movie it could be a computer garphic image

  41. Couple of other points:
    1) If it were really flying at a long distance away (as in, near the moon), it would either have to be a perfect sphere, constantly reorient itself to show the circular face to us, or it would change shape as it moved across the view. If we assume a disc-like shape, it should start becoming slightly distorted and cigar-shaped as it moved.
    2) It doesn’t seem to be reflecting any light. I’m not sure, but I’d expect anything that large (like the BA said, it should be several kilometers in diameter at the very least) would reflect something. It’s almost perfectly dark.

    So, either it’s a several km-wide flying sphere, a several km-wide flying disc constantly reorienting itself towards the Earth (for whatever alien reason), or it’s got more terrestrial origins…

    Just in case, I for one welcome our reorienting-disc and sphere craft overlords! 😀

    BTW, the time on the video appears to be 10:52 PM.

  42. Just Al

    unbreak said, Balloon???? Ohhh its the same excuse they gave for the the Roswell crash.. they said that too was a balloon…

    Yeah, unbreak’s right! [Oh, sorry, add a few more exclamation points]!!eleven! How could the balloon that was found near Roswell possibly have reinflated and gotten to Italy?/^?

    Unless… there’s been a security breach at Hangar 51 (that’s in Area 17) and the cloned alienses escaped [seven in binary]. Any second now, you’re going to see the video removed from teh worldwidewobbly as Echelon comes back online to enforce the conspiracyžÔ&

    rofl noobs pwned brb ad hoc

  43. Michael Lonergan

    Did unbreak pop our balloon?

  44. jeff

    ugghh. I want my four minutes back.

  45. Irishscribe

    It’s a childs’ balloon, guys and girls. Unless I’m mistaken, the object isn’t absolutely round, it appears at times to have that “pear-shape” an inflated balloon has. We only see this occaisionally, because of course the baloon is tumbleing as it is blown across the sky.

  46. I like the Balloon theory, but in the spirit of debunking the huge kilometers wide craft floating over the moon….. Where is the huge shadow it would cast on the surface of our favorite natural satellite?

  47. Mckenna

    It’s most likely a balloon. My next guess is photoshop. Then the bug theory, bug then we all might be wrong. I mean, you could say it’s ANYTHING when your only proof is no one ahs proved it doesn’t exist!
    lol I love Harry Potter, for those who don’t get it, that’s what Hermione says to Luna Lovegoods dad. lol sorry I’m getting off topic.

  48. Mckenna

    I mean but not bug in third sentence.

  49. Mckenna

    I personally think it’s a balloon but I still believe in intelligent life forms, because to think that we are the only ones in the universe is as stupid as planting 1,000,000,000 flowers and thinking only one will grow. Right?

  50. Steve Boltzman

    Gentlemen; Old topic, but for your future “UFO” debunking pleasure. 😉

    It’s a television satellite in a highly elliptical geosynchronous orbit near the ecliptic. Such an orbit describes an analemma in the sky. In this case, one lobe of the stretched figure-eight is seen in front of the Moon.

    It’s round because it’s out of focus. And any typical video of a satellite passing in front of the Moon will appear about the size seen in this video.

    The author of the video was told all this by an astronomer but chose to ignore that rather obvious and conclusive determination–opting for the indeterminant “UFO” instead. A balloon, near or far in random air, would not have remained in front of the Moon’s small 30 arc/sec but a moment.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geosynchronous_orbit
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analemma

  51. See responses to Mr. Boltzman’s numerous comments in the “slamming-the-astronomers-should-see-ufos-myth” post.

    He clings to his “facts” in the face of obvious inconsistencies and logical breakdowns…the sign of a True Believer™.

  52. Steve Boltzman

    >> He clings to his “facts” << Only the fact that it's not a "UFO".

    That's what its computer-graphics manipulator presented it as.

    >> True Believer << Been called "skeptibunker" by cranks too!

    :-)

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