Why I don’t “believe” in UFOs: the Phoenix Lights

Why I don’t “believe” in UFOs: the Phoenix Lights

Why I don’t “believe” in UFOs: the Phoenix Lights

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
March 6 2007 6:59 PM

Why I don’t “believe” in UFOs: the Phoenix Lights

Is it possible that, one day, there will be a UFO story that makes me scratch my head and say, I cannot possibly conceive of an explanation for that besides an alien spacecraft?

Maybe. But that day is not yet here. In fact, given stories like this one, it's a long, long way off.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Ever heard of the Phoenix Lights? 10 years ago, on March 13, 1997, a string of mysterious lights were seen hovering over Phoenix, Arizona. They were witnessed by a lot of people-- Phoenix is a big town. For once, a UFO sighting was well-documented with lots of witnesses spaced out geographically, and with actual imagery and footage. Here's a still from one amateur video:

This was big news. When I saw them, my first thought was, "Hey airplanes!" But I am a foolish NASA stooge planted by the CIA to brainwash the sheeple and keep under wraps THE BIGGEST STORY OF ALL TIME.

Or, maybe, they were, y'know, airplanes.

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In fact, they were. Kinda. There was a practice flight going on at a nearby military air base. The squadron flying was dropping flares. The flares had little parachutes on them, so from a distance you'd see -- GASP -- a line of lights moving very slowly.

I saw a TV show where they proved beyond a doubt that's what these things were. Video footage shot at night showed the lights disappearing one by one. Were they warping away, entering another dimension, or teleporting to some distant star?

No, they were falling behind a nearby mountain range. In the show I saw -- a very rare skeptical look at UFOs -- they went back to the location the person was shooting the video from, and took more pictures. When they superposed the video with their own pictures shot during the day, you could clearly see the line of mountains in the distance. When a light -- sorry, "Light" -- blinked out, you could plainly see it was falling below the top of the mountain. In other words, the flares were on the other side of that range as seen in the video, and when one got low enough, the mountain blocked the view. Wink! The light was gone.

I also saw (I think on the same show) a kid saying he was looking at the lights through binoculars or a telescope, and he saw that they were planes. But then someone else said (paraphrased) "Those weren't planes! I know what I saw!" How many times have we heard that?

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Sigh.

Well, now we also have one more nail in this coffin: a statement by one of the pilots who dropped the flares.

The lights were flares, said the Air National Guard, dropped during nighttime exercises at the Barry M. Goldwater Range.

That's what they were, insists Lt. Col. Ed Jones, who piloted one of the four A10s in the squadron that he says launched the flares.

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Jones, in his first interview with the news media concerning the night 10 years ago, says he can't believe a decision to eject a few leftover flares turned into a UFO furor that continues to this day.

Lt. Col. Jones obviously doesn't understand just how much people want to believe in UFOs. Faced with overwhelming evidence -- even at the time, ten years ago -- that these were flares, people still won't wake up and see that's precisely what these things were.

I absolutely 100% guarantee that when this story goes to UFO bulletin boards, people will claim that Lt. Cmdr. Jones is a) a disinfo agent, b) a government plant, or c) brainwashed. That's a no-brainer.

Like Roswell, like Gulf Breeze, like a recent sighting of UFOs over London, and like a hundred -- a thousand -- other obviously mundane stories blown up into gigantic conspiracy theories, the Phoenix Lights will live on. And a little piece of the collective human intelligence starves to death.

Tip o' the tin foil hat to James Oberg