Giant spaceships to attack December 2012?

Bad Astronomy
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Dec. 27 2010 1:01 PM

Giant spaceships to attack December 2012?

Are there three giant spaceships on their way to Earth, dooming us to extinction when they arrive in -- gasp! -- December 2012?

Duh. No.

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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But you might think otherwise reading an article about this on The Examiner's website. It documents the three spaceships, shows images, and even has quotes from a SETI astrophysicist!

SETI Astrophysicist Craig Kasnov (not to be confused with Craig Kasnoff ) has announced the approach to the Earth of 3 very large, very fast moving objects. The length of the "flying saucers" is in the range of tens of kilometers. Landing, according to calculations of scientists, should be in mid-December 2012. Date coincides with the end of the Mayan calendar.

There are some teeny, tiny, problems with this story, though. Like, the "spaceships" are actually image defects and aren't real, there's no way to figure out how big they from the picture, and the "astrophysicist" quoted in the article doesn't even exist.

But gee, other than that...

1) The spaceship that wasn't

examiner_ufo_dec20102It's been a while since I've done a good ol' smackdown debunking, so let's take these one at a time. First things first: the spaceships. Shown here, as you can see, the article refers to a picture of a big blue wormy-thingy floating in space. What could it be? Well, because I don't trust articles online talking about giant spaceships invading us (or anything anyone says about doomsday in 2012), I went to the original pictures themselves.

NASA has an image archive viewer called SkyView, which I used to use all the time when I worked on Hubble data. It has access to dozens of surveys of the sky taken using various telescopes, including the Second Digitized Sky Survey the UFO article mentions. Amazingly, the article gives coordinates for the "spaceships", so I took a look for myself. The DSS2 used various filters when observing the sky, but since the picture shows a blue object, I looked in the blue image first.

dss_blue_ufoHere's the actual blue image from the DSS2 survey. Hmmm. You can see the object there, but also a lot of schmutz the article picture doesn't show well. However, having seen stuff like this a bazillion times, I can tell right away this is what's called an image defect, something that isn't real. The original survey images were taken using glass plates sprayed with light-sensitive emulsion, which you can think of as film but on glass instead of thin flexible plastic. Later, the plates were scanned and digitized by technicians. When that happens, it's impossible to get rid of all the defects that crop up, including hair or dust on the plate, small cracks and chips, and so on.

To my very experienced eye (30+ years as an astronomer, and well over a decade dealing with digital imagery including staring at raw Hubble data in excruciating detail) that's what we have here. The other images are similar, showing blobby stuff that looks like lint or some other foreign object that got stuck in the plate when it was scanned.

Spaceships, they ain't. Shocking, I know!

2) Size matters

I'll note this particular object is not in the plate using the red filter, which supports my idea it's a problem in the plate itself and not a giant spaceship. Of course, if it were a giant spaceship, it would be moving, and so maybe that's why it's not seen in the red image, right?

Nope. Bear with me a sec. The article mentions how big they are, too, saying they're tens of kilometers long. That's a HUGE red flag in any story like this. Why? Because it's literally impossible to know how big an object is from pictures like this! You don't know how far away the thing is, so there's no way to determine its size. It could be a galaxy thousands of light years across and millions of light years away, or it could be a planet thousands of kilometers across and millions of kilometers away, or -- and stop me if you heard this before -- it could be a piece of belly button lint on the plate itself.

So anytime someone mentions size in an article like this, I know right away they're full of it.

It gets worse, too. Let's assume somehow the author of the article is correct (I know, but work with me here) about the size of the "spaceship", and let's say it's 50 km long. Using the image, I can measure the apparent size in degrees, and use that to calculate its distance using the small angle formula. The result? To make an image that size, an object 50 km long would have to be a bit over 100,000 km away... only a quarter of the distance to the Moon! Mind you, the sky survey images were taken in the 1990s, too, so these ships must be moving reeeeaaaalllllllyyyyyy slloooooooowwwwwwlllllyyyy...

These aliens must be a bit thick; it only took us three days to get to the Moon using relatively primitive hardware, but it would take them decades! Those spaceships must really suck. If they're invading, I suspect we could shoot them down with a garden hose.

And that's why the object being in the blue but not the red plate doesn't make sense if it's a real spaceship. Moving that slowly, it should be in both. Like I need even more evidence this thing isn't a spaceship!

3) Virtually astronomical

OK, fine, the spaceships aren't real. So why would a SETI astrophysicist make that claim?

I did a quick Google search on the name "Craig Kasnov", and the only results were in relation to the UFO article, which is more than a little suspicious. I also searched the astronomical journal databases, and there is no "Kasnov, C" to be found. But you can even find my old papers in those databases! So I called my friend Seth Shostak, an actual SETI astronomer, and asked him. He said, and I quote: "Well, I've never heard of this guy working here, and neither has our HR department ... Of course, maybe he volunteered here once, or was a summer intern. But he's not an astrophysicist for the SETI Institute, you can wager your Maserati on that."

If I had a Maserati, I would.

This gets a bit confusing, so bear with me. There is someone by the name of Craig Kasnoff (note the spelling), who worked on SETI@Home, software that allowed the public to use their home computers to process SETI data. It was the very first distributed software of its kind, and the idea is used in many other fields of astronomy now. However, that Craig Kasnoff was not with SETI (the software was developed at UC Berkeley), is not an astrophysicist, and never made the claims in the article.

So who is this Craig Kasnov mentioned in the article? That's a really good question. My virtual Maserati says he doesn't exist. What's funny to me is that when I first saw the spaceship article a couple of weeks ago it just mentioned the guy's name; and the author clearly added the "(not to be confused with Craig Kasnoff)" line later... perhaps in response to a comment left there by Craig Kasnoff. You know, the one who actually exists.

4) In a nutshell

So let's see, where does this leave us?

  • If the spaceships are real and huge they're closer than the Moon, but moving slower than I can walk when I'm hungover.

  • The original survey images clearly show these "spaceships" to be defects in the scanning process, and not real anyway.
  • Craig Kasnov is apparently no more substantial than the spaceships themselves.
  • And what the heck:

  • The Mayan calendar doesn't end in 2012, there is no astronomical event related to the vaunted December 2012 date, and anyone who claims otherwise is trying to sell you something.
  • So, we clear here? I hope so. This kind of stuff pops up every now and again; the Planet X people never seem to get enough of claiming image artifacts are giant spaceships, for example. And with 2012 creaking ever closer, we'll no doubt be seeing more of this nonsense as time goes on. In this case I'm not too concerned since it's clearly ridiculous, but 2012 doomcriers are scaring people, including kids. Caveat emptor, sure, but it's hard for kids to know what's real and what isn't when nonsense-peddlers are so loud and pervasive on the web. We need to be vigilant about garbage like this, lest its noisome progeny infect those not inoculated against it.

    You can read more about this giant spaceship nonsense on the Bad Astronomy/Universe Today bulletin board and at the ParanormalUtopia website (and when even the New Age antiscience sites are debunking your New Age antiscience claim, you're in deep doodoo).

    Tip o' the tin foil beanie to the many, many people who told me about this, and to Felicia Day for tweeting about it and prompting me to get off my butt (well, actually, get on my butt) and write about it.



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