The Internet Shoots Down a UFO

In Journalism, Social Media by UFSocial Staff

by David Lantrip, UFSocial Contributor

Not so long ago strange phenomena like UFOs and Bigfoot seemed to be just another part of life. They were all over tabloids, on shows like “In Search Of” and once in a while they made it to mainstream media.  Even Jimmy Carter reported that he sighted a UFO in 1969.

Many of these reports, at least the ones not immediately identified as hoaxes or mistakes could be written off as unlikely or simply filed away as unexplained. It is not the most satisfying answer and one that only adds to their mystique. Today though the internet puts at a journalist’s hands an immense wealth of information and tools that help explain the unexplained.

A few years ago I happened to see a discussion started on the International Skeptics Forum about a YouTube video described as showing a “Vortex UFO.” To the curious skeptic’s credit there did not seem to be any assumption that it actually showed an alien spacecraft emerging from a wormhole or some sort of space-time vortex, only a request for an explanation.

Unfortunately the video has since disappeared from YouTube but it was very similar to the one below although it also showed a small bright dot of light moving away from the spiral.

By any measure a claim that an alien spacecraft was caught emerging from a wormhole is rather extraordinary and deserves closer scrutiny, especially if a journalist is to use it. Before jumping to conclusions that such an incredible event occurred it is wise to look for other, more mundane explanations first.

A good first step is to take a look at where the video is shot. Doing so can help corroborate or refute a witness’s claim or point to other explanations. If we were to look at the metadata on the original video we may have found coordinates in the information. In the case of a YouTube video though that information is stripped and even under good circumstances it may be difficult to contact the user to get a copy of the original file.

In this case though there was a little bit of good luck in play. The video description stated that it was shot in PDR, California. A Google search showed that PDR is an abbreviation for Playa Del Rey, a coastal town on the west side of Los Angeles. Its location just north of Los Angeles International Airport suggested one possible source for the aerial light show but the objects shown did not resemble or behave like commercial aircraft.

Clearly whatever was going on was happening in the sky, so my thoughts turned to another possible source: a rocket or missile. Remembering that Vandenberg Air Force Base is located in California and that it is a launch site I looked it up in Google Earth. The air force base lies about 135 mile northwest of Playa Del Rey.

Image from Google Earth

Image from Google Earth showing Vandenberg Air Force Base relative to Playa Del Rey (lower right)

Going back to Google once more and doing an image search for “night rocket launch” I found many images resembling the video, and adding the word spiral found a number of near-perfect matches.

I could have also done a reverse image search in TinEye or Google with a screenshot from the video but at this point it was not necessary. The evidence pointed to it being a routine rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Indeed, one of the first results when doing a search for “Vandenberg rocket launch” was this video showing almost exactly the same view as shown in the original video, starting at staging about 1:45 in.

Screenshot from YouTube video

Screenshot from YouTube video linked above

Could I do more to prove my case? Certainly. If I had the date the video was shot I could check it against the base’s launch schedule or contact the public affairs officer there. I could also source video of the launch from known reliable sources and compare it to the YouTube video. However, that much effort is not needed at this point. Anyone wishing to claim that the video shows some sort of extraterrestrial craft carries the burden of proof. As mentioned before this is a rather extraordinary claim requiring, as Carl Sagan put it so well, extraordinary proof.

If I made the decision to include this footage in a story I would be very careful to make it as clear as possible that it is not proven to be what the witness claims it to be, using phrases such as “purports to show” and “claims to have witnessed.”

As a final nail in the coffin of the UFO theory the CBS News Report below shows the explanation for the “Norwegian Spiral” seen over the country in December 2009. The resemblance to the original video posted on the Skeptics Forum is striking, although this spiral is more dramatic since the missile was still under powered flight as it spiraled out of control.


A journalist’s career is built on credibility. Information hits us fast and in massive amounts today, making it even more difficult to keep up with it all. For that reason though verification is absolutely vital to preserve our reputations and those of our organization. The good news is that the same technology that throws so much information also provides us with the tools to research it. Use them.

About the Author

David Lantrip is the director of education at Franchise Concepts, the franchisor for Deck The Walls, The Great Frame Up and Framing and Art Centre. He also is a contributing writer to Picture Framing Magazine, the industry’s leading trade journal and teach a number of classes at their annual trade show.

About the Author

UFSocial Staff