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UFOs Over New York City!

Tom Flynn

October 14, 2010

Mysterious objects in the sky have the internet atwitter, but here at CSI this scene is old hat.

To us at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, there was little mystery about the white objects seen in the sky over New York City on October 13. They were almost certainly party balloons of some kind. Why such confidence? Because there was a similar "UFO" sighting in Buffalo, New York, where we are located, in 2003 -- and our research team was able to duplicate original-witness footage by launching a few shiny mylar balloons into a clear sky.

In 2003 a local radio station sent us the video taken by two local witnesses. (We were then known as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, or CSICOP.) It showed three small white dots flying through the sky and moving relative to each other. It also showed the three dots flashing on and off, a phenomenon not reported by the New York City witnesses. More on that below.

After several experiments, we were able to determine that shiny silver Mylar party balloons best replicated the original footage. Once they'd climbed a few hundred feet they put on a captivating show, dancing about each other and drifting through the sky. The resemblance to the New York City phenomenon is so good, I for one am saying "case closed."

We posted three video clips. One documents the actual launch of our test balloons, so you can see just what was really in the sky. The latter two show how the balloons looked when shot by two different camcorders. Those clips show the "flashing" effect which we were setting out to duplicate because it appeared in the 2003 witness footage. That's not relevant to the 10/13 sightings in NYC, just concentrate on how the balloons look when they're clearly visible.

For curious readers: Why did the original 2003 footage flash? Close study of the 2003 tape revealed that the witnesses were not watching the sky, but rather their camcorder's LCD screen at the time the objects "flashed." So they didn't notice that the flashing occurred only in the camera, not in the sky. It was their camcorder's autofocus, racking back and forth because the three tiny dots in a cloudless sky weren't giving it enough detail to focus on. Again, this is not relevant to the NYC sightings, but it helps explain why our test tape from 2003 makes such a big deal about the flashing.

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Tom Flynn is executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and editor of its flagship magazine, Free Inquiry. A founding coeditor of the newsletter Secular Humanist Bulletin, he designed and directs the Council's museum at the Dresden, N.Y., birthplace of 19th century agnostic orator Robert Green Ingersoll. He is also vice president for media at the Center for Inquiry and director of its audio-visual production arm, Inquiry Media Productions. He has written or edited four books including The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (Prometheus, 2007). He is executive producer of the Council for Secular Humanism's 2013 video miniseries, American Freethought.