This story was updated June 2 at 8 a.m. ET.
A short night-vision video posted on YouTube depicting three lights in the night sky over California has been getting attention on the Web. The video was allegedly recorded in Oakland a few days ago by someone using the handle "KevinMC360."
Was it a UFO?
Almost certainly, since KevinMC360 was unable to identify the flying objects.
Was it an alien spacecraft?
Probably not. [See the video here]
A careful examination of his methods suggests why the flying objects he spotted remain unidentified. In another video of the sky over Oakland recorded on June 11, 2010, KevinMC360 begins by videotaping airplanes for "reference." Later in the video (it's not clear whether the recording was edited or otherwise manipulated), he records other lights in the sky and concludes that they must be "a squadron of spacecraft." [Video: UFO Battles Over San Diego?]
Sure enough the "reference" jets don't look like the trio of "UFO" lights; the jets are much larger and brighter than the UFOs that later appear. Is this proof that they are not jets, or known aircraft? No. It simply means that he videotaped different aircraft at different distances. It would be like taking a photograph in a large parking lot, and concluding that the cars in the distance can't really be cars because those in the foreground are much larger and clearer in the image. What he videotaped might be obvious in bright daylight, but much more mysterious at night through an inexpensive infrared camera with a tiny field of view.
Adding to the mystery, "You cannot see these in normal visible light, only in infrared," KevinMC360 can be heard reporting in a voice-over. Lights in the sky that emit only infrared waves might be quite mysterious. And how does this experienced UFO investigator know that the lights are invisible? His wife told him. KevinMC360 narrates, "My wife is standing behind me, I'm asking her, Can she see them, she's responding to me and telling me no. So only in I.R. (infrared)."
KevinMC360 takes this negative evidence at face value, but we cannot. We have no idea how good his wife's eyesight is, or if she was even looking in the same exact spot in the wide night sky. But KevinMC360 takes the fact that his wife said she couldn't see the lights as conclusive proof that the lights were invisible to the naked eye, and thus infrared. It's quite likely that the lights are just too far off to be clearly visualized without night vision equipment.
Similar footage appeared last month, filmed by another California UFO buff named Ed Grimsley. Like KevinMC360, Grimsley randomly videotapes the night skies over California, looking for any lights he can't identify; also, like Grimsley, KevinMC360 is a "repeater," and regularly reports seeing spaceships flying above. And both men commit the classic paranormal fallacy of arguing from ignorance (also known as the argument from personal incredulity): "I don't understand X, therefore it's an anomaly."
We see this in everything from UFO reports to ghost encounters and Bigfoot sightings, where people experience something they believe is weird or strange and assume that if they don't know what it is, then it must be unexplainable.
If KevinMC360 doesn't know what a light in the sky is, it must be a spaceship, and if his wife can't see it then it must be invisible. Logic like this is typical of many UFO hunters, and helps explain why there are so many sightings of unidentified flying objects.
This story was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to SPACE.com. Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and author of Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries. His Web site is www.RadfordBooks.com.