Skeptic » eSkeptic » January 16, 2013

The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

Lecture at Caltech this Sunday PATRICK McCRAY January 20th

Dr. W. Patrick McCray (photo by Brian W. Robb)
The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future

Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 at 2 pm
Baxter Hall

In 1969, Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill began looking outward to space colonies as the new frontier for humanity’s expansion. A decade later, Eric Drexler, an MIT-trained engineer, turned his attention to the molecular world as the place where society’s future needs could be met using self-replicating nanoscale machines. These modern utopians predicted that their technologies could transform society as humans mastered the ability to create new worlds, undertook atomic-scale engineering, and, if truly successful, overcame their own biological limits. In this lecture, based on the book by the same name, Patrick McCray traces how these visioneers blended countercultural ideals with hard science, entrepreneurship, libertarianism, and unbridled optimism about the future… Can’t make it to Caltech? WATCH THE LIVE BROADCAST ONLINE on the day of the event.

Order the book from Amazon


New Admission Policy and Prices

Please note there are important policy and pricing changes for this season of lectures at Caltech. Please review these changes now.

What Should We Be Worried About?

Michael Shermer responds to this years Annual Question: “What Should We Be Worried About?”



Illustration by Nancy White

About this week’s eSkeptic

In this week’s eSkeptic, we present an article by Michael K. Gainer (from Skeptic magazine 17.3) about the feasibility of interstellar travel, followed by a rebuttal from Peter Huston.

The Physics of UFOs
How realistic is it for spacecraft to
travel interstellar distances to Earth?

by Michael K. Gainer

UFO reports have been evaluated in terms of the supposed reliability of eyewitness accounts and questionable photographic evidence. The constraints that interstellar distances, time and the conservation of energy impose on interstellar space travel for these supposed alien craft seem never to be considered by UFO proponents. Since they do provide descriptions of spacecraft of circular disks, cylinders and triangles that move strangely and rapidly and vary in size from 50 feet in diameter to 300 feet long, I undertake here to apply these constraints to the design of a hypothetical spacecraft in order to determine the feasibility of such craft and their use for interstellar travel. As a physicist and astronomer I think it important to consider not just the accounts of alien contact, but the physics of such a possibility as well.

The basic principles of physics are applicable independently of where in the galaxy a stellar system is located and will not change over time. Newton’s three laws of motion and the conservation of energy are descriptions of the manner in which different parts of a physical system interact. Consequently, a model based on an exploratory expedition leaving Earth would apply equally to all planetary systems in our galaxy. Any culture, no matter how advanced in technology, would face the same constraints imposed by physics.

For my model I have chosen a spacecraft with a crew of six that will leave its planet for a planet in the habitable zone of a star 10 light years away. It will be accelerated at a rate of 10 m/s2 (10 meters per second squared) to a velocity of 0.5 times the velocity of light (0.5c, where c is the velocity of light). The time for it to reach this velocity is given by this equation:

t = v/a = 1.5×108/10 = 3.06×107 s = 174 days

(a = acceleration in meters/second squared; v = velocity in meters/second;
s = time seconds)

This is remarkably short compared to the nonrelativistic time of 20 years for the trip to the destination star. I have chosen 0.5c to minimize the relativistic mass increase of the spacecraft and to minimize travel time. The acceleration rate is approximately equal to the gravity the crew would experience on an earth-like home planet.

The spacecraft would be constructed in orbit from components delivered by shuttles. It would include, in addition to engines and fuel, an internal power supply for all the operational systems as well as life support systems and sustenance for the crew. For a 20-year trip this would necessarily be a small nuclear reactor. A mechanism for rotating the crew’s quarters to provide artificial gravity would be essential. I have chosen a live crew rather than robots or androids because all of the alien encounter and abduction stories indicate their presence. A shuttle for transporting the crew to the surface of the destination planet would also have to be on board. Our current space shuttles have an unloaded mass of 105 kg. Consequently, considering all of the requirements, a mass of 107 kg is not unreasonable for our model. The kinetic energy of the spacecraft, defined as the energy any object has by virtue of its motion, at 0.5c is given by:

E = ½mv2 = 0.5×107×2.25×1016 = 1.13×1023 joules

(m is the mass of the spacecraft and v is the velocity equal to 0.5c).
This is the energy that must be supplied by engine thrust to reach 0.5c

The only source that can supply energy of this magnitude is thermonuclear fusion. The work energy (blast energy) of a one-megaton thermonuclear bomb is 4.2×1015 joules. This is the energy that would be available for thrust if it were to power the spacecraft. It is 100 times the energy released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Hereafter I shall refer to it as a megaton of energy. The energy required to accelerate the spacecraft to 0.5c is then

E = 1.13×1023/4.2×1015 = 2.7×107 megatons

This energy would be expended over the 174 days of acceleration and is equal to 1.8 megatons per second during acceleration. The process is different from the use of controlled nuclear fusion for power generation. In that process, millisecond thermal pulses of energy are immediately conducted away to produce steam for generators. For propulsion of the hypothetical spacecraft the blast energy would have to be converted, with near 100% efficiency, to a constrained unidirectional particle beam with thrust pulses of 1.8 megatons per second for 174 days. For a round trip to a star 10 light years distant this rate of energy expenditure would be needed for slowing down at the destination, leaving, and slowing down again when returning to the home planet after a 40 year expedition.

A lesser source than thermonuclear fusion would be inadequate to provide the required energy for traveling at 0.5c. A lower velocity would mean travel times of hundreds to thousands of years. A lower acceleration rate would greatly increase the time to reach the desired velocity. For example, an acceleration of 0.5 m/s2 would require 1.9 years to reach 0.1c. The required energy would be a one megaton pulse per minute. The travel time would be 200 years for a round trip to a stellar system 10 light years away. There is no possible material construction that can constrain and direct the thermal and blast energy of the nuclear fusion rate required for interstellar travel. Consequently, I conclude that alien spacecraft cannot exist.

How then do we account for alien sightings? One personal example extrapolated to many others is illuminating. One evening as dusk was fading I had just opened my small backyard observatory for some night viewing through my 5-inch telescope when I saw in the sky with my naked eye, about 30º above the horizon toward Pittsburgh in the west, a very bright star. It resembled the appearance of the planet Venus. But Venus was not visible at that time. It was stationary so I thought it might be a supernova. I looked at it through the telescope and what I saw was a weather balloon with an instrument package dangling from it. It was at just the right position to produce a bright reflection from the recently set Sun. As I watched it rise into the stratosphere it suddenly burst and presented a beautiful sight of hundreds of shards spreading spherically. It resembled a bright globular star cluster. If I had not been looking through a telescope I would have seen a bright stationary object in the sky that suddenly faded from view. It would have been what some UFO reports have described as a bright light that suddenly disappeared as if it were a spacecraft accelerating at an amazing speed. On another occasion I saw, from my house in the foothills of the Allegheny mountains, strange lights moving vertically and horizontally in irregular paths in the eastern sky above the ridge a few miles away. The next day I drove out to that area and discovered that lights were attached to large cranes involved in a strip mining operation at the top of the ridge.

When UFOs are reported they should be evaluated with the attitude that alien spacecraft cannot exist. This is not closed mindedness. It is facing the reality of the constraints that time, stellar distances, and available energy place on interstellar space travel. We must also face the reality that human travel beyond the limits of the solar system is not possible. Any communication with sentient beings beyond the solar system can only take place through electromagnetic signal transmission and reception, so the SETI searches remain our best bet for contact. END

About Michael K. Gainer

Dr. Michael K. Gainer is Emeritus Professor of Physics and former chair of the Department of Physics at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. At St. Vincent he taught astronomy and advanced undergraduate physics courses for physics majors. He is the author of Real Astronomy for Small Telescopes, published by Springer in the Patrick Moore Practical Astronomy Series in 2006. Prior to his academic career he was a member of the scientific staff at the U.S. Army Ballistics Research Laboratory at Aberdeen, MD. There he conducted research on hyper velocity metal deformation in high intensity shock waves.

Another Physics of UFOs

Peter Huston’s rebuttal to Gainer

In his article on “The Physics of UFOs” in Skeptic Vol. 17, No. 3, Michael K. Gainer, a physicist, seeks to determine if it is possible to construct an interstellar spacecraft that fits the description of reported UFOs.

Although I have several problems with some of the minor assumptions he makes in the article, for the moment let’s focus on his key arguments. Gainer assumes such a craft should be capable of making a 10 light year round trip to a new destination and back to its home system in approximately 20 (Earth) years time each way. Although he never explicitly states it, he also assumes that the laws of physics as currently understood will not be violated. (i.e. no “hyper-warp-jump-faster-than-light-drives”). Fair enough. He states that the spacecraft should be accelerated at a rate of 10 meters per second squared and that, at this rate of acceleration, it will require 174 (Earth) days to reach half the speed of light. This would take a great deal of power, therefore he states: “the only source that can supply energy of this magnitude is thermonuclear nuclear fusion.” He then explains that the energy from the thermonuclear fusion would have to be directed rearward as “a constrained unidirectional particle beam,” then concludes: “There is no possible material construction that can constrain and direct the thermal and blast energy of the nuclear fusion rate required for interstellar travel. Consequently, I conclude that alien spacecraft cannot exist.”

In other words, if I understand correctly, what Gainer is saying is that an interstellar spacecraft must use thermonuclear power as its power source and because there is no possible material that could contain and direct thermonuclear power into a propulsion beam, interstellar spaceflight is impossible. To a non-physicist such as myself, the obvious questions are “Why is such a material impossible?” and “Why is thermonuclear power the only feasible power source?”

To answer these questions and check Gainer’s claim, I consulted with Carl Frederick, a retired physics professor and hard science fiction writer who regularly contributes to the magazine Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact. (A publication that, until recently, was edited by Stanley Schmidt, a Ph.D. physicist. For the record, no one claims that all stories in Analog are scientifically sound in all ways, (i.e. time travel stories), but part of the “game” of being an Analog contributor is to know exactly when, how and why one is breaking scientific laws and to only do it with a good reason.) A few of his criticisms and comments were as follows.

First, to assume that something is impossible because current technology, as opposed to the known laws of physics, doesn’t allow it is “silly.” Other points were that there is a great deal of research being done into controlled fusion and that might considerably change the way in which a thermonuclear spacecraft engine might work. Furthermore, as there are now indications that quantum physics might allow a spacecraft to draw energy from the vacuum as it travels, the thermonuclear engines might not be the only source of fuel. Additionally, Frederick said that the Gainer assumed that nuclear fusion is the best form of energy. He disagreed saying that particle / anti-particle annihilation was a better alternative. Finally, he said, there’s no reason one couldn’t go slower and use less fuel, if you, for instance, freeze the crew.

As for me, the non-physicist, although I really could not address the main points of the article, I had many quibbles about the minor assumptions in the article. For example, he assumes that a spacecraft would require energy in equal amounts to accelerate to its destination, decelerate when arriving, accelerate on its way home, and decelerate as it approaches home. Why? Couldn’t it use solar sails catching photons and the gravitational forces of planets and other astronomical objects to help slow itself? And, why do so many people assume that a spacecraft would need to make a return trip? I have little doubt that there are plenty of would-be astronauts who would gladly take a one way trip to another star system never to return home again. Indeed, surveys have found that there are astronauts who would take a one-way trip to Mars.

There are other points I question, many of which hint that Gainer is assuming we only can use modern technology (e.g., he states his UFO would be built in orbit by shuttles.) At least one other point ignores the modern UFO mythology entirely: Gainer assumes his ship needs a shuttle to land and return to the ship. Why? Particularly since UFOs are reported to land and then float away gently into the sky. Personally, I like the idea of taking the small UFO Gainer describes and putting it inside a giant “mother ship” that contains a crew of thousands or more and is a permanent home to generations of beings all living a more or less urban life style as they float between systems. It’s just one of dozens or more of alternatives to the scenario he, first, envisions, and then, secondly, uses to claim interstellar spacecraft are impossible. Perhaps such a race could even have “seeded” space using robotic craft to cache fuel here and there. (Note: I’m speculating. I do not believe anything in UFOlogy seriously indicates alien visitation.)

Gainer’s article is the sort that led to my burn out from skepticism. It contains questionable assumptions at several points and then over-reaches from the logical conclusions to make the point the author wishes. For example: “When UFOs are reported they should be evaluated with the attitude that alien spacecraft cannot exist.” This may be the author’s belief, but, based on what I saw, it is a faith-based belief, not grounded in proven fact. And, as skeptics, isn’t it simply enough to say “When UFOs are reported they should be evaluated with the attitude that none have ever been proven to be alien spacecraft”? We are supposed to be the people who read, question and think—not the ones who blindly repeat assertions that fit our pre-conceived notions.

I think we, as skeptics, need to be more careful of such statements and false conclusions. They only hurt us in the end. END

About Peter Huston

In the 1990s, Peter Huston was a frequent contributor and book reviewer to skeptical publications, president and vice-president of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York, and author of the books, Scams from the Great Beyond and More Scams of the Great Beyond. Today he teaches Chinese students in a college prep program at a major university in the Boston area. He holds a master’s degrees in Asian Studies with a focus on Chinese history and the history of Western science in China from Cornell and a second master’s in teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from the University at Albany. His interests include science, history, martial arts, aikido and self defense,languages, cooking, miniature wargaming, large event security and EMS and ambulances. He’s excited to currently be rewriting the completed first draft of a novel that takes a surreal look at the decline of Schenectady, New York.



  1. Hammer says:

    The is author is obviously retarded..We have all seen that these UFOS don’t obey the laws of physics in the way they move..they corner to fast and stop on a dime..Stands to reason they all also have the problem of vast distances between solar systems figured out..Just cause pea brain can’t get it done using mass times velocity doesn’t mean it can’t be done other than taking a trip for hundreds of thousands years..

    • Philip says:

      If these aliens have conquered space/time itself, traveling millions of light years easily. If these aliens have conquered physics as we know it. If they have also solved the issue of producing and containing the energy of 1-3 atomic bombs of energy person second in order to cover that much ground. If they have essentially obtained a god-like mastery over the observable universe, then why the hell would they bother flying around doing acrobatics in our skies like a bunch of idiots, just to “tease” us, and never present themselves publicly to the masses? If they wanted to conquer us, they easily could have done so with their amazingly advanced technology. If they wanted to study us like lab rats, they probably wouldn’t have an issue with killing us afterwards to prevent evidence, or wouldn’t have a problem erasing our memory permanently. If they were here on a peaceful mission to teach us something, why are they here just sort of kind of but not really giving themselves away, and flying around like buffoons and crashing in the desert? I don’t need to know anything about science to know that all of that sounds like complete nonsense.

  2. Dr. Sidethink Hp.D says:

    In the Church of the Subgenius we allow space travel.
    we have a ceremonial beverage called “mentum”

    During Mass, the velocity of consumption among those varies among the participants.
    If you don’t get spaced, you usually just need more mentum.

    Pope Bobby II
    69th Clench of the Stark Fist of Removal
    Reformed Church of the Subgenius

  3. David Saber says:

    Space travel requires a different
    set of scientific rules.
    I’ll be happy to show Skeptic.

    • Dr. Sidethink Hp.D says:

      We are awaiting your list of new rules.

      • David Saber says:

        Next month look for the website:
        Then, let me know what dimension they function in.
        Our goal is to define this and we need all the imput
        to solve the mystery.

        Sorry, no quick answers…yet

        Capt. Saber

  4. david honus says:

    one must remember that the ideas and concepts of time travel and worm holes are just concepts and ideas (until we discover them or can prove that they do exist) not long ago black holes were just concepts or ideas however as time went on we became smarter and found ways to prove that black holes do truly exist even though we don’t fully understand how or why {yet} we as humans are getting smarter as we discover things that are new to us we try to understand the cause and effect and how they work things we don’t understand do not exist until we discover them and how they operate we are skeptics by nature in the 30’s space travel was just ideas or fantasy then we went to the moon concepts and ideas became reality having said that we must keep our minds open to new ideas and concepts (until we prove or disprove them) people thought that ac electricity was the work of the devil until Mr Tesla showed us it was the way to go when new ideas are proven they become the norm

    • Tony Q. King says:

      Tesla was not the inventor of AC. Nor was Westinghouse. Any more than Edison was the inventor of DC.
      There were many Europeans working with AC.
      But they presumably did not have the advantage of the American publicity (read “myth creation”) system that Hollywood eventually perfected.

      (I’m still waiting for a new Tesla movie to come out of there. It should be soon)

  5. Tony Q. King says:

    Back in the early 1950s, when Sputnik was first launched, I was a high-school student in Montreal. The intellectual authorities, concerned about the apparent “Science gap” Between the USA (but not Canada!) and the godless USSR, arranged for a series of science lectures at McGill University, for about 200 or so of us “brighter” students from various high-schools in Montreal.

    One lecture was about space travel. The lecturer told us things about escape velocity, Goddard’s early rocket experiments, principles of the rocket, yada yada, etc… as well as things such as Mass-ratio- the ratio of the weight of the fuel that a rocket had to carry, to its empty weight.
    The guy used lots of math, as Prof. Gainer does somewhat above, to make us aware of his “detailed understanding” of these heady subjects.
    “DO NOT QUESTION ME, For I have done the Math!”
    Most of this textbook science we kids already knew. Hey- this is why we (The best and brightest) were chosen to attend this series.

    Eventually this lecturer got around to explaining that because the mass-ratio of rockets was very unlikely to ever achieve much more than 8.5 to 1, it would very unlikely that really big satellites would ever be able to be put in orbit, and as far as a human being in orbit, well.. HA HA! (I think he did chuckle here)

    I was only a high-school student, but I knew that the USA was already preparing to launch the Atlas rocket, with a mass-ratio of 9.5 to 1
    I recalledone of the fascinating facts about the Atlas was that a man could literally punch his fist through the skin of the Hydrogen fuel tank.
    This lecturer was simply wrong!

    But alas I was too shy to put my hand up and attempt an argument. Why?
    Well… (wait for it) –

    The lecturer’s name was Pounder, and he was THE DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF PHYSICS (or some such august title) at McGill University – one of the great teaching institutions in the world.
    Golly, I think I may still even have a freshman text-book by him, gathering dust somewhere in my attic.

    Anyhow, we high-school students may have been cowed by his profound intonations, but alas, were somewhat underwhelmed by his 19th century understandings of physics and of course, engineering.

    All I learned from this lecture was :
    Beware any predictions of a Professor Emeritus.

    • Dr. Sidethink Hp.D says:

      It wasn’t fair for you kids to be subjected to this..
      It’s too bad that very productive people somehow fade in their skill.
      Many “emeriti” don’t want to keep up with things and feel that the quality of their life is seven spades, doubled , (down five) at the Senior Center Duplicate Bridge Group .

      Sic transit gloria mundi

      ( Gloria got sick on the tramway last Monday)

      Dr. S

  6. Jimmy Snyder says:

    I was taken by the following statement.

    I have chosen 0.5c to minimize the relativistic mass increase of the spacecraft and to minimize travel time.

    I wonder if Professor Gainer would be willing to elaborate on this point since a speed of 0.5c does not minimize the relativistic mass increase (0.0c would do that), nor does it minimize travel time (1.0c would do that). I assume therefore, that he means to minimize some combination of the two, but what combination would that be?

  7. D.S. says:

    I want to make a point about the discussion on UFOs and whether alien spacecraft could be visiting us. Gainer assumes that a 200 year round-trip is too long for an alien crew, and Huston rightly criticizes the “round-trip” part of the assumption, but he neglects to question the assumption that an alien spacecraft must have a crew.

    Isn’t it more reasonable to assume that if alien spacecraft were visiting us, that they would most likely be automated probes? Such probes could last hundreds or thousands of years, and so an alien civilization would be able to launch probes over a much larger range then they could piloted craft intended for eventual return to the homeworld.

    For all we know, it might be possible that advanced technology allows for one original long-range probe to enter a star system and then construct an entire fleet of short-range probes that swarm the planets of interest – popping in and out of the aptmosphere for hundreds or even thousands of years themselves, as they study and catalog the development of life on that planet!

    If UFOs are actually extraterrestrial in origin, I would expect them to be very complicated machines and not piloted craft.

    • Dr Sidethink says:

      Close encounters of the FOURTH kind.
      (That’s when you ARE one of THEM and are verycareful not to be exposed!!!

    • Gary H says:

      D.S., you made my point as I was typing it. Most human space exploration (including at the moment on Mars) was and is being done by unmanned probes. Probes can tolerate G forces that would kill a human. They need carry no consumables other than fuel.

      That said, UFOs as understood by the mainstream are still extremely unlikely. Sagan’s dictim applies: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”.

  8. Gary Harris says:

    I was referred to the Skeptics for the purpose of applying to become a member or participant… Is that possible or more so, after viewing this website… it may not be required… as the website is very informative… what do you recommend?

    Gary A Harris, 2285 E Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91104

    • Dr Sidethink says:

      you are are at the right place.
      Also you are lucky enough to attend the stuff at Cal Tech.

      Skeptics are seldom organizsed into groups because nobody can prove they need to be.


  9. Austin says:

    to the question Peter Huston raised, ‘Why? Couldn’t it use solar sails catching photons and the gravitational forces of planets and other astronomical objects to help slow itself?’
    i wonder if that does not depend upon how much time and hence how early one would want to start decelerating. i totally agree that the author made a lot of assumptions, but atleast they are realistic. on the other hand Peter Huston is just speculating on the possibility. well if you want to go as per the speculations, then why even have spacecrafts? why not just materialize anywhere instantly using quantum uncertainty?
    this is pretty much the reasoning for interstellar space crafts as it is for Noah’s ark. in the end why not just say magic?

    • Bob Pease says:

      I think that would be a Sophomore High School problem.
      Using a calculus version of Newtons ‘Laws.
      My guess is, even ignoring relativistic stuff staying below around a max of 0.5 c,
      many many generations per light year .


      isn’t one of Asimov’s laws?

      “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic to a lesser

      advanced technology”

      The observation was also made that in Star Trek, teleporting, ( ” beam me up Scotty”)
      was the one thing that present technology has no idea of how it could be done
      except for wild speculations using pseudoscientific jive language.


  10. david honus says:

    I never said that Mr. Tesla invented ac electricty. I stated that he showed us the way. What I did not say was that Edison was pushing the DC idea as opposed to the AC idea. That was in the USA. I never say who discovered AC or DC. Have you ever heard of PIEZO electricty? (which occurs naturally just like lighting bolts) Who discovered those? Are they ac or dc ?

  11. LoriAnne Hancock says:

    LoriAnne Hancock When I perused this Fermi’s Paradox piece, there were a lot of formulas. I am not a scientist, but it triggered an important formula on the subject I have seen in a the compiled newsletters mentioned above. Gabriel Green’s Los Angeles Interplanetary Space Study Group. I went right to the book, asking for the formula page, and in a 1″ book, went to it the second try. So Here goes an excerpt from Part 4 of the Dick Miller Story. ….”The next message we received was perhaps the most unusual and most important. It was a technical and scientific formula and pertained to the process of levitation and teleportation, which are controlled entirely by an individual’s own mind. The date was October 7, 1954. Time 10:30 P.M. 11 meters — voice: “‘Brothers, the following is of great import. Solve for its knowledge. Gr = (2KR/TAj2. Grasp a magnetic moment as described here, a product of a magnetic field and the distance between its representative poles. R = Magnetic Momentum. A = Angular Momentum. Gr = Gravitational Constant. K = Velocity of Light. T = Correction factor of 0.250. Remember every electron is an electromagnet. In solving, the answer is not as important as the ability to grasp the relationship between the various factors. Continued…
    20 minutes ago · Like
    LoriAnne Hancock …”‘This formula has been submitted to a private research organization which we hope can provide us with the right answer. It is hereby offered to the public in the hope that someone will solve it and then present to mankind the answers to levitation and antigravity.'” – HOPE THIS HELPS! LA Hancock, transcriber

  12. ksb935 says:

    I’m all for interplanetary studies, as long as we solve world hunger and achieve world peace on this planet first. Well, maybe at least start to learn how to get along with each other without killing people. Will science help us to achieve these goals?

    • Austin says:

      sometimes i think that the causes that make us to explore and create are the same that are the reason for problems we create. i wonder if we become all peaceful and satisfied will we be excited about these kind of explorations and adventures. maybe our gift is out curse.

  13. Gabriel Garrigues says:

    Read the Old Testament. He stopped the sun moving ! Can you just imagine the consequences ! Let the SF writers go to the 17M of planets in a blink of their eyes. They can even go to the sun if they want!

  14. Ray Sutera says:

    Peter Huston is guilty of attempting “refutation by fantasy”. He invokes ideas he cannot show to be real and treats them as if they are. Let’s take note of the fact that there are no actual statements of fact in his response. You have to believe!

    Gainer, OTOH, takes on the burden of proving that someone else’s ideas are wrong instead of asking that the claimants prove them to be right. That, unfortunately, burdens the skeptic with having to prove a negative while allowing the claimants to get away with avoiding their logical responsibilities. And that makes the paranormal/pseudoscience world so easy for lazy people to live in.

    • Austin says:

      yes, exactly. this is the same thing i commented on. this is the same thing by which people prove telekinesis and telepathy and all other woo woo. and then there is Noah’s ark.

  15. Andy Odell says:

    I have given talks like Gainor’s several times, and been confronted with people like Huston. The one thing the latter invariably have in common, invoking ‘physics FAR BEYOND what we know today’ is that they know NOTHING about physics. The fact is that the entire first year of physics has not changed its science content in almost two centuries. The illustrations and explanations have changed, but the physics has not. And it is this physics Gainor and I use in our analysis. Anything to be added to physics will not alter this one iota.

    The second thing I have to say is that UFO’s are a lot like god. They can do anything. They aren’t bound to any laws of physics, because they have physics far beyond anything we know. But HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT? When invoking god, it is to advantage to have miracles – those require god be involved. But that alone makes it not science.

    And lastly, one always has to look for the simpler explanation. Gainor gives two examples where he, a trained physicist and astronomer, was mistaken about things he saw in the sky, but was able to get more details and figure out what was going on. But, I would ask, which is simpler, “they know physics far beyond anything we dream of”, or “the observer is just mistaken” ? Which is more likely? Both explain the sitings. but the latter doesn’t invoke anything whatsoever beyond what we already know about – people are OFTEN mistaken.

  16. Christoph Beckert says:

    Mh, I guess I see the point in both the essays. But here´s a point that bothers me for the whole last 2 hours I spent thinking about UFO. If we have to accept that they have at least to “bend” our physical knowledge so far to even get here – why don´t we question them in the frame of physical facts we understand pretty good, aerodynamics for example. I read so much about UFO and how fast they can move, but no report ever mentioned a sonic boom, i mean – okay, maybe they can travel with lightspead or whatever, but simple air can be a pretty bitch if you try to move very fast in it. Okay maybe X-15, SR-71, and X-51 are fast too and represent state of the art technology but even they produce a sonic boom, right? Did i miss something here? So, to think ET can bend some rules, we dont understand yet, to even come here, does´nt mean he can do it to facts we pretty much understand, or does it? (Sorry, my english is quite bad – not to bad for a german though :-) )

  17. G.J.Forrest says:

    There’s not a lot of hard numbers regarding the supposed physics of UFO craft…

    1. Alleged accelleration capabilities of UFO’s based on radar encounters have exceeded 46g or 460m/s/s. If they are robotic craft, that’s better than anything human made.(or if E.T has g-suits that good then it would make solar & interstellar travel more efficient).
    2. Speeds have been alleged in excess of Mach 4 within atmosphere, also from UFO cases with radar data/pilot encounters. As to lack of sonic booms, this has often been reported but rarely or never measured. As so-called real scientists are not going into the field to even attempt to measure anything with proper equipment then we will never know I guess.

    If we are indeed being visited by E.T, then why assume they are making round trips between stars. They could have just come once with a colony ship and established a base within our Solar System. We don’t have the means to do a comprehensively search to find one, so how do we know for sure that there isn’t one?

    Also there is the possibility of purely robotic craft that carries a core of Genetic & Technical info as data only with a small tech package to utilise materials and data at the destination, transit time is then not a major concern. Genetic info can be transmitted as signals back between Colony & Source once the robotic colony is established. Such a craft could use significantly less energy than the author has assumed.

    The problem with this topic is that there are too many active discreditors (I don’t believe it, therefore it can’t be) or promoters (I believe, therefore it is) for any truly neutral rational study of it to be made! Ridicule was never supposed to be part of the Scientific method, and Human progress will forever be inhibited by a lack of imagination & vision.

  18. Greg Garrison says:

    I thought science was about finding things out that were outside of our known limits of understanding,I really feel sorry for those men and women who throw in the towell,when the think the water might be just a little to deep,there left standing on the shore with the rest of the flat earthers,and there biggest complaint is the waters out there are deep and scarey to scarey to contemplate, so don’t bother me with things that are not in my immediate grasp,we cant move ahead unless were ready to think outside the box,there is no such thing as sacred ground in science,only theory and that’s always subject to change,we once thought we were the center of the universe,It was common knowledge,and the sun revolved around the earth,learn to swim or you are going to sink into oblivion……

Patreon: a new way to support the things skeptic creates

Get eSkeptic

Science in your inbox every Wednesday!

eSkeptic delivers great articles, videos, podcasts, reviews, event announcements, and more to your inbox once a week.

Sign me up!

Donate to Skeptic

Please support the work of the Skeptics Society. Make the world a more rational place and help us defend the role of science in society.

Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

FREE PDF Download

The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

Copyright © 1992–2018. All rights reserved. The Skeptics Society | P.O. Box 338 | Altadena, CA, 91001 | 1-626-794-3119. Privacy Policy.