UFO over Mauna Kea? Not!

There is a battery of webcams atop Mauna Kea, a few of which feature good sensitivity and are useful after dark. The telescope operators depend on these cameras to evaluate conditions around the telescopes during observation. From the warm control rooms, they can see clouds overhead, or even fog blowing over the summit.

The imagery from the Mauna Kea cameras is publicly available, a very useful feature to those of us who live and work around the mountain. But there are others use this video, looking for things that those who install and operate the cameras did not intend.

A video showed up recently, purported to show a UFO maneuvering over Mauna Kea. The camera is again the CFHT Cloudcam, a very nice camera installed to give CFHT operators a good look at approaching weather. The high quality images of this camera have occasionally shown odd events in the sky. Back in June the camera recorded a strange expanding halo of light that was eventually linked to the launch of a Minuteman Missile from Vandenburg AFB.

Purported UFO video from the CFHT Cloudcam
I have embedded the latest video to the right…

OK, just a dot of light that appears then fades, not very impressive. Particularly interesting is that the dot of light does not move with respect to the camera. To me this suggests some nearby fixed source of light that entered the camera from another angle. Another reasonable possibility is a geostationary satellite glinting in the sun. Making this out to be a UFO is a stretch by any measure.

A quick internet search shows that this sort of video is everywhere. Much of the imagery the observatories and space agencies make publicly available is monitored by amateur UFO hunters. They comb though the imagery looking for any unexplained bit of light, anything odd is seized upon and posted to the forums to be shared.

The UFO craze is something that will just not go away. The UFO community thrives on the internet with forums and chat rooms where information and images are exchanged. Where mutual beliefs are likewise exchanged and reinforced beyond any rational basis. This type of communal belief system is an interesting exercise in human psychology, one with no lack of examples available.

When faced with any fantastic claim the response is simple and consistent… Show us the evidence! I am sorry, a dot of light in a video is just not persuasive. I regularly get odd bits of stray light in my nighttime photography. I usually know what they are, camera artifacts, stray reflections or man-made sources impinging on the frame. With a lifetime of experience in cameras I understand them, they are a constant pain to process out of my imagery.

If UFO’s were regularly visiting, there should be better video emerging as nearly everyone has a camera handy now, cameras of ever better capability. There are so many cameras and other instruments trained on the sky… Professional telescopes, ever increasing numbers of amateur observatories with ever improved capability. Security cameras have proliferated enormously and cameras are now standard equipment on many police cruisers, there are cameras simply everywhere. When a sky event does occur, such as a bright meteoric fireball, it is not long before any number of videos emerge of the event.

People want desperately to believe. When they want to believe, any unexplained phenomena they witness becomes evidence for that belief. When evaluating a claim from someone with that sort of entrenched belief you must be skeptical… An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence.

Something better than a blob of light… Please?

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

3 thoughts on “UFO over Mauna Kea? Not!”

  1. I think a geosynchronous satellite should have an angular velocity of about 0.25 arc degrees/minute relative to the background stars, which should be measurable from the video. Also, they should be located at the celestial equator.

    I’d have to do some careful astrometry off of the video to determine this relative angular velocity, but it does look like the object is in the constellation of Pisces, through which the celestial equator passes.

    Thanks for posting this!

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