Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It's a bird, Sergey...

by ChessBase
8/1/2005 – In our recent "eulogy" to Nigel Short's Telegraph column we published some pictures from his Greek summer vacation with Sergey Karjakin. On one there was an object that Sergey's mother Tanya interpreted as a UFO. Now another strong grandmaster named Sergey sent us a UFO picture of his own. Here is our correspondence.

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Groningen. 16:50 28/07/2005

Dear Frederic!

I read the latest report on Nigel Short. What was of the special interest for me was the photo of the UFO. Almost three years ago (exactly on the 14th of September 2002) I managed to shoot a similar object in Ohrid (Macedonia). It is almost the same as on the photo of Tanya Karjakina.

The photo of me (Sergey Tiviakov) in Ohrid, Macedonia, in 2002

The unidentified object in original 1:1 resolution

And in higher magnification

I sent the photo to the leading Russian UFO expert Mikhail Gershtein, with whom I had became acquainted after my Asuri adventures in Egypt in April 2002 (the original links are no longer active). I got an answer from Gershtein:

Уважаемый Сергей! Прошу прощения за задержку с ответом. Точнее, я хотел бы дать ответ и спрашивал у всех, что бы это могло быть, но мы сошлись на том, что это:
1) объект материальный, находящийся довольно далеко,
2) определить его размеры и истинную форму по одному снимку невозможно.
Так что до сих пор этот объект остается НЛО в широком смысле - что-то летело, неопознано. Скорее всего птица (так кажется при увеличении фрагмента снимка), но не поручусь, что это так.
* Михаил Герштейн *

To translate his answer from Russian:

"Dear Sergey! Excuse me for the delay with the answer. To be more accurate, I wanted to give the answer and asked everyone, what the object could have been. We had agreed that:

1) this is a material object which is rather far away;
2) to determine its size and true shape only after one photo is impossible.

That's why so far this object remains a UFO in the wider meaning – something that was flying but cannot be identified. Probably a bird (it seems after zooming in a fragment of the photo), but cannot guarantee that it is so.

*Mikhail Gershtein*"

Well, he couldn't give a definite conclusion about the nature of the object. But, I would like to attract the attention to the fact that both of the objects (on my photo and on the photo by Karjakin) have the aura around them!

Tomorrow I am flying to the European team championship in Goteborg until August 8.

With best wishes.

Hamburg, 12:50 29/07/2005

Dear Sergey!

For some time now we have been discussing the possibility of getting together for a debate on the subject of your interests in extraordinary phenomenon – a debate that is bound to be quite belligerent. We have not managed so far, and for this reason I will reply to you on this page.

First of all let me comment on the shape of the objects that are fascinating you. The one on Tanya's picture definitely looks to me like a bird, perhaps not a gull, as I flippantly wrote, but a bird of prey. It could also be a plane from the NATO Base in near-by Kalamata.

Incidentally, Morten M. Hansen of Brondby, Denmark, seems to agree with you. He wrote us: "I'm surprised that your comment on the UFO is that you think it's a gull. I'm a very experienced birdwatcher and sometimes – when work and chess tournaments allows it – even work as a guide for groups of birdwatchers who travel to other countries in search of birds and animals. I can assure you that the object in question bears absolutely no resemblance to a gull, or even a raptor which, would have been more likely in this place! In fact it doesn't fit any bird species that I know of." Sorry, Morten, we beg to differ. 'Tis a bird, and nothing more.

Your own picture, Sergey, could also well be a bird too, smudged by the digital resolution of your camera. In the vast majority of all UFO pictures we are looking at smudged birds – the creatures are always flying through the sky.

Let us turn to the "aura" you noticed in both pictures. The Exif information in your picture tells us you took it on 2002:09:14 16:19:23 with a Canon PowerShot S40 with an exposureTime of 1/1002 seconds, an aperture of 4.51, a focal length of 7.09 mm and using a 3 bits/pixel compression. That can easily lead to smudging at this length, and more importantly to chromatic aberration and blooming.

Let me explain: chromatic aberration is an optical defect of a lens which causes different colours or wave lengths of light to be focused at different distances from the lens. It is seen as colour fringes or halos along the edges of highly contrasted objects.

Note that the halo or "aura" is visible not just around the flying object in your picture, but also along the stone ledge and indeed on the diffuse edges of the hills in the background. They are the result of CCD physics and sensitivity, produced by image contrast on the pixels of the chip, not by the objects being photographed.

I spent ten minutes searching for UFOs in my digital photo archives. Here are two quick examples, both from the first directory I examined with outdoor pictures:

There's a UFO image I found near the top of the Eiffel tower on a trip to Paris last year

The object at high magnification – a bird, probably a swallow, with a chromatic halo

Here's another identifiable flying object above the hazy skyline of Paris

A plane, we would say, once again with a clear digital halo around it

It may interest you to know, Sergey, that modern picture processing programs have chromatic aberration filters, which attempt to remove the effects of both traditional transverse chromatic aberration as well as the very common "purple fringing" which plagues most digital cameras.

A bird, perfectly identifiable, trying to catch a piece of bread I tossed in the air. This picture was taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 with a Leica lens. It shows almost no chromatic aberration or blooming at the original magnification (inset).

We now come to the reason for my "narrow-minded" rejection of the theory that some of the pictures are actually not birds, planes, blimps and other natural objects, but are indeed be space ships or other flying objects that originate from other star systems. As with everything that does not contain a blatant logical fallacy the possibility that they might be extraterrestrial objects cannot be refuted. But I reject the theory on the basis of probability.

Occam's razor tells us that the simplest explanation is the best, and all extraterrestrial explanations are horribly complex and improbable. In particular I have problems with the following assumptions:

  1. I cannot understand why interstellar travellers would cross such gigantic distances, which is very, very hard, and then try, more or less unsuccessfully, to hide themselves from the native species. What is the point?

  2. It is difficult to believe that alien spaceships, which have apparently been sighted in many millions of instances, and have indeed conducted countless abductions and the infamous probes, have never left the equivalent of a Hershey Bar wrapper for us to find and analyse.

  3. I find it disturbing that the creatures described in cases of abduction tend to have great similarity with the comic book and movie aliens of the corresponding countries and for relevant eras. It is interesting to compare the tall, slender aliens that visit Europe and Scandinavia with the reptilian beings that tend to land in Japan and the Far East; and how over the last fifty years or so the aliens people claim to have encountered mutated in synch with science fiction movies produced in Hollywood.

But the key problem for me, Sergey, is the following: if we assume there have been alien landings, the people who would best know about this are the military, scientists and politicians. Each would have a tremendous motivation to bring the information to public attention. Scientists have great trouble keeping anything a secret – they are dying to announce discoveries and publish papers. The military knows that the moment they can confirm the visit of some reclusive alien beings with space ships and, in all likelihood, powerful weapons, the military budget would immediately be doubled and tripled. They would be able to build all those "gorgeous toys" they have been longing to do all these years. And finally politicians know that this type of "crisis" inevitably leads to the widest possible support for those currently in power – people need their leaders to lead them out of danger.

In view of this I find it very hard to believe that all three groups would join forces, as never before in history, to suppress this vital information, and would do so for one reason that is inevitably cited: to avoid world panic. Have they really been covering up the evidence, which is apparently available in great profusion, so meticulously and to their own considerable disadvantage, mainly because they fear that people will be running out on the street screaming? Sorry, I don't buy it.

And while we are at it, let me get one more thing off my chest. For a while now you have been showing me "white energy balls" you have captured on your digital images. These artefacts, Sergey, are called "lens flares", and are to be observed especially when an optical system is pointed toward a source of light. It is caused by the scattering, reflection, and refraction of light within the lens system.

Lens flares, like the one in the picture I took inside the Arc de Triomphe museum last year, are extremely difficult to control when the light source is in front of but just outside the frame. They can be avoided by shading the lens, which is the purpose of lens hoods, which you can get as accessories for many digital cameras.

In the above picture you can see the mother of all lens flares: a photo of the NASA lunar lander. Besides the obvious flare around the Sun, the light artefacts at the bottom right are also caused by flare. Yes, even a top quality Zeiss lens on an Hasselblad can have flares! Source NASA.

A number of photo editing programs have functions that allow you to generate artificial lens flares, like the ones I inserted for you in the above picture of Elisabeth Pähtz from the 2002 Mainz Chess Classic.

Sergey, you are still invited to come to Hamburg for our long-planned discussion on the subject. I know that you intend to leave me converted and a true believer – you have told me to expect that to happen. But do bring more than lens flares and chromatic aberration when you eventually come to visit.

With best wishes.

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