Sunday, September 11, 2016

In Which I Go Full Tinfoil Hat on the SpaceX Explosion

The SpaceX explosion last week was a big bummer.  But it turns out that it's merely the leading edge of The Alien Invasion.

Well, probably not.  But something very weird is going on.  Here's a GIF I built (lovingly from screen shots) of the video that everybody's now seen:

See the little speck coming in from the right?  If you go to the video (watch it in HD to do this right) and step through at full screen (which it turns out you can do in YouTube by pausing, then hitting '.' to go forward and ',' to go back--who knew?), it looks like a bird.  It even kinda flaps.  But there's something strange about this "bird":

It's moving at about mach 1.

Now, if you watch the video, there are all kinds of birds and bugs flying around between the camera and the rocket.  And of course, the closer those critters are to the camera, the faster their apparent angular velocity, so we shouldn't get too worried about them.

Except this "bird" seems to go behind the northeast lightning tower.  That means that it's actually behind the vehicle, about 2.7 miles away, not gamboling carefree a few yards in front of the camera.  There's exactly one frame where the "bird" is in the line-of-sight of one of the towers.  It's one of the last frames in the GIF, in the leftmost tower.  Here's a blowup of it:

This isn't quite definitive, but it sure looks like it's behind to me.  So let's run with it:

The slowest that an object in the field of view can be going is when it's moving perpendicularly to the line of sight.  To work that out, I used Google Maps/Earth to match the view of SLC-40 we see in the video.  That gives us a rough bearing:  west-southwest.

To get it more accurate, we can time the gap between when we see the first explosion on the video and when we hear it on the audio.  It comes out to 12.5 seconds.  Assuming that it was 80° F at test time (the high was 88 the low was 74, and it was a morning test), the speed of sound would have been 1139 ft/sec.  That makes the distance from the vehicle to the camera (or at least to the microphone) about 2.7 miles.

Turns out that there's yard with a bunch of junk in it 2.7 miles away from the pad to the WSW.  Here it is:

So now we have a pretty good bearing.

Note that, in the GIF, the flying object is right over a hemispherical pressure tank to the right of the image, and it takes exactly 12 video frames, each @ 33.3 ms, to get to the point where it's behind the tower.  That's almost exactly 400 ms of time.

If you draw a line that's perpendicular to the line of sight behind these two objects, you get a distance of about 470 feet:

470 ft in 400 ms gives you a speed of 1175 ft/sec.  Remember the speed of sound was 1139 ft/sec?  That "bird" is moving at just a tad over mach 1.

Birds don't do that.

This is all nuts, obviously.  Even if the... I guess we'd better call it the "flying object", and at this point we can't exactly call it identified...  really is moving at mach 1, it never touches the vehicle, so it would have to:
  1. Somehow release something to bomb the rocket.  This is probably at the hairy edge of possible with technology that's sorta-kinda almost there.  You could probably trash the thing pretty well with a decent-sized ball bearing at that speed.  Or...
  2. Use some kind of death ray as it flew past.  But this simply doesn't exist in a bird-sized form factor.  I'm not sayin' it's aliens (but it's aliens...).
Massive holes in both of these:  First, when you drop things, they can't suddenly leap ahead of you, so our ball bearing has to have some form of propulsion.  (Aliens!!!!)  And second, why would you go to all this trouble when it would be easier to plant somebody in the scrub a mile or so away with a .50 caliber sniper rifle?  (Unless they were aliens...)  And of course there ain't no stinkin' death rays (except the ones created by aliens...).

Finally, if we've got a trans-sonic UFO, where's the sonic boom?  Well, there might be an answer to that one.  If you listen to the video with headphones, starting at about 1:15, we can hear the following events (the ranges are frame numbers from that spot):

000-000 Distant thump, left channel
030-030 Distant thump, right channel
044-050 Metal-on-metal squeal
096-103 Metallic clank
125-125 Click
174-175 Hiss from some sort of pressure release
251-251 First explosion heard

Remember, this is all happening 2.7 miles away on a humid Florida morning, which means that any high end sound will have gone bye-bye long before it reaches the mic.  So the metal-on-metal squeal, the clank, the click, and the hiss are probably from some source much nearer to the mic.  But the distant thumps sound an awful lot like sonic booms.  Unfortunately, you'd expect to hear them first to the right, then the left, instead of the way they are on the video.  But it's not inconceivable that somebody plugged their boom mic in backwards and didn't notice.  That would give a pretty reasonable accounting of the object from a sonic perspective.

And, since the tinfoil hat fits very snugly this evening, two more things:
  1. If you watch the "bird's" "wing" two frames after the explosion, it's illuminated by the flash.  That's a lot more likely to happen if the wing is behind the vehicle and reflecting it back toward the camera.  (On the other hand, if it's a bug instead of a bird and very close, light might shine through a transparent wing.  Doesn't look like a bug, though.)
  2. What's Elon Musk doing asking for photos and videos from the public?  They've got that pad blanketed with high-speed cameras.  It doesn't make sense unless SpaceX thinks that the cause might be external to the pad (or maybe external to this world...).
That's all I've got.  If it turns out that there's some artifact that makes the bird/bug/UFO actually in front of the tower, then we're done.  But the evidence for it being behind the tower is pretty compelling.

So yeah:  It's aliens.  They want to scuttle our space program, and nobody told them, "Klaatu berada nikto".

Update, in the cold light of day:  It's a bug. It's a particularly determined and disciplined bug that flies in an almost-straight line, but it's a bug nonetheless.  It has legs hanging down.  It has transparent wings, visible in more than one frame.  It doesn't quite fly in a straight line, or at the same speed.

As for it going behind the tower, it looks like it's an artifact of the video encoding.  During the early phases of the explosion, another bug, moving lower left to upper right, crosses the southwest tower after being obviously in front of the explosion (you can see it silhouetted against the fireball), and it shows the same sort of artifact, where the encoder prioritizes the in-focus static structure and simply refuses to render the moving stuff in front of it:

Oh, one other thing:  The GIF was made from a 1080p60 video, so each frame is only 16.67 ms.  So the object would moving at mach 2, not mach 1.

And it did occur to me that one of the reasons that Elon would want other media is because if you want to prove conclusively that it's a bug, all you need is a shot from any other angle--which won't have the bug--and you're done.

So:  not aliens.  But of course that's exactly what they want us to think...

Yet Another Update, 9/18/16:  I've clearly been retired from the MPEG business for too long, because there's an obvious explanation for the video artifact.

MPEG (aka H.264) encodes three different kinds of video frames.  I-frames occur periodically and encode the entire picture, but in between I-frames (which have to be very large), are P- and B-frames, which encode changes from the picture in the I-frame (P-frames encode changes after an I-frame, and B-frames encode changes that occurred before the next I-frame.)

If you've got a bug flying in front of the tower, the tower is obviously not moving, so the pixels covering the tower (which are encoded in a 16x16 pixel square called a macroblock), would only be encoded in a subsequent P-frame if something substantially different covered up part of the picture.

Encoders are all a little bit different, but a huge amount of engineering time and effort has been spent on deciding when the human eye would detect that something about the picture has changed, and then only generating the relevant macroblocks in the P-frame if that threshold was exceeded.  Since the part of the bug that covered up the tower is pretty much the same color and greyscale as the tower itself, the encoder simply didn't generate the macroblock.  On the other hand, the part of the bug that's silhouetted against the sky is an obvious change, so the encoder updated that macroblock.

Result:  only the part of the bug against the sky was encoded, making it look like the rest of the object is behind the tower.

Tinfoil hat completely removed and tossed in the garbage.

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