It Came Out of the Sky (and into the Ottawa River)
One of my favourite rock bands of the 60s/70s is Creedance Clearwater Revival, and one of my favourite songs of theirs is ‘It Came Out of the Sky‘. In that song, they sing about a fictional case where a mysterious object crashes down from the sky, and various different parties come out to take advantage of the situation including politicians, the media, and religious leaders. No one knew what the object was, which left room for people to impress upon it their desires or fears. Was it the Lord? Was it Martian? Was it swamp gas? Or even a Communist plot? The song never says.
This past Monday, multiple eye witnesses reporting seeing a bright object hit the Ottawa River with a loud ‘BOOM’.
The Ottawa Sun reports:
“We heard a very loud sound, the first time I heard something that loud,” said Lola Saadi, who lives in Parkway Towers not far from the river edge.
“I too heard a very loud bang preceded by a brief whistling noise which made me think, at first, that it was fireworks,” said Jeffrey Vachon, who lives near the river in Aylmer. “However, I strongly suspect that what occurred was not a plane crash but rather a meteroite hitting somewhere near the Deschenes Rapids/Ottawa River area.”
What could it be? Was it a plane crash? A meteorite? A firecracker? Or something more ‘foreign’ in nature?
So far, all we know of what is being referred to as the “Ottawa River Incident” is that some ‘thing’ exploded over the Ottawa River within the city of Ottawa near the Deschenes Rapids. Witnesses reportedly heard a loud sound and some other even saw a light and some kind of explosion.
When I heard about this, I couldn’t help but wonder if UFO believers (people who believe that many UFOs are alien spacecraft) would jump on the mystery surrounding this. All I could find so far is a non-commital suggestion on a popular Canadian paranormal message board. I can only guess why UFO believers haven’t run with the story yet. It may be as simple as the story is still too fresh, with elements of the story changing too quickly. It may be possible that they don’t think that an exploding alien craft over the Ottawa river fits with their vision of how UFOs behave (with Roswell as an exception). Or maybe they’re smart enough to know that if an alien craft crashed into the Ottawa River, there would be remains. In other words, unlike typical UFO sightings which cannot be investigated beyond collecting anecdotes, this theory could be investigated by looking for debris. This has of course been done by the authorities worried that maybe a plane had crashed, with nothing found. I suspect though, that as the media attention around this dies down, some UFO believers may begin to take advantage and claim there was an actual crash, and that the authorities were not just looking for downed aircraft, but were in fact the ‘clean up crew’. When someone starts to buy into the idea that aliens are here on Earth, watching us, they will need to eventually buy into the ‘Men in Black’ conspiracy theories to explain why there is still no good evidence for their beliefs. The “mysterious and nefarious” government is always available as an explanation for why evidence that should exist to explain a theory remains elusive.
I apologize for putting words into other people’s mouths. I hope I am wrong and that UFO believers will join with us skeptics in recognizing that just because a phenomenon is unexplained it does not mean that it is paranormal or alien, but after 60 or so years of this exact scenario playing out over and over again I can’t help but feel a bit jaded.
Maybe I should be more optimistic, maybe it is still early enough that we can help stem any kind of unwarranted UFO speculation.
Let’s brainstorm some possible explanations for this incident and figure out ways to test these theories.
- Human aircraft crash: This would be the most plausible explanation as small civilian aircraft crashing within city limits is all too common. This has been investigated though, and there was no evidence of a plane crash. If a plane had crashed, there should be plenty of evidence such as wreckage and none was found.
- Meteorite: Millions of meteorites fall to earth every year. Most will hit unpopulated areas because most of the Earth’s surface is unpopulated and meteors fall in a random distribution across the surface. But… as unlikely as it is for a given meteor to hit a populated area, it is bound to happen at some point considering the number that fall every year, so why not now and in Ottawa? Unfortunately, I’m not an astronomer and don’t know if the witness reports (which is all we have) match up with how a meteorite impact would appear. I’ve emailed one and am awaiting a response, will post it at the end of the article if I get it.
- Fireworks: Some have suggested that the impact may have sounded like a firecracker, with a whistling noise preceding the bang. Some have suggested that maybe some kids were firing left over fireworks from Canada Day at the river.
There may be other possibilities not yet thought up. It is always interesting when UFO sightings are discovered to have a cause that no one had thought up. Hopefully more evidence will come to light to help us figure it out. In the meantime we can only speculate, and in my opinion, like every other unexplained phenomenon in the sky, alien visitors from another star system remains the least plausible explanation.
I encourage you to post your own thoughts on this incident in the forum thread linked to at the bottom of this article.
Update (August 3, 2009):
At a recent Ottawa Skeptics event I was chatting with someone about this ‘incident’. I described the eye witness reports of people hearing a loud ‘boom’ and the person immediately thought he had an explanation. He said that he has an ‘acquaintance’ that makes home made ‘bombs’ out of household cleaning products and sets them off near the Ottawa River, in the Lincoln Fields are, close to where the eye witnesses heard a boom.
These ‘bombs’ are just plastic bottles (can vary in size) filled with aluminium foil balls, Drano, and water. The chemical reaction of the aluminium and Drano causes rapid expansion to the point that the bottle can no longer maintain integrity, leading to a very loud boom. You can find many clips on youtube.
I have no idea if this is the cause of the reports. It is obviously very dangerous (don’t do it!) and probably illegal to make these, so I doubt any perpetrators would come forward. It’s just another possible rational explanation that doesn’t require aliens.
Update 2 (August 6, 2009):
I received a reply from Dr. Christopher Herd, associate professor at the Department Earth and Atmospheric Sciences University of Alberta:
It is unlikely that the object was a meteorite. I say this because the end
point of a meteorite fireball may be an explosion, but that typically occurs
at several kilometers (or tens of km) altitude, and not directly at or just
above the s
urface. There is an outside chance that the object was a
fast-traveling meteorite, such that it was still traveling quickly enough to
still be burning (they burn brightly due to friction with the atmosphere),
but that is very unlikely.