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UFO: A close encounter of the flashing light kind

There has not been much interest in UFOs lately – at least not around here. There seemed to be a lot more interest back in the ‘70s. Our school book club even had an Usborne book on UFOs for sale that I loved. There was also a TV series called Project UFO which was based on the Air Force Project Blue Book that investigated UFO reports between 1947 and 1969. My friend and I tried taking our own fake UFO photographs – not to fool people, but just for fun. All the best photos in books were fuzzy and out of focus and that was something we could duplicate.

Not a UFO hovering over nearby houses

Not a UFO. It’s just a part of an egg cooker stuck to a window. The fuzzy effects are not due to instagram. This was how all my photos turned out.

A close encounter

In the late ‘70s when I was a teenager I was a passenger in the back of our family car returning home one Sunday night along the New England Highway with my parents. Even though the road is a highway it is not a particular busy one and there were just the usual few cars about that night. It was a dark night and there was a lot of cloud about. There were a few cars in front of us travelling behind a truck that was bout 500m in front of us and a few more cars behind us. We noticed a bright blue flashing light coming towards us and it seemed to hover just above the truck. The truck and all the cars behind pulled off the side of the road. We continued up to it and pulled in behind. Everyone stayed in their cars and watched the flashing light move up into the clouds. The flashing lit up the clouds and then it travelled east out of sight. Everyone started their cars and drove off.

A view along the highway where the incident occured

The stretch of road where the incident occurred. The group of trees on the right mark the entrance to the CSIRO government research centre.

I don’t claim it was a UFO. It could have been a plane as there is an airport about 10km further ahead. It was odd that the only light was white. Normally planes have red and green lights as well. Also we did not hear a noise. All aircraft using that airport in those days were propeller aircraft and normally the drone of an engine could be heard. Nearby is a CSIRO government research facility, but as they were only doing research on farming and land care I doubt if it was involved.

What impresses me most now is that a line of cars that all stopped to watch it, which indicates that it must have been unusual enough for the drivers to stop.

I have difficulty believing UFOs exist, but I do love the idea that they could; that there is another life form that drops in every now and then to see what we are up to.

A detector

I remained interested in UFOs and one day I found a magazine in our school library that contained plans to build a UFO detector, called the “Official UFO Model BJ UFO Detector”. The plans were fascinating. It seems the detector was based on the premise that UFOs create magnetic interference. Apparently many people that have witnessed UFO sightings have noticed compasses spinning and that sort of thing. I never built it as it was beyond my abilities and used components that were not easy to source in Australia.

Years later I built a detector based on a compass to give a warning when the compass needle moved. I wasn’t really expecting to detect a UFO, rather I was interested to see if a compass needle ever deviates and what may cause it. So far I have not detected anything unusual. That project will be the subject of a later post.

Fun fixing my own TV

I recently thought about some of the things I did when I was young and wondered how I have not received permanent injuries from some of the things I did. Perhaps I have. It’s not that I was particularly wild, but as I child I didn’t take too much notice of safety – I guess I thought I was indestructible.

I planned to write about some of the dangerous things I did but when I started putting them all together I risked looking like a complete twit if put it in all one article, so I’ve decided to just mention one incident. Maybe I’ll mention some others later.

When I was in High School I loved to fiddle with electronics. I wanted a TV in my bedroom but I certainly couldn’t afford a new one. Colour TVs had only been available in Australia for six or seven years so old colour ones were not easily available either. My Mum managed to get a broken black and white valve set (or tubes as that is what I believe they are called in some parts) and a few old chassis. The TV was in a large wooden cabinet with the speaker at the bottom a bit like this one. It didn’t need a stand – it was big, or at least the box was. The screen wasn’t particularly big.

I regularly read “The Serviceman” articles in electronics magazines. This probably sounds quite dull, but you may be quite surprised if you read them. Like all good writing, pleasure gained is more to do with the writing style than the subject and these articles where often quite funny detailing interesting customer interactions as well as how tricky technical problems were solved.

Using information I learned from these I began swapping components from the broken set with bits in the other chassis I had from areas of the TV where I suspected the problem was. Basically just using trial and error although one great feature that it had like many electrical things of that time was  a schematic diagram stuck on the inside of the cabinet which helped. I eventually suspected the high voltage flyback transformer that ran the picture tube. These things apparently put out around 15 000 to 20 000 volts and need lots of care when they are running. I found a similar one in a chassis and swapped it. The TV I was fixing had a metal guard covering the transformer and a valve that a big metal connector on top with a wire that ran to the transformer. I couldn’t get the top of the guard back on, so I just left it off – after all most of the other chassis I had didn’t even have one. Switching the TV on brought it to life. Placing the tip of a screwdriver near the connector on the valve that ran to the transformer would produce a nice constant spark about 1cm long. I was pretty pleased with myself, even though I had used trial an error more than proper diagnosis. The first lesson I learned is fixing things is very rewarding.

I used the TV for quite a while and I even remember watching the Poseidon Adventure on it. One day I decided to adjust the horizontal hold while I had the back off the set. I reached around the back to adjust the knob while watching the screen to see what difference I was making. It was then I touched the metal connector on top of the valve. I got one hell of a whack. In some things I’ve read they have said that these are not that dangerous because even though it is high voltage the current is low and someone even said that when he did it he didn’t even notice except for the burning smell. That was not my experience – I felt pain and was left with tingling in my arm for the next half an hour. The second lesson I learned was respect electricity, because it won’t respect you.

It was about that time that we got a special protection gadget wired into our fuse box.

If you want to see what these transformers can do just go to YouTube and do a search for flyback transformer.

Watching the International Space Station: Finally a photo

A few weeks ago I wrote about seeing the International Space Station pass overhead and it included my failure to successfully take a photograph of it. Well, since then I have played with the settings on my camera and studied it almost to the point of actually getting the manual out. I have made a few more attempts to take some photos and this time I removed the lens cap. My Pentax Finepix s5600 camera is getting old. A newer fancier camera should be able to do a better job of this. I did manage to force it to take 15 second exposures with the aperture opened right up which at least lit the sky up well.

The International Space Station in the night sky

The streak across the sky is the ISS. The ISS didn’t appear as a streak in the sky, that is simply how the camera records it with a time exposure. The length of the streak indicates how far the ISS travelled in 15 seconds. What’s interesting in this photo is that the ISS was over southern Victoria when this photo was taken, which is about 1000 km (600 miles) away. The ISS would have been 400 km above Earth, so that makes it… allowing for the curvature of the Earth… umm, a long way away.

The ISS may not look that bright compared to the stars, but the stars have a full 15 second exposure while they are in one spot, while the ISS was moving resulting in its 15 seconds spread across that streak. It was actually brighter than all the stars in the photo.

The four stars at the tips of the Southern Cross can be seen above the tree.

Here’s another shot on a different night.

The International Space Station in the night sky

In this shot the ISS was travelling west towards the left side of the photo. The trail gets fainter towards the left as it is moves into the Earth’s shadow.

If you haven’t seen the ISS yet, jump over to Heavens Above, enter your location, check out the next pass in your area, go out to your backyard and become a Satellite Spotter it’s really cool.