Automated sky tracking to catch UFOs

If you were to try to take a picture of a UFO, how would you do it? Sit by the side of a road in Nevada near Area 51? Pie tin on a string? A French team of UFO enthusiasts put together an automated UFO detection device (Google translate) out of a disco light and CCTV camera so long nights of watching the skies can be automated.

The build uses a disco light with an altitude and azimuth mount to constantly scan the skies on the lookout for strange, unexplained lights. Attached to this swiveling mount is a camcorder and a CCTV camera that streams video to the command and control laptops for image analysis.

In addition to object tracking, there’s also a diffraction grating in front of the CCTV camera. The team behind this project previously used this for some very low tech spectroscopy (translation) to identify emission lines in a light source. Light that have a signature including Oxygen and Nitrogen will probably be ionized air, while less common elements may be the signature of “advanced propulsion.”

While this build is going to detect a lot of satellites and meteors, there’s a definite possibility of capturing an unexplained phenomenon on video.

Comments

  1. Dowser says:

    Sure, it wouldn’t be as much of a hack, but isn’t it easier and possibly cheaper to just use a bunch of cameras a’la google streetview and record the entire sky?
    That way you can be sure to record everything and not miss the tracking of a interesting object.
    If you record everything then you just need to do the object detection in software afterwards and can even run it again if you lost the object.

    • oodain says:

      i think that depends on desired resolution as well as what price they got the light stand for,

      as for the project itself, cool.
      i like the sea of data aproach to UFO detection as well as the makeshift spectroscopy, seems as if they have every intention of making serious observations, whatever they may lead to.

  2. Impulse says:

    That is no disco light. They took the the pan,tilt arm section of a Moving Head instrument. From the looks of the pictures I would have to say its either a Chauvet or Elation lighting instrument.
    Using that as a base gives them dmx control over the movement. This has many benifits over other control setups. First, dmx is standard and easy to control. Automation is easy with being computer controlled. And last dmx has very fine control possiblities when it comes to movement of heads.

    • Techartisan says:

      Semantics.
      Congratulations on your knowledge of stage lighting…but guess what…Most people experience this sort of lighting at a nightclub…also known as a discotheque…or disco. So guess what…
      Its a disco light.

      • Khanzerbero says:

        Here, some of us are the kind of people who are amazed by the re-purposing of technology from one application to another, sort of what like the hack part of the title stands for, to me and some of us like me DMX term conveys much more meaning than simply disco light, again some peoples interes is in the inside technology rather than te original purpoise of a gadget. As a sidenote semantics are everything we have.

  3. Roger Parkinson says:

    Reminds me of a time in the ’60s I suspended a magnet on a wire and hung it through a wire loop with a relay that would trip a bell alarm. It was a magnetic field detector. It sat under my bed and did nothing except one day it went off. I ran outside so see the UFO but there wasn’t anything to see. Still don’t know what set it off. My parents didn’t like the noise and it was dismantled soon afterwards.

  4. Mathieu.A says:

    Hello everybody,

    Today, we have translated this page in english :
    http://www.ufo-science.com/wpf/?p=4446&lang=en

    Tanks for reading us

  5. Vonskippy says:

    Neat idea.

    Of course it breaks rule #1 of filming UFO’s – which is all UFO footage must be black & white, grainy, out of focus, mostly out of frame, poorly lit, and bouncing around like a drunken monkey on a trampoline.

    Hopefully they won’t get kicked out of the UFO Hunters Club for using equipment that would provide clear film.

    • sam says:

      It is the same with big foot. Only ancient video cameras with a malfunctioning auto-focus, time-date stamp and low-battery icon monopolizing the frame and of course it is mandatory to have the most tantalizing bits of video get scramble every time the camera get jarred.

  6. UFOligist says:

    HOWTO- Figure out if an object is being “piloted”.

    If it suddenly diverts in any direction from its original axis without any natural inertial cause other then propulsion/controls.

    Usually, if it moves in ANY other direction but a relatively straight path then, it’s probably piloted.

  7. trappedonmars says:

    Did anyone else think of Robinson Crusoe on Mars when they saw this?

    He had a device that scanned the sky, apparently optically. Loved that movie as a kid.

  8. Brian Neeley says:

    Excellent! I would need another one, two GPSs, and some space between them. Of course, both cameras would be synced to the same date-time stamp (pulled from the GPS units, probably). I have seen video footage of UFOs, supposedly above some valley, where many people would record them for several nights in a row. If you could add crosshairs to both cameras (for more precise measurement), you could generate a fairly precise, three dimensional route of the object. This would give you hight, speed, direction, etc. Ideally, the two cameras would be seperated from each other by roughly 90 degrees. This could even help to figure out why they move the ways they do.

    Imagine if we found that these flying objects were only flying 1000 feet above the ground back and forth from one pizza shop to another. I would LOVE to know where they spent most of their time hovering. I wouldn’t know how far they had travelled, but I would have to assume it’s GOOD PIZZA.

  9. Cyberteque says:

    My first thought was this would be good for ISS passes.

  10. Reggie says:

    I like the idea of ufo catcher 2, with a real telescope on it but it seems that you need something relatively wide-field to spot the ufo and track it and a 2nd camera and telescope to get a decent shot of it.

    There is a technique called ‘autoguiding’ in astrophotography, it uses a digital camera (a bit like a webcam only much better) and a telescope to lock on to a guide star, there is a 2nd telescope and camera that takes the shot of the actual intended target.

    You could essentially use similar software to keep the unidentified object central to the field of view of the ‘guider’ and if you have your ‘close up’ telescope co-aligned (so the guider and the close up scope are exactly aligned with each other) you *know* that if you move your motors on the mount so that the object is central in the guider, it will also be dead centre in your closeup scope.

    Having said all that, I don’t think there’s much chance of spotting a ufo (the sky is really big, lots of other semantics) but this would be a good way to do it.

    You’d get a wider shot of the object and a decent closeup, your only real issue is focusing, going to need to use a stepper motor and software on the telescope :)

    • JCD says:

      Hi,
      may be not translated in the original post, but we use another camera to scan all sky : an allsky cam , with a fishyey. We developp a software that guide the moving part.

  11. gnomad says:

    Way to go, History and Discovery channels.

  12. conundrum says:

    Also would work for catching the elusive ball lightning on film.

    Kudos to the OP, this is actually a handy project and has many scientific uses such as detecting planet transits.

  13. echodelta says:

    Could have used it when one went from Kokomo to Lafayette a couple of years ago. Probably right over my house. Meteor cameras usually are a dome mirror and cam above.

  14. Malikaii says:

    That setup is awesome. It’s a great way to reuse that pan/tilt mechanism (inspires ideas for a more accurate automated turret).

    Also:
    Why is it always assumed that the extraterrestrials will be using some sort of “advance propulsion”? True, those lights in the sky couldn’t move like that with technologies we have today (other than quadcopter style propulsion minus inertia), but the reality is that the laws of physics apply through out the universe, no matter who you are. They could be using a less advanced propulsion system than we have, but perfected cryosleep to just wait out the trip.

    • Blue Footed Booby says:

      Or they could do it Mass Effect style and use relatively mundane propulsion(at least in terms of physics), with whacky exotic tech to counteract the relativistic effects that prevent faster-than-light travel.

      Or they could use whacky exotic tech for their starship and something more familiar for atmospheric excursions.

      Man, science fiction is fun. Here’s to hoping all that speculation comes in handy some day.

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