The Science of Chasing UFOs: “Alien Cowboys”

Considering the amount of ground covered in each one-hour Chasing UFOs episode, it isn’t always possible to present the science of each investigation in a comprehensive way.  So, for those who wish to learn more about the science behind Chasing UFOs, read on!


Considering Cattle “Mutilations” and Classification Errors

Admittedly, my background isn’t in the biological sciences.  Bearing this in mind, my ability to directly contribute to the analysis of unusual animal deaths or carcasses is limited.  However, I did want to speak to a danger one must avoid when dealing with or analyzing a group of unknowns, such as a simultaneous investigation of unexplained sightings and animal deaths.  This is the idea of the classification error.

Briefly, because any two unknowns are similar to the human psyche in that they are both unexplained, it is tempting for people to link them together because they are each unexplained.  However, unless driven by any firm data to link the two phenomena, this is an enormous fallacy.

I believe it is very likely that something similar is afoot with respect to so-called cattle “mutilations,” first between individual unusual animal deaths with respect to each other (i.e., that all deaths are part of the same mysterious phenomenon as opposed to a mix of different but exotic terrestrial causes), and secondly between animal deaths and unidentified lights in the sky (i.e., that the lights are actually preceding or causing the deaths in some way).

Beware the temptation to connect question marks to create a narrative, particularly when some people find the narrative thrilling, such as that alien visitors have traveled to Earth and are carrying out clandestine biological experiments.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.


Confirmed track of a 150-lb mountain lion photographed as it stalked our research team during a 2009 hydrogeology survey in central Nevada. (Photograph by Ben McGee)


Soil Sampling and Situational Awareness

Our purpose for what eventually became the “mountain lion” nighttime recon sequence featured in the Colorado episode was to collect soil samples at the site of several alleged mutilations.  This was so that we might be able to test against claims that unusual concentrations of hematite, magnetite, or micrometeorites are frequently found at “mutilation” sites, with the subsequent claim that this somehow indicates the presence of extraterrestrial spacecraft – but we were addressing one claim at a time.

After collecting samples, we remained in the area after dark at the suggestion of a local rancher who said he had recently seen strange “lights in the sky.”  It is here, looping back to biology, that I wanted to address the mountain lion tracks we came upon in the dark and offer a warning: Don’t try this at home.

  • Note: While rare, feline claw marks can be present with tracks in deep mud, which was the case with the inner two digits of the track featured during this segment in thermal infrared.  More pertinent to accurate track identification is the fact that canine tracks include a “scoop” in the heel pad, whereas feline heel pads have multiple lobes.  The lack of an indented heel pad in this case rules out a canine track.

In the winter, when food supplies are scarce, predators such as mountain lions often retreat to the mountain block and remain next to freshwater supplies as hunting grounds to let the prey come to them.  As depicted above, I was stalked in such a scenario back in 2009, and as the night wore on, several distinct similarities in the geography and conditions had the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.  I was actually inspired to mention my mountain lion encounter from years earlier long before we encountered our own fresh mountain lion tracks.

Punch-line: If hiking, exploring, or investigating in the mountains during the winter season, develop and maintain an awareness of local wildlife and your geographic relationship to regional water supplies.  Situational awareness might just save your skin.

And for the record, while it appears based on editing that I claimed scanning for fresh cow carcasses was one of the “most damn practical uses” for a thermal infrared camera I’d ever seen, in actuality I had been talking about using the technology to keep an eye out for mountain lions in the dark.  –While I reject the former, I absolutely stand by the latter.


Fresh mountain lion track as observed in “thermal” infrared during the Colorado investigation. (Credit: NGT)


The Difference Between “Thermal” and “Infrared” Cameras

As a science stickler, I wanted to take a moment to discuss the difference (or lack thereof) between “infrared” and so-called “thermal” cameras.  The former we’re all familiar with as the green-tinted “nightvision” cameras that allow us to see in the dark using a wavelength of light just longer than we can see (near-infrared).  The latter is somewhat less familiar and shows the difference in hot and cold objects, a’ la the “alien vision” in the classic movie, Predator.

The reality?  They are both infrared cameras.  The only difference is sophistication.

All matter emits electromagnetic waves (light) with a wavelength that relates to its temperature (See: black-body radiation).  Ordinary objects in our temperature range emit in the infrared, but get something hot enough and it will even start glowing beyond infrared and breach the visible spectrum, (i.e., “red-hot”).  Therefore, what we all know as “heat” is fundamentally characterized by the emission of infrared (and other) light.

In this context, a consumer-grade infrared camera has a limited sensitivity, usually beneath what would be required to see the infrared glow of human skin.  It only detects faint ambient infrared light.  A thermal camera, on the other hand, has advanced sensitivity and on-board computing systems that give it the ability to assign any number of artificial colors to different wavelengths (temperatures) of infrared light.

Not only can these “thermal” infrared cameras detect the infrared glow we all emit, but it can even detect the range of temperatures across our bodies down to a very fine level of detail, tell the difference between separate gases in the air at different temperatures, the heat of plants compared to the ground, and so on.  This makes such technology useful for a range of industrial and commercial applications, from manufacturing to home insulation inspections.

So ultimately, just because manufacturers and operators make a distinction between “infrared” and “thermal” cameras, know that they all work by detecting the emission of infrared light.


Hypercube diagram drawn by Stan Romanek. (Credit: Stan Romanek/NGT)

Stan Romanek’s “Mysterious” Tesseract

During our conversations with Stan Romanek, he revealed that he claims to have had nuclear physics and astronomical information implanted in his mind against his will, presumably during his alleged extraterrestrial “abductions.”  Evidence of this “implantation” manifests, according to him, as nocturnal scribbling that he allegedly discovers upon waking, which he shared with us.

Because of my professional background in astronomy and radiological engineering, I recognized most of the equations, which were interesting in context but not anything that appeared to me to be “extraterrestrial” in nature.  An assumption deserving of critical analysis here is that information allegedly implanted by an alien race would be accomplished in Latin script and not in some sort of E.T. script, but that is another matter.

So, while nothing demonstrated to me that these drawings and equations had to be anything other than the construct of an imaginative mind with some time spent absorbing astronomy and physics textbooks, there was one diagram in particular that caught my attention.

The diagram in question, (as seen above), is a clear but novel use of what is known as a hypercube shadow, or tesseract, which I feel is worth explaining because the concept is a scientifically interesting one.  Simply, a tesseract is a mathematical construct – a tool – that is used to help us visualize in three dimensions a hypothetical “fourth-dimensional” cube.

Now, if even the words “fourth-dimensional cube” sound mind-bending, you are not alone.  In fact, the words must sound perplexing by definition, as no human being can directly imagine a true fourth-dimensional cube using our three-dimensional brains.  However, we can instead imagine a 4D cube’s shadow.  Just as the shadow of a three-dimensional wire cube can appear as a square-within-a-square connected at the corners, the shadow of a hypercube would appear as a cube-within-a-cube connected at the corners, which is what is drawn above.

In a rudimentary sense, then, it appears that a tesseract is being used in the above diagram to suggest higher-dimensional geometry with respect to our solar system and an alien solar system, which is depicted to exist about a star related to the constellation Orion, with some sort of “wormhole,” conduit, or pathway drawn in-between.

I haven’t ever seen a hypercube used in such a way before, which on its face is a very interesting way to imply the idea of higher dimensionality.  Again, however, the information didn’t need to come from extraterrestrials in order to exist in someone’s thoughts.  Reading Edwin A. Abbott’s book, Flatland from more than a century ago comes to mind, which could inspire extremely similar ideas.


This test compares Ben's video with an alien mask, to Stan Romanek's video of a supposed alien peeking in his window. (Credit: NGT)

The Romanek Mask Test

The visual similarities between Stan’s video and our demonstration video to me are striking, especially considering that the mask I used was simply an upper-grade Halloween mask with no customization.  It appears certain that nothing in the original video as compared to ours rules out the possibility that a mask or puppet is what is captured on film, (with an obvious strength of the mask hypothesis being that it requires no unproven underlying assumptions).

Many cite the appearance of blinking eyes or reflections as evidence that the “being” captured on video could not have been artificial in nature.  However, it should be noted that special-effects artists such as Phil Tippet and Stan Winston, along with famed puppeteer Frank Oz and an armada of popular ventriloquists, have all made successful careers during the last century out of making and using masks and puppets that not only blinked, but they also frowned, talked, and smiled.

A Note on Romanek’s Reaction

As so much of the “evidence” we’re given to explore comes in the form of human testimony, which as I have previously stated is amongst the poorest forms of data available, I think it is perfectly reasonable to include human reactions as the subject of critical assessment.  And while I’m not jumping to any conclusion (or certainly any accusation), I want to at least call attention to Stan Romanek’s reaction when James calls on the radio to report that he has seen an alien outside of the Romanek household’s office window.

Why?  Quite frankly, it’s not the reaction I would have anticipated based on everything that Stan had been telling us.

Prior to James’s bombshell transmission, as seen in the episode, Stan reacts to reports of electrical fluctuations and camera malfunctions with foreboding statements like, “This is how it starts…”  The pitch of his voice is low, introspective, worried.  However, his immediate reaction after James says an alien may have actually arrived is marked not by further concern or fear, with an, “I told you!” or a terrified, “Oh my God,” or something of the like.  Instead, he delivers in a raised pitch that for all the world sound like incredulousness, “I don’t believe it!  Really?!”

I find that reaction very interesting, upon which readers may draw their own conclusions.

Final Thoughts

The idea of linking unknowns is part of human nature.  As an outgrowth of evolutionary necessity (e.g., recognizing the shapes of predators in foliage), we seek patterns in the noise  (See: Apophenia).  However, in the context of the modern world as applied to allegations of the ambiguous or unexplained, this tendency is merely a bias that prevents us from seeing the data and/or evidence plainly, as it is.  Relative to the concepts in Chasing UFOs, this means that we must avoid the desire to unify all disparate unknowns under a common question mark until ruling out simpler individual explanations.

Only in this way can we challenge our own tendency toward pattern-seeking bias and help ensure the rigorousness of an investigation.

Something to think about!


Semper Exploro!

Ben McGee


Ben McGee is a member of the Chasing UFOs team.  A true skeptic by nature, Ben is Chasing UFOs’ resident scientist. 

Get to know Ben and the rest of the Chasing UFOs team, Fridays at 10P et/pt. And be sure to check back to the blog Friday night for Ben’s post-show wrap-up.


  1. John Fitzgerald
    Goodrich Texas
    July 6, 2012, 10:26 pm

    Regarding the July 6th presentation. I am disgusted to see that your “expert team” is not knowledgable enough to be able to tell the difference between a canine and feline track. I guess this is just another joke for something that could and should be taken seriously. I’m truely dissapointed that you would publish such blantant errors. John Fitzgerald

  2. foolio
    san diego
    July 7, 2012, 2:01 am

    fakest show ever!- i cant believe Ryder and her whipping boys want the american public to believe the show is real- pretty sure everyone signed confidentiality docs to keep the fakeness a secret-

  3. Mike Montag
    July 7, 2012, 7:00 am

    What a hack job. I lived thru the cattle mutilations in COLO. No vet or sheriff reports, why not? Sex organs surgically from the cattle, dropped hundreds of feet to break many of the bones in the carcass, not reported. No news paper accounts. What a half A job of ” reporting ” As big a joke as the Bigfoot hunters.

  4. Anonymous
    Scottsdale, AZ
    July 7, 2012, 9:38 am

    Your second episode in Fresno, CA showcases a bona fide sighting of the exact SAME aircraft that made national headlines in 1997, here in Scottsdale, CA. The Phoenix Lights aircraft was (were) NOT boomerang-shaped as reported by so many. It matched the triangular shape craft video-taped by the young Air Force veteran. I know because I saw it fly right over my head at no greater than 75-100 feet. And yes, completely silent as reported. I can safely say, as can the Air Force vet, that there is currently NO air craft in the military that matches this description. I could not confirm that it was a domestic military air craft because it wasn’t. Again, my background is similar to the young man’s in Fresno and I did have a certain need to know, if you will.

  5. Jackson
    Moss Tn
    July 7, 2012, 10:37 am

    You people need better actors. And if you people think we know everything about our military and new technology regarding aircraft, you are a bunch of idiots. we will never know. And somethings we don’t need to know and should not know. Most of this stuff on this show can easily be debunked. Like always why is the video always out of focus. It might be bigfoot! All aircraft are required to have marker lights! I didn’t know extra terrestrials were required to have marker lights. And wouldn’t they? Oh I guess they know our FAA rules regarding flight in our atmosphere. I can’t take this bad show.

  6. jeff turner
    san diego
    July 7, 2012, 12:27 pm

    this show is a discrace why is that you can spend thousands on equipmet but cant afford a tripod? Why would anyone lookfor 100year old crash debrey at night? And now you have just insulted the viewing public all for a practical joke. I feel this show should be cancled without delay.

  7. Pat
    July 7, 2012, 1:13 pm

    I was a big fan of The History Channels “UFO Hunters”. Compared to Hunters Chasing UFOs is a cheap knockoff resembling some B-Movie with those stupid head held cameras which make the people look deranged and creepy. The constant whispering is annoying and filming in the dark is as stupid as those “Ghost Hunter” shows which assuming ghosts only appear at night. Ridiculous!!! Get rid of the cameras on the heads, and the whispering and come up to the UFO HUNTER standards.

  8. J Kyle Gemmell
    United States
    July 7, 2012, 7:02 pm

    In regards to the latest episode Alien Cowboys, the person BEN is a joke!, he is very smug and makes a mockery of investigations poking fun. This series had potential but is now nothing more then comedic stupidity, shame too, this had potential.

  9. Michael
    Pahoa, Hawaii
    July 7, 2012, 11:30 pm

    Was this the episode where the picked up mountain lion tracks on the IR camera? While it is understandable that the team, who appear to be urbanites, would identify the claw marks on the tracks as ‘talons’, it is quite another thing for National Geographic to pass up a disclaimer for misinformation on a show they produce. I’m not speaking of talons versus claws…what I am talking about is that cat tracks *do not* show claw marks. Nat Geo loses some credibility on that. On a series where Nat Geo appears to have stooped to the low level of reality shows, that discrepancy may only be a triviality in comparison.

  10. Shayne Snyder
    North East Pennsylvania
    July 8, 2012, 4:30 pm

    If u look at stan’s video of the alien, you can see through the alien. Unlike the alien mask its completly soild. (sorry for any misspellings)

  11. John
    July 8, 2012, 5:42 pm

    You got a better look, but the track on that episode looks like a dog print, based on shape and presence of claw marks (usually not present in cat prints). Anyway glad there’s a skeptic on the show to suggest that not every blinking light is alien in origin.

  12. Shakefries 57
    United States
    July 8, 2012, 7:04 pm

    Ben, I am by no means a wildlife expert, big cat expert, or tracking expert, but having watched the show with the “big cat” tracks, I questioned the assertion those were indeed left by a mountain lion. Everyday house cats leave their claws retracted until they need to use them, and while I wasn’t sure this would be the case for a mountain lion, my online research suggests that it is. It also shows that cats have an unsymmetrical placement of the foot pads, while the show video seems to show pads that are symmetrical. However, if you look up canine tracks, the claws are exposed and the forward two pads are lined up. To me it seems likely that what you were looking at were dog tracks, or maybe wolf or coyote. To be fair, the information I found said that mountain lion tracks will sometimes show the claws if the animal is getting ready to pounce, and also it was hard to see whether there was true symmetry of the pads since the tracks were in mud, and I was viewing them on TV. And of course I am no expert in the fields I would need to be in order to make a truly informed assessment. The claw marks really caught my attention, though. I suppose this is a minor point compared to the big questions about ufo’s, etc., but there it is. Thoughts?

  13. B
    July 9, 2012, 11:44 am

    Extraordinary claims merely require evidence not extraordinary evidence. Evidence is objective. If someone finds it extraordinary, that is subjective even if it is a reaction shared by many. Ergo, I hate that stupid misleading phrase.

  14. B
    July 9, 2012, 11:48 am

    Can I buy these episodes on iTunes?

  15. John
    July 9, 2012, 6:40 pm

    like the show, but the emails on screen are extremely annoying and distracting. Please cut them

  16. Jack Nardozza
    Tyrone GA
    July 10, 2012, 1:33 pm

    I think you should cancel the show, burn the tapes and NATGEO should disclaim to have ever aired this show. In 2 years everyone will forget this blunder ,much like we forget about our politics. I like shows like this they provide a distraction from everyday boring reality. But please find better actors or no actors just real legitimate investagators. This show is not even good for a laugh, its that bad!

  17. Bob Barker
    July 10, 2012, 6:24 pm

    Why do all of the searches for UFO evidence have to conducted in the dark…? Is it really necessary to whisper while out in the middle of nowhere, searching in the dark?

  18. Rick
    July 10, 2012, 11:56 pm

    I’m done wasting my time recording this poor excuse of a UFO show.. This show lacks depth in subject matter. Thumbs down.

  19. Ben McGee
    July 11, 2012, 1:19 pm

    To those who question whether or not the tracks were feline or canine, let me assure you that the identification was definitive. 1) Claw marks can be visible with feline tracks if mud is present, and the track was left in deep mud (note claw marks in only the first two digits). 2) Most importantly, canines have a “scoop” in the heel pad, whereas felines have multiple heel lobes, leading often to a straight heel and certainly one without a scoop. As you will note, there is no scoop in the heel pad captured in thermal imagery, eliminating the possibility that it was canine. Further, feline scat was present only a few yards away, (but that didn’t make the episode).

  20. Terry Mel
    July 11, 2012, 6:01 pm

    Hey National Geographic I have a great idea lets just hire the Matt Moneymaker team from “Finding Bigfoot” and call it “Chasing UFO’s”. How lazy and lame can you be to regurgitate more poor programming.
    Do you really believe that your viewers will mindlessly watch your “Blair Witch Projects”?
    I often wonder who and how programming like this gets past the nearest waste receptacle. Heads should roll at National Geographic!

  21. Michael Conard
    Kewaunee, WI
    July 11, 2012, 10:07 pm

    My BS meter just pegged out. I’m watching the episode airing 7/11/12 and heard a comment about there being no man-made flying objects in 1891. What crap! If you want ANY semblence of credibilitly, at least get you history straight. They were using lighter than air (can you say ballons?) during the civil war almost 30 years earlier- and in my mind that classifies as a man-made flying object. Get real people! It’s time Nat Geo stuck to REAL natural phenomenon rather than chasing after stuff that may or may not be real in an effort to get viewership via sensational programming. NG TV is just as bad is any of the “reality” TV crap that the rest of the networks are putting out there. I think I’ll go back to listening to radio. Relevent TV is dead.

  22. Melodie
    St. Louis
    July 14, 2012, 2:22 am

    I think the producers and editors need to step aside and let Ben run this show…It would be far more interesting if the show related more to what Ben has written here. The show comes off hokey…It blows my mind that they seem to deliberately get to the sites late…”running out of day light”!!! Creeping around in the dark…good greif surely they can spend more time on sites in the daytime!…The most remarkable thing was finding the AirForce button…Now THAT was a find. The discussion about ant hills and tiny rodents was facinating…the rest was down right silly…The little metal piece the fella had in his little black box…amounted to nothing since they were not analysed!…Turn those stupid face cameras around..I’d rather see what they are looking at rather than goofy facial expressions. Not to mention I’m not so dumb as to not notice that there are other people there…namely the camera man who has to get there first and probably is more cat or wolf bait than the OMG actors AND who has his camera on the Actors who have the camera on themselves. Giant “DOH”…..Give Ben this show and make it more scientific as National Geographic is supposed to be . This could be a facinating show…but you are ruining it and soon will have no ratings…

  23. Joe Salmonte
    Monterrey, Mexico
    July 22, 2012, 12:40 pm

    NatGeo has discredited itself once again. How low can you get, in trying to make a mockery of a serious subject. Or are you trying to make a joke of this, discredit those of us that have seen UFOs. You have taken the Blue Book principle to ridicule sightings and bury the truth. Learn from true UFO investigators.

  24. Jared
    Suburban Detroit Michigan
    July 28, 2012, 12:50 pm

    I briefly read a few comments & tend to agree your show seems to be lacking. Im not overly impressed with the cases being investigated. If I recall isnt James Fox the guy who did a show a couple yrs ago titled “I Know What I Saw”? Those are the cases are most credible in my opinion. Let me start by saying I have never witnessed anything out of the ordinary; however based on a handful of credible cases I am inclined to believe extra terrestrials are/have visted us. I’d be considered as a “skeptical believer”. Im very interested in getting involved with ufo investigations as I can approach most cases totally neutral with an open mind. My studies of “ufos” conclude me to believe 95% of reports are either misidentification or hoaxes; however of that 5% there are a small number of reports that have no terrestrial explanation & theres a high probably these crafts are of extraterrestrial orgin. Now seeing as I’ve never witnessed any such phenomonon I must remain as I mentioned “skeptical” since we have yet to have actual indepentently verified by a neutral source physical proof. What I tend to be most skeptical of are abductions & these constant reports of crashed extraterrestrial crafts. The roswell crash sounds credible perhaps a couple others. Do u think after having the technology to travel through interstellar space these craft are gonna crash left & right; furthermore there’s no way in hell we have any weapons capable of shooting one down. Being that said its possible there have been a couple crashes at most since I tend to believe as advanced as these folks are their ships must be artificially constructed & as we all know machines breakdown; therefore mechanical failure on rare occasions is possible as pilot error is too. Im sure these guys make mistakes just like the rest of us. I’d probably also guess the majority of true extraterrestrial crafts, particularly those that appear very small or “orb like” are robotic as most of our deep space crafts are & do not carry any live beings on board. If the reports of the very large ships witnessed are accurate they likely are carrying live “ebe’s”. In conclusions of the handful of cases that most intrugue me the one that stands out the most was the december 1980 report at the nato base in england. Those reports were very accurate & were witnessed by several individuals including the deputy base comander. Its unlikely all of those people who by the way reportedly were guarding nukes would make up a story like that; furthermore my understanding is the report didnt even become public until several years after the incident. I’d like to see cases like that investigated further.

  25. Big Game Hunter
    August 13, 2014, 10:23 pm

    The so-called mountain lion tracks were canine. No doubt about it. Feline tracks showing claws are extremely rare, one in ten thousand at least in my experience as a big game hunter, and simply walking in deep mud is not enough to have them extend their claws.

    Sorry, just more BS in this made up show.