Rods: Flying Absurdities
There is neither evidence nor plausible hypotheticals suggesting that invisible flying "rods" might exist.
by Brian Dunning
October 19, 2006
Also available in Chinese | Japanese
From the cryptozoology files, we're going to look today at rods, those magical, mystical living UFO's believed by some to inhabit the invisible shadowlands of Earth.
Rods are said to be flying creatures, from a few centimeters to a meter in length, that are invisible to humans, but visible to cameras, both film and digital, both still and video. Their bodies are shaped like long thin rods, and their only appendages are wavy wings, one on each side, stretching the full length of their bodies. They move through the air by undulating these wings, like long, thin, aerial manta rays.
A gentleman named Jose Escamilla claims to be the discoverer of rods. On his website, Roswellrods.com, he says that he first captured rods on video in 1994. He says he was taping UFO's — an auspicious start to any report — when he accidentally filmed the rods as well. Since Mr. Escamilla did not recall seeing any such thing in person while he was taping, he decided the most likely explanation for his video is that he'd discovered a new species of flying creature that is invisible to humans, and only shows up on film or video. Since then, innumerable photographs and videos have surfaced that purport to show rods. Search the Internet, and you'll find hundreds of them.
If rods are as ubiquitous as it would seem they are, why is their existence not generally accepted? Justification for the existence of rods requires that four basic claims be proven or at least shown to be reasonable:
1. There should be zoological precedents for the existence of undiscovered insects up to a meter in length. New species are being discovered all the time, but few that are that size; nevertheless, it's possible, however unlikely. All they need to do to prove it is to produce one that can be examined.
2. We must accept the unprecedented existence of creatures that are invisible, although they're up to a meter in length. Discounting microscopic organisms, the natural world offers no better than transparency, such as that found in some species of jellyfish. Transparency is not invisibility. Supporters of rods have not proven that invisibility in the animal kingdom is possible, and they will need to do so by presenting an invisible animal.
3. Certain images must be visible only in the output of all types of visible wavelength cameras, but not visible to the naked eye. When cameras output their images to the final medium, be it film, paper, or a video screen, we see their output because our eyes see the same visible wavelengths that were recorded and output. We're not talking about thermographic or other non-visible-wavelength camera technologies here, so rod supporters will need to prove that all standard cameras can convert certain invisible wavelengths into visible ones, without affecting the visible wavelengths; which is something those cameras were not designed to do. Only with this proof can it be reasonably accepted that it's possible for a camera to see a solid object that was invisible to the photographer's eye.
4. Even if all of the above can be substantiated, there needs to be a lack of a more likely explanation. If a simple procedure can be shown to easily reproduce the appearance of rods on camera, then we haven't even established that there is a phenomenon to be investigated.
As you might expect, there is indeed an alternate explanation, and a simple procedure to take a picture showing rods. Imagine yourself standing with the sun at your back, facing a large shaded area, such as the shaded entrance to a cave. Dragonflies (or other insects) are flying everywhere, darting back and forth at around 9 meters per second. Take a photograph, with a common shutter speed of 1/30th of a second. In that time, the dragonfly will travel about 30 centimeters. Because your exposure is set for the dark background, the path traced by the dragonfly's transit will be overexposed and will appear solid white. Dragonflies beat their wings about 30 times a second, so the path described by its wingtip on your film image would be one full sine wave period, 30 centimeters long. There would be one of these sine waves down each side of the 30-centimeter-long rod shaped track traced by the dragonfly's moving body. Change these parameters with different insects, different wing speeds, different camera shutter speeds, and you can duplicate any rod photograph on the Internet.
This phenomenon is so common that most any professional photographer can tell you about being plagued by it while trying to take outdoor photographs or video in similar lighting conditions. Nevertheless, the resulting image is strange enough that someone not familiar with photography basics might conclude that the subject in the photograph was in fact 30 centimeters long with undulating wings, and the photographer would be absolutely correct in stating that he did not see any 30-centimeter-long flying creatures with his naked eye.
The conclusion from all this is that rods are a well known, well established, and well understood byproduct of photography. The proposed alternate explanation, that they are an unknown and invisible lifeform only seen by cameras, requires that some pretty outrageous claims about invisibility and photography be proven. Until they are, or until a rod is captured and can be studied, I see no reason to suspect that such things might exist. Always look for the alternate explanation that does not require dramatic new assumptions.
By Brian Dunning
Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Rods: Flying Absurdities." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
19 Oct 2006. Web.
19 Jun 2018. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4004>
References & Further Reading
Alexander, David E. Nature's Flyers: Birds, Insects and the Biomechanics of Flight. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. 89.
Carroll, R. "Rod." The Skeptic's Dictionary. Robert T. Carroll, 8 Feb. 2001. Web. 10 Sep. 2015. <http://skepdic.com/rods.html>
Escamilla, Jose. "About Roswell Rods." Roswell Rods. Roswell Rods, 16 Jan. 2008. Web. 31 Oct. 2009. <http://www.roswellrods.com/story.html>
Island, Kal. "Hey, What's all the Bugaboo?" Popular Science. 1 Nov. 1995, Volume 247, Number 5: 83.
Kaku, Michu. Physics of the Impossible, a Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel. New York: Doubleday, 2008. 16-33.
Sol. "Conclusion: Escamilla's "rods" are motion-blurred bugs." Sol's 'Rods' Study. Opendb, 8 Apr. 1998. Web. 9 Dec. 2009. <http://opendb.com/sol/conclusion.htm>
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