It's been quite a week in space news as the government has been trying to calm a growing Internet buzz over alien phenomena.
On Jan. 8, dozens of witnesses in Stephenville, Texas, reported seeing a large, quiet, low-flying, fast-moving UFO. Then there is the photo taken by one of NASA's Mars rovers and released Jan. 3. Some observers see among the rocks a walking man. Or Bigfoot. Or the Danish statue of the Little Mermaid. Both reports sparked worldwide interest and speculation. Ken Cherry, Texas director of the Mutual UFO Network, said he's taken about 200 reports from individuals who've reported seeing these objects and others. The most recent sightings are "giving courage for other people to come forward," Cherry said. "People said they were concerned about ridicule in the past." Adding fuel to the fire are Air Force Reserve officials who first denied having any airplanes over Stephenville on Jan. 8. This week they changed their story and now say F-16 fighter jets were flying over the area in a training exercise that night. Ken Hicks, an Ohio University professor of astronomy and physics, said the usual suspects -- bright Venus low on the horizon or a meteor -- don't fit the description of the reported sighting. "Venus doesn't move, and a meteor is one light with a long tail," Hicks said. Still, he said its doubtful that anyone saw a spaceship from a distant galaxy. "If they have the technology to come so far, they wouldn't do something as obvious as that," Hick said. "I'd bet my money on (it being) the military." Then there is the Mars photo and the possibility of a man, girl, beast or mermaid living on the Red Planet. "I think it's pretty cool the way it looks, but … these are rocks, obviously sculpted by wind erosion, similar to what you see in the American Southwest," said Douglas Green, an Ohio University geophysics professor who studies the Martian crust. Green said this image reminds him of the hoopla over the humanlike face spotted in a Viking I photograph of Mars taken in 1976. Better images later showed the "face" is really a mound with crevices, holes and shadows. Ralph P. Harvey, a planetary geologist at Case Western Reserve, said in this new image, size is everything. "That's a teeny little Bigfoot, probably 3 to 4 inches." The image, he explained, is a greatly enlarged slice of a panoramic photograph made by the rover Spirit. Harvey and other scientists said this is an example of pareidolia, when the mind sees patterns where there really are none. "Others have taken close-up looks at other rocks in the panoramic and found Kermit the Frog, a polar bear, Jabba the Hut and what looks like a turtle that had been going 100 miles per hour and hit the brakes," Harvey said.