I don't follow these things closely and my question is carefully scoped to ask ONLY about the type of aircraft equipment used and what the various gray levels in the images indicates.

In CNN "The Point" Video Barack Obama just said something very interesting about UFOs by Chris Cillizza, there are three snippets from videos which are described as follows:

In April 2020 when the Pentagon released three videos of what they called “unidentified aerial phenomenon” which amounted to a huge break in the government’s acknowledgement of their existence...

Below are cropped screenshots from my linked video, presumably from the three videos mentioned. The unidentified phenomena all appear as small black objects, sometimes with a lighter "halo" against gray backgrounds. If for example these are thermal infrared images, one might naively suppose that the black tone indicates a temperature far lower than anything else in the field of view.


  1. Sometimes thermal infrared images are inverted so that cold is white and hot is black. Why are the clouds white and Australia black in weather satellite infrared images? and also this comment that images are sometimes inverted to make a bright object of interest easier to see when analyzing.
  2. In some imaging systems (showing my age), tiny spots that are too bright and saturate a system can cause much larger and more prominent black areas to appear.

Question: What equipment produced the three recordings of unidentified areal phenomenon released by the US Pentagon in 2020? What does the black tone of the spot in question actually signify?

unidentified areal phenomenon unidentified areal phenomenon unidentified areal phenomenon

update: Screenshot from CNN's Retired US Navy Chief explains tech witnessed in UFO aircraft sighting around 00:13 shows a switch between opposite tone scales in the middle of a video clip, clearly the same clouds and object, just flipped in sign:

screenshot from CNN's Retired US Navy Chief explains tech witnessed in UFO aircraft sighting https://youtu.be/azZ4XAZuVk4 screenshot from CNN's Retired US Navy Chief explains tech witnessed in UFO aircraft sighting https://youtu.be/azZ4XAZuVk4

below left: Himawari-8 IR1 image from Central Weather Bureau showing hotter Australia represented with darker grayscale level (click for full size), right: Source "...illustrate(s) the artifact of a dark area around a bright area" (vidicon)

Himawari-8 IR1 image vidicon artifact rocket launch

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    $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer I'm guessing there are more pilots familiar with this particular kind of aircraft equipment than there are photographers. Only 6 out of my 54 questions have received zero answers so I have some faith in this community. If nothing shows up in a few weeks I'll reconsider. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 26 at 4:45
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    $\begingroup$ Note that even for a thermal image, that is in far infrared, which the FLIRs generally are, there is still significant amount of reflected sunlight complicating the matter. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec May 26 at 10:30
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure there's an answer to this question in this particular video from this level-headed YouTube channel, but it does offer a lot of background on the FLIR and how its gimbaling motion and lens changes produce artifacts youtube.com/watch?v=U1di0XIa9RQ (also) $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 27 at 1:45
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    $\begingroup$ Putting this in a comment because frankly I find it confusing. nytimes.com/2017/12/16/us/politics/… shows a couple of different stills and videos. You can see bottom left, below the Mach number, either BLK or WHT. That should be Black Hot or White Hot respectively. The top photo of the article would then show a "hot" UFO, but the bottom video would show a "cold" one. At least as far as IR output; how that correlates with temperature can vary somewhat. $\endgroup$ – Erin Anne Jun 3 at 2:41
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh ha well I'll try to remember to post it as an answer unless you want to go ahead and self-answer or something. I'd look for an F-18 FLIR symbology reference too (I know Fravor flew F-18s, he was Nimitz CAG when they filmed the US version of "Carrier" in 2005) but would probably only find DCS ones $\endgroup$ – Erin Anne Jun 3 at 6:15

There are multiple UFO videos/photos being asked about, I think. The clearest exhibition of the phenomena I know of are from the videos Dave Fravor released. In this video/timestamp that @uhoh found, one of those "GO FAST" encounters is annotated by the "To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science" Youtube channel as from an ATFLIR targeting pod, and variously in BLK (Black Hot) and WHT (White Hot) mode. I've taken the liberty of inexpertly combining three frames from the video in the following image:

  • The ATFLIR annotation at top
  • The BLK/WHT coloration annotation at left
  • The ATFLIR image itself is from a later timestamp, showing the target locked, and white, against a warmer surface (probably the sea; the ATFLIR is definitely reporting it's pointed 26 degrees down and to approx. 10 o'clock) while the ATFLIR is in BLK (Black Hot mode)

image from a GO FAST encounter video showing that the ATFLIR image is "black hot" and the target UFO is white in the center

For this image, the UFO appears "cold." Others, including the ones in the CNN screenshots in the question from a different encounter, are "hot"--see e.g. the NavyTimes article Video shows apparent encounter between Navy pilot and UFO that shows the uncropped image with a black target and BLK mode displayed.

A word of caution in interpreting IR imagery: though the amount of infrared light coming from an object generally correlates well with its temperature, it isn't an absolute correlation. See, for example, Figures 10 and 11 of Design and Preliminary Testing of the International Docking Adapter's Peripheral Docking Target, which I'll reproduce here:

FLIR photo of prototype docking targets, showing that some materials light up in infrared, and some reflect like mirrors

Some materials on those docking targets, and the flight hardware that eventually went on to fly on the ISS, were specifically chosen to passively appear "cold" in infrared by being mostly-reflective in the measured bands. Despite the docking targets being in approximate thermal equilibrium, the reflection of the sky over Houston is interpreted by the camera as starkly cold.

Not to say that you can't draw any conclusions on whether or not the objects in question are cooler or hotter than the background, just to say that it might not be entirely straightforward, especially from single still images.

  • $\begingroup$ This is excellent, thank you! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jun 3 at 22:05

We know that at least one of the sensor platforms involved was a Raytheon ATFLIR, based on information from their own website:

Fast forward 13 years to Dec. 16, when the New York Times published a report on the 2004 incident and a little-known Pentagon program that tracked such reports from 2007 until at least 2012. Included was the video of the possible UFO incident, which was captured by a Raytheon Advanced Targeting Forward Look Infrared sensor, mounted under one of the fighter jets.


The video was taken from an F/A-18 Super Hornet. This narrows down the recording equipment to either the ATFLIR or LITENING targeting pods. These pods perform essentially the same function. These pods can provide infrared imagery like that seen in the clip. Both pods are used on American military aircraft. I can't speak to the gray levels because I'm not familiar with the systems themselves, unfortunately. Hope this helps.

  • $\begingroup$ No d/v, but this is not really an answer, and should maybe be a comment. $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell May 27 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's a partial answer. The first part of the question was "What equipment produced the three recordings of unidentified areal phenomenon released by the US Pentagon in 2020?" and the response certainly answers that. $\endgroup$ – Digital Dracula May 27 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ @DigitalDracula it does indeed, thanks! $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 27 at 16:54

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