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Sunday February 6, 2011

Crop circles provide food for thought

JAKARTA: Since a number of crop circles mysteriously appeared in Yogyakarta and Central Java recently, more and more people have opened their minds to the possibility that there might just be other forms of life in the universe.

A few years ago, people barely discussed UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects), crop circles or aliens in public. But nowadays, these terms are splattered across the front pages of all media.

Despite the Government saying the crop circles were man-made, many people still believe they are the works of extraterrestrial beings.

Mysterious finding: A large circle and geometric pattern found in a rice field in Krasakan hamlet in Sleman, Yogyakarta last month has stirred fresh interest in UFOs. – EPA

This belief is considered a new thing for Indonesians, who tend to associate peculiar phenomena to magic.

This is the first time people living in villages related the findings with UFOs and aliens, Indonesian UFO Enthusiast Community (Beta-UFO) co-founder Nur Agustinus told The Jakarta Post recently.

While the community has recorded UFO sightings since 1883, many of the witnesses still linked them to supernatural powers and magic.

The first crop circle was reportedly spotted in Tuban, East Java in 1986-1987. However, the report was questionable in the absence of supporting data.

“At that time, society still mocked people who talked about UFOs. So people were reluctant to talk about it in public,” Nur said.

But with the advent of the Internet and the growing popularity of social media, the crop circle sightings this time around led to a flurry of online discussions across the nation, and soon turned into headline news.

Such progress is no doubt great news for UFO enthusiasts who have for years fought to educate the Indonesian public about the existence of extraterrestrial beings in the universe.

“This is a good thing as people are finally opening their minds to the subject and feel encouraged to learn more about this,” says Muhammad Irfan, the director of another UFO enthusiast community, Ufonesia.

The group, founded in 2008, has 2,500 members with countless curious minds believed to be flocking to its website every day.

UFO enthusiasts have felt the public’s growing attention to this issue.

A member of Beta-UFO, Andyono Muharso, said he had never received so many phone calls from the media wanting to clarify the origin of the recently found crop circles.

Andyono was both happy and worried about the drastic surge in society’s interest in the issue.

“No doubt the media, which tends to exaggerate everything and look for something sensational, will turn this matter into a shallow issue that no one will take seriously,” Andyono said. This is likely to hinder any efforts to encourage the Government to carry out serious investigations into this subject.

For years, the Indonesian Government, as well governments in other parts of the world, have denied UFOs as phenomena deserving careful study.

“We have come to agree that this “thing” cannot be scientifically proven. Scientists have put UFOs in the category of pseudoscience,” says Thomas Djamaluddin, research professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the Indonesian National Aeronautics and Space Agency (Lapan).

This hard stance, coupled with a series of investigations in the surroundings of the sightings, have led Lapan to declare that the recent crop circles were man-made.

According to Nur, the Government took a different stance in the 1960s and 1980s, when Lapan was still under the leadership of J. Salatun. At that time, the agency recorded all UFO sightings in the country and even became a data centre for reports on the appearance of unidentified flying objects in the sky.

When asked about this, Thomas said it merely reflected J. Salatun’s individual interest in the subject and didn’t represent the view of the agency.

Regarding the UFO enthusiast communities in Indonesia, Thomas said the Government considered them as simply hobby groups.

“We respect their existence as groups that have a special interest about something, like biking or reading communities. Nothing more,” Thomas said.

Indonesia has at least five communities interested in UFOs, the oldest being Beta-UFO, which was established in 1997.

The members of Beta-UFO then spread their wings and established their own communities with other specific interests. Ufonesia, for example, targets younger UFO enthusiasts, as many of its members are still in school or college. The Grey Race Foundation was formed in 2004 for UFO enthusiasts residing in Bandung, West Java.

These communities rarely meet face to face or hold regular meetings, as they mostly interact in the virtual world.

Interestingly, members of these communities come from all walks of life and share different perceptions and understanding of this phenomena.

In other words, members of a community might not share the same beliefs on the provenance of UFOs or extra terrestrial life forms.

“I knew from the start that it (the crop circle) was man-made,” said Andyono.

However, Nur still believes the crop circles were formed by extraterrestrial creatures. “If it was man-made, why has no one fessed up to it?” Nur said.

Despite different perceptions and interests, these communities all search for the same answer to that rhetorical question posed by Eleanor Arroway, a character in the famous science fiction movie Contact: “So if it’s just us... (the universe) seems like an awful waste of space. Right?”

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