Was This Viral UFO Photo a Hoax Generated By an AI?

A Midjourney user claimed that they created the viral Valle Hermoso UFO hoax using AI, but that claim itself appears to be a hoax. What's the truth?
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Motherboard explores UFOs, UFO culture, and the paranormal.

An image of a metallic saucer-shaped object floating in the air has gone viral after it was first reported by a national Mexican TV outlet last week. But was it created with an AI tool like Midjourney?

This interview features Juan Manuel Sánchez, a car mechanic, speaking to reporters outside his home where he took the original photograph. He claims that as he was photographing the clouds of an approaching storm, he suddenly realized there was a small saucer in the sky. 

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"We were working here outside at the workshop when we saw some very dark clouds- it was cloudy like it is now, a bit more,” he said in the interview. “I wanted to film a video but my phone was on photo mode and I got the first picture.” Sánchez then posted the images on Facebook where they went viral. The story was even picked up by international outlets, including The Sun and News.com.au

Now, people are speculating whether or not he really saw this UFO, by questioning why there weren’t more photos or a video of the sighting if it really occurred, to, most fascinatingly, a man claiming that the image was generated via AI. 

A Facebook user going by the name of Poncho posted in the group dedicated to Midjourney AI, an artificial intelligence program that generates images from textual descriptions similar to OpenAI's DALL-E, claiming that he had generated the image of the UFO using the software. In his post, he put two screenshots, one of The Sun article and one of the Midjourney Bot generating the image from the description “highly defined UFO flying over poor Mexican town house.” He then captioned the post, “So…Once again one of my mischievous random posts on Facebook groups went out of control…and now it’s on The Sun 🤣people need to hire me to create fake news.” 

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This post generated a lot of attention within the Midjourney group, with over 800 likes and comments about how AI is so powerful. Yet, this post was quickly debunked by other Internet users. 

In the subReddit r/UFOs, a user named eStuffeBay issued a PSA that said the image is “NOT an AI-generated image. The ‘confession’ is a blatant and poorly fabricated lie.” Their reasoning was that Midjourney is not capable of adding renders to an existing image, referring to the UFO being on an image of a street that was confirmed to be real by the Mexican TV interview. 

Poncho made the mistake of including the description and Job ID of the bot-generated image, because when users input either the keywords or the Job ID, the image was shown to be a completely different rendering of a UFO flying over a house. This image is a lot more surreal and the UFO looks like a large flying hut as opposed to a small metal saucer. Motherboard asked Midjourney to generate an image using this prompt and came up with similar images:

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Clearly, Poncho realized that the Internet was too smart to deceive because he deleted the Facebook post on September 7, two days after posting it. Neither Poncho or Midjourney responded when reached for comment. 

Still, people are doubting Sánchez, not because they think the photo was AI-generated but because they don’t believe he saw a UFO at all. In the UFOs subreddit, a post published by user Edenoide on September 6 already has 1.2k upvotes. The post is titled: “FB account of Valle Hermoso UFO testimony is an absolute red flag.” 

According to the user, Sánchez is only looking to get viral and is a lover of the paranormal, with a history of reporting miss identified sightings. The user refers to videos Sánchez posted, including one where he tries to prove the existence of ghosts and another from seven years ago, where he records another supposed UFO sighting

Other users in the thread agree with Edenoide, saying that the “UFO” is no more than a 12 inch hubcap or frisbee tossed into the air. 

Still, the emergence of tools like Midjourney and DALL-E add new possibilities to the idea of a "UFO hoax."