Here’s what that UFO was really

Most UFOs reported have perfectly rational explanations, a leading UK astronomy publication says this week. Ten top cases of mistaken identity are reported in the latest issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine in an article by Vincent Whiteman.

The International Space Station trails across a light-polluted night sky where the stars struggle to be seen.In no particular order, they are:

1. Chinese lanterns. Paper lanterns bought for celebrations can float up to a mile high. They make no sound, have an orange glow and can fly in formation due to being tied together with string.

2. A bright meteor. A sudden fireball swiftly crossing the sky before vanishing can spook anxious witnesses into thinking they’re seeing fast-moving aliens.

3. The Moon. In 2007, a woman phoned police in Wales to report a ‘bright stationary object’ that had been floating in the air for 30 minutes. An officer confirmed it was the Moon.

4. An odd-shaped cloud. Lenticular clouds have a classic flying-saucer shape. They form over mountains and can remain stationary for hours.

5. Lens flare. Light bouncing off the glass elements of a camera lens can look like solid objects on photos and can be mistaken for spacecraft.

6. Top secret aircraft. Spyplanes developed by the military, such as the Stealth bomber, were reported as UFOs before their existence was officially revealed.

7. A planet. Venus is so bright in the evening or morning sky that it is frequently mistaken for a hovering UFO. Jupiter is also currently bright, low in the evening sky, puzzling many onlookers.

8. The International Space Station. Man’s orbiting outpost is now bigger than Wembley’s football pitch and looks brilliant. It is silent as it crosses the sky, confusing those used to hearing aircraft engines.

9. An Iridium flare. A constellation of 66 communications satellites, usually invisible, will suddenly flare brightly when their highly reflective antennae are turned towards the earth.

10. Military satellites. Top secret satellites launched in the 1970s to track Russian ships orbit in groupe of three and can look like a group of flying saucers flying silently in formation across the night sky.

Chris Bramley, of BBC Sky at Night Magazine, said: “The truth really is out there – but it is probably not down to aliens!”

You can read a full version of “So you thought you saw a UFO?”, complete with pictures, in the November issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine, which is on sale now, price £4.25 in the UK. For more information, visit www.skyatnightmagazine.com.

Picture: The International Space Station leaves trails in this time-exposure as it passes silently across the night sky. (Credit: Paul Sutherland).

• Discover space for yourself and do fun science with a telescope. Here is Skymania’s advice on how to choose a telescope. We also have a guide to the different types of telescope available.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

One thought on “Here’s what that UFO was really

  • 10/22/2009 at 9:37 pm
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    Most media reports have perfectly understandable "explanations" for UFOs, an anonymous nobody posted this week. Ten top cases, in no particular order;
    1. Fear, the writer is just plain frightened by the subject matter so denies its existence.
    2. Employment, making a living creating controversy, which sells more than truth.
    3. Pride, the writer thinks their thoughts are better than other people's thoughts.
    4. Jealousy, the writer wishes they had what someone else does, but not having it instead ridicules what someone has.
    5. Envy, the writer wishes they were someone, but not being someone, denies anyone has value.
    6. Uninformed, the writer doesn't realize their lack of factual information through ignorance.
    7. Misinformed, the writer purposely presents false information as fact.
    8. Arrogance, the writer doesn't consider that there are other ideas than their own.
    9. Elitist, the writer doesn't think any other idea could be as good as their own.
    10. National Security and censorship.

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