UFO or ...MAYBE NOT?

    Many people claim to have seen a UFO. Let me re-phrase that: Many completely sane people have claimed to have seen a UFO. =) But, before you let the world know that you have seen a UFO it might be best to be aware of all the things in the night (and day) that are easily mistaken for UFO's. First, let me clarify what I mean when I say UFO. U.F.O. = Unidentified Flying Object. That just means its not easily identifiable - nothing more. This website is not meant to affirm or deny the existence of ET but to show some of the more common night and daytime sky objects that can be mistaken for something its not. Some of you will laugh at some of the objects I have listed as being mistaken for a UFO but everything listed HAS been mistaken before and indeed will likely be again. I will start off with the top 11 most commonly mis-indentified objects in no particular order and may add more as needed.

1. Flares
The United States and most other armies of the world commonly do night training involving some form of flares. These objects tend to be bright and appear to be barely moving if at all. They can be any color but most of the time they are orange or orange/red. Sometimes the flares are suspended from parachutes which aid in the illusion of them not moving. They are sometimes released in a row or line. They also may blink on and off. This is caused by them flaring out or just old flares going out and new flares being dropped.

Here is video of what was dubbed "the Van Buren lights" but was actually flares suspended from parachutes.


The Phoenix Lights are another example of times when people mistake flares for something they are not. The Phoenix Lights video is just shot from further away than my Van Buren Lights video. If I didn't have a tv station video camera and the super zoom it had then the video would have looked very similar. The blinking on and off of the lights exhibited by the Phoenix Flares is the exactly what you would expect from flares dropped from aircraft.

2. Iridium Flares
Another type of flare except this one is not dropped and its not in the earths atmosphere. An iridium flare is actually caused by a satellite. There are 66 Iridium satellites oribiting at about 485 miles above Earth's surface. Iridium satellites are used in communications. The flare is caused by sunlight being reflected off of one of their three Main Mission Antenna. The Main Mission Antenna is coated in highly reflective aluminum flat plates treated with silver coated teflon which reflects the suns light very well. Iridium Flares will appear at first as dim white light briskly travelling across the night sky. At some point they may over the course of just a few seconds increase very rapidly in brightness. They may be up to -9 in brightness which is much brighter than Venus and Sirius (the brightest star) and only outshown by the Moon and the Sun. A -6 or higher flare may actually be seen in daytime! Unless you are in a dark sky area you may not see anything other than the flare itself. Another interesting thing about Iridium Flares is that they are easily predicted. You can go visit Heavens-Above.com for times and dates for Iridium Flares near your area. Below is picture of Iridium Flare I took during a full moon.



3. Other Man-Made Objects in Space
Besides Iridium Satellites there are hundreds of other man made satellites in space all around Earth. Some are barely visible and barely move and others are bright and race across the sky. The brightest object is the International Space Station and is shown below as the bright line (the bright yellow object on the right is a lightning bug) in a 5 minute exposure from October 2007.

Nearly every Space Shuttle mission adds more equipment to the Space Station and thus increases its brightness.

Other bright satellites include: The Hubble Space Telescope, Genesis I & II, and Envisat. You can get predictions on viewing all of these objects at Heavens-Above.


4. Airplanes
This one happens a good deal as well. If a plane you havent seen before suddenly starts flying around your area then its likely that someone will think its a UFO. If the plane is some sort of new or less common plane then it could be ever easier to think its unidentifiable. The planes lights (running lights) and in particular their landing lights also provide a common misidentification as a UFO. Sunlight reflecting (glint) off the plane may also be difficult to identify. UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) can also be mistaken for UFOs as people are still not extremely familiar with them and their movements.

5. Contrails
Contrails are condensation trails formed from the exhaust of airplanes. They may be very short, very long, thin, or wide. They can dissapear quickly behind the plane or stretch from the plane all the way across the sky. One of the most common ways that contrails are misinterprested as UFOs is when the sun is low in the sky or already set and a plane is also low on the horizon. The plane is likely too far away to be easily seen and the contrail may be very short but very bright. Below is picture of a contrail at sunset.

6. Balloons
Weather Balloons are also mistaken for UFOs. Weather balloons are usually gray/white in appearance and may rise to 25 miles or more above Earths surface. Some weather balloons have parachutes that deply once the balloon has popped so as to safely drop whatever instrument it carries to the ground for possible re-use.

7. Clouds
Clouds are only occasionally mis-identified as UFO's. The most common type to be mistaken for a UFO is a lenticular cloud. Lenticular clouds are usually formed in mountainous areas and usually during winter. They usually appear very smooth and occasionally look extrememly saucer like thus their common mis-identification. Below is a somewhat ill-defined lenticular cloud but gives a general idea of what they look like.

8. Meteors
Meteors are also sometimes mistaken for UFOs. Meteors can be very bright, very dim, move little across the sky or shoot across the entire sky. During meteor showers several up to several hundred meteors may be seen in only one hour. Sometimes they are exceptionally bright and even leave behind trails of smoke. Below is a picture I took of one such meteor last year during the Geminid Meteor Shower.

9. Stars, The Moon, and Planets
Bright stars, The Moon, and planets are very commonly thought to be UFO's. The brightest planet Venus and the brightest star Sirius are the most common to be misidentified although Jupiter, Mars, and many other stars have been as well. Usually, misidentication occurs when the objects are low on the horizon and not clearly seen or just before sunrise or after sunset when they pop out visibly before all other night sky stars and planets. Venus is so bright than pictures have been taken of it during the day! Picture below shows Venus.

The moon also gets its fair share of UFO mis-identifications. When the moon is low on the horizon or if its behind clouds it can be easily mis-identified. Below is a picture of lightning with the moon visible through clouds. If I zoomed in on the moon in the picture and adjusted the color/brigtness levels I could easily pass this off as a UFO studying "Earth Storms" =).  



and here is my UFO studying "earth storms" =)

10. Missles and Space Junk
Anytime a Missle/Rocket is fired off then there is usually a flurry of UFO sightings phoned to police departments and tv stations around that area. A lot of the "sightings" these days are from other countries like Russia where missles/rockets are more common. Space junk is becoming more and more of an issue in space exploration, satellite protection, etc. With more space junk IN space, more space junk falls OUT of space. Most often space junk appears as an unusual meteor.

11. Photographic UFOs (ghosts)
A lot of times people dont actually see anything with their eyes yet they claim to have seen a UFO. All it takes is a little sun, a little angle, and a little not knowing to think that that smudge, light, or object is a UFO when in reality its just dust on your lens, a glint from the sun, or streetlight out of focus.


In summary.
If you really want to see a UFO then you probably will. Your mind will help you find it. But before you tell the world what you think you just saw, just take a few moments to think about all the things what you saw could have been. Make a few calls, ask a few people around if they saw it too, and undoubtedly 99% of the time there will be a rational explanation in there somewhere.