-10-   What Accounts For "Lights In The Sky" UFO Sightings?

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    Astronomical events have caused quite a few recent reports. These are reported as bright lights seen in the sky. Many are long duration sightings with some variations.

    Aircraft also are responsible for many low level sightings near the horizon. The reason is a matter of your point of observation. We'll look at the reason why as we go on

    And we also will consider satellites, especially the largest object that passes overhead from time to time, The International Space Station. And today it's been joined by a couple others easily seen at times.

    This article was originally posted a few years ago. Due to changes it has been recently updated to reflect new reports coming in."

    Every few years the planets align, and this happens to be one of them. In the Spring and Summer of 2018 four planets could be seen in the evening sky. Mars was also at opposition making one of the closest it approaches to earth meaning it was also much brighter than usual. Add Jupiter, Saturn and Venus to this and the results are quite a few reports of unexplained lights in the sky!

    The typical report states a bright light that seems to hover in the sky for some time. Often movement is also reported but this occurs over a period of time. Sometimes claims of groups of lights are also heard, as well as the lights winking out or coming on. One even reported the light travelled across the sky. Clearly the planets could account for some of these, but reports of movement? Let's examine a couple of these.

    One report I received claimed a bright UFO moved from the eastern sky to the southwest before disappearing. How can this be a planet? It turns out weather conditions also played a part in this. Mars was first seen in the east. On the date and time of the sighting this matched with sky charts confirming the location. But what was not stated were the sky conditions. He thought the sky was clear, as it was when he first looked up. But broken clouds had moved in, and were present at the time he reported. This was confirmed by weather data for that night. These clouds were not easily seen since no moon was visible to light the sky. One of these clouds moved in and covered the view of Mars causing it to disappear. The witness began searching the sky, and found Saturn which was visible in the southwest. Both appeared as a yellowish light in the sky. He deduced it had moved to a new position, instead of it being another planet. After a few minutes clouds also moved in and obscured Saturn. He determined the UFO had flown off.

    Another witness reported observing a bright UFO in the south. This UFO seemed to hover for a long period, but had several small lights surrounding it. Of course I first thought Saturn or Mars, but the multiple lights surrounding it indicated something else. I met the witness and brought a telescope just in case. At the expected time we went out and it was there! Turns out he was looking at Saturn, a view through the telescope revealed the rings and confirmed this. But the discrepancy in the multiple lights surrounding it remained. He saw them, I did not. When he looked through the telescope he could not see them either. It had to be something related to his eyes and how he was observing. The witness was concerned at this point and considered he should see his doctor. Some time later he called to tell me the doctor had said he had the start of cataracts. This likely accounted for the halos / other lights he saw around the brighter UFO.

    A similar report of small lights surrounding a UFO came in at another time. In this case the witness had a good pair of binoculars and could see small lights on either side of the UFO. He watched over several nights and the lights changed position over time. A check of a sky chart showed he was seeing Jupiter. What amazed him was he was seeing not just the planet but four of its moons. He was not aware the moons could be seen from earth. Not difficult at all with good binoculars or a small telescope.

    Certainly this does not account for all UFO sightings. There are numerous reports that could not be accounted for by planetary sightings. The purpose of this article is not to explain all sightings, only to point out that common explanations need to be considered before claiming aliens or space ships are the cause.

    2020 Update - 2018 has come and gone and the planets have moved to less dramatic positions. But since they constantly shift, they will soon be back in better locations for observations. Also, since the original article was posted a couple new things have caused reports to come flooding in, and others not appear any more. Both are related to satellites.

    The first relates to something that was common a couple years ago, Iridium Flares. These were extremely bright lights that suddenly appeared , lasted a few seconds, then vanished. Reports of these were observed worldwide and accounted for many such sightings. Today, in 2020 the satellites have been deorbited and no longer are in service. These flares are no more. Although other satellites can flare, none are as impressive as the Iridiums were.

    The Iridium satellites have been replaced by Starlink. These satellites are creating numerous sightings quite different than Iridium flares. The satellites are much more numerous and are launched in quantity. Eventually several thousand of these will be in orbit. This will create issues with astronomers as "streaks" start appearing on their astrophotography plates. Starlink satellites don't flare; instead reports describe a string of UFOs moving across the sky. They are sometimes referred to as a "String Of Pearls". They are very common before sunrise or just after sunset, and appear as a line of lights moving slowly across the sky. Sometimes reports will state 20 or 30 UFOs. Reports of strings of UFOs should be considered Starlink unless something definitively rules them out. Eventually these strings disperse as the satellites get to their final locations in orbit, but they still can be seen as faint dots moving overhead.

    2024 Update - This section has been added as night observation issues continue. Earlier aircraft were mentioned as a cause of bright objects appearing stationary near the ground. The question was asked, "How does a plane remain stationary?" The answer is it doesn't. But depending on your point of observation it certainly can appear that way.

    Aircraft with landing Lights On.

    The photo above shows a plane as it is landing at night. The beam from the landing lights is concentrated in a forward direction. While the exact altitude of the plane is not known in this case, planes turn on their lights at 10,000 feet when they are on approach. Now suppose it is a clear night and the plane turns to where it is flying directly toward your point of observation. Those lights would clearly be seen miles away when the beam was pointed in your direction. And even though it might be several thousand feet in the air you would see it as a bright, single point of light. Since the plane was flying directly toward you there would be no side to side movement and it would appear motionless. If you continue to watch it eventually it would be seen to drop below the horizon and disappear. Or sometimes the plane turns and to you the lights just go out. In reality the turn sent the beam a different direction and the UFO just vanished. It's all a matter of your perspective and the plane's lights.

International Space Station seen from the Ground

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    At the beginning of this article the International Space Station was mentioned. It continues to generate reports as it passes overhead. The picture here shows what the space station looks like as seen from the fround through a telescope. But you can get a similar view even through a good set of binoculars. And the number of satellites is continuing to increase as more nations are placing them in orbit. It is actually becoming an issue with astronomy, most astronomy is done using cameras mounted on telescopes with long exposure times. And just about every photo taken this way includes a satellite or piece of space junk that passes into the field of view. Things are only getting worse in this regard.

©    May 2024 - J Brown