|Explanations for a Majority of UFO Sightings
Majority of UFOs can be Identified as Ordinary Objects or Natural Phenomena
|Unidentified flying object which is commonly abbreviated as UFO or U.F.O. is the popular term for any apparent aerial phenomenon whose cause cannot be easily or immediately identified by the observer.
United States Air Force, which coined the term in 1952, initially
defined UFOs as those objects that remain unidentified after scrutiny by
expert investigators, though today the term UFO is colloquially used to
refer to any unidentifiable sighting regardless of whether it has been
Studies show that after careful investigation, the majority of UFOs can be identified as ordinary objects or phenomena.
While there is some controversy over many UFO sightings there are quite a few sightings which can be explained by ordinary objects and natural phenomena such as:
- Astronomical objects (bright stars, planets, meteors, re-entering man-made spacecraft, artificial satellites, and the moon)
- Aircraft (Aerial advertising and other aircraft, missile launches)
- Balloons (weather balloons, prank balloons, large research balloons)
- Other atmospheric objects and phenomena (birds, unusual clouds, kites, flares)
Unidentified Flying Objects is a difficult task due to the normally
poor quality of the evidence provided by those who report sighting the
- Light phenomena (mirages, fata morgana, moon dogs, swamp gas, searchlights and other ground lights, etc.)
Nevertheless, most officially investigated UFO
sightings, such as from the U.S. Air Force's Project Blue Book, have
been identified as being due to honest misidentifications of natural
phenomena, aircraft, or other prosaic explanations.
Project Blue Book stated that UFOs sightings were generated as a result of:
there are some people and organizations that cast doubt on the U.S. Air
Force's Project Blue Book and its findings it is believed that up to
94% of UFO sightings can be explained due to ordinary objects and
- A mild form of mass hysteria.
- Individuals who fabricate such reports to perpetrate a hoax or seek publicity.
- Psychopathological persons.
- Misidentification of various conventional objects.
Lets explore the ordinary objects and natural phenomena to help us better understand what sometimes is being seen in the skies.
|Most UFO sightings are astronomical objects, aircraft, balloons, other atmospheric objects and phenomena, as well as hoaxes.
It is believed that roughly 5%-20% of UFO reports do not follow under these categories and therefore they cannot be explained.
Blue Book was one of a series of systematic studies of unidentified
flying objects conducted by the United States Air Force.
Started in 1952, it was the second revival of such a study (the first two of its kind being Projects Sign and Grudge).
A termination order was given for the study in December 1969, and all activity under its auspices ceased in January 1970.
Astronomical objects include bright stars and planets such as Venus, as well as meteors, comets, spacecraft which re-enter the Earths atmosphere,
artificial satellites and the moon. These are all objects which are
astronomical objects and are often mistakenly reported as a UFO. These
objects are actually considered one of the top reasons for a UFO
Venus is the brightest object in the sky (except for the sun, the moon
and the International Space Station), and is often visible in the early
evening and morning sky. Even experienced witnesses, especially when
they are in unfamiliar surroundings or unusual atmospheric conditions,
can fail to identify Venus correctly.
However, the location of Venus is easily calculable, and professional
astronomers report that many of the phone calls they receive from
concerned citizens reporting the presence of a UFO are due to
observations of the planet.
Astronomer Phil Plait, in particular, has suggested that Venus is responsible for a majority of all UFO reports.
The brightest meteors known as bollides are long lasting fireballs that
leave a trail in the sky which can be visible for up to an hour after
passing. Such events are relatively rare but can be witnessed by a large
area of the Earth since most events occur kilometers up in the
Those witnessing such events who are not familiar with meteors can be easily fooled into thinking that the meteor is a UFO.
Because meteors are not predictable with the same degree of accuracy as
planets, stars, of man-made objects such as satellites, these
occurrences are more difficult to prove in retrospect, though UFO
sightings during meteor showers, or where there are astronomical reports
of bollides, are likely to be explained as such.
Comets are another event which can be misidentified as a UFO. A comet is
an icy small Solar System body that, when close enough to the Sun,
displays a visible coma (a thin, fuzzy, temporary atmosphere) and
sometimes also a tail. These phenomena are both due to the effects of
solar radiation and the solar wind upon the nucleus of the comet.
Comet nuclei are themselves loose collections of ice, dust, and small
rocky particles, ranging from a few hundred meters to tens of kilometers
across. Comets have been observed since ancient times and have
historically been considered bad omens.
Comets have a wide range of orbital periods, ranging from a few years to
hundreds of thousands of years. Short-period comets originate in the
Kuiper Belt, or its associated scattered disc, which lie beyond the
orbit of Neptune. Longer-period comets are thought to originate in the
Oort Cloud, a spherical cloud of icy bodies in the outer Solar System.
Long-period comets plunge towards the Sun from the Oort Cloud because of
gravitational perturbations caused by either the massive outer planets
of the Solar System (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), or passing
stars. Rare hyperbolic comets pass once through the inner Solar System
before being thrown out into interstellar space along hyperbolic
Satellites & Spacecrafts
Many man-made objects have been reported as UFOs.
Man-made objects such as spacecraft entering the Earths atmosphere and
satellites are commonly misidentified.
Thousands of satellites have been launched into orbit around the Earth.
These originate from more than 50 countries and have used the satellite
launching capabilities of ten nations. A few hundred satellites are
currently operational, whereas thousands of unused satellites and
satellite fragments orbit the Earth as space debris.
Satellites are used for a large number of purposes. Common types include
military and civilian Earth observation satellites, communications
satellites, navigation satellites, weather satellites, and research
Satellites are tracked by United States Space Surveillance Network
(SSN), which has been tracking every object in orbit over 10 cm (3.937
inches) in diameter since it was founded in 1957. There are
approximately 3,000 satellites operating in Earths orbit today,
according to the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA), out of roughly 8,000 man-made objects in total.
In its entire history, the SSN has tracked more than 24,500 space
objects orbiting Earth. The majority of these have fallen into unstable
orbits and incinerated during reentry into Earths atmosphere. The SSN
also keeps track which piece of space junk belongs to which country.
Even the international space station can be misidentified as a UFO.
Even the moon which is a common sighting in the night
time sky can be reported as a UFO. The fact that the moon has been
misidentified as a UFO is an indication of how little certain people
actually look up at the night time sky.
The Moon has an exceptionally low albedo, giving it a similar
reflectance to coal. Despite this, it is the second brightest object in
the sky after the Sun. This is partly due to the brightness enhancement
of the opposition effect; at quarter phase, the Moon is only one-tenth
as bright, rather than half as bright, as at full Moon.
Additionally, colour constancy in the visual system recalibrates the
relations between the colours of an object and its surroundings, and
since the surrounding sky is comparatively dark, the sunlit Moon is
perceived as a bright object.
The edges of the full Moon seem as bright as the centre, with no limb
darkening, due to the reflective properties of lunar soil, which
reflects more light back towards the Sun than in other directions. The
Moon does appear larger when close to the horizon, but this is a purely
psychological effect, known as the Moon illusion, first described in the
7th century BC.
Aircraft is another very common reason behind UFO sightings. There are many more objects over the skies today then ever before.
These objects include normal everyday aircraft's. Commercial planes and
small planes are very common over the skies which are reported as UFOs.
There are many experimental aircraft's that the military fly over the
skies generally at night which are commonly reported as UFOs as well.
For Example, the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit (also known as the Stealth
Bomber) is an American heavy bomber with "low observable" stealth
technology designed to penetrate dense anti-aircraft defenses and deploy
both conventional and nuclear weapons.
It was a highly secretive aircraft which was unknown to most of the
population for years. Its triangular design could easily trick the
casual observer into thinking they were witnessing a UFO.
* Missile launches are another event which can cause wide-spread reports of UFOs.
* Blimps and other forms of advertising aircraft have also caused reports of UFOs.
Weather balloons have been widely known to be misidentified as
UFOs. A weather or sounding balloon is a balloon (specifically a type of
high altitude balloon) which carries instruments aloft to send back
information on atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity and wind
speed aloft by means of a small, expendable measuring device called a
The balloon itself produces the lift, and is usually made of a highly
flexible latex material, though Chloroprene may also be used. The unit
that performs the actual measurements and radio transmissions hangs at
the lower end of the string, and is called a radiosonde.
Specialized radiosondes are used for measuring particular parameters,
such as determining the ozone concentration. The balloon is usually
filled with hydrogen due to lower cost, though helium can be used as a
The ascent rate can be controlled by the amount of gas with which the
balloon is filled. Weather balloons may reach altitudes of 40 km (25
miles) or more, limited by diminishing pressures causing the balloon to
expand to such a degree (typically by a 100:1 factor) that it
disintegrates. In this instance the instrument package is usually lost.
Above that altitude sounding rockets are used. After sounding rockets,
satellites are used for even higher altitudes. Weather balloons are
sometimes cited as the cause for unidentified flying object sightings,
and are also used for cluster ballooning.
|Other Atmospheric Objects and Light Phenomena
Many everyday objects in the skies are reported as UFOs
such as birds, unusual clouds, kites and flares. Birds flying in the
skies as well as flocks of birds which are known to fly in a 'V'
formation are reported as UFOs. Fireworks, light houses, parachutes and other man-made devices are often reported as UFOs.
Even some reports indicate that fireflies have been responsible for UFO
sightings. Tropical fireflies, particularly in Southeast Asia, routinely
synchronize their flashes among large groups.
Unusual clouds such as lenticular clouds which are stationary
lens-shaped clouds that form at high altitudes are reported as UFOs as
well. Headlights from automobiles generally when the automobile is going
uphill, have attributed to UFO sightings. The fact that light can
reflect off certain objects as well as the atmosphere under certain
circumstances can create such a distortion that the observer believes
they are witnessing a UFO.
Kites are another object which are often reported as a UFO especially
LED kites which light up the night sky with multiple colors which
These types of kites can often produce such a weird sight in the sky
that many witnesses will believe they are actually seeing a UFO.
Kites vary by the nature of the main wing part (monoplane, flexible
sail, stiffened flexible sail, rigid wing, biplane, multiplane, ram-air
inflated, closed bladder gas inflated, rotating wing, object mimic (of
animals, birds, boats, airplanes, insects, people, places, things).
For example, the main body of the kite—the wing part—may be made up of
inflated gas bladders to give endless shapes. Such closed-bladder
inflated wings differ from open-cell ram-air inflation like the Domina
Jalbert parafoil kite. Open single-surface flexible sails are also often
considered to be simply inflated by the wind.
The wing of the kite is also characterized as to its aspect ratio.
Low-aspect ratio kites are tall compared to the front width of the
kite's wing. High-aspect ratio kites have wings that are wide compared
to their height or depth.
Also, the wing character construction type is frequently distinguished:
stick-and-sail, monolithic solid (foam, wood, metal, plastic), inflated
bladder, monocoque, highly trussed, or sail-only soft fully flexible; or
a hybrid mix of fundamental construction types. Finally, wing character
is typed by level of craftsmanship, from low to high.
* Hang Gliders have also been reported as UFOs. There are certain
individuals that hang glide at night with LED lights attached to their
glider. There have been reports of UFOs that have been attributed to
this particular event. Generally the hang glider is equipped with LED
lights which resemble a 'V' formation in the night sky.
Flares are sometimes reported as a UFO as well. A flare, also sometimes
called a fusee, is a type of pyrotechnic that produces a brilliant light
or intense heat without an explosion.
Flares are used for signaling, illumination, or defensive
countermeasures in civilian and military applications. Flares may be
ground pyrotechnics, projectile pyrotechnics, or parachute-suspended to
provide maximum illumination time over a large area.
Projectile pyrotechnics may be dropped from aircraft, fired from rocket
or artillery, or deployed by flare guns or handheld percussive tubes.
Flares produce their light through the combustion of a pyrotechnic
composition. The ingredients are varied, but often based on strontium
nitrate, potassium nitrate, or potassium perchlorate and mixed with a
fuel such as charcoal, sulfur, sawdust, aluminium, magnesium, or a
suitable polymeric resin.
Flares may be colored by the inclusion of pyrotechnic colorants. Calcium
flares are used underwater to illuminate submerged objects.
Light distortion from air turbulence can cause celestial bodies to move
to a limited degree as can a visual perceptual effect called the
autokinetic effect, caused by small, involuntary eye movements after
staring at a star-like light against a black background without a frame
To some observers, these may cause stars and planets to appear to start
and stop, change direction, or dart around. Hendry and other UFO
skeptics attribute complex patterns of apparent motion in UFO reports to
the autokinetic effect, but this is disputed.
Another type of misperceived motion sometimes occurs when people are
driving in a vehicle. Witnesses may believe the “UFO” was following them
even though the celestial body was actually stationary.
Even police and other normally reliable witnesses can occasionally be fooled by sightings of bright stars and planets.
In about 10% of Hendry’s cases caused by celestial bodies, witnesses
greatly underestimated distances to the objects, giving distance
estimates ranging from 200 feet to 125 miles (60 m to 200 km).
According to Hendry, moving clouds may also sometimes confuse observers
by creating induced motion. Hendry believes this occasionally makes
observers also believe objects have suddenly disappeared or make a rapid
* Large fires and volcanoes, especially when seen from a distance can be misidentified as a UFO.
* Search lights and other ground lights have been attributed to UFO
sightings. These particular lights are generally quite powerful and can
cause reflections as well as they can be seen for miles away.
* Swamp gas is another event which has been
attributed to UFO sightings especially in the past. This is not as
common as it once was compared to the early 1950s and 60s. Many
individuals believe that swamp gas was mostly used as an excuse by the
government and military to cover-up a particular UFO event or possibly a
top-secret military aircraft. Swamp gas is not fully understood by the
Nevertheless, swamp gas is a gas consisting primarily of methane,
typically with 0-20% higher hydrocarbons (primarily ethane). Most
natural gas is created by two mechanisms: biogenic and thermogenic.
Biogenic gas is created by methanogenic organisms in marshes, bogs,
landfills, and shallow sediments.
Deeper in the earth, at greater temperature and pressure, thermogenic
gas is created from buried organic material. Swamp gas under certain
conditions can produce a lumination in the sky over a certain area. It
is possible that this particular event could be misidentified as a UFO
but it is quite rare.
* Ball lightning is another possibility of reports of UFOs. Ball
lightning is a proposed atmospheric electrical phenomenon of which
little is known. The term refers to reports of luminous, usually
spherical objects which vary from pea-sized to several meters in
diameter. It is usually associated with thunderstorms, but lasts
considerably longer than the split-second flash of a lightning bolt.
Many of the early reports say that the ball eventually explodes,
sometimes with fatal consequences, leaving behind the odor of sulfur.
There are records of free-floating glowing balls that occur in total
absence of thunderclouds, mainly in the valley of Hessdalen, Norway. One
recent theory suggests that these light balls (Hessdalen Lights) are
produced by the ionization of air and dust by alpha particles during
radon decay in the dusty atmosphere.
Laboratory experiments have produced effects that are visually similar
to reports of ball lightning, but it is presently unknown whether these
are actually related to any naturally occurring phenomenon. Scientific
data on natural ball lightning are scarce owing to its infrequency and
The presumption of its existence is based on reported public sightings,
and has therefore produced somewhat inconsistent findings. Given
inconsistencies and the lack of reliable data, the true nature of ball
lightning is still unknown. Until recently, ball lightning was often
regarded as a fantasy or a hoax, but some serious scientific discussions
and theories have attempted to explain it.
* Aurora borealis are another form of light phenomena which could be
misidentified as UFOs to the casual observer. Auroras, also known as
northern and southern (polar) lights or aurorae (singular: aurora), are
natural light displays in the sky, particularly in the polar regions,
and usually observed at night. They typically occur in the ionosphere.
They are also referred to as polar auroras. This is a misnomer however,
because they are commonly visible between 65 to 72 degrees north and
south latitudes, which place them in a ring just within the Arctic and
Aurorae do occur deeper inside the polar regions, but these are
infrequent and often invisible to the naked eye. In northern latitudes,
the effect is known as the aurora borealis, named after the Roman
goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas,
by Pierre Gassendi in 1621. The aurora borealis is also called the
northern polar lights, as it is only visible in the sky from the
Northern Hemisphere, with the chance of visibility increasing with
proximity to the North Magnetic Pole.
Auroras seen near the magnetic pole may be high overhead, but from
farther away, they illuminate the northern horizon as a greenish glow or
sometimes a faint red, as if the Sun were rising from an unusual
direction. The aurora borealis most often occurs near the equinoxes.
Its southern counterpart, the aurora australis or the southern polar
lights, has similar properties, but is only visible from high southern
latitudes in Antarctica, South America, or Australasia. Auroras can be
spotted throughout the world and on other planets. They are most visible
closer to the poles due to the longer periods of darkness and the
* Sundogs are another possibility for UFO reports. A sun dog or sundog
is an atmospheric phenomenon that creates bright spots of light in the
sky, often on a luminous ring or halo on either side of the sun. Sundogs
may appear as a colored patch of light to the left or right of the sun,
22° distant and at the same distance above the horizon as the sun, and
in ice halos. They can be seen anywhere in the world during any season,
but they are not always obvious or bright. Sundogs are best seen and are
most conspicuous when the sun is low.
Sundogs are formed by plate-shaped hexagonal ice crystals in high and
cold cirrus clouds or, during very cold weather, by ice crystals called
diamond dust drifting in the air at low levels. These crystals act as
prisms, bending the light rays passing through them by 22°. If the
crystals are randomly oriented, a complete ring around the sun is seen —
a halo. But often, as the crystals sink through the air they become
vertically aligned, so sunlight is refracted horizontally — in this
case, sundogs are seen.
As the sun rises higher, the rays passing through the crystals are
increasingly skewed from the horizontal plane. Their angle of deviation
increases and the sundogs move further from the sun. However, they
always stay at the same altitude as the sun. Sundogs are red-colored at
the side nearest the sun. Farther out the colors grade through oranges
to blue. However, the colors overlap considerably and so are muted,
never pure or saturated. The colors of the sundog finally merge into the
white of the parhelic circle (if the latter is visible).
It is theoretically possible to predict the forms of sundogs as would be
seen on other planets and moons. Mars might have sundogs formed by both
water-ice and CO2-ice. On the giant gas planets — Jupiter, Saturn,
Uranus and Neptune — other crystals form the clouds of ammonia, methane,
and other substances that can produce halos with four or more sundogs.
* Moondogs are another possibility for UFO sightings. A moon dog or
moondog is a relatively rare bright circular spot on a lunar halo caused
by the refraction of moonlight by hexagonal-plate-shaped ice crystals
in cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. Moondogs appear to the left and right
of the moon 22° or more distant. They are exactly analogous to sun dogs,
but are rarer because to be produced the moon must be bright and
therefore full or nearly full. Moondogs show little color to the unaided
eye because their light is not bright enough to activate the cone cells
of humans' eyes.
* Laser pointers (especially light created from a green laser) and
holography (a technique that allows the light scattered from an object
to be recorded and later reconstructed so that it appears as if the
object is in the same position relative to the recording medium as it
was when recorded. The image changes as the position and orientation of
the viewing system changes in exactly the same way as if the object were
still present, thus making the recorded image (hologram) appear three
dimensional.) can be misidentified as a UFO as well.
Fata Morgana is a type of mirage responsible for some UFO sightings, by
making objects located below the astronomical horizon appear to be
hovering in the sky. It also magnifies images and makes them look
The UFOs seen on radar can also be due to Fata Morgana, since water
vapor in the air can create radar mirages more readily than temperature
inversions can create optical mirages.
Inferior mirages produce images that are not stable. Hot
air rises, and cooler air (being more dense) descends, so the layers
will mix, giving rise to turbulence. The image will be distorted
accordingly. It may be vibrating; it may be vertically extended
(towering) or horizontally extended (stooping).
If there are several temperature layers, several mirages may mix
together, perhaps causing double images. In any case, mirages are
usually not larger than about half a degree high (same apparent size as
the sun and moon) and from objects only a few kilometers away.
Superior mirages are another type of mirage that can attribute to UFO
sightings. Superior mirages occur when the air below the line of sight
is colder than that above. This is called a temperature inversion, since
it does not represent the normal temperature gradient of the
In this case the light rays are bent down and so the image appears above
the true object, hence the name superior. Superior mirages are in
general less common than inferior mirages, but when they do occur, they
tend to be more stable, as cold air has no tendency to move up or warm
air to move down.
Superior mirages are most common in polar regions, especially over large
sheets of ice with a uniform low temperature. They also occur at more
moderate latitudes, although in those cases they are weaker and less
smooth and stable.
A superior mirage can be right-side up or upside down,
depending on the distance of the true object and the temperature
gradient. Often the image appears as a distorted mixture of up and down
Many hoaxes related to the pseudo scientific study of unidentified flying objects have been perpetrated.
Computer-generated imagery (CGI) and other computer effects have been widely used to create fake evidence of UFO sightings in recent years. Computer software has become extremely sophisticated and in some cases only highly trained individuals can spot the differences between real and false imagery.
Some examples of UFO hoaxes which have occurred years ago include:
- For April Fool's Day 1897, two practical jokers
in Omaha, Nebraska set aloft a helium baloon with a burning wicker
basket suspended beneath it.
- On April 17th, 1897, The Dallas Morning News
reported that the previous evening three boys hoaxed a mystery airship
sighting by soaking a cotton ball in kerosene and tying it to the leg of
a turkey vulture. When the bird was released, witnesses to its light
shouted "Look, it's the airship!" The hoax was discovered when the bird
landed on the roof of the local high school and the burning cotton ball
caught fire to the school.
- An account by Alexander Hamilton of Leroy, Kansas
supposedly occurred about April 19th, 1897, and was published in the
Yates Center Farmer’s Advocate of April 23rd. Hamilton, his son, and a
tenant witnessed an airship hovering over his cattle pen. Upon closer
examination, the witnesses realized that a red “cable” from the airship
had lassoed a heifer, but had also become entangled in the pen’s fence.
After trying unsuccessfully to free the heifer, Hamilton cut loose a
portion of the fence, then "stood in amazement to see the ship, cow and
all rise slowly and sail off." Some have suggested this was the earliest
report of cattle mutilation (In 1982, however, UFO researcher Jerome
Clark debunked this story, and confirmed via interviews and Hamilton's
own affidavit that the story was a successful attempt to win a Liar's
Club competition to create the most outlandish tall tale).
Note: This list is by no means to discredit UFO reports. It is merely a
list to help explain what in many cases are misidentified objects or
natural phenomena which attribute to UFO sightings. There are many cases
throughout history of UFO reports which cannot be rationally explained
by these types of ordinary objects and natural phenomena.