Copyright Dave Hodrien 2019

Identified Flying Objects

The majority of UFO sightings are simply mis-identification of mundane aerial objects. There are many things in our skies which can appear very unusual in the right situations. If you have seen a UFO it's a good idea to ensure at a first point of call that it is not one of the below...

Aeroplanes

There are many different types of aeroplanes, both civilian and military. Not all of them have an easily recognisable shape or appearance. If you see a strange looking craft of some kind, there is always the chance that it is one of ours.

While most civilian aircraft are recognisable even at a distance, there are many rarer military aircraft types which could conceivably be seen in flight. It is widely believed that the stealth bomber (and other similar shaped aircraft) may be responsible for some of the sightings of Flying Triangle UFOs which have been seen around the globe.

The military are almost certainly working on a number of black projects in secret, which would include advanced aircraft, some of which may look highly unusual if seen by a regular member of the public. They would no doubt test fly these aircraft, so it is possible that they could be seen while in flight. However this would usually be done in remote places or close to military installations, it is very unlikely they would fly them over populated cities. And some of the manoeuvres of reported UFOs are almost certainly far in advance of anything that is being built, either publicly or in secret. Also it is unlikely that anything is developed which could fly in complete silence, so if an aircraft of this type was seen quite closely, the noise of its propulsion would be heard.

During daylight it is usually possible to see the shape of the aircraft, even at quite a distance. However when caught in sunlight, distant aircraft can sometimes appear as glowing white spherical or cigar-shaped objects. If flying directly towards or away you, they can also sometimes appear as flattened discs.

After dark the shape of the aircraft is usually quite hard to make out, unless it is being viewed against cloud. It is more likely that you would see a configuration of lights on the aircraft. These lights can be numerous colours – usually a mix of white, red, green and blue. These lights are often positioned on the outer extremities of the aircraft such as the wing tips and tail, which may give the appearance of a diamond-shaped craft with a light at each corner. If an aeroplane has its landing light on and is flying towards your position, due to its brightness it can completely obscure the shape of the plane or its other lights. This can give the appearance of a large brightly glowing yellow/white orb or disc shaped object. It is only when it gets nearer to the camera that its true form becomes apparent.

Helicopters

Due to the distinct shape of most helicopters, and unmistakable whirring sound of the rotor blades, helicopters are usually quite recognisable during daylight hours, even at a distance. Where as most aircraft constantly move across the sky, helicopters of course have the ability to hover stationary for as long as they wish, and also vertically ascend or descend in altitude.

Sound travels further after dark, so even when quite far away, the noise of the rotor blades should be heard. However if the wind is blowing away from your position, this could make it harder to hear or even appear silent. Like aeroplanes, helicopters have distinctive lighting configurations that generally include the colours white, red, blue and green.

At a distance, like aircraft, the lights on helicopters will often blur into one brightly glowing yellowish light. It is only when you get closer that the individual lights of the helicopter can be made out.

Hand Gliders & Microlights

Handgliders and powered microlights are another type of aircraft which can be mistaken for something more exotic. They are usually brightly coloured. They come in a variety of sizes and tend to have a triangular shaped canopy, under which the pilot is situated.

Hand gliders are non-powered and so are completely silent. They tend to drift on straight or curving paths. They will generally slowly descend in altitude, but can also be seen to ascend in a continual turning movement as the pilot finds a current of warmer air to provide lift.

Microlights on the other hand make a droning noise which can usually be heard unless they are distant. They cannot hover stationary in the air, and will usually be seen to fly on a continual straight or turning path across the sky at a constant altitude, unless the pilot is bringing it in to land.

Radio Controlled Drones & Aircraft

Quad drones have only been widely available to the public in recent years, but they are now extremely popular. Due to the fact they are under remote control and have four rotor blades quad drones can perform extremely fast darting manouveres, accelerate or deccelerate in seconds and hover motionless in the sky. They are generally quite small in size, however due to having no point of reference they may sometimes appear to be larger and at a greater distance. During daylight hours their shape will usually be apparent, but after dark they can be lit by extremely bright lights, usually white or red in colour.

Radio controlled model aircraft have been available for many more years than drones. Their shape will usually be much more familiar as most of the time they will be scale replicas of aeroplanes or helicopters. Their manouvering capabilities will usually not be as impressive as drones. Model aeroplanes are unable to hover but will often be used to perform aerial stunts such as loop the loops, corkscrews and dives towards the ground. Model helicopters can of course hover but cannot switch direction as easily as quad drones.

Blimps

Blimps or airships are usually quite large in size and elongated ellipse in shape. The apparent shape can vary depending on which angle they are viewed from - for example they may appear to be a disc or even a sphere. They come in a variety of colours, but are most commonly white. At the tail end there are usually triangular rudders to aid in movement. There are both giant manned and smaller unmanned varieties.

Many companies use blimps to advertise their products. Unmanned blimps are usually tethered to the ground, although this tether will usually not be visible at a distance. They tend to remain stationary or slowly glide across the sky. There are also ones which are controlled remotely, these can of course perform slow turns or changes in altitude.

As blimps tend to be unlit, they are usually quite hard to see after dark unless made out against passing cloud or in front of the moon, at which point they can appear as a black disc/lozenge shaped object.

Hot Air Balloons

Hot air balloons are usually very large in size and have a basket hanging underneath them in which the people manning the balloon sit. They can come in a variety of shapes and colours, but are most commonly a rounded lightbulb-like shape, which is very distinct even at a distance. However sometimes races or competitions are held, during which very odd shaped balloons can be seen.

A powerful flame is lit intermitently to keep the air inside the balloon hot enough to stay afloat. This flame is extremely bright and can often be seen, even during daylight hours. At night time it can light up the whole of the inside of the balloon in a fiery orange glow. The flame also makes a loud roaring sound, that can sometimes be heard from the ground.

Because of the way that they are propelled through the air, hot air balloons usually glide very slowly across the sky, and can also hover completely still if required.

Weather Balloons

Any mention of weather balloons is immediately remeniscent of the Roswell UFO crash of 1947. While the "weather balloon" explanation provided for that incident was clearly a cover up, weather balloons can sometimes genuinely be mistaken for UFOs. They are usually launched during daylight hours, quite large in size, and white or metallic in colour.

They come in a variety of shapes but are most commonly spherical, sometimes with weather monitoring devices hanging from them. When launched they drift up very high into the atmosphere. They are usually tethered so that they can be reeled back in after weather monitoring is complete, although they could concievably break loose from this tether and drift in air currents across the sky. If caught in sunlight, they can be very reflective and appear as a self-illuminated glowing spherical or tear drop shaped object.

Chinese Lanterns

In recent years Chinese lanterns have been removed from most shops as they are considered a fire hazard. However they are still readily available online. They are usually cylindrical in shape, with a flattened base tapering out into a rounded top. They are made from paper and can vary in size, anything up to several metres, although they are commonly about a metre in height. Inside the lantern is a wick which once lit will heat up the air inside, causing it to drift up into the sky. Lanterns can stay adrift for anything up to 45 minutes, after which the flame will die out and they will fall back to the ground. Occasionally they may catch fire and burn up.


Lanterns are most commonly launched after dark. They can vary in colour but usually glow a fiery amber orange. Sometimes they may also appear yellow or even pure white. Close up it is possible to see the shape of the lantern, and they will sometimes appear brighter towards the base where the flame is lit. Further away they appear as bright glowing orbs of light. Because they are in the sky with no point of reference, it is often hard to accurately judge their distance, and therefore their size and speed of movement. Sometimes the light inside them will flicker, other times they can appear constantly bright.

Lanterns are often launched at celebrations. They tend to drift in air currents, so will usually be seen to follow the same course and also slowly gain in altitude. This can give them impression that they are under control and following each other in a line, or suddenly appearing from nowhere one by one as they are launched. However if it is relatively still, they can drift randomly, sometimes appearing to form patterns in the sky, remain stationary or suddenly perform odd manouevres. They can also sometimes be tied together giving them a bunched appearance. While lanterns are usually launched after dark for obvious reasons, they can still sometimes be launched in daylight. In the day time it may be too bright to see the light coming from inside the lantern, and the shape will be much more visible. Lanterns are usually white in colour, but can also be purchased in other colours. Silhouetted against bright sunlight they can even appear black.

Despite their popularity, especially around New Year, Christmas and Bonfire Night, many people are still unaware of what lanterns look like at a distance.

LED Balloons

These are helium filled balloons or larger blimps which have electronically lit LEDs inside of them. While Chinese lanterns are usually an amber colour, LED balloons can of course be any colour. The LED can be set to be on constantly, flash regularly or in sequences or even change colour. While usually the same as a normal balloon in shape, they can also come in a variety of other shapes. Their sizes are also completely variable. The larger LED blimps can even be radio controlled.

LED balloons/blimps will almost always be launched after dark so that their bright colours can be seen. As they do not have a flame which can burn out, they can stay lit and drifting in the sky for hours, during which they could conceivably travel anywhere. If not under control, they will react similar to Chinese lanterns, appearing to form lines or patterns in the sky as they drift on air currents. Remote controlled LED blimps can of course perform more interesting manoeuvres, but are not able to move at a very fast speed.

 

Solar Airships

These can look extremely impressive and very unusual indeed. Solar Airships typically appear long  cylindrical / cigar shaped objects. They are made from a light plastic material and launched on a  hot sunny day. When the air inside them heats up they lift up into the sky. They  are commercially available and are usually black in colour, as this is the  colour which soaks up the most heat. However they can come in a variety of  other colours such as silver. It is possible to make home-made solar airships by tying bin bags together.

Solar airships are typically very large in size. They are also usually tethered, however at a distance this tether would of course not be visible to the naked eye. They can also occasionally break free from this tether and drift across the sky. While airbourne, they are often seen to rotate or hang still at a strange angle, even completely vertical. They are extremely light weight and flimsy, so if caught in air currents can bend and curl around, which can give the appearance of a living snake-like creature.  These will often appear to change shape as they are buffeted by the wind. While usually long and cylindrical, it is also possible to make solar airships of other shapes.

As they are usually launched on bright sunny days, the sunlight can  sometimes reflect off their smooth surface, giving the impression of  twinkling flashing lights of different colours. If the observer is unfamiliar with what they are, they can easily appear to be a cylindrical-shaped craft coverered in flashing lights.
 

Balloons / Inflatables

Balloons and other inflatables come in a near endless variety of shapes, sizes and colours. If metallic or white in colour they can be highly reflective, causing them to appear to glow in the sunlight. If filled with helium and accidentally released, they will drift up into the sky and follow air currents, sometimes rotating or tumbling as they do. Balloons at celebrations are often tied together in bunches, which can look very strange at a distance or give the impression of a number of small objects following each other.

At night-time normal balloons or inflatables would be relatively hard to spot as they are not self-illuminated, but could still be caught in moonlight or lights on the ground, perhaps glinting for a moment before seeming to vanish.

Kites

Kites would usually be flown in the daytime as they are usually not illuminated in any way. However it is possible to buy some that are lit by LEDs or glow in the dark. They come in a wide variety of shapes, colours and sizes. They would usually be tethered, however at a distance it is usually not possible to see this tether.

As they are usually under control from the ground, they can be seen to perform unusual manouevres – climbing into the sky, remaining stationary or making sudden turns or changes in altitude. A kiting session will always end with the kite falling to the ground. If let go by accident, a kite could concievably be carried a distance in the wind, during which it may twist and turn, but would eventually fall back to earth.

Birds

It may seem unlikely, but birds can be sometimes be mistaken for UFOs. When seen at a distance in bright sunlight, birds can appear to be small glowing or metallic looking spheres that are moving together in patterns. The light reflects off their feathers causing their actual shape to be masked, and it is only when you get closer that their true appearance is revealed. After dark if caught in artificial lighting they may glow yellow or orange and look like swooping clusters of glowing lights which seem to appear and dissapear.

If a distant bird is hovering on air currents looking for food, or is gliding towards your direction, it can sometimes appear as a stationary or slow moving saucer-shaped dark object.

Lenticular Clouds

Sometimes what appears to be a UFO may be nothing more than cloud in the sky! There is a particular cloud type known as lenticular cloud which forms in the troposhere, usually in perpendicular alignment to the wind direction. This cloud type generally does not form over low-lying terrain. It forms very solid looking disc like shapes. To the untrained eye these can look extremely impressive, and have the appearance of a huge flying saucer hovering in the air! Lenticular clouds can be any shade, from bright white to dark grey, and sometimes have bright colours known as iridescence along their edge.

If the setting sun catches a lenticular cloud, it can look even more impressive, as it can appear to be self-illuminated. The second picture demonstrates this perfectly.

Satellites

Satellites orbitting the earth are only ever seen at night time in a cloudless sky. They usually take the appearance of a white star-like light, and will always move at a slow speed across the entire skyline without changing course.

Sometimes they may rotate and catch the sunlight only at certain angles, which will give the appearance of a white light blinking on and off as it moves. This can sometimes be quite dramatic, and appear as a bright flash, which has no doubt sometimes been mistaken for signalling. Other times they may be moving across the sky and then suddenly appear to blink out as the sunlight is no longer catching them.

Due to the fact they are out in space they are never very large in size, but can sometimes appear brighter than the other stars in the sky.

International Space Station

Like satellites, the International Space Station (ISS) is in a constant orbit around the Earth. It is only visible after dark and when the sky is clear. It can appear as a very bright moving star, or sometimes numerous white or yellow lights in close proximity to one another. It’s path never changes so it is possible to predict when it will appear and at which location in the sky. There are a number of websites and smartphone applications available which show the orbit of the ISS, for example http://www.isstracker.com/

The ISS takes 92 minutes to make one complete orbit. If you are in the right location for a period of time you may see it multiple times.


 

Meteorites

Meteorites, otherwise known as "shooting stars", are small rocks or space debris burning up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. They appear as very fast star-like objects which shoot across the sky and seem to vanish just as quickly as they appeared. Sometimes they may glow other colours such as yellow or green, depending on their chemical composition. Their path is always straight or lightly arced and will usually be at an angle, descending towards the ground.

Sometimes meteorites have been known to pass right across the skyline, and during this time they will appear as a glowing ball of fire with a trail.

 

Will o' the Wisp

A Will o' the Wisp is a small ball of light or flickering flame sometimes reported to be seen over boggy areas. In folklore they are said to move away when approached, leading travellers off safe paths. Some scientists believe Will o' the Wisps may be caused by burning methane gas naturally produced by marshland.

The photograph to the left is a mock up of what a Will o' the Wisp may look like.

Earth Lights

These mysterious  natually occurring lights are not fully scientifically proven, but are believed to occur in rural locations, especially around fault lines. They are rarely seen in urbanised  areas. Earth lights can appear as glowing orbs of light or unusual  bright flashes of colour.

Ball Lightning

Aurora Borealis

This naturally occuring atmospheric light can sometimes be spectacular to look at, but is usually only seen towards the poles of the Earth. It can occur in many different glowing colours, and seem to fade in and out and shoot very fast across the sky in waves. It rarely looks like a solid defined object and appears more like a sheet of shifting light, usually green or red in colour.

Photographic Anomalies

In many UFO encounters, nothing is actually seen with the naked eye, but upon later checking a photograph taken at the time a UFO can be seen. There are many different explanations which could account for this, some of which are detailed below.

Birds: Sometimes birds can be caught on camera and look very unusual, especially if quite close to the lens. Depending on the moment the photograph is taken, the bird’s wings will be in a certain position. If taken when the wings are alongside the body, this can give the appearance of a saucer or disc-shaped object. If in sunlight, the colour of the bird can be seen, but they can also be photographed while in shadow, which makes them appear black in colour. In incidents where nothing was seen at the time, but on the photograph something unusual can be seen, birds can sometimes be to blame.

Insects: Sometimes when the photo is taken, one or more insects may fly past the camera close to the lens, or even be sitting on the lens itself. This makes them indistinct, and they can appear as a dark rounded or unusual shaped object. Also if caught in the camera flash during a night-time or indoor shot, they can reflect the light and look like a glowing white shape. It is also possible for leaves or other debris to fall into view just as the photo is taken.

Dust Particles/Moisture Droplets: Over the years there have been many photos taken reporting to show what are commonly referred to as “orbs”. Some people believe these are linked to aliens, others feel they are spirt energy manifesting itself, or even doorways to other dimensions. Orbs are usually circular in shape. They can be a variety of colours but are usually white or have a strange mottled rainbow coloured effect. Photos of orbs have often been taken at reportedly haunted locations or UFO hot spots. Sometimes these orbs have been seen with the naked eye. But often they simply appear on photographs. While some may well be genuine, a lot of the time their appearance can just be put down to either water droplets in the air or dust particles drifting past the camera lens.

Camera Strap: Sometimes when taking a photograph, the camera strap can accidentally fall down in front of the lens. When the photograph is checked, this strap can appear as a dark or white blurred strip of colour. If a flash photograph is taken and this occurs, the strap can seem to glow bright white, which can look extremely strange.

Lens Flare: When taking a photograph towards sunlight, the light shining into the camera lens can sometimes appear as glowing shapes, usually circular or hexagonal. These can be a variety of colours including white, yellow, pink and green.. It sometimes forms a glowing point of bright light which can look like a self-illuminated object.

Camera Shake: Sometimes accidentally shaking the camera while taking a photograph can make normal recognisable objects look completely abnormal. For example, if taking a photograph towards a light source (artificial lights, moon, stars), camera shake can make the light appear as a long straight or curled up line. This is even more likely to occur if the camera is set to prolonged expsure in low lighting conditions.

The majority of UFO sightings are simply mis-identification of mundane aerial objects. There are many things in our skies which can appear very unusual in the right situations. If you have seen a UFO it's a good idea to ensure at a first point of call that it is not one of the below...

Aeroplanes

There are many different types of aeroplanes, both civilian and military. Not all of them have an easily recognisable shape or appearance. If you see a strange looking craft of some kind, there is always the chance that it is one of ours.

While most civilian aircraft are recognisable even at a distance, there are many rarer military aircraft types which could conceivably be seen in flight. It is widely believed that the stealth bomber (and other similar shaped aircraft) may be responsible for some of the sightings of Flying Triangle UFOs which have been seen around the globe.

The military are almost certainly working on a number of black projects in secret, which would include advanced aircraft, some of which may look highly unusual if seen by a regular member of the public. They would no doubt test fly these aircraft, so it is possible that they could be seen while in flight. However this would usually be done in remote places or close to military installations, it is very unlikely they would fly them over populated cities. And some of the manoeuvres of reported UFOs are almost certainly far in advance of anything that is being built, either publicly or in secret. Also it is unlikely that anything is developed which could fly in complete silence, so if an aircraft of this type was seen quite closely, the noise of its propulsion would be heard.

During daylight it is usually possible to see the shape of the aircraft, even at quite a distance. However when caught in sunlight, distant aircraft can sometimes appear as glowing white spherical or cigar-shaped objects. If flying directly towards or away you, they can also sometimes appear as flattened discs.

After dark the shape of the aircraft is usually quite hard to make out, unless it is being viewed against cloud. It is more likely that you would see a configuration of lights on the aircraft. These lights can be numerous colours – usually a mix of white, red, green and blue. These lights are often positioned on the outer extremities of the aircraft such as the wing tips and tail, which may give the appearance of a diamond-shaped craft with a light at each corner. If an aeroplane has its landing light on and is flying towards your position, due to its brightness it can completely obscure the shape of the plane or its other lights. This can give the appearance of a large brightly glowing yellow/white orb or disc shaped object. It is only when it gets nearer to the camera that its true form becomes apparent.

Helicopters

Due to the distinct shape of most helicopters, and unmistakable whirring sound of the rotor blades, helicopters are usually quite recognisable during daylight hours, even at a distance. Where as most aircraft constantly move across the sky, helicopters of course have the ability to hover stationary for as long as they wish, and also vertically ascend or descend in altitude.

Sound travels further after dark, so even when quite far away, the noise of the rotor blades should be heard. However if the wind is blowing away from your position, this could make it harder to hear or even appear silent. Like aeroplanes, helicopters have distinctive lighting configurations that generally include the colours white, red, blue and green.

At a distance, like aircraft, the lights on helicopters will often blur into one brightly glowing yellowish light. It is only when you get closer that the individual lights of the helicopter can be made out.

Hand Gliders & Microlights

Handgliders and powered microlights are another type of aircraft which can be mistaken for something more exotic. They are usually brightly coloured. They come in a variety of sizes and tend to have a triangular shaped canopy, under which the pilot is situated.

Hand gliders are non-powered and so are completely silent. They tend to drift on straight or curving paths. They will generally slowly descend in altitude, but can also be seen to ascend in a continual turning movement as the pilot finds a current of warmer air to provide lift.

Microlights on the other hand make a droning noise which can usually be heard unless they are distant. They cannot hover stationary in the air, and will usually be seen to fly on a continual straight or turning path across the sky at a constant altitude, unless the pilot is bringing it in to land.

Radio Controlled Drones & Aircraft

Quad drones have only been widely available to the public in recent years, but they are now extremely popular. Due to the fact they are under remote control and have four rotor blades quad drones can perform extremely fast darting manouveres, accelerate or deccelerate in seconds and hover motionless in the sky. They are generally quite small in size, however due to having no point of reference they may sometimes appear to be larger and at a greater distance. During daylight hours their shape will usually be apparent, but after dark they can be lit by extremely bright lights, usually white or red in colour.

Radio controlled model aircraft have been available for many more years than drones. Their shape will usually be much more familiar as most of the time they will be scale replicas of aeroplanes or helicopters. Their manouvering capabilities will usually not be as impressive as drones. Model aeroplanes are unable to hover but will often be used to perform aerial stunts such as loop the loops, corkscrews and dives towards the ground. Model helicopters can of course hover but cannot switch direction as easily as quad drones.

Blimps

Blimps or airships are usually quite large in size and elongated ellipse in shape. The apparent shape can vary depending on which angle they are viewed from - for example they may appear to be a disc or even a sphere. They come in a variety of colours, but are most commonly white. At the tail end there are usually triangular rudders to aid in movement. There are both giant manned and smaller unmanned varieties.

Many companies use blimps to advertise their products. Unmanned blimps are usually tethered to the ground, although this tether will usually not be visible at a distance. They tend to remain stationary or slowly glide across the sky. There are also ones which are controlled remotely, these can of course perform slow turns or changes in altitude.

As blimps tend to be unlit, they are usually quite hard to see after dark unless made out against passing cloud or in front of the moon, at which point they can appear as a black disc/lozenge shaped object.

Hot Air Balloons

Hot air balloons are usually very large in size and have a basket hanging underneath them in which the people manning the balloon sit. They can come in a variety of shapes and colours, but are most commonly a rounded lightbulb-like shape, which is very distinct even at a distance. However sometimes races or competitions are held, during which very odd shaped balloons can be seen.

A powerful flame is lit intermitently to keep the air inside the balloon hot enough to stay afloat. This flame is extremely bright and can often be seen, even during daylight hours. At night time it can light up the whole of the inside of the balloon in a fiery orange glow. The flame also makes a loud roaring sound, that can sometimes be heard from the ground.

Because of the way that they are propelled through the air, hot air balloons usually glide very slowly across the sky, and can also hover completely still if required.

Weather Balloons

Any mention of weather balloons is immediately remeniscent of the Roswell UFO crash of 1947. While the "weather balloon" explanation provided for that incident was clearly a cover up, weather balloons can sometimes genuinely be mistaken for UFOs. They are usually launched during daylight hours, quite large in size, and white or metallic in colour.

They come in a variety of shapes but are most commonly spherical, sometimes with weather monitoring devices hanging from them. When launched they drift up very high into the atmosphere. They are usually tethered so that they can be reeled back in after weather monitoring is complete, although they could concievably break loose from this tether and drift in air currents across the sky. If caught in sunlight, they can be very reflective and appear as a self-illuminated glowing spherical or tear drop shaped object.

Chinese Lanterns

In recent years Chinese lanterns have been removed from most shops as they are considered a fire hazard. However they are still readily available online. They are usually cylindrical in shape, with a flattened base tapering out into a rounded top. They are made from paper and can vary in size, anything up to several metres, although they are commonly about a metre in height. Inside the lantern is a wick which once lit will heat up the air inside, causing it to drift up into the sky. Lanterns can stay adrift for anything up to 45 minutes, after which the flame will die out and they will fall back to the ground. Occasionally they may catch fire and burn up.


Lanterns are most commonly launched after dark. They can vary in colour but usually glow a fiery amber orange. Sometimes they may also appear yellow or even pure white. Close up it is possible to see the shape of the lantern, and they will sometimes appear brighter towards the base where the flame is lit. Further away they appear as bright glowing orbs of light. Because they are in the sky with no point of reference, it is often hard to accurately judge their distance, and therefore their size and speed of movement. Sometimes the light inside them will flicker, other times they can appear constantly bright.

Lanterns are often launched at celebrations. They tend to drift in air currents, so will usually be seen to follow the same course and also slowly gain in altitude. This can give them impression that they are under control and following each other in a line, or suddenly appearing from nowhere one by one as they are launched. However if it is relatively still, they can drift randomly, sometimes appearing to form patterns in the sky, remain stationary or suddenly perform odd manouevres. They can also sometimes be tied together giving them a bunched appearance. While lanterns are usually launched after dark for obvious reasons, they can still sometimes be launched in daylight. In the day time it may be too bright to see the light coming from inside the lantern, and the shape will be much more visible. Lanterns are usually white in colour, but can also be purchased in other colours. Silhouetted against bright sunlight they can even appear black.

Despite their popularity, especially around New Year, Christmas and Bonfire Night, many people are still unaware of what lanterns look like at a distance.

LED Balloons

These are helium filled balloons or larger blimps which have electronically lit LEDs inside of them. While Chinese lanterns are usually an amber colour, LED balloons can of course be any colour. The LED can be set to be on constantly, flash regularly or in sequences or even change colour. While usually the same as a normal balloon in shape, they can also come in a variety of other shapes. Their sizes are also completely variable. The larger LED blimps can even be radio controlled.

LED balloons/blimps will almost always be launched after dark so that their bright colours can be seen. As they do not have a flame which can burn out, they can stay lit and drifting in the sky for hours, during which they could conceivably travel anywhere. If not under control, they will react similar to Chinese lanterns, appearing to form lines or patterns in the sky as they drift on air currents. Remote controlled LED blimps can of course perform more interesting manoeuvres, but are not able to move at a very fast speed.

 

Solar Airships

These can look extremely impressive and very unusual indeed. Solar Airships typically appear long  cylindrical / cigar shaped objects. They are made from a light plastic material and launched on a  hot sunny day. When the air inside them heats up they lift up into the sky. They  are commercially available and are usually black in colour, as this is the  colour which soaks up the most heat. However they can come in a variety of  other colours such as silver. It is possible to make home-made solar airships by tying bin bags together.

Solar airships are typically very large in size. They are also usually tethered, however at a distance this tether would of course not be visible to the naked eye. They can also occasionally break free from this tether and drift across the sky. While airbourne, they are often seen to rotate or hang still at a strange angle, even completely vertical. They are extremely light weight and flimsy, so if caught in air currents can bend and curl around, which can give the appearance of a living snake-like creature.  These will often appear to change shape as they are buffeted by the wind. While usually long and cylindrical, it is also possible to make solar airships of other shapes.

As they are usually launched on bright sunny days, the sunlight can  sometimes reflect off their smooth surface, giving the impression of  twinkling flashing lights of different colours. If the observer is unfamiliar with what they are, they can easily appear to be a cylindrical-shaped craft coverered in flashing lights.
 

Balloons / Inflatables

Balloons and other inflatables come in a near endless variety of shapes, sizes and colours. If metallic or white in colour they can be highly reflective, causing them to appear to glow in the sunlight. If filled with helium and accidentally released, they will drift up into the sky and follow air currents, sometimes rotating or tumbling as they do. Balloons at celebrations are often tied together in bunches, which can look very strange at a distance or give the impression of a number of small objects following each other.

At night-time normal balloons or inflatables would be relatively hard to spot as they are not self-illuminated, but could still be caught in moonlight or lights on the ground, perhaps glinting for a moment before seeming to vanish.

Kites

Kites would usually be flown in the daytime as they are usually not illuminated in any way. However it is possible to buy some that are lit by LEDs or glow in the dark. They come in a wide variety of shapes, colours and sizes. They would usually be tethered, however at a distance it is usually not possible to see this tether.

As they are usually under control from the ground, they can be seen to perform unusual manouevres – climbing into the sky, remaining stationary or making sudden turns or changes in altitude. A kiting session will always end with the kite falling to the ground. If let go by accident, a kite could concievably be carried a distance in the wind, during which it may twist and turn, but would eventually fall back to earth.

Birds

It may seem unlikely, but birds can be sometimes be mistaken for UFOs. When seen at a distance in bright sunlight, birds can appear to be small glowing or metallic looking spheres that are moving together in patterns. The light reflects off their feathers causing their actual shape to be masked, and it is only when you get closer that their true appearance is revealed. After dark if caught in artificial lighting they may glow yellow or orange and look like swooping clusters of glowing lights which seem to appear and dissapear.

If a distant bird is hovering on air currents looking for food, or is gliding towards your direction, it can sometimes appear as a stationary or slow moving saucer-shaped dark object.

Lenticular Clouds

Sometimes what appears to be a UFO may be nothing more than cloud in the sky! There is a particular cloud type known as lenticular cloud which forms in the troposhere, usually in perpendicular alignment to the wind direction. This cloud type generally does not form over low-lying terrain. It forms very solid looking disc like shapes. To the untrained eye these can look extremely impressive, and have the appearance of a huge flying saucer hovering in the air! Lenticular clouds can be any shade, from bright white to dark grey, and sometimes have bright colours known as iridescence along their edge.

If the setting sun catches a lenticular cloud, it can look even more impressive, as it can appear to be self-illuminated. The second picture demonstrates this perfectly.

Satellites

Satellites orbitting the earth are only ever seen at night time in a cloudless sky. They usually take the appearance of a white star-like light, and will always move at a slow speed across the entire skyline without changing course.

Sometimes they may rotate and catch the sunlight only at certain angles, which will give the appearance of a white light blinking on and off as it moves. This can sometimes be quite dramatic, and appear as a bright flash, which has no doubt sometimes been mistaken for signalling. Other times they may be moving across the sky and then suddenly appear to blink out as the sunlight is no longer catching them.

Due to the fact they are out in space they are never very large in size, but can sometimes appear brighter than the other stars in the sky.

International Space Station

Like satellites, the International Space Station (ISS) is in a constant orbit around the Earth. It is only visible after dark and when the sky is clear. It can appear as a very bright moving star, or sometimes numerous white or yellow lights in close proximity to one another. It’s path never changes so it is possible to predict when it will appear and at which location in the sky. There are a number of websites and smartphone applications available which show the orbit of the ISS, for example http://www.isstracker.com/

The ISS takes 92 minutes to make one complete orbit. If you are in the right location for a period of time you may see it multiple times.


 

Meteorites

Meteorites, otherwise known as "shooting stars", are small rocks or space debris burning up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. They appear as very fast star-like objects which shoot across the sky and seem to vanish just as quickly as they appeared. Sometimes they may glow other colours such as yellow or green, depending on their chemical composition. Their path is always straight or lightly arced and will usually be at an angle, descending towards the ground.

Sometimes meteorites have been known to pass right across the skyline, and during this time they will appear as a glowing ball of fire with a trail.

 

Will o' the Wisp

A Will o' the Wisp is a small ball of light or flickering flame sometimes reported to be seen over boggy areas. In folklore they are said to move away when approached, leading travellers off safe paths. Some scientists believe Will o' the Wisps may be caused by burning methane gas naturally produced by marshland.

The photograph to the left is a mock up of what a Will o' the Wisp may look like.

Earth Lights

These mysterious  natually occurring lights are not fully scientifically proven, but are believed to occur in rural locations, especially around fault lines. They are rarely seen in urbanised  areas. Earth lights can appear as glowing orbs of light or unusual  bright flashes of colour.

Ball Lightning

Sometimes during electrical storms, the electricity in the air can form into strange glowing balls of energy. These are quite rare but there have been enough reports of them to believe they exist. Ball lightning is usually bright white, yellow or pale blue in colour and can range in size, from only a few cm across to much larger.

It is often seen to drift across the sky or into people’s houses through open windows. Sometimes it can be attracted towards power sources such as a plug in the wall, and has been known to short out the electrics or explode in a flash of light when it makes contact with something.

Aurora Borealis

This naturally occuring atmospheric light can sometimes be spectacular to look at, but is usually only seen towards the poles of the Earth. It can occur in many different glowing colours, and seem to fade in and out and shoot very fast across the sky in waves. It rarely looks like a solid defined object and appears more like a sheet of shifting light, usually green or red in colour.

Photographic Anomalies

In many UFO encounters, nothing is actually seen with the naked eye, but upon later checking a photograph taken at the time a UFO can be seen. There are many different explanations which could account for this, some of which are detailed below.

Birds: Sometimes birds can be caught on camera and look very unusual, especially if quite close to the lens. Depending on the moment the photograph is taken, the bird’s wings will be in a certain position. If taken when the wings are alongside the body, this can give the appearance of a saucer or disc-shaped object. If in sunlight, the colour of the bird can be seen, but they can also be photographed while in shadow, which makes them appear black in colour. In incidents where nothing was seen at the time, but on the photograph something unusual can be seen, birds can sometimes be to blame.

Insects: Sometimes when the photo is taken, one or more insects may fly past the camera close to the lens, or even be sitting on the lens itself. This makes them indistinct, and they can appear as a dark rounded or unusual shaped object. Also if caught in the camera flash during a night-time or indoor shot, they can reflect the light and look like a glowing white shape. It is also possible for leaves or other debris to fall into view just as the photo is taken.

Dust Particles/Moisture Droplets: Over the years there have been many photos taken reporting to show what are commonly referred to as “orbs”. Some people believe these are linked to aliens, others feel they are spirt energy manifesting itself, or even doorways to other dimensions. Orbs are usually circular in shape. They can be a variety of colours but are usually white or have a strange mottled rainbow coloured effect. Photos of orbs have often been taken at reportedly haunted locations or UFO hot spots. Sometimes these orbs have been seen with the naked eye. But often they simply appear on photographs. While some may well be genuine, a lot of the time their appearance can just be put down to either water droplets in the air or dust particles drifting past the camera lens.

Camera Strap: Sometimes when taking a photograph, the camera strap can accidentally fall down in front of the lens. When the photograph is checked, this strap can appear as a dark or white blurred strip of colour. If a flash photograph is taken and this occurs, the strap can seem to glow bright white, which can look extremely strange.

Lens Flare: When taking a photograph towards sunlight, the light shining into the camera lens can sometimes appear as glowing shapes, usually circular or hexagonal. These can be a variety of colours including white, yellow, pink and green.. It sometimes forms a glowing point of bright light which can look like a self-illuminated object.

Camera Shake: Sometimes accidentally shaking the camera while taking a photograph can make normal recognisable objects look completely abnormal. For example, if taking a photograph towards a light source (artificial lights, moon, stars), camera shake can make the light appear as a long straight or curled up line. This is even more likely to occur if the camera is set to prolonged expsure in low lighting conditions.