If you are one of those people that unconditionally believe that all UFO’s are piloted by excitement deprived teenage three foot blobs of big eyed gelatinous shellac from the planet IXT!QL, then STOP READING NOW! Nothing in this little ditty is going to change your mind one iota.
Hmmm – and if you are one of those, you likely also believe that the Apollo Moon landings were all faked by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Bill Gates, and Walt Disney. By the way, the first lunar landing was in 1969. Walt Disney died in 1966. Steven Spielberg was 22 and wouldn’t make his first real movie until Jaws in 1975. George Lucas was 25 and didn’t do Star Wars until 1977. And Bill Gates was 13.
Anyway, for everyone else, let’s take a look at UFO’s…
My Take As An Amateur Astronomer
UFO = Unidentified Flying Object. OK, you look up and see “something.” That makes it an “object.” It’s up in the sky so it must be “flying.” And lastly, you don’t have a clue what it is, so it’s “unidentified.” Notice that none of the three words imply anything that could be construed as spaced out alien invaders.
The “unidentified” part is the thing that sets people off into the mental fringe regions, so let’s see what we can do about identifying the unidentified.
Most of us now live in cities and have lived in cities for most of our lives. Which means we never really see the night sky because all the lights coupled with dust, haze, smog, etc. completely drown out anything that isn’t ultra bright. I live in a suburb north of Austin and over look a golf course. Most nights I have a hard time seeing even the second magnitude North Star. When something really bright like Venus or Jupiter is in the sky, it really stands out.
Even the “pros” have problems with the planets. In 1941, the Australian HMAS Sydney and the other cruisers of the 7th Squadron attacked a high-flying bomber (the planet Venus.) The USS New York after leaving Iwo Jima also tried to shoot down Venus. An Air Canada 767 did an emergency dive (and injured some passengers and crew) to avoid being hit head on by Venus. Venus has been fired upon many, many times and no one has hit it yet.
Every time a comet shows up in the sky visible to the naked eye, the UFO calls mount. Similarly, the calls come fast and furious when there is a major meteor shower. I try to go someplace dark to watch the various showers.
Most meteors are the size of a grain of sand. Once I saw about a fist size rock that seemed to be heading in a straight line at me. It tumbled off at the last moment and its trail definitely exhibited “non-ballistic motion” (so did I as I instinctively tried to duck.)
On my computer, I use Stellarium Web to identify unidentified celestial objects. It’s also available as a phone app. Check it out before you try to shoot down Venus.
Mirages and Fata Morgana
Have you ever seen the floating ship above the ocean? Fata Morgana is fascinating. If you have never read about it, now is the time to start.
When I was just a little brat we were on our way to San Angelo one hot afternoon to visit family when a perfect silver cigar shaped UFO appeared above the highway. Dad pulled the car over and we all got out to watch. Then he got a pair of binoculars from the trunk…
And we read the city name painted on the water tower UFO in the Fata Morgana mirage. A pair of binoculars will identify a lot of UFO’s. By the way, having stared at a few repeaters in my life, radar is also (very) subject to all sorts of mirages and weird interference phenomenon.
I’ve never accidentally seen a weather balloon in flight, but I’ve looked at a few through binoculars and telescopes. You can see their current location, track, and the area that they are visible from here.
These are cousins to the weather balloon. They are tethered radar surveillance balloons that are mostly used on the US/Mexico border, the Straits of Florida, and the Caribbean by the Customs and Border Patrol. But – they can also show up just about anywhere as the military also uses similar systems. I’ve watched the ones operated from Marfa and Eagle Pass, Texas and they definitely have a UFO vibe.
Speaking of Marfa and the Marfa lights that fascinate folks – the University of Texas did a spectrographic study of them and found their spectrum to be the same as vehicle headlights.
I live under the airline approach routes to Austin Bergstrom Airport and to Austin Executive. I don’t hear the planes as they are still too high, but I see their lights all the way from the horizon. At a distance, their strobes make them look like bright twinkling stars. You can track aircraft worldwide in real time.
I just watched an American Airline 737 inbound for Austin. The landing (and maybe taxi) lights were blazing, blotting out even the strobes. As it got higher overhead, it began to exhibit “non-ballistic motions.” There was a solid high cloud deck at about 20,000 feet so there was nothing else visible as I looked up. And most importantly, nothing else I could see to compare the airliner’s motion with. Translation, it wasn’t the plane moving oddly, it was my eyes and body that provided the movement as I stared up.
Special Use Airspace
The US is covered with “special use” (mostly military) air spaces. Some you don’t enter under any conditions. Some are okay if the area is not “hot.” A missile through the cockpit will ruin your whole aerial joy ride. Even without that excitement, you can find an F16 suddenly on your wingtip and will have some most unfriendly folks waiting for you once you are back on the ground.
You can get a “general” idea of their locations here.
The FAA specifies the current special use information as NOTAM’s – Notice to Airmen here.
It’s something you check carefully before crawling into the cockpit.
If you’ve ever attended an airshow, (and if not, add it to your bucket list,) you’ve got an idea of some of the seemingly non-ballistic flight capabilities of modern military aircraft. Way back some of the training routes were referred to as “oil burner” and “sage burner” routes. The current terminology is Reciprocal Instrument Route and while they are mostly near air bases, they can be just about anywhere.
Military aircraft look and fly differently than civil aircraft. Some of their aerobatics can appear very alien. They can also be showing different lights from civilian aircraft. I watched with binoculars a formation of helicopters from Fort Hood north of me with bizarre orange lights flying near Georgetown, Texas. Don’t have a clue what that was all about.
I just looked on https://www.n2yo.com/ and it’s showing 23,645 object up there – and that 1,854 are crossing “my sky” at this moment, although many are too dim to see even if illuminated or are too close to the horizon. The Space Station is about halfway between Brazil and South Africa. This is my favorite site for tracking a specific satellite. To see everything that is above you right now that might be readily visible, try here.
The Heavens Above site seems to be quirky at times, so you can try this also.
Satellite are typically readily visible only after sunset and before dawn when your sky is dark and they are still being illuminated by the sun because of their higher altitude. They typically look like a high flying aircraft but their rapid motion across the sky is the tip off. Pick a clear night and get away from the lights and you can see high flying “UFO’s” swarming like angry bees.
I don’t know if anyone is still doing it (and don’t you do it) but for a while someone was tying together weather balloons and suspending railroad flares below them. It caused a lot of UFO reports. You can probably think of several ways of using balloons or drones to fake extraterrestrial visitors. And as far “photographs” go – you can Photoshop just about anything these days.
I’ve been an amateur astronomer since I was an annoying little twerp and probably am a more avid sky watcher than most people. In my seven decades of looking up and my five decades as a pilot, I’ve never seen anything that I couldn’t identify with a little knowledge and research. I don’t think that UFO’s are any kind of extraterrestrial activity and that they pose absolutely zero threat to humankind. Play around with the web links and everyone just relax and enjoy the non-alien celestial light show.
By the way, it is just possible that I am really an agent from the Andromeda Galaxy, sent to lull you foolish humans into dropping your guard while my fleet of black battlesaucers waits just outside Pluto to attack.
That is of course total nonsense – but you might want to cancel any plans for after April 1, 2022.