Sunday, January 05, 2014

 

Orange lights in the sky


I've been studying the raw data of UFO reports in detail for 25 years. The 2013 Canadian UFO Survey, when completed in a few months (I hope) will be the 25th annual study of its kind, and the only one of its kind in the world.

The vast majority of sightings this past year (and several previous years) involve observations of orange lights moving in the sky. In many cases (more than some might expect) the culprits have been Chinese lanterns.

No, really. There have been cases where we received many reports of groups of orange lights moving in the sky and then someone points out that some lanterns were released in the area. And then we verified that the claim was true, and then matched the launching of the lanterns to where the UFOs were seen. And they fit.

Now, what about cases where the UFOs observed act exactly like the ones that turned out to be lanterns, but we didn't get any reports of launchings that night? Does that mean that they were something else?

Then there's the problem of some observations of orange lights that move faster than lanterns should. You know, where the witness says, "It zipped away really quickly." That doesn't sound like lanterns, which need light winds to fly best. Well, there's always mini-helicopters or drones, I suppose. The mini RCs often have lights so they can be seen at night and found later, but few RC enthusiasts would fly them in tandem and at night because of the risk of damaging or losing them entirely. Drones are another matter. Yes, they're being tested now and flown by military and aerial photo orgs but they're somewhat regulated. Besides, you'd hear them, and their trajectories would tend to be smooth.

There are two ways to look at such observations. One is to try and figure out what could fly in such a manner and see if it can be matched to the witnesses' reports. The other way is to accept that witnesses' observational capabilities are often wrong. (We won't bother here with a third possibility, that the witnesses are just lying.) So if some witnesses report slow-moving lights and others report fast-moving ones, it's actually probable that they were watching the same things but with different interpretations of what "fast" and "slow" really mean. It's also probable that the witnesses reporting fast-moving objects were simply in error and that they only thought the objects they had seen moving slowly at first suddenly zipped away because they disappeared suddenly.

In the case of the many reports in California around New Year's Eve (when it should be obvious that Chinese lanterns and other things would be sent aloft in celebration) where there is a large population of potential witnesses, it has been conceded by UFO buffs that some of the UFOs seen in conjunction with the formation were lanterns, but say that some were not. But in southern California, like many urbanized areas, the presence of many airports and aircraft would suggest many UFOs seen at night will be explainable as airplanes.



One news story about the California UFOs: http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2014/01/02/ufos-california/

But here's the thing: people report seeing orange lights moving in the night sky, not aircraft. No strobes, no wingtip navigation lights. Why?

I recall my university courses in physics and optics that taught me about how light is affected by atmospheric disturbance, distance and observational instruments themselves. I think the orange lights are simply white or red lights on planes seen at a distance through the atmosphere. The blinking lights and strobes won't be visible because of the distance.

But I can't prove it. Yet.

Readers of this blog might not be surprised to know that in parallel with the British hobby of trainspotting, there is an analogous version called planespotting. Yes, people spend their free time watching planes take off and land at airports. Who better to ask about lights on planes?

So I went to a Planespotting website and asked them about it:
Chris Rutkowski
Hi! I'm throwing a question out to anyone here, since you're more experienced than most people with this. I frequently get reports from people who see high-altitude, distant orange lights moving slowly in the night sky, sometimes (but not always) near airports. I'm fairly certain they are seeing planes, but witnesses insist they are not planes because the lights are steady and not flashing, and also that no red/green navigation lights are seen. My question is: what do planes look like at various distances in the night sky? Will the nav lights always be visible?
 Planespotting
Nav lights are required at night and are always visible. Light on the right wingtip is green, and that on the left wing is red. The aircraft strobes help draw attention to the airplane. These lights will be used when on an active runway, and also when below 10,000 feet. Flashing strobe lights are an excellent method of making other air traffic aware of the airplane. They are turned off when flying through clouds, because the intense flashing effect can be reflected back into the cockpit and cabin by the cloud, causing a blinding effect.
 Chris Rutkowski
Thanks for the prompt reply. Is there a distance effect? At a range of, say, three or four miles, will the nav lights still be visible? I'm puzzled at why there are so many reports of distant orange lights moving quickly in the sky.
 Planespotting
Above 10,000 feet, air traffic is equipped with transponders, which allow Air Traffic Control to see pertinent information such as speed and altitude. Because of this, the chances of an aerial collision is lessened, and the strobes can be safely deactivated.
 Chris Rutkowski
Okay, so this was reported as a UFO to Transport Canada: "On January 1, 2014, a witness reported seeing a UFO or something unknown in the sky in Maple Ridge, BC. He was in his hot tub at 00:10 PST New Year's Day when he saw 4 objects in the sky moving from south to north at a great altitude. The objects were orange or yellow in colour but not glowing; they were in formation an estimated 1/4 mile apart. They stopped, then flew towards the west. They were visible for about 5 or 6 minutes. The sighting was reported to the RCMP as well."
 Chris Rutkowski
Could these have been aircraft?

Planespotting
Chris I think that when the visibility is very poor, the nav lights are not visible.
 Chris Rutkowski
That's what I wanted to know, thx.

Okay, so that's from experienced aircraft observers.

But it's not conclusive, is it?

So this is what I am proposing to ufologists. (Not buffs, but people who really want to try and understand the phenomenon.):

An experiment in "observational ufology."

[Ideally, I'd like to get Mythbusters to tackle this, but they have a policy of staying away from things like UFOs and Bigfoot. http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters/videos/big-foot-aliens-and-zombies.htm]

Set up near a major airport. Use Flightaware or some other program to track current flight activity, and watch the actual aircraft. 

Questions that could be answered:

Once we have some empirical observations, we can then say with some authority that yes, the orange lights seen by the UFO witness were likely aircraft. Or no, they weren't.

And then we'd have another mystery to contend with.













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Comments:
Great write-up Chris! I especially enjoyed reading about your conversation with the plane spotters group. Very informative. I will be printing this off to have on hand for my own research tool arsenal. Cheers!
 
I saw an orange light tonight that appeared to be moving toward us, yes I didn't see it alone. It was bright and I thought plane for sure. It wasn't erratic, just moving forward and then started to waver in brightness, I said its just turning away from us. Until it disappeared altogether. Hmmm, I said. A couple of minutes passed, and it was back. Not exactly in the same spot but close enough, I suppose, although now seemed stationary. It was there for a short time, and then faded and disappeared again. It didn't look anything like the lights from any of the aircraft that were visible that we immediately looked for and found with no problem, a couple in the near vicinity of the last sighting of this light. My explanation was a drone, but I can say I have never seen anything quite like it. This was over central Florida, around 9pm on February 20th, 2014
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
I have seen this too. Mine was on July 4th so I though maybe a lantern then almost a year later in May my mom called and described the something similar and in a similar location. The only difference was that my mom saw only one and then it just dimmed out to nothing and I saw two, kind of like Michaels situation. It disappeared and then reappeared near to the first location within seconds.

 
Hi! Me and some friends witnessed the same orange light moving slowly in the sky, in Cascais, Portugal. The thing is that we saw four in a row, all coming from and heading towards the same direction. They were visible for a long time and they were quite close to earth, since we saw some airplanes passing by in the meantime and they were clearly at different heights. This was around 1am.. The sky was cloudy and the light wasn't that strong, so obviously when it got futher enough, we stopped seeing it. We have no idea what it was, but it probably wasn't a chinese lantern because they were moving in straight lines.
 
Hi! Me and some friends witnessed the same orange light moving slowly in the sky, in Cascais, Portugal. The thing is that we saw four in a row, all coming from and heading towards the same direction. They were visible for a long time and they were quite close to earth, since we saw some airplanes passing by in the meantime and they were clearly at different heights. This was around 1am.. The sky was cloudy and the light wasn't that strong, so obviously when it got futher enough, we stopped seeing it. We have no idea what it was, but it probably wasn't a chinese lantern because they were moving in straight lines.
 
Hello Chris,

I live in Tucson, AZ. and have talked with numerous people about the orange light phenomenon primarily seen to the west of town around the Tucson Mtns. The people recounting these stories are well aware of Chinese lanterns and flares and these lights are nothing like these they say. I just got a call last night from a friend who lives just northwest of Tucson and he has seen these lights periodically to his west for several months.

He is a very sharp observer and knows the night running light patterns of all the different military aircraft and helicopters. These lights appear out of nowhere and most of the time one light is seen, then, two, then three up to seven. He has seen them move from their positions but they mostly tend to stay in one spot. They are intensely bright and have an appearance that they are sort of on fire and yet their edges are laser precision perfect with no hint of flames emitting from the edges.

The only people out in the desolate area that he and his wife drive to when they see the lights are border patrol and over time he has struck up a friendship with them. Finally one of them admitted that they see the lights as well and they have captured them on their thermal imaging equipment and there is no heat signature coming from them.

Another very credible witness has seen them much further south but again to the west and they were visible for only a short time then blinked out in sequence leaving only one that slowly flew away. Again, not even remotely close to being Chinese lanterns or flares for him.

I saw 3 them come over far east Tucson and bank up into the clouds that were over the Rincon Mtns. I caught one of them with binoculars and there were no running lights and again they were laser precise clean around the edges but seemed to be on fire in the center. Their flight of several miles lasted less than one minute and yet the breeze was about 1 to 2 miles per hour.
 
Waterloo, ON Canada- driving down a long stretch of deserted road. (University Ave E)
10:13PM
East 60 degrees
2 seconds.
Looked like it was moving North to South.
It was a clear cloudless night.
Could not see any stars in the sky because the streetlights were quite bright.
Three amber orbs appeared out of nowhere and hung in the night sky momentarily moved Southwards very slowly (5-6km/hr) and then disappeared again. During the movement the three orbs seemed to stay equidistant from each other. It was around 8 meters above my car.
 
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