10 Most Common Explanations For UFO Sightings

January 08, 2017 8:16 AM ‐ UFOs

This article is more than seven years old.

UFO In The Clouds
A study conduct by Sam Monfort, a doctoral student in Human Factors and Applied Cognition at George Mason University found that UFO sightings are at an all time, especially in the US, according to data from the National UFO Reporting Center. The report found that there have been over 100k reports of UFOs in the past 100 years but sightings have spiked dramatically in the last 30 years, with the number of reports jumping from 5,000 to over 45,000.

So, if it's not aliens which are behind these 100k UFO reports, then what are the most common explanations for UFO sightings?

10. Weather Balloons

Weather Balloon

Weather balloons are huge, white, helium-filled, high-altitude balloons which are used to monitor atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity and wind speed. In the sky the white reflected surface of these balloons can be highly visible and even appear disk-like from below.

Weather balloons were at one time so commonly mistaken for UFOs that in 1947 the US government claimed that the crashed flying saucer in Roswell was a weather balloon. The air force were actually trying to hide what really crashed, a similar balloon that carried a nuclear test surveillance equipment, part of the secretive Project Mogul.

9. Planet Venus

The Planet Venus

At certain times of year Venus shines brightly near the horizon after sunset or before the sun rises, at these times it is often the brightest object in the night sky, especially on nights without a moon. Many people have mistaken the planet for something more sinister, especially when its light is refracted through clouds.

In popular culture, sunlight reflecting off of the planet Venus is used as a cover story for UFOs in the 1997 movie 'Men In Black.'
"The flash of light you saw in the sky was not a UFO. Swamp gas from a weather balloon was trapped in a thermal pocket, and refracted light from Venus."
Agent K - Men in Black

8. Rare Cloud Formations

Lenticularis Clouds

To the untrained eye some rare types of cloud formation can look like flying saucers, most commonly its altocumulus lenticularis clouds that are mistaken for UFOs. Altocumulus lenticularis are rounded-disk-like in shape, are smooth and regular, they appear when humid air comes to an obstacle like a mountain and has to rise up over it.

7. Ball Lightning

Ball Lightning

When you think of lighting you probably think of either fork lighting or sheet lighting which are by far the most common types of lighting but there's a strange phenomenon known as ball lighting which is a sphere of static electricity which can intensely glow for several minutes. The balls can either move randomly or can be attracted to metallic objects giving them a distinct path of motion like that of a spacecraft under alien control.

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6. Meteors

Meteors In The Night Sky

Most people are familiar with shooting stars but not all shooting stars are the same. Usually they appear as a bright streak across the sky which you could blink and miss but they can sometimes last for several seconds and appear as balls of fire. Often these type of meteors can be seen to break up into smaller pieces in the atmosphere like a crashing alien ship.

5. Artificial Satellites

Artificial Satellites

There are more than 8,000 man-made objects orbiting Earth and they're often visible in the night sky when moving through sunlight. Depending on their sizes they can be spotted with telescopes or binoculars but also with the naked eye. Their distance from Earth determines how fast they appear to move across the sky and for anyone not familiar with this phenomenon it can be hard to explain what this tiny dot moving across the sky is, too constant to be a shooting star, too high to be a plane.

4. Chinese Lanterns

Chinese Lanterns

My Nan called me up on New Year's Eve one year and asked me to look up in the sky where she could see what she could only describe as "an alien invasion fleet." What she was looking at was a swarm of Chinese lanterns caught in the wind, drifting across the night sky. Sky lanterns are a collapsible paper lantern with an opening at the bottom where a small fire is suspended causing it to act as a hot air balloon. Chinese lanterns are a fairly recent addition to New Year's celebrations in the Western world so many are unfamiliar with their strange floating appearance in the sky.

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3. Flares


The military often uses flares as part of nighttime training exercises, they are extremely bright and can burn for up to half an hour, they fall slowly to the ground suspended from parachutes. Because of their brightness, their ability to hang in the sky and the fact they can be seen for many miles, it's no surprise that people sometimes struggle to identify what they are.

2. Aircraft

Airplane Light In Sky

Most UFO reports are actually nothing more than misidentified aircraft, it may seem hard to believe that an airplane or helicopter could be mistaken for a flying saucer but catch it on the right angle and it could look very mysterious and out of place, such as if a helicopter's search light is shining directly at you, or a plane is on such an angle that they layout of its lights are unfamiliar.

The flight path can also seem erratic or unusual if viewed from a certain angle, for example if a plane is ascending and coming towards you it may appear to be hovering in the sky.

Commercial jets are pretty familiar to most of us but over the years experimental military aircraft have been mistaken for UFOs. These aircraft are kept secret from the public so when they're eventually spotted on test flights over the skies, they look very alien to the observer.

1. Hoaxes

Fake UFO

Most UFO sightings are nothing more than fakes or hoaxes, often people don't set out to fake a UFO photo but when they capture something that looks like an alien spacecraft in a photo they pass it off as a genuine UFO picture, ether for attention or just to try and dupe people. The type of objects which can end up looking like a UFO in a photo are things like the reflection of a light in a window, a frisbee caught in the right light, or an aircraft snapped out of focus. Some of the most famous UFO photos of all time can be debunked by showing that they are normal, down-to-Earth objects like this.

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