UFO sightings reported on weekly basis - but are they real?

Rendlesham Forest UFO trail

Rendlesham Forest UFO trail - Credit: Archant

Have you ever looked at the sky and been baffled by something you just couldn’t rationally explain? asks Suffolk astronomer Neil Norman.

Suffolk is famous for its very own Roswell incident - that of the notorious Rendlesham Forest from the Christmas period of 1980, but it is far from the only incident involving such a phenomenon; indeed, reports of strange flying objects have been widely reported throughout history.

Our region, on average, records just over one report of UFOs per week so surely there must be something in this?

Not everyone can be wrong? Well, a vast majority of the incidents reported can be easily debunked because observers, especially in the present, do not look at the sky that often, and so do not understand the basics of the sky and the probable cause for the UFO claims.

So let us look at the main cause for these claims.


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Bolides 

These are basically meteors on steroids. They are no more than space debris, mostly of a rocky composition that graze the Earth’s atmosphere and glow due to friction caused by the velocity of the object and the atmosphere of Earth. They appear to glide slowly across the sky and make no noise and cannot be predicted in advance before being seen.

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Space Station/Satellites

Again the space station and satellites appear to glide across the sky, no noise and no flashing lights. These can be predicted and a search on a good astronomy site will tell you what object you have seen.

Planets/Comets

These objects can be mistaken for UFOs due to the fact planets like Jupiter and Venus are very bright and appear like orbs and do not ‘twinkle’ like conventional stars. They appear to move too, but that is because of Earth’s rotation upon its axis.

Sirius

On any clear winter nights the brightest star in the entire sky, Sirius, glows with all the colours of the rainbow as it appears quite violently to ‘twinkle’. This is due to the star being low in our sky and thus, the light of the star must penetrate through a thicker layer of atmosphere, this is made worse by an active jet stream that will make the star violently flash.

Weather balloons/balloons

Both very plausible as they can reflect the sun's light readily from high altitude. I myself have viewed a regular birthday balloon through binoculars at very high altitude above me.

Military technology

Always a favourite and of course it is always denied, so who knows?

Swamp Gas

US Military explanation for everything ….and very silly!

So, is this the end of the story? Have I cleared up the entire UFO conspiracy? Most definitely not! As an astronomer, I am supposed to not believe in UFOs but I have had a couple of instances where, even with all the data at my disposal, I could not definitively rule them out as not being something of great interest.

The next question is: When do we take things seriously? The simple answer is when people that are accustomed to looking at the sky notice odd things; astronauts, astronomers, pilots and radar operators.

These people look at the sky as part of their jobs and are highly trained so anything out of the ordinary raises eyebrows. A notable local case is that of 1956 and the Lakenheath-Bentwaters incident, when several objects were seen in the vicinity of the bases.

At 21.30 radar operators picked up a signal from an object moving over the North Sea at several thousand miles per hour before picking up a group of further objects that appeared to merge into one object .

At 22.55 another fast moving object was seen approaching at 2,000-4,000 mph and eventually two RAF jets were scrambled to intercept, one had to return home due to engine problems but the second encountered the object and at one point was even chased by it despite the pilot making drastic manoeuvres to escape from the chase.

An official report into the event concluded that although some natural phenomena may have explained part of the incident there was definitely one UFO involved in the incident.

This is not an isolated case either, many military jets have been sent up to investigate strange radar signals seen by military personnel and this is a reason to view it with an open mind because the military won’t send jets out unless there is either a threat or something unexplained within our airspace….food for thought indeed.

I would love to hear of readers' experiences and maybe help solve what you saw so please do get in touch.

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