The planet Venus (Calvin J. Hamilton, NASA)

Natural Identifed Flying Objects

Even those who believe UFO's are extraterrestrial spaceships visiting Earth acknowledge that the wide majority of UFO reports are cases of mistaken identity where someone fails to recognize a natural or man-made object. Even trained observers, like pilots, can be fooled if the sighting takes place under unusual conditions, or if they are viewing objects they aren't familiar with. The natural object most commonly mistaken for a UFO is the planet Venus.

It may be hard to believe an object which has been in the sky since man first walked on Earth could fool anyone, but in hundreds of UFO cases that have been filed and investigated Venus has been determined to be the culprit. Venus is the second planet from our Sun and is roughly the size of our own Earth. Because it is closer to the sun than Earth (which is the next planet out, number three) Venus is usually seen in the early evening or predawn hours near the horizon. It is the brightest natural object in the sky short of the sun and moon. Because it spends much of its time near the horizon, Venus is often blocked from the view of casual observers of the sky. When they do see it, they may be startled by its brilliance, especially in rural areas where the air is clear and the sky free of light pollution from street lamps. Like the other planets, Venus moves through the sky from star constellation to star constellation over the course of months. On a single night, though, Venus moves slowly with the rest of the stars in the sky as the Earth turns. However, there are special conditions that will make this planet appear to move more rapidly.

If a layer of cold air is trapped under a layer of warm air, light rays can be refracted or reflected so that objects that have set below the horizon may suddenly again become visible as a mirage. As the air layers move, the object may also suddenly appear to shift position, giving the illusion of high speed movement. This effect can also magnify the object so that a planet, like Venus, doesn't appear as a point, but a ball. Finally, the same shimmering effect that causes stars to twinkle can also make the image of the planet change color and/or blink.

In 1969 one of the most noted UFO sightings was by Jimmy Carter, who would seven years later become President of the United States. This incident can probably be attributed to Venus. In the UFO questionnaire Carter filled out, he described an object appearing in the west at 7:15 on an evening in October. It was about thirty degrees up, and sometimes "as bright as the moon." It varied from the size of a planet to the apparent size of the moon and appeared to be 900 to 3000 feet away.

A close examination of the report by UFO skeptic Robert Sheaffer discovered that, because Carter was with members of the Lions Club on the day in question, the actual date of the incident must have been January 6th, 1969. By using a star chart Sheaffer was able to establish that Venus was in the precise location described by Carter. The man who was to become President was another victim of the Venus UFO.

Other natural phenomena, like shooting stars or the northern lights, can be mistaken for UFOs. Strange electrical effects, such as ball lightning or St. Elmo's Fire, may also explain some sightings. "St. Elmo's Fire" is the result of friction between air masses of different temperatures. It can cause a halo effect that glows around elevated or projected objects like church steeples and ship masts during bad weather. It is theorized that a swarm of insects can get charged with St. Elmo's fire and the result is a glittering mass moving through the sky. Entomologists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have suggested a large number of sightings in Utah in the late 60's can be attributed to this effect.

Lenticular clouds (right), rare lens-shaped cloud configurations, can also appear to an observer as a UFO. Lit bright orange or red by the setting sun's rays against a violet evening sky, they can appear to be a glowing, slow-moving, flying saucer.

Simple fog or haze has been known to confuse people. One woman reported seeing a glowing ball about the size of the moon hovering over a parking lot. An astute UFO investigator checked the time of the report and the location in the sky against a star chart and found that the moon had been precisely in the described position. The woman had apparently been fooled by an unusual fog which had stripped the moon of familiar features, leaving a glowing mass which she mistook to be an object only a short distance away.

Occasionally observers in an aircraft,or car,report being followed by a UFO, or seeing one maintain a parallel course. A fixed, distant object like Venus never changes its position with regard to the observer no matter how far or fast the observer moves. If the observer is convinced that the object is only a hundred feet away instead of several million miles, he can be fooled into thinking the object is following him with uncanny, even frightening, accuracy. It is likely that on several occasion where people have reported being pursued by a UFO traveling at tree-top level, they were actually being chased by the planet Venus.

The moon can also provide a spectacular UFO chase. From an aircraft ,a full moon can be reflected off the ocean below or ground wet from rain. If there is also a thin layer of cloud below the observer's aircraft, the reflection can appear as a brilliant disc-like shape traveling just under the cloud cover and paralleling the course of the observer. The result is something every bit as spectacular as a special effect from a Hollywood film.

The moon reflected off water can appear as a spectacular UFO.

Copyright Lee Krystek 1996,1998. All Rights Reserved.


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