UFO's.

Ask yourself, "Who sees them?" I find it really interesting that professional and amateur astronomers don't report UFO's. Astronomers are experienced, knowledgeable sky observers. They have collectively spent millions of hours staring into the night sky. So why don't we get UFO reports from this group on a regular basis? They take thousands and thousands of photos of the night sky. Why don't all the astronomy magazines have photos of flying saucers?

One reason is that astronomers are are more likely to recognize what they are actually seeing, and a UFO quickly becomes an IFO (identified object). An astronomer is more likely to be acquainted with the optical atmospheric phenomena that uninformed observers mistake for flying saucers. For instance, there are frequent sightings of iridium flares (satellites that flare up brightly), regular satellites, sun dogs, moon dogs, parhelia, sun pillars, halos, glories, devil clouds, and St. Elmo's Fire. There are also arcs, patches, and other specific optical effects that can only be seen from an airplane.

Here is a really spectacular atmospheric phenomenon on YouTube: UFO-like clouds spotted in Romania.

Then there are Sprites, dancing lights that have appeared above most thunderstorms throughout history. Lightning from the thunderstorm excites the electric field above, producing a flash of light called a sprite. Sprites can take the form of fast-paced balls of electricity, streaks or tendrils. Fiery balls have been videotaped 35 to 80 miles high, moving up and down at one-tenth the speed of light. Both jetliner pilots and astronauts have previously reported sightings of sprites, along with a different but equally mysterious phenomenon known as blue jets.

These two photos show red sprites associated with thunderstorms and (below) a halo cloud formation. Flying saucers? I don't think meteorologists would agree.
How many airplane pilots have studied rare atmospheric phenomenon and know what any of this stuff is? Much easier to just report a disc of light that seemed to follow the plane. Remember, a UFO is just that -- an Unidentified Flying Object, not a flying saucer.

Ask yourself, "What does the person reporting this sighting have to gain?" The most typical report comes from someone living in a small town in a remote place (often Texas) where there isn't much going on. Typically, several people in the town will jump on the UFO bandwagon in hopes of focusing national attention on themselves and their town. The local press is all too happy to get the attention of the national news media, and the national news media is even happier to sell stories. The fact that the same thing happens every year in some small town somewhere doesn't seem to bother anyone. It still makes headlines.

Finally, it's completely pointless to attempt to reason or argue with people who believe in flying saucers because, as psychologists tell us, many people believe things for emotional, not intellectual reasons. They simply have a deep-seated need to believe, a need that can never be influenced by logic or reason.

Personally, I'm still waiting to hear "Klaatu Barata Nikto".

Photos by Pauli Hänninen. These are sun halos or 22 degree halos, which are produced by the ice crystals in cirrostratus clouds. The crystals bend direct sunlight, projecting it elsewhere into the sky, and at a certain angle -22 degrees – a halo can be seen around the sun.

Paul described that night in his village in Finland, “It was cold and very foggy, the temperature was around minus 10 degrees Celsius. When the clouds began to break, there were rainbow colors in the sky and a halo spanning 360 degrees! It was worth taking a picture or two.”

The spots on either side are called sundogs. Sundogs may appear as a colored patch of light to the left or right of the sun, 22° distant and at the same distance above the horizon as the sun, and in ice halos. They can be seen anywhere in the world during any season, but they are not always obvious or bright. Sundogs are best seen and are most conspicuous when the sun is low.

If you want to learn more about unusual atmospheric phenomenon, here are some excellent sources:

Rainbows, Halos & Glories
By Robert Greenler (1989) CUP
ISBN 0521388651

Seeing the Sky
By Fred Schaaf (1990) John Wiley ISBN
047151067X

The Nature of Light & Colour in the Open Air
By M/Minneart (1954) Dover
ISBN 486201961

Wonders of the Sky
By Fred Schaaf (1983) Dover
ISBN 0486244024

Light from the Sky
(Scientific American articles by various authors)
Freeman & Co
ISBN 0716712229


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