We humans have always been intrigued by extraordinary events unfolding in the night sky – be it eclipses, meteor showers, comets or UFO sightings. An oft explored but unexplained subject is the sighting of UFOs or Unidentified Flying Objects. As the name suggests, these are merely unidentified objects but we nearly always equate them with extra-terrestrial visitors. They are defined as any aerial phenomena that cannot immediately be identified or explained.
There are many theories and conspiracies surrounding UFO sightings. Many sky-gazers report unexplained objects and lights that fall under this category. As exciting as they may seem, many of these sightings have a perfectly scientific and earthly explanation.
Here are some of the common objects and phenomena that can be mistaken for UFOs
Low orbiting Satellites
As of 1st January, a UCS (Union of Concerned Scientists) reported 6542 satellites orbiting Earth. Of these, 3372 were active.
Satellites orbiting low enough can appear like UFOs and many such cases have been documented.
Drones are a part of our lives now and single or multiple drones travelling across the sky can sure appear like UFOs especially at night. They are commonly used for purposes like surveillance, photography and even for recreation. As their numbers rise, the suspected UFO sightings are likely to rise.
We all know that the official answer for most UFO sightings in the past has been Weather Balloons, and rightly so. These common and harmless meteorological devices have been mistaken UFO sightings for decades. With varied shapes and sizes and carrying instruments, some of them traverse to high altitudes and stay for long periods. They can appear as strange hovering objects.
Some common illusions that appear like floating lights include Lens Flares, Parhelia and Lenticular Clouds.
Meteorites, Comets and Planets
It is not uncommon to mistake this beautiful natural phenomenon for something more sinister. A multitude of flares lighting up the night sky can be mistaken for descending UFOs by untrained observers. Occasionally Venus, that appears like an unusually bright object in the sky, can also be a source of confusion.
Falling Rocket parts, Space Debris
There are approximately 23,000 pieces of space junk of notable size orbiting the earth. According to NASA, one catalogued piece of debris on an average per day has fallen to Earth in the last 50 years.
These include dead spacecrafts, launch vehicle stages like boosters and other equipment. Although most debris burns up in the atmosphere, larger objects can reach the ground. These generally add to some of the UFO reports by observers who capture them on camera.
Some of the recent space debris cases include uncontrolled re-entry of a Long March 5B rocket over Africa in 2020 and a Falcon 9 second stage re- entry over Washington state in March 2021 producing Light Show that many people observed.
Many agencies across the world are developing futuristic airborne manned and unmanned vehicles that are not really disclosed to the general public. These could be anything from regular transport vehicles to military aircrafts. Owing to their futuristic designs, they could be reported as UFOs by casual watchers.
Contrails from Jets
Lines made from Contrails or vapour clouds from Jets can be mistaken for a passing UFO occasionally.
Ball lightening is an unexplained phenomenon where luminescent spherical objects are seen during thunderstorm. They vary from pea-sized balls of lightening to those several meters in diameter. They can be a reason for some of the UFO sightings reported.
For now, there is no clear evidence that UFOs have visited us and many of the sightings can be easily explained.
However, it is more probable than not that life exists on one or many of the exoplanets dotting the universe. While there are no definitive answers yet, a recent report states that the odds of finding an intelligent extra-terrestrial life lie at a promising 50%.
Therefore, it is not wrong to assume that it is possible that some of them might visit us some day.