Reality Check

Identified Flying objects – Could it be something else?

Police helicopter

Lenticular cloud


Chinese lantern

Google loon balloon


  • Aircraft landing lights at night from an approaching aircraft can sometimes appear to be stationary, and resemble a UFO.
  • Military aircraft – sightings of new technology / ‘secret’ aircraft
  • Misapprehended aircraft – aircraft wings and tail cannot be clearly seen from a distance or at high altitude.
  • Police helicopters/working helicopters hovering with spotlights and searchlights can easily be mistaken for a UFO.


  • Ball lightning – a phenomenon where a bright ball of electricity moves without any apparent attachment to any physical object.
  • Clouds moving quickly across the sky can give the false impression that a bright star or planet is in fact a moving light.
  • Lightning strikes
  • Light pollution/reflection – the amount of light reflecting into our night sky around cities can distort our true vision of what may be an aircraft.
  • Sundogs – bright orbs that are a reflection of the sun from ice particles in the sky.
  • Weather balloons – sometimes mistaken for UFOs in the atmosphere.
  • Earth lights – unusual lights that appear in the sky around the time of seismic / volcanic activity.
  • Contrails lit by the sun can appear like a bright cylindrical UFO.
  • Lenticular clouds are stationary lens-shaped (classic ‘saucer-shaped’) clouds that form at high altitudes.  They are often mistaken for UFOs.


  • Satellite flare – (also known as satellite glint) is the phenomenon caused by the reflective surfaces on satellites (such as antennas or solar panels) reflecting sunlight directly onto the Earth below and appearing as a brief bright ‘flare’.
  • Iridium satellite flare – the Iridium communication satellites have three polished door-sized antennas. Occasionally an antenna will reflect sunlight directly down to the Earth, creating a predictable and quickly moving illuminated spot of about 10 km diameter, which looks like an extremely bright flare or ‘camera flash’ in the sky with a duration of a few seconds.
  • Artificial satellites – when not flaring, satellites are often visible crossing the night sky at a typical magnitude of 6, similar to a dim star.
  • International Space Station (ISS): the manned space station is in a low Earth orbit and can be seen from Earth with the naked eye as a bright white light.
  • Venus – Venus can appear exceptionally bright in the sky (both day and night).
  • Meteorite – the luminous phenomenon seen when a meteoroid enters the atmosphere, commonly known as a ‘shooting star’.
  • Meteor showers – generally thought to be produced by the debris left by comets as the latter orbit the sun.
  • ‘Fireballs’ – extremely bright meteors (also known as bolides), fireballs can be several times brighter than the full Moon and brighter than Venus. A sonic boom often follows a fireball.


  • Photographic anomalies caused by birds, bugs, insects, dust, moisture, camera movement, shadows, orbs, mists, dirty camera lens, etc.
  • Lens flares are a photographic anomaly usually caused by photographing towards the sun, or a bright light source such as spotlights, street lights etc. The effect can create impressive orbs and disc-shapes that resemble UFOs.
  • Fireworks
  • Flares / distress flares
  • Searchlights / spotlights
  • Kites
  • Drones / radio-controlled aircraft / models
  • Hang gliders / microlights
  • Blimps / inflatable objects / solar airships
  • Lights on cranes, tall buildings, construction sites etc.
  • Balloons: Chinese lanterns / sky lanterns / Google Loon balloons / hot air balloons / LED balloons