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Michel M. Deschamps - Director

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and UFOs

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Scientists and UFOs

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Encyclopedia of Terminology and Abbreviations

Kidz' Korner




Theories and False Explanations for UFOs

Throughout the modern age of flying saucers and UFOs, authorities from the scientific community and the military establishment have put forth several theories and proasic explanations for UFO sightings.

Leading skeptics and debunkers also take advantage of these explanations as quick-fix solutions to explain away what people have been reporting for years.

Planets and Stars
Northern Lights
Sprites, Elves and Blue Jets
Weather Balloons, Skyhook Balloons and other atmospheric devices
Temperature Inversion
Lenticular Clouds
Hole-Punch Clouds or Fallstreak Hole
Lens Flare
Sun Dogs and Moon Dogs
Ball Lightning
Swamp Gas
St. Elmo's Fire
Earthquake Lights
Swarm of Glowing Insects
Satellites and the International Space Station
Shooting Stars, Meteors, Fireballs and Bolides
Chinese lanterns
Aircraft and UAVs

Military Flares

Planets and Stars

If, by any chance, the sighting lasts beyond thirty minutes, I would then record the additional length of time that the object is in sight. If the object is nothing more than a bright source of light that isn't moving, I would suggest that you go outside on consecutive nights and see if the object is still visible at the same location and around the same period of time; if it is, then what you are looking at is a planet!

It is easy to make the distinction between planets and stars. For instance, planets are extremely bright because of their close proximity to us. And because of their brilliance, they are not affected by our atmosphere and they do not twinkle or blink.

Stars, on the other hand, will twinkle in the night sky due to the fact that they are very far away, and the atmosphere that is located between us and them easily affects the visibility, preventing us from having a clear view of them.

Northern Lights

Northern Lights are an atmospheric phenomenon consisting of bands of light caused by charged solar particles following the earth's magnetic lines of force.

Northern Lights

Northern lights look more like curtains of colours and could not possibly take on the shape of a UFO, nor do they behave like one.


Sprites are luminous flashes occurring in the mesosphere, above the cumulonimbus. Approximately 1 storm out of 20 will be powerful enough to generate them up to altitudes of 90 kilometers over a width of 15 kilometers.

First color image of a sprite


Elves can appear with sprites, but always by preceding them, and their duration is more transitory. They are the electromagnetic impulses released by the powerful flashes from which originate the Elves. From lightning, these impulses are propagated in every direction at the speed of light. When the upper part of this "sphere" reaches a critical altitude located between 75 and 100 kilometers, the electrical field conveyed by these impulses then will accelerate the electrons. The latter will strike the gas molecules and will excite them in such a way that they will emit a surplus of light energy in the form of a ring, resulting from the intersection between the spherical propagation and the critical layer. The phenomenon occurs in a manner so fast that this ring will be seen like a flattened disc.


Blue Jets

Blue Jets were observed for the first time in 1994. These conical jets of night-blue light are propagated from the top of the clouds going higher, at a speed approximately 120 kilometers a second and never seems to exceed an altitude of 40 kilometers.

Blue Jets

Weather Balloons, Skyhook Balloons and other atmospheric devices

A weather balloon is used to carry instruments aloft to gather meteorological data in the atmosphere.


Project Skyhook

In 1947, the U.S. Navy began Project Skyhook, which used very large unmanned plastic (polyethylene) balloons to loft research payloads of various kinds (e.g. cosmic ray research) to altitudes of up to 30 km (100,000 ft). The initial prime contractor for the Navy's Skyhook balloons was the Aeronautical Division of General Mills, Inc. Skyhook eventually became a very successful program, and its balloon technology was also used by the Air Force. In fact, the name Skyhook became a synonym for large high-altitude plastic balloons, even if they were launched by other agencies under different programs.

Photo: Office of Naval Research

Skyhook balloon

At low level immediately after launch, the lifting gas (hydrogen or helium) in Skyhook balloons formed a small bubble at the top of the envelope, giving the whole balloon a rather "limp" look. At the lower air pressure at higher altitudes, the gas expanded and eventually filled the whole envelope, which could reach diameters of more than 30 m (100 ft) in some balloon models. High-flying Skyhook balloons provided an excellent stimulus for UFO/"Flying Saucer" sightings, and several balloons, which were lost by the military's visual and radar tracking systems, were "tracked" by following local UFO reports across the continent.

Project Mogul

Project Mogul (sometimes referred to as Operation Mogul) was a top secret project by the US Army Air Forces involving high altitude balloons, whose primary purpose was long-distance detection of sound waves generated by the turbulence of the rising hot air from Soviet atomic bomb tests and ballistic missiles. The project was carried out from 1947 until late 1948 and was obsoleted by seismographs and spy satellites.

Project Gopher

When the Cold War began soon after the Second World War, U.S. military planners had the problem that they had virtually no information about what was going on in vast areas of the Soviet territory. Photo reconnaissance aircraft were used to obtain coverage of areas near the borders, and there were even very few overflights of the Soviet interior in the early 1950s. But these missions were extremely risky, and couldn't provide enough information for a good assessment of Soviet military strength. Satellites were still too far in the future, and therefore reconnaissance balloons were proposed as a solution for the problem.

In July 1950, Charles B. Moore of General Mills had conducted four test flights of Skyhook-type balloons with a camera payload. To the U.S. Air Force he presented the concept of camera-equipped balloons, which could float across the Soviet Union using strong winds (the "jet stream") at very high altitude, above the reach of Soviet air defences. In November 1950, the USAF officially began the development of a balloon reconnaissance system under secret project MX-1594 Gopher.

Design goal for Project Gopher was a balloon, which could carry a 225 kg (500 lb) payload gondola to 21000 m (70,000 ft), and remain there at constant altitude for at least 16 days. Originally it had been hoped that Gopher could conduct the first operational missions by the end of 1951, but this proved to be far too optimistic. A series of test flights in 1952 was only partially successful, mainly because of continuing problems during balloon launch and with payload reliability. Because the USAF was dissatisfied with General Mills' progress, the balloon production contract was terminated in August 1952, and further balloons were ordered from Winzen Research. Project Gopher was a top secret project, but the balloon test flights could obviously not be hidden from the public. Therefore all test flights were officially part of Project Moby Dick (MX-1498), the USAF's unclassified research balloon project. Moby Dick had been started around the same time as Gopher, and used Skyhook balloons to measure global high-altitude wind patterns. Gopher's camera gondolas, which could parachute to earth anywhere after a test flight, were accordingly labeled as Air Force property (together with a fire hazard warning to discourage potential souvenir hunters).

Drawing: USAF

Typical Gopher balloon layout



In July 1953, the USAF finally decided to develop Gopher into the WS-119L operational balloon reconnaissance system, codenamed Grandson. In spring 1955, WS-119L was finally ready for operational training, and the program's code name was changed again, to Grayback. Between May and October that year, more than a hundred WS-119L balloons were launched under operation "Moby Dick Hi" (as usual, the Moby Dick name was used as cover). Although only 11 successful mid-air recoveries were made in 33 attempts, WS-119L was considered ready for use at the end of 1955. President Eisenhower gave approval to begin the overflights in January 1956, but had the flight altitude of the balloons limited to 16800 m (55,000 ft). This was reportedly done, because the higher-flying Lockheed U-2 aircraft was under development at that time, and the Soviets should get no unnecessary motivation to develop new very high-altitude interceptor aircraft and missiles before the U-2 had begun its overflight program.

Photo: Robert Burch

Launch of WS-119L balloon

Whether we're talking ordinary weather balloons or the types launched by the Navy, these objects go up and down and are at the mercy of the winds. They cannot move from side to side, hover or even accelerate from 0 to 10,000 miles an hour (or more) like UFOs do.

Temperature Inversion

A temperature inversion is a meteorological condition that happens on clear, cold, still evenings and is caused by radiation cooling of the ground which occurs faster than the cooling of the air right above ground giving you a layer of warm air above cooler air. This prevents pollutants and other airborne substances from escaping into the atmosphere.

Lenticular Clouds

Lenticular clouds, technically known as altocumulus standing lenticularis, are stationary lens-shaped clouds that form at high altitudes, normally aligned at right-angles to the wind direction.

Hole-Punch Clouds or Fallstreak Hole

A leading hypothesis holds that the hole-punch cloud is caused by falling ice-crystals. The ice-crystals could originate in a higher cloud or be facilitated by a passing airplane exhaust. If the air has just the right temperature and moisture content, the falling crystals will absorb water from the air and grow. For this to happen, the water must be so cold that all it needs is a surface to freeze on. The moisture lost from the air increases the evaporation rate from the cloud water droplets so they dissipate to form the hole. The now heavier ice crystals continue to fall and form the more tenuous wispy cloud-like virga seen inside and just below the hole. Water and ice from the virga evaporates before they reach the ground.

From left to right: A hole-punch cloud over Mobile, Alabama - December 11, 2003; A hole-punch cloud over Alabama - January 12, 2004;
A fallstreak hole visible over Omarama, New Zealand in May 2006 and a
fallstreak hole over Austria - August 2008.

Lens Flare

Lens flare is created when non-image forming light enters the lens and subsequently hits the camera's film or digital sensor. This often appears as a characteristic polygonal shape, with sides which depend on the shape of the lens diaphragm.

Photograph of NASA lunar lander containing lens flare.

Lens flare in a CCTV camera.

Sun Dogs and Moon Dogs

A sun dog (scientific name parhelion, plural parhelia, i.e. "beside the sun") is a common bright circular spot on a solar halo. It is an atmospheric optical phenomenon primarily associated with the reflection or refraction of sunlight by small ice crystals making up cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. Often, two or more sundogs can be seen on opposite sides of the sun simultaneously. Sometimes called "Mock Suns".

Sun dogs

These patches of light are occasionally seen around a very bright, full moon. In that case, they are called moon dogs.

Moon dogs

Sometimes, a luminous circle or halo can be seen around the sun or moon, and is caused by the refraction of light through crystals of ice in the atmosphere. There are often white bands, crosses, or arches connected with halos, resulting from the same atmospheric conditions.

Moon halo

Ball Lightning

Ball Lightning (BL or Kugelblitz, Boules de Feu) is recognised by science but has eluded attempts at a generally accepted explanation. It can range from high intensity ones like this one through to semi-transparent orbs or other shapes of white or coloured plasma light. Earth Lights may be of a similar nature or perhaps of another kind of process altogether. Ball Lightning occurs most often during thunderstorm activity.

Having once been a witness to ball lightning, which is a rare event in itself, I can tell you that the phenomenon doesn't last more than a few seconds and could not possibly account for any UFO sighting because of the way it looks and behaves.

Swamp Gas

Swamp gas or marsh gas is a gaseous product, chiefly methane, formed from decomposing vegetable matter, as in marshes. The late J. Allen Hynek had used the term "swamp gas" to explain away a rash of UFO sightings that took place in Michigan in 1966. It is said that he later regretted this statement when he became convinced that there was something to UFOs.

St. Elmo's Fire

St. Elmo's fire is a popular name for so-called coronal discharge, which frequently happens during thunderstorms. Unlike lightning, coronal discharge is much less spectacular and less transient in nature. It looks like a blueish flame or glow engulfing tall sharp objects, such as powerlines, roof pinnacles, chimneys, and lightning rods. Unless the electric field is extremely strong, the glow is only visible at night, but can still be heard during the day as a hissing or crackling sound.

St Elmo's fire, or coronal discharge, is a weakly luminous continuous
discharge caused by strong electric fields near sharp objects.

Earthquake Lights

Earthquake lights are a strange luminous phenomena that preceeds earthquakes. They have also been used as an explanation for some of the UFO reports in the recent past. But once you compare the behavior of these lights with that of UFOs, you will notice a distinct diference between the two phenomena.

Luminous phenomena at Tianshui, Gansu Province,
just before an earthquake - May 12 2008.

Dr. Michael Persinger, neuroscientist at Laurentian University here in Sudbury, Ontario, offered the tectonic strain theory or Earthlight theory to explain away UFO sightings. Most scientists have disagreed with his theory and are not even contemplating the idea that such lights of short duration can account for UFO sightings.

Swarm of Glowing Insects

As crazy as it sounds, a "swarm of glowing insects" indeed was used as an explanation for the reported sightings of flying saucers in the 1940s and 1950s. But as we all know, fireflies cannot sustain a continuous glow, nor can they fly at high speeds at altitudes in excess of 10,000 feet.

Satellites and the International Space Station

A satellite is any object, man-made or natural, that orbits the Earth. In the context of spaceflight, a satellite is an object which has been placed into orbit by human endeavor. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as the Moon.

To the naked eye, satellites will appear as a single light source with the same brilliance as a star. These objects move in a straight trajectory, as they follow the curvature of the earth within their respective orbits. They are always white in color and there are no flashing lights visible.

Geosynchronous satellite

Also called geostationary, or simply GEO, it refers to the movement of communications satellites where the satellite circles the globe over the equator, in a movement that is synchronized with the earth's rotation. Because of this synchronization, the satellite appears to be stationary, and they also offer continuous operation in the area of visibility. These types of satellite are said to have a geostationary orbit, and it is the most common type of orbit for communications satellites. Bird is the slang term given to a communications satellite that is in geosynchronous orbit.

The International Space Station

Orbiting some 240 miles above the Earth, it's one of the brightest objects in the night sky, comparable in size to Venus or Jupiter. And just like artificial satellites, it moves in a straight trajectory and does not have any flashing lights.


Comets are small Solar System bodies that orbit the Sun and, when close enough to the Sun, exhibit a visible coma (or atmosphere) and/or a tail — both primarily from the effects of solar radiation upon the comet's nucleus. Comet nuclei are themselves loose collections of ice, dust and small rocky particles, measuring a few kilometres or tens of kilometres across.

Comets originate in the outer solar system; they are thrown inwards towards the Sun by gravitational perturbations from planets or nearby stars. They have a variety of different orbital periods, ranging from a few years, to 50 or 100 years, to thousands of years, while some are believed to pass through the inner Solar System only once before being thrown out into interstellar space.

The comets move through the sky on an extent of several days.

Comet Hyakutake (March, 1996)


Comet Hale-Bopp (April, 1997)

Shooting Stars, Meteors, Fireballs and Bolides

A shooting star or meteor is a streak of light in the sky at night that results when a meteoroid hits the earth's atmosphere and air friction causes the meteoroid to melt or vaporize or explode.

A Perseid meteor passes close to the red star Epsilon Eridani.

A meteoroid is a small sand to boulder-sized particle of debris in the Solar system. The visible path of a meteoroid that enters Earth's (or another body's) atmosphere is a meteor, commonly called a "shooting star" or "falling star". Many meteors are part of a meteor shower. The root word meteor comes from the Greek meteo-ros, meaning high in the air.

A fireball is brighter than a usual meteor. The International Astronomical Union defines a fireball as "a meteor brighter than any of the planets" (magnitude -4 or greater). Usually, fireballs streak across the sky in a matter of seconds, but can leave a faint ionization trail visible for minutes.


Astronomers tend to use the term bolide to mean an exceptionally bright fireball, particularly one that explodes (sometimes called a detonating fireball).


A meteorite is a portion of a meteoroid or asteroid that survives its passage through the atmosphere and impact with the ground without being destroyed. Meteorites are sometimes, but not always, found in association with hypervelocity impact craters; during energetic collisions, the entire impactor may be vaporized, leaving no meteorites.


Fireworks are a class of explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic, cultural, and religious purposes. A fireworks event (also called a fireworks show or pyrotechnics) is a display of the effects produced by firework devices. Fireworks competitions are also regularly held at a number of places. Fireworks take many forms to produce the four primary effects: noise, light, smoke and floating materials (confetti for example.) They may be designed to burn with flames and sparks of many colors, typically red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, silver and gold. Displays are common throughout the world and are the focal point of many cultural and religious celebrations.

UFO sightings have been reported before, during and after a fireworks display on a few occasions. If such an event should occur again, I would recommend that that the witnesses take note of the details of their observation in order to distinguish a true UFO from a display of fireworks. Here are a few examples of fireworks displays:

Chinese Lanterns

Chinese lanterns have either been used to explain away some UFO sightings ... or ... they've been misidentified as UFOs due to the lack of observational experience on the part of the observer. These devices are very light in construction, illuminated from within, and will float in whatever direction the wind is blowing in. At higher altitudes where the winds are stronger and multi-directional, the lanterns can pick up speed and be swept away, seemingly going against the wind's direction.

UFOs have been known to fly against the wind, or even hover during very windy conditions, day or night.

Chinese lanterns

Aircraft and UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles)

Unless you are unfamiliar with aircraft and how they appear in the night sky, determining whether or not you are looking at an airplane or at a UFO can easily be accomplished.

Light Configurations On Aircraft

At first sight, it is true that it can be difficult to tell the difference between a UFO and a common object such as a plane or a helicopter during the night. But once you've become accustomed to seeing aircraft at night, it'll be a cinch to do so.

In order to easily distinguish a UFO from a man-made aircraft, it is important to be able to recognize aircraft by their light patterns and configurations.

The CIA has claimed that during the 1960s, sightings of UFOs were attributed to flights of the U2 Spy Plane. If one is to take a closer look at this aircraft, the first noticeable feature of this aiplane are its large wings. The simple fact that the U2 flew at extremely high altitudes made it impossible for anyone to see it from the ground. And the shape of it is easily recognizable...unlike that of a UFO, which is why it is called an Unidentified flying object.

Lockheed U-2 Spy Plane

UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and military drones have also been used to explain away UFO reports. Although they come in different sizes and shapes and are highly technological devices developed for the USAF and other agencies, UAVs and drones are remotely-operated vehicles that are incapable of hovering in total silence.

Left: RQ-1 Predator MAE UAV. Right: RQ-3A DarkStar Tier III Minus

Left: CL-327 Guardian. Right: Tacit Blue

Note that most of these UAVs have fixed wings and do not look anything like the types of UFOs that witnesses, worldwide, have reported or described. Although they are exotic in their appearance and manner of flight, these remote-controlled vehicles do not have the same flight characteristics as genuine UFOs and flying saucers.



In several UFO reports that I've received, there is occasional mention of the word "Drone". It may be difficult for some people to "believe" that UFOs exist so they tend to rationalize what they see and eventually come up with quick-fix explanations for the sighting(s) by saying: "It must have been a drone!"

In the early Fall of 2016, I was fortunate enough to witness the flight of a Phantom 3 drone being flown by a man who was showing it to his son. My friend Will took the next two videos of its flight with his cell phone:

In order to demonstrate the difference between man-made drones and UFOs, I felt it was also important to post the following images representing drone technology, both civilian and military in nature.
Civilian Drones
Military Drones
2 Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 in flight
Military Tactical Re-Con Drone
3DR Solo Smart Drone
Raven - mini-drone by Lockheed-Martin
Amazon tests drone delivery through a program called PrimeAir
The Russian Armed Forces Have Their Drone
DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Quadcopter with FPV HD Video Camera and 3-Axis Gimbal
China is fast developing strategic and tactical unmanned aerial vehicles.jpg
Drone with a GoPro camera
Dual-Prop Centerfugal Drone Prototype
Drone with LED lights
Drone used in cinematography
A160T Hummingbird drone joins the US Army
Mini-Drone 7597
CIA wants more armed drones
Phoblographer Lily Drone
A Navy X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration aircraft
Defibrillator Drone
Aqua Submersible Mini Drone
There is now a 'drone interceptor' to take out pesky drones
Aquatic Drone
Drone turned into a Star Wars flyer
Prototype Quadrotor with Machine Gun

Military Flares

A flare, also sometimes called a fusee, is a type of pyrotechnic that produces a brilliant light or intense heat without an explosion. Flares are used for signaling, illumination, or defensive countermeasures in civilian and military applications. Flares may be ground pyrotechnics, projectile pyrotechnics, or parachute-suspended to provide maximum illumination time over a large area. Projectile pyrotechnics may be dropped from aircraft, fired from rocket or artillery, or deployed by flare guns or handheld percussive tubes.

Illumination rounds are fired during Operation Tora Arwa V in the Kandahar province
during Operation Enduring Freedom. The illumination rounds were fired from M777
howitzers and are used to help illuminate a certain area the soldiers need to see.

Flares dropped by a flight of A-10 Warthogs was the explanation used to explain away the famous Phoenix Lights event which was witnessed by thousands of people across the state of Arizona on March 13, 1997.

Flares launched by an F-16 at dusk

F-16 dropping flares

Flares dropped by a military plane
No infringement intended. For educational purposes only.