Some cite the strange maneuvers that UFOs are observed to make as evidence that they are extraterrestrial spaceships under
intelligent control. This is not necessarily so. Below are some UFO sighting causes that require very little intelligence, if
any, to produce the observed maneuvers and characteristics of UFOs.
Another of the "proofs" of extraterrestrial UFOs cited is that tremendous amounts of energy are required to
perform the observed UFO trajectories. Most of the examples I cite use no sources of energy other than gravity, inertia,
weather, and an occasional airplane engine. Effects of misjudged distance and size are partly responsible here.
Let us now look at each major UFO maneuver, and some prosaic causes for it:
- Some UFOs fly at high speeds without sonic booms.
There are some natural ways that objects can seem to fly through the atmosphere at supersonic speed without making a
- The object is a lot smaller and closer than the observer believes. Examples are birds, insects, kites,
fire balloons, and model airplanes.
- The object is above the atmosphere, and going faster than the observer believes. Examples include meteors, satellites,
and spacecraft. A specific example is a meteor skipping off the earth's atmosphere. It gives off a bright glow as it flies,
and the plasma can be tracked on RADAR.
(The RADAR track appears to be slower than the object is really going, and at a lower altitude than the object
really is. This is because the meteor's distance is so great that it appears as a second or third pulse echo. This makes
each displayed altitude, speed, and/or distance appear to be approximately one half to one third of the true value for
- The object is not real, but an image. Examples are a searchlight moving across a cloudy sky, a LASER aimed at clouds,
a reflection of a moving object in a window, etc.
Why do these fool us?
- The human vision system is totally unable to find the correct distance estimate for any object in the sky that is
farther away than 30 feet (10 m).
- We unconsciously think any flying object must be vehicle-sized, and adjust our distance estimate accordingly. Since
flying vehicles are relatively new, the size-estimate error is new too.
Some UFOs move like a falling leaf.
The described motion here is that of a pendulum or a falling leaf. In a few cases, a falling leaf is exactly what was
being observed. But any falling disc shaped object could also produce this effect (such as a paper plate blown away
in the wind).
That leaves the glowing objects seen at night that make this maneuver. Fire balloons fit this
niche perfectly. Follow the link to see more on the antics of fire balloons.
Only the bottom of the fire balloon is visible at night. It appears to follow the curved trajectory seen at the top of
the picture at right. If the entire balloon were visible, it would appear similar to the bottom of the picture. The
balloon oscillates around its center of mass, rocking back and forth. Very little energy is required to produce this
Why does the balloon oscillate? If the wind changes speed, the lighter top of the balloon can react quicker than the
more massive bottom. When the wind speeds up, the top scoots ahead. The lighted disc appears to tilt forward, then move
forward. It overshoots the top of the bag, and tilts the other way. It wobbles back and forth until it settles out, or
until another disturbance sends it swinging the other way.
The UFO can appear to descend like a falling leaf when the disturbance is large. When the bag tilts 45 degrees or more,
some of the hot air spills out. As it tilts back and forth, the bag loses more hot air each time, and the balloon loses
altitude. When it settles out, the hot air builds up again, and the UFO gains altitude again.
- Some UFOs oscillate like a coin spun on a table.
This is a variation of the falling leaf motion. Instead of swinging linearly like a clock pendulum, the object is
swinging like a tetherball orbiting its post. It is the result of several disturbances acting in different directions on
the object at different times. The fire balloon is also a good candidate for the identification
- Some UFOs rotate.
This is an effect not normally seen in prosaic devices, but it does happen in some:
- A fire balloon can rotate, and can even reverse rotation, when the wind is uneven.
- A night advertizing plane looks like a rotating disc with lights on the rim when seen edge-on. The lighted lettering
moves from one wingtip to the other. The red light on top of such a plane looks like a light on the dome of a domed
- A spinning UFO kite is sold. It consists of a round disc and a longer, but narrower ellipse that fits into an S slot
in the disc. The disc is vertical, and the kite spins like a wind turbine around the horizontal long axis of the
- Balloons can rotate due to wind differentials.
- Atmospheric conditions can make a non-rotating object appear to rotate.
- A rotating effect is sometimes associated with sun halation in the eye. This happens when a specular object
reflecting the sun is bright enough to be expanded by halation (light scattering) in the retina. The strong light causes
involuntary eyeball motion to protect the cones from damage.
An interesting side fact is that most early UFOs, and many later ones, do NOT spin.
- Most close UFOs make no sound.
There are many reasons no sound is heard from flying objects:
- The object may be too far away to hear.
- Balloons (except manned hot air balloons) are silent.
- The engine on an advertizing plane runs so slow that it can barely be heard when overhead. This is done to give you
time to read the sign.
- Birds, insects, kites, and Frisbees are silent.
- Fire balloons are silent, unless the prankster puts in fireworks.
- Meteors, satellites, and re-entries are silent from the ground.
- The direction of the wind can affect whether or not an object can be heard.
Sounds are generally impossible to link to a UFO:
- Unrelated sounds can be erroneously linked to the UFO by the witness. I know of a case that turned out to be a
seagull, combined with the roar of a construction crane hidden behind a hill.
- Aircraft sounds are often too faint to be heard, unless the plane is quite close.
- If an airplane can be heard, but is far away, the sound of the airplane seems to be quite a distance behind the
plane. This is often mistakenly interpreted as a silent UFO followed by an airplane chasing it (but the witness can't
find the plane).
- Some UFOs give off energy fields that affect cars or equipment.
There are many arguments why these fields do NOT really exist:
- If the strong magnetic fields claimed really existed, many people would be filing insurance claims and defective
merchandise claims due to erased stereo tapes, video tapes, and computer disks.
- A field strong enough to affect one of those UFO detectors would be strong enough to erase
any tapes and disks within a radius one quarter the distance from the object to the detector.
- If we suddenly have a flap of erased tape cases, it will be because some nuts read this page and got a new idea
for a hoax.
- There is no way a remote object can steal power from a car battery or a power line. A direct connection or a close
inductive coupling must be made to cause electrons to flow.
- There is only one known energy field that can stop a car engine when the hood is down without damaging the car in some
way. This is a heavy static charge on dust in the atmosphere. It causes the sparkplugs to fire continuously. Without
proper timing, the plugs set off the fuel charges too early, stopping the engine and preventing it from being restarted.
This effect often accompanies desert sandstorms.
- In many cases, the electrical power failure causes the UFO, instead of the UFO causing the power failure.
- In many cases, the UFO would not have been noticed if the power had not gone out, or if the car hadn't quit.
- Some of the cases where radioactivity is found at a UFO landing site are the result of untutored people taking the
normal background radiation to be radiation left by the UFO. Often it is the only time that person has ever handled a
- Some pranksters have put radium dioxide in their fake UFO landing sites.
- Radiation detected at some of the distances claimed from the UFO would be lethal to people much closer to the object.
Reports of radioactivity must be tested against reality. An example is Bill Rogers' claim of having measured 250
milliroentgens a mile from the UFO. The following levels would then apply:
|1 mile||250 milliroentgens|
|1/2 mile||1 roentgen|
|1/4 mile||4 roentgens|
|1/8 mile||16 roentgens|
|1/16 mile||64 roentgens|
Note that the inverse-square radiated energy law applies. Also note that the last distance in the table is about the
length of a football field.
The federal safety limit is 500 microroentgens. Rogers measured 500 times that. UFOs have been reported even closer,
hovering over hospitals and apartment buildings. Where are all of the cases of radiation sickness?
Were these measurements in roentgens, or roentgens per hour? I don't know if Rogers had a straight Geiger counter or
Was the Geiger counter set wrong or read wrong?
- Some UFOs are observed to make very sharp turns.
There are several causes for this:
- The trajectory may look strange only from the viewpoint of the witness. An airplane making a curve looks like it
reverses direction when the path is seen edge-on.
- The antics of the fire balloon described above have sharp corners at the ends of the swing of the balloon.
- Balloons follow the wind. The wind can make sudden changes due to different winds at different altitudes, storm
fronts, buildings and other ground obstructions, or the effects of passing airplanes.
- Autokinesis can make a star or planet seem to jerk back and forth. Actually, the jerking is in the eyes of the
- Stars and planets can really appear to jerk back and forth, when heat rising from a city (or a large parking lot)
forms a variable atmospheric lens.
- Two objects may overlap in the sky at just the right point (from the viewpoint of the witness) to appear to be one
object making a sharp turn.
- UFOs follow cars or other vehicles.
There are also several causes for this:
- Police helicopters do occasionally follow vehicles. They check vehicle speed against road markings, and follow
suspicious vehicles (to check for crime in progress, or to follow an escaping felon until patrol cars can make an
- The moon and stars appear to follow only the vehicle the witness is in. Since they are very far away, they appear
to move with the vehicle. This is because the rest of the scenery appears to move the other way (relative to the vehicle).
Venus is usually the UFO in this case, but often Mars, Jupiter, or even the moon fools people.
- The following may be a mere coincidence. An air route may parallel a major highway, and any plane following the air
route appears to be sneaking up on a vehicle on that road.
- In at least one case, college students tied a lighted balloon to a lady's car. She tried to outrun it, until the
balloon caught an overpass and broke free.
- Some UFOs appear to outrun airplanes.
How cans a UFO outrun a plane? Have a look:
- Meteors go much faster than planes do, and appear much closer than they really are.
- Several planes have had "dogfights" with lighted balloons at night. The "UFO" is always described
as being much faster and more maneuverable than the plane. Actually, the pilot thinks the object is much farther away.
The ramming attacks, tight circles, and evasive maneuvers are actually the result of the airplane's own movements around
a nearly stationary object.
- From the ground, a low, slow moving fire balloon can appear to be at the altitude of the plane and outrunning it.
- A large balloon in the jet stream can easily outrun a pursuing plane at lower altitude.
- The Space Shuttles and space stations are quite visible from the ground as moving lights in the sky at dusk or dawn.
They are brighter than the planet Venus. On 10/03/97 the author of this page saw MIR, with the shuttle Atlantis about 30
degrees behind it. They turned red and disappeared as they went into the earth's shadow. No airplane could possibly keep
up with the over 18000 mi/hr speeds of these objects.
- Some UFOs leave at high speed, often straight up.
There are several ways this can appear to happen without actually happening:
- The object appears to move rapidly away from the witness along his line of sight. Actually, the object just dimmed
out to invisibility. A fire balloon will appear to do this when the last candle burns out.
- The object suddenly darts toward the horizon and appears to go behind it. A fire balloon does this when the last
- The object suddenly starts moving straight up, accelerating until out of sight. A fire balloon will do this when the
lift overbalances the weight due to loss of candle wax.
- The object rises on a column of flame and then disappears among the stars. This happens when the structure of the
fire balloon catches fire. It creates a strong updraft that carries the remains up swiftly until the entire balloon is
- Satellites and the Space Shuttles do this when they move into the shadow of the earth.
- Lighted weather balloons go up rapidly.
- Meteors appear to leave at high speed when they burn out.
Other objects can also effect some of these events.
All of these effects have been reported as maneuvers made by UFOs. Also, all of the above mundane causes have been
mistaken for UFOs. The reported maneuvers do not constitute proof of extraterrestrial activity by themselves, because
other objects can duplicate the same motions as seen in the sky. Neither do these objects require a lot of power to
produce the reported effects.
Extraordinary claims need extraordinary proof. We can not assume the presence of space aliens or spaceships. We have
to assume that nothing special happened, unless proof to the contrary is available.