UFO Sighting? See This List Before Calling The Authorities!

Ever experienced a UFO sighting? New information about unidentified flying objects or unidentified arial phenomena (UAPs) may be making you wonder! But before you call the local authorities be sure to review the list below and put your mind at ease! Bright planets, strange clouds, and aircraft lights can look otherworldly at times! As it turns out, most “UFO sightings” are misidentifications of perfectly normal occurrences with Earthly explanations.

What is a UAP?

You may have heard the abbreviation UAP used lately (as opposed to UFO). UAP stands for unidentified arial phenomena or unidentified anomalous phenomena. In other words these objects in the sky (or sometimes in the water) do not look like aircraft or other known objects. But rest assured … you most likely are not seeing a UFO or UAP!

20 Things Often Misidentified As UFO Sightings

1) Venus

Venus, the brightest planet, tops our list as the object most commonly misidentified for a UFO. It is possible to see this dazzling planet with the naked eye many days out of the year. When it is close to the horizon before sunrise or after sunset its light’s refraction through the atmosphere appears to flash colors and its stationary presence gives the impression that it is hovering.

Related: Learn when and where to spot Venus in our Monthly Night Sky Guides

2) Meteor “Fireballs”

Occasionally a meteoroid enters the atmosphere creating a huge fireball for a short period of time, which can also create simultaneous electrophonic sounds with clicks or pops. These bright flashes and sounds explain numerous UFO sightings.

Related: Meteor Shower Calendar – Dates And Viewing Directions

A man on a mountain celebrating shooting star superstitions and good luck.
Don’t confuse a falling star with an alien spaceship! Ever wonder why shooting stars are good luck? Find out!

3) Lightning Sprites

Lightning from a thunderstorm can excite the electric field above, producing a backward bolt of lightning above the clouds, called a sprite. Sprites can take the form of balls or tendrils, similar to a jellyfish. They are coined “sprites” (another name for an elf or fairy) because they appear to dance in the sky and are often associated with UFO sightings.

4) Ball Lightning

Ball lightning is a rare form of lightning consisting of luminous balls that move along solid objects or float in the air near the ground. These hovering spheres of light are an electrical phenomenon and are usually seen during thunderstorms, coming in many colors and can persist for seconds, even minutes.

Related: Important Thunder And Lightning Safety Tips

5) Lenticular Clouds

Lenticular clouds have spawned UFO reports for years. Their swirling loops that hover in place, circling peaks, have been nicknamed “flying saucer clouds.” 

Related: Understanding Crazy Clouds Formations

Many UAP and UFO sightings are simply strange looking clouds!

6) Hole-Punch Clouds

When sunlight hits a cloud disturbed by wind or plane traffic in a specific way, it can cause an optical illusion, referred to as hole-punch clouds. These huge holes in the cloud can elicit thoughts of black holes or something more alien like, but there is a perfectly good scientific reason for it.   

7) Satellites

Some of the low-Earth satellites during bright, brief flashes can become focal points in the night sky, often confusing onlookers. The less bright International Space Station is also visible in the night sky, with its silent passage taking just a few minutes to travel from one horizon to the other, startling some novice onlookers.     

8) Lens Flare

Internal reflections within the camera, known as lens flares, are often the culprit for perceived UFO sightings. Light can bounce off the lens of your camera, telescope, or binocular, causing a lens flare. People often attribute the bright glowing sphere to paranormal activity, when in fact it’s just the Sun.  

9) The Moon

Claims of people seeing a bright, unidentified object hovering near their house, turned out to be nothing more than the Moon.

Related: When Is The Next Full Moon? – Full Moon Dates, Times, And Names!

10) Unusual Aircraft Lights

Aircraft are often confused with something more bizarre—especially top-secret planes with unusual appearances. If the UFO or UAP description includes red, green, and white lights, it is most likely an airplane’s regulation lights.

11) Flares from Aircraft

Several instances of UFO sightings have come from flares. The famous Pheonix lights have been attributed to flares dropped from a group of planes, flying in formation during a routine training exercise. This sort of exercise can easily go unnoticed, however on clear nights flares can be seen up to 50 km away, and if the air is mild, the flares can hold their formation and hover, creating the appearance of a solid object.   

12) Sky Lanterns

These paper lanterns can rise up to one thousand feet in the sky and can hover if there is little wind. They are often tied together and from a distance they can be mistaken for a single object, becoming a leading cause of UFO reports today.

13) Space Debris

Inactive satellites, disposable space components, and debris from missiles are left behind, eventually becoming “space junk.” Atmospheric drag slows down the junk where it eventually falls to Earth, creating huge fireballs, often with colored trails, as it burns up. 

14) Missile Tests

Missile tests are relatively common and have sparked panic in unsuspecting onlookers. The plume from the rocket can be bright, with long glowing trails, lighting up the sky, creating an eerie spectacle. 

15) Rocket Launches

Many unknowing witnesses of a rocket launch have labeled it as a UFO sighting. A “space jellyfish” is a rocket launch-related phenomenon caused by sunlight reflecting off the plume gases emitted by the rocket, creating a luminous apparition reminiscent of a jellyfish.

16) Weather Balloons

Atmospheric balloons are reflective and appear bright in the sky, causing reports of UFO sightings. An increasing number of these balloons are being used for scientific and educational purposes to study the upper atmosphere. When they burst and fall to the Earth they can mistaken for an exploding plane or spacecraft or even a UFO.

A weather balloon is thought to be responsible for many UFO sightings, including the 1947 Roswell incident. Loose helium party balloons have also been the culprit of past UFO sightings. In Manhattan in 2010 thousands flocked the streets gazing at an unidentified bright silver flying object, which later turned out to be a group of 12 helium balloons from a party.

Related: How Do Weather Balloons Work?

17) Sun Dogs

Formally called parhelion, Sun dogs are a cold weather optical phenomena consisting of one-or-two colored luminous spots (“mock Suns”) that appear on either side of the Sun, caused by reflection and refraction of light in the atmosphere. Where raindrops create raindrops, ice crystals generate Sun dogs.

Related: Farmers’ Almanac Winter 2024 Extended Weather Forecast!

18) Searchlights

Giant searchlights that sweep the sky outside of theme parks or festivals can be seen from miles away and are often misinterpreted as mysterious objects flying at night.  

19) Hobby Drones

Over the past decade drones have become a popular explanation for UFO sightings. Their resemblance to a scaled down spaceship, with blinking lights that hover in the sky, can easily confuse onlookers. 

20) Contrails

Contrails from jet aircraft are vapor or condensation trails produced by high altitude aircraft can be confused with falling UFOs. When a contrail is illuminated by the setting Sun, from a distance it can appear as a slow-moving falling object.

A Final Thought

We hope that our explanations here helped calm your nerves and helped you learn something new!

If you ever have questions about what you are seeing in the sky, join our community discussion here (see below!) and on social media.

Join The Discussion

After reading our list are you still convinced you have experienced a UAP or UFO sighting?

Share your thoughts (and photos!) with your community here.

Monthly Night Sky Guides

Meteor Shower Calendar

Sun Dogs, Sun Pillars, And Sun Halos Explained

Full Moon Dates, Times, And Names

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Natalie LaVolpe

Natalie LaVolpe is a freelance writer and former special education teacher. She is dedicated to healthy living through body and mind. She currently resides on Long Island, New York, with her husband, children, and dog.

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Jonathan Neuhaus

This is a good list with one major exception. The Phoenix Lights flares were dropped a long time after the initial sighting. Most consider them an all advised attempt by the air force to once again change the narrative. Look up Governor Fife Symington, the Governor of Arizona at the time of the sighting. He too made a joke of the lights only to apologize to his constituents 10 years later. Symington said he saw a large triangular “craft of unknown origin” with lights, moving slowly. “It was dramatic. And it couldn’t have been flares because it was too symmetrical,” he says. “It had a geometric outline, a constant shape.”

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