Why 2015 Was a Weird Year for UFO Sightings

We're no closer to finding intelligent life from other planets and we might be farther from finding it at home.

Mankind’s relationship to space changed in 2015: Not only did we find liquid water on Mars, the commercial space race heated up, making our own starry ambition seems more plausible than ever. But we didn’t find life and life didn’t find us — at least not in a verifiable way. UFOs were spotted, sure, but they stayed stubbornly U.

The most exciting and provocative alleged UFO sighting actually came from someone who probably has a better view for spotting them than anybody else: Astronaut Scott Kelly was floating 259 miles above the surface of the Earth aboard the International Space Station when he snapped and tweeted this pic:

Immediately, people began asking what that mysterious glint of light was in the corner. What could it be?

The answer, it turns out, was: “Lot of stuff.” Forbes made a pretty convincing argument that it was the High Definition Earth-Viewing System mounted on a module attached to the ISS. Light from the instrument seems to have reflected back at Kelly’s camera as he took the picture. In fact, you can see this much more clearly when you increase the contrast on the image:


That’s a letdown, sure. But there were plenty of other big, weird sightings throughout the year. There were strange lights flying over Los Angeles a few weeks ago, but the Navy claimed responsibility, saying it was part of a missile test flight off the Pacific coast.

Naturally, not everyone bought that explanation.

Lenticular clouds freaked out a bunch of people over in Cape Cod, South Africa last month. And, to be fair, the whole thing did look an awful lot like Independence Day. In this instance, however, it’s much easier to accept a scientific explanation involving strange variations in the atmosphere. Still looks freaky though:

There were two big UFO sightings in India this year — one in June documented by a fifth grade student; and another, much larger object snapped by an individual who claims to have seen the mysterious ship rotating in the air. Both sightings were in the state of Uttar Pradesh and so far, there aren’t any clear explanations as to what they might have been.

That doesn’t necessarily mean those and other UFOs are signs of extraterrestrial objects zipping around through our sky. There are actually a ton of rational explanations for UFOs, ranging from aircraft balloons, aberrations of light, natural objects from space, and even birds. And ticking off those things from the list doesn’t mean it must be a ship from another planet.


Mankind’s constantly increasing access to the internet certainly hasn’t helped people keep a more rational mind about what they’re seeing. Just Google “UFO” one of these days and get lost in a k-hole community of people who are convinced those are alien objects coming to abduct human beings and signing secret deals with the government. In addition, the ubiquity of smartphones means everyone can document whatever strange things they see, and immediately post it to social media. Insert an appropriate hashtag like #UFO or #aliens or #FlyingSaucer. One can get lost in the pile of evidence.

Unfortunately, although smartphone cameras are getting better with every month, they’re still subject to a lot of the deficiencies that limit pretty much any kind of photographic equipment. Strange light or reflections can appear much brighter than they actually are. They might obscure the focus of an object and make it look more strange than it really is. While a lot of cameras allow you to manipulate the image quality in ways that offset those problems, most people neglect to do that before they send something straight to Twitter.

The only UFO this year that actually got scientists’ attention was the WT1190F object that burned up in Earth’s atmosphere about four weeks ago, over the Indian Ocean. No one was really what that piece of debris was, but scientists were pretty sure it was the remnants of some old rocketry equipment used in a previous launch.

Scientists were pretty excited about studying WT1190F reentry into Earth’s atmosphere to study the behavior of how objects plummet down from space into the Earth. It’s unclear yet what they found, but it ought to lead to some insights as to how meteors crash into Earth, and how humans can build better heat shields on spacecraft that are carrying astronauts back to Earth.

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