UFOs Spotted Over Lake District. Really. UFOs. No Fooling. OK, Maybe SOME Fooling…

So the Lake District is the latest area of England to be visited by UFOs.  Following on from the ones spotted in Shropshire, Cambridgeshire, London and… erm, well… Merseyside.  Yes, Merseyside.  That sound you can hear is us, dropping the ball on that one.  Aliens in our back gardens, and there we were out ‘mobbing’ local ‘psychics’.  Boy were our faces red.

But as it happens, the Merseyside UFOs weren’t aliens, after all.  I’ll let you have a moment to stop reeling from that shock revelation.  Done?  Good.  They were countermeasure flares deployed in a navy training routine.  Even the woo-tastic Telegraph is happy to go with this explanation, so it must really hold water – give those guys half an inch of wiggle room and it seems they’re the first ones to don their tin-foil hats and hum the theme tune to the X-Files.  And the BBC are not much better – ‘Do-Dee-Derr-Derrr…Do-Dee-Do-Derr-Derr-Derr…‘   As it happens, I was half-way through an ‘it’s probably something straightforward’ type post when it emerged that it was, in fact, something straightforward.  ‘Oh,’ thought I, ‘that’s that then.  No need to write on UFOs, it’ll be ages before another one of those comes up.’  But UFOs, like buses and clichés, rarely come along one at a time…

So what’s this latest story then?  As the Telegraph reports:

“Campers in the Lake District were treated to a spectacular light show from a string of glowing orbs which flew in formation across the night sky.

It is the latest in a series of sightings which has baffled onlookers and excited UFO spotters across the UK” – Source: Telegraph

I for one appreciate the Telegraph taking a fine, unbiased opinion on this.  ‘It’s the latest in a series of sightings’ – there’s a half-truth for you: It’s the latest in a series of pretty lame sightings.  People who believe in UFOs are described as excited; people who had no belief in UFOs were baffled – clearly stacking the deck early on in the report to favour an ‘Aliens!!!!!’ interpretation.  Let’s read on… and as Darlington-born (good lad!) Paul Haigh explains:

“[The lights] weaved in and out of one another and appeared to fade and then light up again as they soared through a clear sky…

“The lights were amazing and seemed to fly in formation, they were darting around, fading an lighting up again.

“There was never more than six in the sky at any one time, but as one faded another lit up, it was a really weird spectacle”

Lights fading or flickering?  Flying in formation?  Sounds like Chinese Lanterns/Sky Lanterns to me – mini hot-air balloons that fly up to a mile in height, for around 20 minutes or so.  They’re party decorations, like an alternative to fireworks.  Pretty, and pretty cool too.  And at £15 for 5 – pretty reasonably priced.  (Note: The Merseyside Skeptics Society does not endorse a particular brand of Chinese Lantern.  We will never become a shill for damn ‘Big Lantern’).  It’s a shame nobody in the lakes that night knew about these things during the sighting…

“There were various theories as to what they were, someone said Chinese lanterns, but they seemed much too big and moving too fast.”

Oops, my bad again.   But they couldn’t have been Chinese lanterns, because they were too big.  And the speed they were moving!  For something so big they must have been going so fast!  Or, of course, they weren’t big.  They were just closer.  And therefore slower.  Like, say, a Chinese lantern.

“They looked as though they were being propelled under their own power rather than being blown by the wind, it was a still night.”

Lucy Gray, 26, of Leeds, said: “They seemed to be dancing around in the sky, not just racing straight across it like clouds.

“They were moving in formation, keeping a regular distance apart and they’d all shift around at the same time”

Propelled under their own power?  Sure – the power of their tiny flame, just enough to carry it’s tiny hot air balloon up.  It was a still night?  Sure – at ground level.  But at one mile up, there was clearly plenty of wind – Lucy tells us that herself when she mentions the clouds ‘racing straight across’ the sky.  Dancing around?  Sure – they’re light, and they’re buffeted by air currents.  Keeping a regular distance apart?  Sure – they could have been tied together.

“It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen and I can’t explain it, unless they were aircraft on a training exercise.”

Or, Lucy, unless they were £15-worth of paper, candles and cheap fuel, tied with a string, one mile up (give or take), buffeted on the wind.

For me, the worst part of the article is still to come.  I can forgive Paul and Lucy – excited onlookers to some unusual-looking lights, giving quotes to a journalist, having a bit of a giggle. It’s all such a lark, aliens and all that.  But the journalist decides to end the whole account with the following:

“Similar lights in recent weeks have been found to be Chinese lanterns, often released during Summer weddings.”

Yes. Silmilar lights HAVE been found to be Chinese lanterns.  Pretty much identical lights, in fact, have been found to be Chinese lanterns. Pretty much identical lights, as described in the Telegraph as UFOs, have been later found to be Chinese lanterns.  So it’s really rather dishonest journalism to tack this simple explanation to the bottom of the last para, the token note of scepticism, when there are perfectly simple explanations already to hand.  Especially in a newspaper that has run 13 – THIRTEEN – UFO stories in 3 months.  That to me is an unnaturally high number, smacking of a little bit of manufacturing.

One sighting that, somehow, the UFO-obsessed Telegraph missed was the tale of the definitely-not-a-Chinese-lantern sighting over Muswell Hill in London.

This was actually something else that sat in my ‘too-silly-to-write-about’ pile for a while – struggling, bit-part and entirely-unheard-of actor Sam Lathem sighted what he described as  ‘a large cube-shaped “ship” with orange lights erratically making its way across the sky’ late last month.  Sam was so spooked and amazed by what he saw that he took the time to draw a sketch.  A sketch.  He drew it.  In this day an age, when every phone has a camera and cctv cameras line the streets, he decided to sketch it.  Fishy.  In my head, he then tried to sell the sketch to the UFO, like a caricature artist in a tourist hotspot, but the UFO politely declined in broken English.  That bit’s just in my head though.

And this UFO is just in Sam’s head, I’d say.

In Sam’s own words:

“It was really strange because there was no noise and you would have thought at that distance it would have woken up everybody on the street. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Yep, it doesn’t.  But the suggestion that there was no UFO, that an actor of Sam’s standing (actually, he really looks spookily like a fat Arnold Rimmer/Chris Barrie) might benefit from a bit of niche publicity – to me that makes a whole lot more sense than an entire city failing to look up and see a cube the size of a truck hovering silently above their heads (yes, in exactly the same way a brick doesn’t).

So it’s silly season on the UFO stories, it seems.  OK.  I mean, I largely got into this scepticism lark to expose the psychics, tarot-readers and other such scoundrels who prey on the bereaved and vulnerable.  Or to help put an end to the quack practicioners of bogus treatments which erode faith in real medicine and damage the health of those who fall for the woo.  But as long as UFOs are so prominent, and tabloids cheaply sell-off their own journalistic dignity for a quick story, without second thought for the leg-up it gives to fuzzy, magical thinking – they’re back on the list.  Now, I’m off to draft-up a ‘there’s probably a very simple explanation for those lights… they’re probably Chinese lanterns… etc’ post, ready for the next sighting…

, , , ,

  1. #1 by Colonel Molerat on June 16, 2009 - 09:43

    What if they were extra-terrestial Chinese lanterns?

  2. #2 by Marsh on June 16, 2009 - 10:20

    Colonel Molerat :

    What if they were extra-terrestial Chinese lanterns?

    Are you suggesting the Chinese are aliens?

  3. #3 by Marsh on June 16, 2009 - 11:20

    Quick update – yet more ‘strange lights’ reports turn out not to be aliens:

  4. #4 by Colonel Molerat on June 16, 2009 - 11:31

    Are you suggesting the Chinese are aliens?

    All I’m saying is that the food from Yuet Ben is out of this world…

  5. #5 by Deadra Reilly on December 3, 2010 - 19:01

    I want to get to know one of the Girls of Riyadh
    It’s a joke:)
    Al Riyadh

(will not be published)