If an object has appeared in the sky, you can assume it's been mistaken for a UFO. It doesn’t matter if the culprit is as small as an insect or as familiar as the moon—under the right circumstances, almost anything can resemble an alien spacecraft. While we wait for evidence of visitors from outer space, check out these examples of identified objects mistakenly reported as UFOs.
1. The Goodyear Blimp
Goodyear’s blimp is iconic, but that didn’t stop it from being mistaken for a UFO in September 2020. While flying over MetLife Stadium during a football game, it caught the attention of many confused eyewitnesses on the ground. Videos from the incident show cars pulled over on the side of the highway as drivers gawk at the object. Shortly after the sightings went viral, the aircraft’s true identity was revealed.
There isn’t just one case of our planetary neighbor being mistaken for an unidentified flying object. According to experts, Venus is one of the most common explanations for UFO sightings. As Discover magazine reports, the book UFOs: An Insider’s View of the Official Quest for Evidence includes an account of Georgia police officers chasing an object moving quickly about 500 feet off the ground that turned out to be the planet. Venus is the brightest celestial body behind the sun and moon, and it appears close to the horizon—two factors that may contribute to the regular cases of mistaken identity.
3. The Moon
Mistaking Venus for a UFO is one thing, but this one is less excusable. In 2011, the Hertfordshire, UK, police received a call from someone claiming to see a bright, unidentified object hovering near their house. They were convinced the object was headed their way, though at one point they admitted “it’s stopped now.” A few minutes after the call ended, the caller phoned again to share the realization that they had actually been looking at the moon.
4. A SpaceX Rocket
SpaceX’s groundbreaking projects sometimes get attention for the wrong reasons. When the Falcon 9 rocket took off over Southern California in December 2017, it created a ghostly shape in the evening sky. Residents were so spooked by what they believed to be a UFO that the Los Angeles fire department issued an alert identifying the “mysterious light.” SpaceX’s Starlink satellites also prompted a wave of UFO reports.
5. Frozen Pee
When British astronaut Tim Peake spotted four lights moving in formation outside the International Space Station in 2015, he was prepared to have a close encounter. It didn't take long for him and the rest of the crew to figure out the UFO’s true origin: What he mistook for far-away lights were actually crystallized droplets of urine from a nearby Russian space probe floating past the window.
6. Lenticular Clouds
Lenticular clouds form when moist air flows over a protruding geological feature and hits the air current above it, creating a downward wave. The air from this wave evaporates into a large, lens-shaped cloud that looks like a flying saucer. The resemblance is so uncanny that they've been nicknamed "flying saucer clouds." Lenticular clouds are one of the most notorious culprits behind erroneous UFO sightings.
7. A Google Balloon
The Roswell incident turned the weather balloon cover-up into a cliché, but there have been legitimate examples of people confusing balloons for UFOs. In 2017, a large balloon from the Google company X crashed in Colombia. Farmers who observed the downed object smoking and leaking “strange liquid” thought they were seeing a UFO. Local police were able to identify the wreckage as a balloon, which X was using to bring internet connectivity to the remote area.
8. An Army Parachute Team
A pyrotechnic, aerial display from the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team has become a tradition at the annual Sun Fun Festival in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The coordinated parachute jump is a dazzling spectacle for people who know to expect it. For many who don’t, the sight of glowing orbs falling from the sky looks like an alien invasion. After provoking numerous UFO reports during its first year, the festival organizers began putting out press releases to warn people of the event. This hasn’t stopped false sightings from becoming part of the annual tradition.
9. A Bug
What’s shiny, round, and capable of zipping through the air in multiple directions? Many insects fit these criteria, but the description also applies to plenty of UFO reports. In 2012, Fox affiliate KDVR in Denver shared a video of an alleged UFO that astronomer Phil Plait identified as a bug. The lack of perspective in the clip made it possible to misidentify the tiny insect for a large aircraft flying in the distance.
10. Hobby Drones
Over the past decade, hobby drones have become one of the top explanations for UFO sightings. Not only do they look like scaled-down versions of spaceships, but they’re more likely to be spotted in places where they don’t belong than military jets or weather balloons. Amateur drone hobbyists can even buy programmable LED light kits with the intention of confusing people looking to the skies.
11. LED Kites
Kites can also be decorated with LED lights, which makes them potential bait for UFO spotters. An object pulsating with multi-colored lights was reported over Vancouver in early 2011; it was later identified as a Chinese-made kite. Some have also suggested than a bright-blue UFO recorded over Hawaii in December 2020 was really an LED kite on the loose.