The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

New Phenomenon to Explain UFOs

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 28, 2009

I posted earlier – in Texas Fireball Mystery – about how many people use the default explanation of aliens to explain UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects), and this is often due to a tendency for people to argue from ignorance due to our lack of knowledge of the natural world. Well, according to new research, another naturalistic candidate to account for many UFO sightings has been discovered… high-energy electrical discharges called sprites.


According to the article on the sprite-UFO research…

“Lightning from the thunderstorm excites the electric field above, producing a flash of light called a sprite,” said Colin Price, a geophysicist at Tel Aviv University in Israel. “We now understand that only a specific type of lightning is the trigger that initiates sprites aloft.”

Researchers have detected the flashes between 35 and 80 miles (56-129 km) from the ground, far above the 7 to 10 miles (11-16 km) where usual lightning occurs. Sprites can take the form of fast-paced balls of electricity, although previous footage has suggested streaks or tendrils.

The cause or function of the flashes remains murky, but Price suggested that they could explain some of the UFO reports which have cropped up over the years. That might provide some solace for UFO enthusiasts disappointed by human-caused hoaxes in the past.

Here is some really awesome slow-motion footage of a sprite discharge from In addition, here is a neat Youtube video…

And another good one of some video footage of sprites caught from the ground…

These are some pretty amazing discoveries concerning electricity & lightning in our atmosphere, and I think they are extremely cool! However, they aren’t alien. It is worth noting again that when confronted by something you see in the sky that is unknown to you (hence the Unidentified in UFO), it is best to simply state the obvious: you don’t know what it is.

To jump immediately from the unknown straight to aliens visiting the Earth and government conspiracies to cover up The Truth is bad not only because it promotes a lack of critical thinking & healthy skepticism, but it can also lead us away from real discoveries, such as the most recent research on sprites.

One Response to “New Phenomenon to Explain UFOs”

  1. IQXS said

    Very thorough presentation as one would expect from a teacher. Thank you!

    I would only like to emphasize that the scientist made it clear in his report that this would explain “some” UFO sightings.

    “Light phenomenon” is only one type of observed UFO, and IMHO one can hardly say sprites are an explanation for sightings of LP since UFOs do have the ability to contort light in spectacular ways, documented by both observation and camera/video capture by individuals from housewives to high ranking government officials to astronauts. Perhaps that is a measure of camouflage…but that thought may well lead to (heinous) conspiracy issues.

    Though we of the woo-woo persuasion, may need a dose of caution in our A+ level of enthusiasm for UFOs, we do not deserve to be painted with such a negative broad brush as you seem to depict, especially in the closing statement. Most UFO experiencers are rational, healthy skeptics, whose first response is not “ALIENS!!!” but “hmmmmmmmmmm…”. I therefore wonder at the validity of this seeming “slap on the hands” to the UFO community.

    Most people world-wide applaud good science and truthful research…we now add sprites to the textbooks…but not necessarily to a hard-core explanation of UFOs.


    This post has been Twittered at
    h t t p : // twitter . com / IQXS
    and shared with Twitter UFO enthusiasts
    worldwide. We track the latest in
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    Tin foil hats, optional! 😉

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