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Erie UFO not so eerie

by Phil Plait, Mar 17 2010

A wave of reports is coming in from the town of Euclid, Ohio, from folks there who are seeing a mysterious light hovering over Lake Erie and Cleveland. The light, they say, is very bright, lasts for a couple of hours, stays near the horizon, changes colors, and keeps coming back to the same spot night after night.

Here’s an MSNBC report about it:


Could it be an alien visitor from another world?

No, I don’t think so. In fact, I think it is another world. Venus, to be specific.

A Fort Wayne, Indiana website has an interview with one of the witnesses on video, and includes some still shots. Everything in his description, including the photographs, makes me think he and the others are seeing Venus.

Right now, Venus can be seen in the west — the direction to Lake Erie and Cleveland as seen in Euclid — shining brightly just after sunset. It is so bright it can be seen while the sky is still light (I’ve seen Venus in the middle of the day). It appears to hover. Changing atmospheric conditions can affect its color, especially when it’s low to the horizon. It can be seen night after night, in the same spot in the sky.

Sound familiar?

I’m not saying what these people are seeing is in fact Venus, but it sure fits everything I’ve heard in the news reports (sometimes the witnesses describe multiple lights, but when looking to the horizon, especially over a big city, it’s not too unlikely to see planes flying around). In the MSNBC report they talked to the FAA, the military, and others (including a UFO guy from England), but never talked to an astronomer. Hmmph. And note that in these news articles, Venus is never mentioned! That’s mighty peculiar, given how spectacular it is in the west after sunset. It’s really hard to miss. A likely explanation is that it’s not mentioned because it is, in fact, the culprit here.

I’m getting a kick out of just how positive so many people are that this is a flying saucer of some kind. I wonder how many of these folks actually are familiar with the night sky, and would recognize Venus when they see it? That’s why I think very few astronomers (pro or amateur) report UFOs: astronomers tend to know what they’re looking at in the sky.

The next time you hear a report like this, don’t jump to the conclusion that some interplanetary object is making a close encounter… because it may very well be interplanetary, but the encounter may not be terribly close.

Tip o’ the probe to Patrick Kent. Originally posted on The Bad Astronomy Blog.

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40 Responses to “Erie UFO not so eerie”

  1. Pete says:

    Shame they didn’t use google skymap or similar app.

  2. Robo Sapien says:

    Can we officially name this phenomena the “Venus Fool Trap” ?

  3. Lefty says:

    I liked this particular quote from one witness (the same who is in your linked video):

    “I couldn’t say what it is, I’m not an astronomer, I have absolutely no expertise in this field, but I can guarantee you that it is not human!”

    http://www.fox8.com/news/wjw-ufo-part2-txt,0,5590934.story

    Well, he may be right after all.

  4. tmac57 says:

    I like this You Tube video better: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FonJ3a4-nFw

  5. Hey, I saw the same UFO in North Georgia the other night. Those aliens sure get around. Funny how they always seem to come in from the west . . .

  6. Shaky, out of focus video footage of a tiny little light. Yupp…definitely aliens.

  7. DocBrown says:

    Unbelievable! According to the reporter in the video (right at the end) he basically says we’re under no obligation to find and tell you the truth so long as “we report [what] facts [we have] like hell!”

    No wonder I don’t watch this type of news anymore.

    • I think the punctuation is wrong there. It should be: “We report the facts! (Like hell [we do]!)

      • Robo Sapien says:

        Alternatively: “We report the facts.. and any other bullshit we can find that might keep you from changing the channel.”

        Most news outlets just make me laugh, but in a sad way. That is why I prefer The Daily Show, at least those jokes are made on purpose and you can tell when they are done.

      • tmac57 says:

        I sometimes find more reality on the Daily Show than on the mainstream news outlets, even if it is parody and satire.

  8. John says:

    Blogs like this serve a very important role. I commend you for your informed skepticism but the Cleveland lights are reported to moving across the sky rapidly and then standing still. This would rule out Venus. But I would say this is very weak evidence of UFOs anyway and easy to shoot down (sorry) by a skeptic.

    I’d rather hear informed criticism of something like the following clip. I was pretty skeptical myself until I watched some of these clips. This one features the commander of a nuclear missile silo speaking about an event in the 60s at an event at the National Press Club in Wash. DC in 2001. Yes be skeptical but don’t be closed mind when something might move you. Thanks.

    http://tinyurl.com/yk6l8or

    • Well, considering the area is littered with airports, chances are, what they’re seeing could be aircraft. They would appear to be standing still if they were flying directly away or toward a certain vantage point.

      Either that or it’s little green reptilians from Nibiru coming to claim their turn in an intergalactic turf war sponsored by the Illuminati and the NWO. Apparently, they’ve opted for accommodation at the FEMA death camps instead of the local Holiday Inn. They have cable at the FEMA camps to entertain the sheeple.

      • John says:

        Thanks for the response Jose but your “vantage point” reasoning is a weak attempt to explain what happened that night regarding the UFO at the nuclear missile site.

        Ostensibly a US Air Force base staffed with professionals who are around aircraft all the time would be able to differentiate between aircraft in the sky and something which warranted a report to SAC Headquarters with the phrase “UFO” in it.

        Again, Capt. Solis’ report was clear: “a bright glowing red oval shaped object hovering outside the front gate”. And you’ve made no attempt to explain why all the missile at the base were rendered in-operational or “no go” during the event?

        All of this occurred at a base housing nuclear missiles during the height of the Cold War. The soldiers stationed there would necessarily be exceptionally responsible and professional considering the stakes involved with running a nuclear missile site. Finally, this wasn’t an urban legend told over beers in the officers club. This event is documented in numerous military TELEXes to and from SAC Headquarters and Malstrom AFB.

        I still haven’t heard anyone on this blog respond in an intelligent manner to these events. Most just ignored it and from you a bit of tired sarcasm (little green reptilians) aimed, no doubt, at getting a laugh from your fellow skeptics.

        For the record, I also think the idea of FEMA death camps are idiotic as well as a so-called Illuminati and I don’t believe in any 911 conspiracies either. You’ve trying to set up a false dichotomy between rational people vs. kooks when it comes to the UFO question and it’s incorrect.

        Here’s the link again for anyone who wants to take a shot.

        http://tinyurl.com/yk6l8or

        Thanks-

      • Seth Manapio says:

        I think it was an unidentified flying object of some kind, possibly a balloon, chinese lantern, atmospheric phenomena, airplane, or something else.

        However, based on the very scant evidence provided, I don’t think that I can skeptically claim to have any specific explanation. Yes, an event happened, yes, the specific object that was seen was not positively identified. However, since there is no other data besides a verbal description, we can’t even rule out the possibility that the individual who reported the object was simply hallucinating.

        We do know that the vast majority of UFO sightings are positively identified as objects of terrestrial origin, so that seems like the likely solution here.

      • John says:

        Thanks for the reasoned response Seth. You’re right, no hard evidence per se and impossible for one to say, “that was definitively an alien craft.”
        But according to the captain, the same thing was reported at another part of the base and those missiles went off line as well? It could be a massive coincidence. They happen. But given the levels of technical redundancy at a vital place like a nuclear missile base, that seems unlikely.

        Anyway, I wouldn’t put myself in the new age, 2012, world is going to end so grab your crystal and find a spaceship to escape, camp. Far from it. But having read and heard about scores of accounts from reputable people in the military, airtraffic controllers, governors, police etc. not to mention radar evidence, I begin to think there’s something more going on then chinese lanterns.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Is there a documented case of something appearing on radar that is not behaving like a terrestrial craft? I have never heard of one.

        I don’t know how compelling the missiles going off line argument is. If we don’t have documents showing that the two events happened at the same time, and we don’t know what the frequency of a ‘no-go’ command or what else was happening in the world (for example, were several bases taken off line at the same time? Was this a response to some other event) than what we have is a single report of a remembered coincidence. Human memory, even in the best and brightest of people, is just too fallible to build a case on.

        I would love to be alive on the day that humans make contact, or find evidence of contact. That would be so amazingly cool that my normally expansive vocabulary simply fails.

        But as far as I know–unless these radar events are well documented and show genuinely strange behavior–there isn’t any hard evidence of contact.

      • John says:

        I’ve seen several but here are two very credible reports of a “UFO” tracked on radar. The first interview is from an FAA investigator who still has all the original reports from FAA and military radar of an incident in the 80s over Alaska.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_w1OPgoR5M

        The second is from an Air Force plane from the 60s which was the AWACS of it’s day and had all this advanced sensing equipment on board. They also recorded radar but more importantly, electronic transmissions which came directly from the craft.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaBBA3gkZTc&feature=related

      • Ohhhhhhhh…the Disclosure Project. Yes….how convincing. Now how exactly is my vantage point remark a weak attempt when you respond with nothing more than an unrelated video of some gentleman who didn’t even present any file footage? Maybe you should sit back, hug your blanky, relax and wait for an opportunity to present something when it’s actually called for and relevant.

        Now, my remark was based on the topic at hand. So, how about the topic be discussed and we can continue. Otherwise, feel free to populate my screen real estate with more Dr Greer related UFO babble.

        How very “ufologist” of you to crash a topic with random bullshit.

      • John says:

        Actually Jose, you posted in “reply” to my original post (have a look). In that post I was speaking about the topic at hand – the Cleveland lights. I agreed that it was a weak attempt to claim some extraterrestrial event. I mentioned, in passing, the nuclear site event since I’d just seen it. The next day I noticed there was a reply underneath mine from you and naturally assumed you were responding to my post.

        But anyway, why so excitable Jose? Can’t someone have an exchange of ideas without you responding with rudeness and juvenile name calling?
        No, I am no “ufologist”, I’m a former journalist for PBS and found the clip I mentioned intriguing and the witness reputable.

        And don’t worry, I have no urge to “populate your screen real estate” with any more ideas as you’ve shown yourself to be just as reactionary and caustic as the worst of the UFO crowd.

  9. George Gauthier says:

    The video footage was deceptive in showing the light flitting about, up, down, left, and right, when it really was stationary. The movement was an artifact of zooming in for a close up with a hand held camera. When the camera pulled back, you could see that the light was stationary.
    These credulous viewers always perceive an object when all they really see is a light. I am no astronomer, but I can recognize Venus in the night sky. Why don’t these folks just check the internet for the sky calendar that month. Once you check it, Venus is the obvious candidate.

    • John Greg says:

      George Gauthier said:

      Why don’t these folks just check the internet for the sky calendar that month.

      Because they don’t really want to know the truth, especially if it’s something so mundane and, um, “unexciting” as a mere planet.

      Far too many people are simply far too comfortable with being duped, lied to, misinformed, and woefully unacquainted with reality — terrestrial or otherwise.

  10. Vance Shaw says:

    Nearly forty years ago, a friend and I stood for what seemed an hour or more watching Venus rise on a very crisp winter morning. Because the (still hidden) sun was rising behind it, the increasing brightness gave the illusion of an object drawing closer. That we had indulged in some of the stronger, um, pharmacopoeia so very available at that time was likely a major factor in our standing there long enough to realize that we were not really the first on the planet to see the beginnings of the invasion. With the dawn came the dawn, as it were. It is easy to see how someone can be fooled for a bit, not so easy to understand why anyone would think the first conclusion that pops unbidden into the brain needs to be the truth.

  11. Joshua Hunt says:

    Thanks for writing about this Phil! Being a native Clevelander and a member of the Cleveland Skeptics, I want to get natural/rational explanations for these kinds of things. We blogged about it one our website: http://www.clevelandskeptics.org/

    We used one of your earlier blog posts. Thanks again!

  12. Bryan says:

    This is the same nonsense that has been used as “proof” of UFOs by just about every “expert” in UFO “research”.
    The bad photography (both still and video) are the standards that these people use to proove to each other that the wild claims that they are making are the real deal.
    This is not just the UFO people that use this type of “evidence”. If these images were taken by someone looking for ghosts,interdimensional life or any one of many different types of unproven pseudoscience they would have found the “evidence” that they needed to prove what they were looking for.
    People really need to get some common sense and maybe even learn to use the equipment that they are using to collect the “evidence”. But they don’t want to do that because they would discover that they are not photographing the _______ (insert phenomena here).

    This is the same “evidence” and nonsense (or flat out fraud) that we are having to fight against in our stance against the creation of the Denver Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission here in Colorado.

  13. gfunkusarelius says:

    it still utterly baffles me that anyone could honestly mistake venus or the moon for a UFO when they are observing them from a stationary position. i can understand these videos confusing people, and maybe someone in a moving vehicle, but if you are just standing in the yard? at best i could see it seeming to drift a little if you stared for too long, but I guess I am just a bit skeptical of the skeptic’s scenario. don’t get me wrong, i haven’t seen any evidence to make me remotely believe we are being visited by ETs (and if we were, i don’t think they would drive around with their lights on at night), but the Venus diagnosis makes me cringe a bit because, even if it is true, it sounds so far-fetched that i think most people would dismiss the skeptic proposing it as not taking the report seriously. sort of the modern day “swamp gas” explanation.
    maybe i need to go stare at Venus a few times and see if i ever witness unusual phenomena.

    • ‘it sounds so far-fetched that i think most people would dismiss the skeptic proposing it as not taking the report seriously’…as opposed to believing it’s aliens from outer space and taking that seriously?

      Fact – logical explanations exist

      Fact – alien space craft is yet to be proven exists

    • Seth Manapio says:

      I don’t know about Venus, but I can understand the moon phenomenon.

      Because there are times when the moon can appear to rise very rapidly, or increase its size slightly, or be much larger than usual. I can remember standing with several friends staring at a harvest moon for maybe 15 minutes before we realized that it was the moon. It just didn’t look right… it was coming up too quickly, it was too large, it appeared to moving towards us, and it seemed to be almost smooth. Nobody actually said “Is that a UFO”. What we said was “What the hell is that?”

      As it got higher over the horizon, it started looking more like the moon, we could see the familiar surface features, the illusion of forward motion disappeared, and so on. But for a while it just didn’t look like the moon.

      If that particular weird moon sighting had anything to do with the time of year, temperature, and gigantic body of water, it doesn’t seem far fetched that Lake Erie could produce a weird viewing environment for Venus. Also, I live near a large and busy airport, and I can tell you that familiarity with the night sky is just not possible out here. Most nights there doesn’t appear to be any sky at all. Bright stars are sort of shocking when you never see stars.

    • Bryan says:

      The problem with the people reporting things like this is that they are looking at the “UFO” through cameras/Binoculars/telescopes/video cameras/etc.. and by doing this they have a telephoto view of what they are looking at. This creates a very fast randomly moving object from their perspective.
      If people would learn what the equipment that they are using is and is not capable of doing these reports would go away.

  14. Dave says:

    Phil Plait claims that very few astronomers report UFO’s. Can anyone provide any evidence for this claim?

  15. messenger1 says:

    This video proves the lake erie ufo is not Venus
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAPdTd7oZqk
    It doesn’t prove much more, but it does prove it’s not Venus.

  16. messenger1 says:

    I don’t know what it is, but I do know what it isn’t.
    It isn’t Venus. I posted a video that proved this, but these skeptics really don’t like it when you post things that disprove
    their lame theories. Venus is absolutely the first thing that most people rule out. After 12 days it is most certainly ruled out.
    I posted a video that proved this beyond a reasonable doubt.

    I suggest you go to yuotube and put this in the search box:
    Walnut beach ufo
    I’m not saying this is a ufo, this just proves Venus can now be ruled out. If it was a plane coming forward, it wouldn’t move to the left at the same time, plus you’d see the blinking lights.

    This clearly rules out Veneus! Also, in the video provided by Eugene Erulich, at the very end of the video you clearly see the object go behind the house. I know the camera moves most of the time, at this point it does not move, yet the object does. Anyone with any discerment, would see this and admit it. If it was the camera moving the house would appear to move left covering the object, instead the object moves to right, eliminating Venus as a possibility.
    That makes two videos that completely rule out Venus.
    Please move on to the next theory!!

    • James says:

      People think they’ve ruled out venus. That doesn’t mean they are correct. Nothing I saw on YouTube remotely rules out Venus, or any other mundane explanation.

      It’s sad really, because there is no need whatsoever to invent conspiracies or fantasies to have a sense of wonder and awe. All one needs is a little knowledge, a lot of curiosity, and maybe some binoculars.

    • Matthew Tuttle says:

      It ISN’T Venus! I just posted a comment; there were 13 spotted in the sky in Indiana including multiples at once! My friend has a REALLY good shot of it, that is really close and it clearly turns red and green which ruled out what I thought (Chinese lantern or Hot Air Balloon!)

  17. The Cleveland Skeptics wrote to Eugene Erlikh on facebook inviting him to speak with us but with no response. Thanks for this article. I’ll have to add a link to it in the comments of our blog post on the matter.

  18. qbsmd says:

    “The light, they say, is very bright, lasts for a couple of hours, stays near the horizon, changes colors, and keeps coming back to the same spot night after night.”

    My first thought was a fishing boat. In the video, I can’t tell where the horizon actually is, so I can’t rule that out yet.

    • Boze says:

      I like the fishing boat idea, at 1:55 there is a shooting star that originates at a point above the light, suggesting that the horizon is at least below that point (where the light is sitting).

      Perhaps this is actually an Unidentified Floating Object?

  19. Matthew Tuttle says:

    Actually it happened in Fort Wayne, IN and my friend has a REALLY good video of it! It’s elipitical shape and bright orange and LITERALLY turns green and it is freaky looking, I don’t believe it’s a UFO for SURE. but it’s NOT Venus, PLUS there were a total of 13 spotted (more than one in some cases) so it is NOT Venus! I’m sorry but Venus doesn’t MOVE!