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Mystery UFO Photo

by Michael Shermer, Aug 28 2012

I thought I would share with you an email and photographs submitted to me by a gentleman named Marc Richard. Instead of telling you what I think it is, I’d like to hear from you what you think is the best explanation. Submit your best guess in the comments section below.

Hello, I’m not sure where to send these, or if your even looking for this kind of thing, couldn’t find a submissions page on the site. I have eight photos, I’ll send you two, if your interested I’d be happy to send the rest. Here’s what I wrote about the photos at the time I took them:

“On Oct, 19, 2009 at around 6:30pm, I was working on the 18th floor of my apartment building in downtown Detroit, when I noticed something floating around the two smoke stacks on the power plant near my place. It seemed to be hovering directly through the smoke of the stacks, and then around the two stacks, in between the two stacks, and then it would float a few blocks away and then back to the stacks. At this point I had been watching this thing for about 8 minutes or so when I ran to grab my camera and returned with my girlfriend and my brother in law. So I snapped off these pics which I can’t explain. It seems to be pretty small (about the size of one of those little smart cars?) I sent these photos to UFOs Northwest shortly after taking them. They’re still up on that site, nobody seems to have an explanation for them. If you have any questions I’d be happy to try and answer them.”

I know your busy and don’t want to waste your time, it’s just that I’ve lived down here a long time and I’ve watched plastic bags/ balloons float around in the updrafts of buildings a hundred times. Look at the side profile of this thing, I don’t think it’s a sphere as much as a strange diamond cut geometry. This thing would hold its altitude precisely and float off three or four full city blocks away and then return to the stacks, and never even waver slightly in its flight. And then through the actual smoke leaving the stack without changing altitude. I really do appreciate your opinion on this matter so thanks once more for taking the time.

Sincerely, Marc Richard

Click the photos to enlarge them and then leave your comment below.

89 Responses to “Mystery UFO Photo”

  1. Sebastian Sivertsen says:

    The colors make me think of a toy. Maybe a kite?

  2. beanfeast says:

    Something akin to the products sold on this website:

  3. shawmutt says:

    It’s obviously unicorn poop.

    …or a kite.

  4. tudza says:

    Yes, it does look like a person is on top of that building and probably the one flying the kite.

    • Pete Harned says:

      Good observation – I hadn’t noticed the figure. Before I saw the person I thought the object looked liked a gaudy mylar balloon or a kite – and now that I see the person standing there, that conclusion seems even more likely.

  5. Michael Finfer says:

    Looks like a kite to me.

  6. BillG says:

    A lost pig from a photo shoot of Pink Floyd’s 1977 album cover “Animals”.

  7. Max says:

    Wait till everyone starts flying drones.

  8. Phil says:

    Looks like a foil balloon to me

  9. LovleAnjel says:

    Looks like a box kite, especially with the side view.

  10. JohnH says:

    Kite. It’s closer to the camera than the stacks are, creating the lllusion of greater size and angular motion.

  11. Janet Camp says:

    Kite was my first thought.

    But then I am not trying to fit my observation of the object into a preconceived view that it must be a UFO.

  12. Brian M says:

    Clearly, its aliens. What other possible expla… oh wait, its a kite.

  13. Willy says:

    I came to that conclusion (Box Kite) before even checking
    the other comments since I have flown similar kites in the
    past but I suppose someone that is not familiar with kites
    would perhaps see what they want to see. If that is an alien
    spaceship, then they would see an alien spaceship.

    I also do have to wonder why Aliens would want to visit

  14. KC says:

    I agree it looks like a kite

  15. Bob S says:

    Looks like a ladybug crawling on the window.

  16. Chris says:

    I agree that it looks like a kite.
    One question with the kite hypothesis is how could it “…float a few blocks away and then back to the stacks”? Maybe he had a weird perspective of it?
    A big question here is where did it go when he could no longer see it? If it was a person flying the kite from near the smokestacks it should have descended to that person (if it is a kite).

    • LovleAnjel says:

      If the kiterunner had a long string and walked or ran with it, the kite could appear to cover a large distance. It’s clear that the estimates of size/distance are off by a bit.

      • Chris says:

        Possibly. But more likely it is a matter of perspective (where the kiterunner is stationary further away from the smokestacks) as is concluded from the french skeptics in comment #17

  17. says:

    Hello Michael,

    Here’s our contribution to your challenge:

    French Skeptics

  18. says:

    On this picture, you can see both the Detroit Thermal stacks and the “kite building”.

  19. Bradagast says:

    I think it is a baloon with helium. It does not look like a kite to me.

  20. Arthur Maruyama says:

    From Pic7 I would be inclined to believe that the object is a box kite.

    I have to ask: you were sent Pic2, Pic3, Pic4, Pic6 and Pic7–what happened to Pic5?

    Google Maps shows the smokestacks here:,-83.043978&spn=0.001551,0.001743&sll=42.351313,-83.069172&sspn=0.069901,0.11158&t=h&fll=42.338661,-83.044093&fspn=0.001545,0.001743&z=19
    which makes me question Mr. Richard’s size estimate. If the object were at the distance of the stacks it would have to be very small, perhaps 0.5*1.5-foot. I think the background buildings in Pic2 and Pic3 give the impression that the stacks are much wider, say, 80-100 feet in diameter rather than 20-25 feet as evident from the cars also shown at the Google Maps link. From this I believe that if the object is a standard though colorful boxkite like those suggested by beanfest then it was actually much FURTHER from Mr. Richard than the stacks.

  21. Sceptic-OVNI says:

    Hello Dear Mister Shermer,
    Us too, in our French UFO skeptic team were thinking that a kite could be the best candidat, mainly cause the colors for my modest part.
    The thread in French:
    Why the colors warned us :
    We provided other kite picture, but will not use too much place to reply here.
    Gilles Fernandez for Sceptic-OVNI

  22. damJerm says:

    Looks like a mylar ballon or a nice kite..

  23. David Philip Norris says:

    Looks like a box kite or a balloon to me.

  24. Anthony says:

    It’s a box kite or a large mylar balloon.

  25. half-full says:

    I also guessed that it was a kite before looking at the comments. :)

  26. Martin Totland says:

    Obviously a guy flying a kite from the building roof.

  27. Chuck Coverly says:

    Definitely a box kite. You can see all of the parts of it in the photo that looks like a bunch of squares stacked one right after the other.

  28. Amy Frushour Kelly says:

    Box kite or oversized mylar balloon.

  29. Gabriel says:

    Looks to me like one of the 95% of cases which turn out to be identifiable aerial phenomena

  30. Roger says:

    Just a typical alien from outer space on a rooftop flying a multi-colored kite to celebrate diversity.

  31. Jim S says:

    It’s a box kite. The last photo makes that quite clear.

  32. Charlie says:

    The first few images are not that easy to make out by I had a good look at them all before reading any comments and I’m definitely seeing a large box kite in the final image.

    in the fourth and fifth images as they appear above, you can see it in slightly better focus when it’s higher and a little closer then when it’s lower and has descended slightly, pretty much as you would expect.

    There also is a dark shape to the right of the roof structures that could or could not be a person flying the kite.

  33. Tom says:

    Looks like a box kite; he describes it moving like a kite; there is no reason to think it is anything other than a kite.

    I wonder what his maps are about. One of them says the thing is more than 600 metres away, which he can’t know without a huge margin of error. Who says it was at the smoke stacks?

    And besides, who measures town distances in thousands of feet for crying out loud? Kilometres or miles are the right order of magnitude; at least with metres we know how many are in a kilometre. With thousands of feet I have no idea what order of magnitude we’re talking about. It’s not as if the number of feet in a mile is taught in schools. It hasn’t been for decades. I speak of the modern world; there’s no accounting for America.

    As for the second map, with lines all over it, it’s amazing to me that an adult thinks this is useful. How about some labeling of what we’re looking at? We aren’t mind readers, you know. Go back a grade!

    I *think* it’s the red lines that have something to do with the path of the kite, as promised in the caption — except that it has no discernible relationship with his description of the kite’s movement.

  34. Colleen Kollar says:

    It’s Willy Wonka’s elevator! Wait! it’s a kite,or some sort of RCV. I’ve seen RCV’s flown at the beach that can really move.

  35. Wesley Harding says:

    It looks like an Antarctic Ningen, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

  36. John says:

    It looks like a helium balloon.

  37. jay says:

    It’s a kite. Retard.

  38. Vegkat says:

    It’s clearly a box kite and you can see the person flying it on the builging to the left of the stacks.

  39. Mark S. says:

    Looks like a mylar balloon to me.

  40. Josh says:

    It looks like a kite, but I disagree with the people who say the person flying the kite is seen on the building.

  41. James Roberts says:

    Oh you poor mislead people… Clearly this is another classic case of misdirection performed by our government. The object flying is in fact a NSA surveillance hover-drone. The man is not “flying a kite” but rather, he was awaiting the return of the drone to this rooftop to download the information it collected on its most recent mission. He is standing on this rooftop to get close enough to perform the wireless data transfer without being readily detected, save for the occasional maintenance professional. It was designed to look like a kite to avoid raising suspicion. The gentleman who took the pictures is obviously a government plant to distract us from the truth with UFO crazy talk. Don’t let them pull the wool over your… Hold on. I’ll be back, the wind blew my foil hat off and I know that the only reason McDonald’s has “free WiFi” is to lure us in to scan our thoughts and sell them to overseas corporations.

  42. Jeff says:

    It should be clear to anyone who knows of Mr. Shermer just what it is that this series of photos depicts. Secondarily, it shows an example of a misidentification of a kite by a sincere individual who thought it might be a vehicle of otherworldy origin. But primarily, what this example shows is Mr. Shermer taking a very easy and cheap shot at the many unassailable witnesses reportng truly unexplainable phenomena. There are scores of objects reported and photograhped each month from all over the world, that defy all attempts by the soundest, most objective and most highly educated of minds to explain them. Instead of choosing one of the many examples of sightings currently in the public domain which have already been thoroughly analyzed and continue to go unexplained, Mr. Shermer chooses this series of photos depicting a kite and therin attmepting to show all, that mididentifications like this one are at the core of UFO sightings. I suppose when one does not have the goods, they just put out there, the not-so-goods. Would love to see Shermer and optical analyst Bruce Macabee, or even astronaut Edgar Mitchell discuss the general subject in a public forum.

  43. John Cloud says:

    I have no idea; there isn’t enough information to draw any type of justifiable conclusion.

  44. James Roberts says:

    (I’m kidding – I hope that was apparent)

  45. Ian Chadwick says:

    I’m onside with the foil balloon.

  46. MadScientist says:

    Hehehe. Somewhere I have a nice photo of a UFO. Maybe I’ll dig it up one day and email it to Michael or Brian. I might even have a clear photo of the UFO in the air and a number of people on the ground staring at it.

  47. Anne says:

    The first two photos are clearly the fuselage of an enormous space ship, seen from above, painted with urban-scene camouflage to throw off anyone looking at them from above. The second one is the giveaway – the fuchsia laser beams of the aliens’ communication devices broke through the shell in an attempt to contact the mother ship. I don’t understand why everyone hasn’t seen this.

    The remaining photos are of a kite, or a balloon, and they can be disregarded.

  48. Doug says:

    I am pretty sure it is a box kite at a closer distance than the stacks.

  49. Brian Thompson says:

    It’s a tetrahedral box kite. I had one as a kid, one of the photos you can actually see it has three different ‘levels’ to it. I’d probably think it was really weird too if I hadn’t played with one for hours when I was little.

  50. Charlotte says:

    hmmm….an escaped balloon from last year’s Macy’s parade…no, really it looks like a big box kite

  51. David says:

    It looks like one things to scare away those infernal Canada geese. NJ is polluted with those honking SOBs. Maybe its an inflatable variation that got away. Or we are all wrong and it is some kind of flashy party spacecraft just looking to boogie down with some earth chicks.

  52. Gregg says:

    Obviously a Kite…the aliens have never had such nice colors on their ships, never will.

  53. Willy says:

    “It should be clear to anyone who knows of Mr. Shermer…..”

    Back under the bridge, please….

  54. SebastienP says:

    Hi all,

    I’ve email Gary from the Windjammer Team from Detroit. He recognize a kite in the pictures. But this is no one from his team. This is a rather small Kite, called “Clarke’s Chrystal Box Kite” that you can buy for less than 60$.

    Here the comparision:

    And there’s at least one video of one like Marc Richard saw!

  55. says:

    Excellent work from the “sceptic ovni” forum (with a little help from the Windjammer Team in Detroit) here:

  56. Gary M says:

    No problem, glad I could help solve this mystery.

  57. Marc says:

    Hey everyone my names Marc and I’m the photographer. Thanks for the awesome work here, I think it was a Clarke’s Chrystal Box Kite for sure.
    I searched through hundreds of images of box kite’s when I first took these photo’s and couldn’t find any that convinced me my object was a kite.
    As for the crappy flight path maps, sorry bout that! I had included the key in the emails I had sent them in, but those didn’t make it with the pics I guess. Hey at least you know I didn’t Photoshop my pics.

  58. SebastienP says:

    Hi Marc, I think some of us also went through hundreds of pics too!

  59. Marc says:

    Yeah, that Chrystal Box Kite is a strange one. And to see it around a geothermal plant, well hopefully some of you can see why it seemed strange to me. I can assure you I don’t walk around spotting ufo’s everyday.

  60. Sari says:

    If you enlarge the last photo, you can clearly see it is a multi tiered kite. Odd place to fly a kite, but I bet he or she had a great view of the city.

  61. Zallen says:

    Although it does seem obvious this is probably a box kite I truly do not understand Michael Shermer’s cocky arrogance when it comes to UFO’s.
    After all in relative terms weren’t we recently knuckle dragging cave men?
    In spite of this fact we are already sending our own UFO’s to other planets!
    So why is it such a stretch of the imagine that other civilizations a million years more advanced can easily travel to earth with their probes?
    Im sorry as much as I agree with Michael on certain subjects on this particular UFO subject he comes off as petty and misguided, as if HE actually has the answers.
    Just because we are not yet advanced enough for interstellar space travel doesn’t mean we can apply that restriction to everything we can not yet comprehend.
    The simple fact we are sending our UFO’s to other planets opens up the possibility they are sending theirs here as far as I’m concerned.

    • Scott the Aussie says:


      I have to ask why you would jump to an extraterestrial hypothesis when there is an object we currently cannot identify? It seems (by the laws of physics and biology as we know them) to be a very unlikely explanation. Occams Razor and all that.

      • Zallen says:

        “I have to ask why you would jump to an extraterestrial hypothesis”
        I’m not, especially on this video, but just because perhaps( just throwing out a figure here) over 90% of UFO videos are mistaken natural occurrences or hoaxes still does NOT disprove some might actually be other worldly visitations.
        The reason I mention this is because we do not have the means at this time to 100% unconditionally disprove prove we are NOT being visited.
        It just seems to me we need to apply serious investigative techniques and research into the subject before we draw absolute conclusions.Especially flippantly so.
        For the person that mentioned that “our” UFO’s on other planets don’t just disappear, so what? Again you are applying our level of knowledge at this time to everything and everyone.
        If we as a species survive long enough, you never know 7000 years into the future if we discover the means for inter dimensional space travel.
        So much of what we now take for granted in our daily lives would have been pure sci-fi to our ancestors a mere 150 years ago!
        Lets not forget to keep our very skeptical minds open as well!

  62. B Thompson says:

    Box kite. Check out
    for a near replica kite.

    Add the man on the lower building as circumstantial evidence.

    Why didn’t the dude just go over to the lower building, get the janitor, ride up the elevator and talk to the kite flyer? Was he….scared?

  63. Tom S says:

    On a dreary overcast afternoon, I watched what appeared to be a large blimp. For at least 5 minutes I was trying to figure out the actual shape and distance to what appeared to be a several hundred foot long flying machine cruising by several miles away.
    Finally, it dropped down a bit and I realized it was a mylar balloon just a couple hundred feet away.

    Our mind and eyes are amazing things!

  64. Don says:

    Sure we send flying objects to other solar bodies. But they don’t just disappear without a trace.

  65. Paul says:

    Just one of our interstellar neighbors out for a ride in his, or her, very gaudy new set of wheels (or warp drive).

  66. Bruce Hord says:

    My best guess, based on your comments, is that it is a rectangular, multi-colored, gas inflated kite of some sort. But, from another world, I doubt it.

  67. Christine says:

    Looks like a big Mylar balloon, maybe from a birthday, (or a gay pride parade, judging by the colors….)

  68. Skepicalcon Bill says:

    They seem like ornate kites The object in the last picture is certainly different from the other. Though the quality is suspect, I wonder if the objects are in fact much closer than the towers.

  69. Bryanderthal says:

    Awww…. I thought it was a news chopper. Clarks Crystal Box Kite wins. Still; odd flight path for anything not doing a traffic report.

  70. Bryanderthal says:

    Oh, I see. The flight path was way off. The kite was probably flown in the Trivial-Pursuit-pie-piece shaped park that is near and in full view of the building the pics were snapped from.

  71. Jim Hull says:

    Interesting exercise, Dr. Shermer! You’ve engaged us in crowd sourcing as well as critical-thinking practice, while affording us an inside view of what it’s like to work on UFO reports.

    (As for the object: clearly it’s an alien spacecraft. No, wait, it’s a government conspiracy … or a box kite? Naaah, boring … I can’t decide! I hate ambiguity, so I’ll just pick one and BELIEVE in it!)


  72. Ray Sutera says:

    No one seems to have wondered about why the kite might be there in the first place! Perhaps the kite was used to carry some sort of air sampling device aloft to the smoke stacks in order to sample whatever is being released from them? EPA? Some environmental group?

  73. kathy lunbery says:

    i have been very curious about skeptics & the ufo phenomena…..everyday i read about skeptics turning to believers because they finally had their own experience….myself-i am a believer.i have a pic which has puzzled me for a few yrs.also i have seen something i can’t explain either.about 3:33 in the am,i looked out our bedroom window and above our pine tree,and 20-30 white-bright-(wingless),orbs,just floating quietly to the was eerily quiet.i was mesmerized,i could only move my eyes.these were not in allignment.anyway,i have never forgot this.also,i wanted to know how you,(a skeptic of ufos & etc.),can explain the battle of la,in 1942.,and the washington dc ufos that were recorded over the building,in 1952.i have wanted to know for so long,how you would explain these two incidents,(among thousands of sightings)..myself….,i could not fathom the idea of humans being the only entities that were “created”…in the vast universe that is out there…your thoughts ?

  74. m says:

    If your going to put up a questionable photo of a suspect UFO, put one up that is is “not so juvenile as the one submitted. This is a prestigious blog. You should only accept photos that hold your reader’s interest. Theses photos are a waste.