Friday, 9 January 2015

Mysterious flashes in the sky

cloudsOne morning before dawn, recently, I noticed two bright flashes in the sky. Each lasted perhaps a second or two, with a gap of several seconds between them. There were no more. At first I thought nothing of it until I realized the duration of the flashes appeared too long for lightning and there were no other indications, like thunder or rain, of a storm. I have never noticed such flashes before. So what could be the cause?

The sky was overcast and the flashes both illuminated only one small portion of clouds. So whatever it was had to confined to a small area. I did not see the light grow or fade in intensity but it was over so quickly I probably wouldn't have noticed anyway.

There is one further important clue - the sound of low flying aircraft. The area has aircraft stacks, being near a major airport. If this sounds like an important clue, that I should have been mentioned earlier, it is lucky I even noticed it at all. In areas with stacks the sound of low flying planes is so pervasive that the locals rarely even notice it, so it is easily overlooked.

I have often seen aircraft flying slowly in low cloud at night. It resembles a car's headlights in thick fog. These flashes did no look that at all. However, it is easy to imagine how a plane might have traversed a gap in the cloud so that its lights briefly illuminated a thin layer of cloud below. This would appear as a 'flash' in the clouds viewed from the ground. Aircraft, therefore, seem the most likely explanation. Other possibilities, like silent lightning or even a very bright meteor, appear a lot less likely.

One interesting point that arises from this is that sound of aircraft, so pervasive that it is not likely to be noticed by locals, could easily not have formed part of this incident report at all. One wonders how many vital clues to the true identity of an anomalous incident may have been missed because they are so common in a particular area that the witnesses do not even register their presence. A visit to the site by an investigator might help with this problem.

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