TORONTO – Social media lit up on Sunday after strange lights were caught on video over North York. But don’t worry: It’s unlikely that we have an Independence Day scenario unfolding.
As an amateur astronomer, I can tell you that most objects you see in the sky have a reasonable explanation. During the winter months, police sometimes get calls about an extremely bright object in the western sky that seems to just hover. That’s Venus. And while it’s true that it may not have been there a few nights before, that’s because during its orbit it goes from a morning “star” to an evening one.
There are also satellites, meteors and the space station (visible from Toronto), and lots of other things up there that might take you by surprise.
Not only that, but our brains and eyes can gang up and play tricks on us. A light that seems far off in the distance may actually quite close.
That’s the likely explanation for Sunday night’s lights.
If you look carefully at the video, the end of the string of lights appears to be far closer to the observer. A couple of the flashing lights can be seen in front of the trees or buildings. That would mean it was something quite small.
For a perfect example of how easily our brains can be tricked, just take a look at the marketing campaign launched by the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver last September. It looked pretty convincing. But yes, it was a fake.
More fuel for skeptics: The reports are too localized. If there was a series of five or six alien spacecraft. as some people are suggesting, it’s likely there would be reports from across the city, not just the Yonge and Sheppard area.
But there’s also the brighter object in the sky, almost directly above and to the left of the observer. That could be a quadcopter. Watch the video below around 41 seconds in. Look similar?
WATCH: Quadcopter night fly
These pricey remote-controlled toys – with four spinning blades that lift the ‘copter into the air – are becoming quite popular.
Other explanations could be that the bright light is a helicopter hovering above the area. Though helicopters do not normally hover for long periods of times, they can for certain occasions. During the Canada Day fireworks this year, I observed one as it hovered nearby Canada’s Wonderland. (Admittedly, it initially had me stumped as it was quite far off in the distance.)
The string of lights could also be “sky lanterns.” These paper lanterns carry a candle and are released into the sky. They are popular in China, Taiwan and Thailand and are used in some festivals and wedding ceremonies.
So is the string of lights otherworldly? No. But if anyone owns those lights, we’d love to speak with them.
© Shaw Media, 2014