ISS, Satellites, and Drones: Adding Noise to UFO Research?

Footballer Simon Church shared a “UFO sighting” on March 24, 2020, tweeting out a short 33-second video of what appeared to be a glowing spherical object in the night sky.

“Just seen the craziest thing whilst having a look at Venus tonight,” he wrote, “It was way [too] high to be a drone and then just disappeared…”

However, Church eventually settled on the idea that it was just the International Space Station, after a follower shared the times it’d be visible to the naked eye (in this case, March 24 at 20:26 in the UK).

“After watching it there it must of been the space station,” he tweeted afterwards, “cool to watch but gutted it’s not Mars Attacks.”

This is something that’s been happening more and more often — potential UFOs end up being one of the many man-made objects we keep throwing up into the heavens. The ISS certainly isn’t a new one; its first component launched in 1998, and it remains humanity’s largest object in low Earth orbit.

Another video, shared by SoCal Attractions 360 back in 2016, provides a clearer view of the ISS from Earth (Los Angeles County, to be exact). It appears, just as Church saw during his sighting, as a bright spherical object moving across the sky.

“It almost looks like a UFO flying by since it has no blinking lights,” they wrote.

And so, an unidentified object becomes identified. But the existence of the ISS doesn’t mean that every glowing orb darting through the night sky should be dismissed out of hand. It’s just that separating the real sightings of the unexplained from sightings of the mundane seems to be getting trickier as more time passes, and new technologies develop.

Take drones, for example. Discounting the recent situation with the so-called Colorado Mystery Drones, in which the drones themselves were the mystery, these tiny unmanned aerial vehicles have really muddied the waters of UFO investigation. They’re everywhere, with any number of odd blinking lights, and they come in all shapes and sizes.

When you see what they can do in the way of aerial image projection — well, who knows what strange things we might end up seeing in the future?

Most shocking of all, for anyone who isn’t aware of its existence, is easily the Starlink satellite train. This is a “train” of SpaceX Starlink satellites that can be seen gliding across the night sky in a row, almost perfectly spaced out.

The first 60 satellites of this “satellite constellation” were launched on May 24, 2019.

While working on this year’s UFO sightings page, I couldn’t help but notice a number of UFO reports submitted to the National UFO Reporting Center that they’ve marked “((‘Starlink’ satellites??))”, denoting sightings that likely involve the Starlink train. But can you blame anyone for thinking they’ve seen something incredible when they witness this?

That would’ve been a life-changing Biblical event in the not-so-distant past. Even knowing what they are, it’s an incredible sight.

A report sent to NUFORC from Illinois describes a sighting on January 15, 2020: “Lights like stars moving in a straight line at a steady pace and evenly spaced apart.” Another from Colorado on January 14: “Around 20 small dots of light, in a perfect line and evenly spaced.” And yet another from Ohio in December: “There were a series of ‘star like’ images across the sky in a straight diagonal line, a procession of them.”

How do you separate the signal from the noise, here? When reading a witness report or watching a video of unexplained lights in the sky, it’s hard to tell if an alleged UFO is the real deal, or simply the result of an uninformed witness seeing the ISS for the first time, or a distant blinking drone.

On the other hand, perhaps one of those reports of a strange row of lights really was a group of alien observers or time traveling tourists, but the existence of the Starlink satellites makes us brush it off as something unremarkable.

The truth might be out there, but it’s getting harder to see.


Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.