Unidentified flying objects (UFOs) spotted by pilots in the skies over the South-West coast at the weekend are the likely product of natural phenomena, according to an astronomer.
Michael Garrett, professor of Astrophysics at the University of Manchester, said while the pilots’ reports should be taken seriously and investigated, there were “many other natural phenomena” that could explain the sightings, other than a UFO.
On Friday last, at about 6.47am, the female pilot of a British Airways flight passing over Co Kerry reported seeing an object close to the left-hand side of her Boeing 787 which was travelling from Montreal to Heathrow. She described a “very bright light travelling at very high speed”.
A second pilot, flying a Virgin Airlines Boeing 747 close to the south-west coast, also reported seeing something bright close to his aircraft, before it “climbed away at speed”.
Both pilots were in conversation with Shannon Air Traffic Control as they travelled eastbound through Irish airspace at levels above 7,450m. There were no known military exercises in the area at the time and Shannon air traffic control confirmed that there was “nothing showing on either primary or secondary radar”.
Shannon air traffic control told the British Airways pilot that “other aircraft in the air have also reported the same thing so we are going to have a look and see”. The Irish Aviation Authority has since confirmed it is investigating the pilots’ reports.
The Virgin Airlines pilot mentioned a possible meteor and described “multiple objects following the same sort of trajectory”.
The object was described as travelling “at astronomical speed, Mach 2”, or twice the speed of sound.
Prof Garrett told WLRfm in Waterford that a meteorite breaking up, high in the earth’s atmosphere “would also be travelling at speed and it would break into multiple components”.
Prof Garrett said a meteorite was “a more reasonable explanation” of what the pilots had seen.
“But, at the same time, I think a report like this one, with witnesses that I would generally think would be very strong witnesses, giving good evidence, those are the things you should be investigating,” he said.
Prof Garrett said usually air flight crews “are experienced and they typically are very good observers of what is out there, so I think one has to take this kind of thing seriously”.
“When you have good quality reports like this one, you have to follow up and you have to try and understand. But my gut explanation is that there’s probably a natural explanation rather than UFOs,” he said.
On Friday, Astronomy Ireland posted it had “reports of a massive fireball” that morning, heading northwest to southeast at a small angle towards earth, greenish in colour with a long tail, travelling quite slow and broke into several pieces”.