When people see something odd in the sky, we in TV, often hear about it first. But many times what an observer thinks is a UFO, is actually be something else. In this blog I offer a cheat sheet based on my experiences in meteorology, of 11 things to consider before making a report and also some fun facts about our universe that could ... validate ... the existence of UFOs. You decide!

Whether a person calls their local TV station, the police or a friend, there's nothing better than a little acknowledgment of a weird experience!

Culture has taught us to think, "crazy person!" when the subject of 'unidentified aerial phenomena' or 'flying objects' is breached. Sure there are plenty of hoaxes and confused people out there, but with the occasional story like, "The Phoenix Lights", as recently told from our sister station in Arizona, you'll see why many highly respected people raise an eyebrow.

So are we alone? Probably, at least in the sense of being solitary locally to our planet. While your guess is as good as mine, cosmologists (who study the universe as a whole), astronomers (who can speak of features in the universe), astronomical biologists (people who study the potential for extraterrestrial life), nuclear and theoretical physicists (who use their knowledge of time, space and multi-verse dimensions to speculate) and some philosophers, will tell you the same thing: out of the 2 trillion galaxies in our universe, we are not alone.

This image provided by NASA Wednesday Jan. 5, 2011 is the most detailed image of the Andromeda Galaxy ever taken at far-infrared wavelengths. The Herschel infrared space telescope captured the image during Christmas 2010. The large rings of dust that encircle the center of the galaxy may be the result of a smaller galaxy having collided with Andromeda some time in the past. The image is a combination of observations from the Herschel Space Observatory taken in infrared light (seen in orange hues), and the XMM-Newton telescope captured in X-rays (seen in blues). Andromeda is our Milky Way galaxy's nearest large neighbor. (AP Photo/NASA, ESA)

The scale of our existence is immense. At light speed it would take 100 millennia just to cross our own galaxy -- and there are 2 trillion of these things. (That's 2,000-million!) Our calendar only goes back 2 millennia. That means over the span of the last 2,017 years, at light speed, we'd have only traveled about 2% across the Milky Way. Physicists today believe travel that fast is impossible due to various atomic forces which hold matter -- you and me -- physically together, so in reality, we'd have traveled far less than that. Considering the scale, to say we are the only example of life in this realm is probably an opinion born from not considering this bigger picture. (Some would more curtly say it's downright arrogant to think we're alone.)

The Andromeda galaxy, seen from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).

But, even if life does exist, "out there", have they visited Earth? Because space is so expansive, many life forms would likely not remain alive long enough to exit their own galaxy, much less visit ours. Of course, intelligent life may exist within our own Milky Way, but even a relatively, "close" planetary system outside of our own could still take hundreds or thousands of years to get to at light speed.

Enter the world of theoretical physics who speculate that special propulsion systems could help cross those distances -- systems which may not simply travel from point A to point B, but instead, "skip" between the two places instantaneously, as if to cross a dimensional plain and cheat the physical limits of time and space. We are only just now beginning to understand quantum physics, which could hold the key. Considering just 120 years ago, the only way down the road was on horse and buggy, and today we can rocket off to Mars, imagine the technological achievements of species 100 years from now, or 1,000! Some say ET's may have doubled even that number in their technological advancement, easily achieving interstellar travel. Cool.

The USS Enterprise sails proudly through space in the 23th century.

So let's say for a minute that they're real -- and they're here. It's important to know the difference between a Earth object and ... well ... something else. Here's 11 things to look out for.

  1. Airplanes with their landing lights on, approaching a nearby airport and/or lining up to the runway, doing a series of maneuvers are commonly mistaken for, "orbs" (alien craft believed to be energy-based, which can through dimensions.)
The Solar Impulse lands in the fog, during one leg of it's around-the-world journey. Looks like a UFO at first glance, doesn't it?
  • Airplanes at a distance during takeoff or landing, conducting broad turns can glint sunlight off the top of their wings and to the ground-based observer it can look like a short or long-duration sun glint.
  • Airplanes conducting military activity -- flying in formation at high altitude, etc.
  • Airplanes of military origin we're not accustomed to seeing, like the B-2 Stealth Bomber, which could easy be confused for a, "black triangle." (That's a genre of UFO occurring time and time again in various UFO sightings, although many are as a big as a football field and fly low, slow and silently, ruling out military activity.)
  • Airplanes creating exhaust trails, especially at twilight and dusk.
  • A plane's contrail refracts sunlight, creating a rainbow effect. This is also seen in the surrounding clouds. Often meteorological phenomena and aircraft-born clouds can cause UFO sightings -- especially at night.
  • Bird ... or birds. You'd laugh at how many videos of birds I've seen, when the user screen-grabs a single frame, then zooms in, contorting the pixels and making it look like something entirely different.
  • Drones. As quadcopters, have gained in popularity, many times they look like UFO -- especially if illuminated at night. These things can flash, spin, strobe, etc. From a distance, it might be tough to tell.
  • Clouds. Many times in Texas after a big thunderstorm, strange clouds can form which resemble UFOs. Essentially high speed winds can shape low-level clouds into perfect tear-drops, disks and circles, resembling what we have been groomed culturally, to be an alien space craft.
  • Chinese lanterns. Many celebrations these days feature the release of light-weight paper lanterns, powered by a candle. They ascend slowly and often in large quantities -- and from afar can resemble a swarm of flickering ... UFOs.
  • Satellites. There are 2,271 human-launched satellites orbiting our planet as of today. Many times on a clear night, it's possible to see a half dozen pass by in just 30 minutes. While these objects are in space, an untrained eye may not realize the white, star-like appearance and fast movement across the sky (at an apparent rate about the same as a jet at cruising altitude) is not a UFO, but instead a man-made space craft. Particularly alarming can be glint from the Iridium flare.
  • Lens flare. Often when a photo is taken with a bright object in its sights, whether it's the sun, the moon or flood lights at night, lens flare can often resemble an, "illuminated disk." Rest assured, it's only light refracting around the lens and/or it's UV filter, if it's an SLR cam.
  • I've cropped a sunset pic to show only the lens flare, which was confused by the photographer as, "a UFO" upon later inspection.

    Typically sighting experiences happen too fast for an observer to reach for a good means to record it. Usually we only have our cell phones -- and that's a vast improvement from where we were just a decade ago when it was a luxury item to have a camera on your phone. But cell phone cams pose a problem because their wide angle lenses make for terrible UFO photography. In fact, out of the 80,000 or so cataloged UFO sightings taken by MUFON since 1969, there is not one piece of photographic evidence that absolutely proves their existence, much less from any mobile device. There's countless testimony and fuzzy, horribly unclear photos and shaky video. There's tons of computer renderings recreating what an experiencer saw, and then there's the outright fakes. There are claims (by very notable people) that, "the Government" took their solid evidence away (which I can't confirm or deny!) -- but there is zero scientifically admissible, undeniable evidence in existence today that the mainstream can hold in their hand and declare as, "reality." Perhaps the reason is because what most see fall within those 11 items I mentioned above, or perhaps we've all been groomed to think of anything related to ET's as taboo, and even if it was placed in our lap we'd assume it was fake.

    If you can produce tangible evidence, you'll not only win the Nobel Prize, but probably unite humanity. In the mean time, hopefully my list can help you determine what you really saw!

    This is probably the most common, "evidence" of UFO's presented. Digitally-zoomed points of light, which show very little detail. This could be anything.

    Keep those reports coming! If you see anything, I'm all ears. I want to know just like you!

    Meteorologist Brooks Garner