Whenever I’m traveling anywhere with family or friends and there’s some strange light or object in the sky, people always turn to me first with a sly grin and say, “Hey Ryan, it’s a UFO!!”
Yes, I have been known to have an interest in UFO’s and Ufology. Little do most people realize that my interest stems from a sincere science-based interest in natural (or unnatural) phenomena in the atmosphere. I’m fascinated by concepts like plasma lightning (ball lightning), electromagnetic effects of the Earth on the atmosphere, and other oddities in the sky that cause so many people to incorrectly assume we’re being visited by beings from another planet.
That’s okay, I don’t mind the association, and I actually don’t really mind the stigma. It clears the field of most scientific competition, since most scientists avoid the field like the plague. Given, I’m an electrical engineer so my interest is more focused on the electrical and magnetic forces at work than other things like climate – but when you follow the reports coming from the general public about these strange objects in the sky, you’ll quickly learn that the various phenomena don’t always follow a fixed pattern or a fixed cause.
It’s for that very reason that it’s so important to know what is legitimately flying in the air above you whenever you spot something strange in the sky. People have been known to misidentify things as mundane as the sunlight shining off a seagull, thinking they’ve spotted an exotic craft from outer space.
Here at MUO, we’ve covered lots of ways to follow activities in the sky from your computer, like Jorge’s review of Stellarium, or John’s list of websites for astronomy fans. So, it really shouldn’t take much effort to cancel out the things you know about, and thanks to today’s modern mobile access to the Internet, you can know what’s in the sky above you at all times.
Identifying that Weird Light in the Sky
So, the next time you’re out hiking the hills or strolling the city streets, make sure you have the following five apps on your Android phone or tablet, and you’ll never have to worry about misidentifying a star, airplane or satellite as an UN-identified flying object ever again. You can turn those sightings into Identified Flying Objects!
FlightAware Live Flight Tracker
If you see a glimpse of something shiny up in the atmosphere and it seems a little bit odd, you can immediately cancel out the possibility of a commercial airliner or other overhead flight by using the awesome FlightAware Live Flight Tracker.
With this tool, you can search for flights between two different locations, you can search for all flights over a specific address, or you can enable your GPS and have the app show you all flights immediately over your exact position.
Even better, if you want to know if a certain airplane is the one that you’re seeing, just tap on the airplane symbol. The app will show you the registered name of the plane, and it’ll show you the last updated altitude.
Nine times out of ten, FlightAware will tell you what the big shiny thing in the sky is. Sometimes the angle of the plane or the way the sun reflects off of it can make it look kind of strange – but this app will remove all doubt that it’s just a plane.
Another interesting app is SkySpy. This was a difficult app to test because it’s an augmented reality app where you need an actual airplane overhead to obtain information about that object.
Unfortunately, it was very dark when I tested the app, so the best I could do was capture two Unidentified Flying Objects in my back yard. Placing the crosshairs near them didn’t identify them as a plane (a box would have appeared around it with identifying information).
Okay, I admit it, I hoaxed the picture. Those two floating orbs are actually solar lights in our back yard. I bet I had you going there for a second, didn’t I?
With this app, when you click the Information tab, it opens up the panel where you’ll see all of the identifying information for the object that was selected in the main camera display.
This app is good for a very quick check if you just want to see whether or not a nearby object is a plane. If this app can’t identify the object, I would suggest firing off FlightAware and searching for what aircraft are registered as being in your immediate area.
Night Sky Lite
The next most common cause of “UFO” sightings are celestial objects. Some planets can sometimes appear so bright during certain times of the year that they literally look like some kind of Orb just hanging there in the middle of the star-lit sky. It can be an impressive sight, and also one that some people are unprepared for.
Before going down the “panic-now-the-aliens-are-on-the-way” path, take out your Android and fire up Night Sky Lite.
This is a sweet little app that shows you everything – the location of the Moon, all of the planets, and even all of the constellations. It can really come in handy when you see a really bright orb in the sky and you want to cancel out the possibility that it’s Venus or something.
So far, you’ve used your trusty Android apps to cancel out the possibility of airplanes or planets. So what else could that object be?
Well, aside from things like Chinese Lanterns, balloons, kites or unmanned aerial vehicles (just to name a few possibilities), one more thing you can cancel off the list is whether that UFO is a satellite. The best app for that – and one of my favorite night-sky gazing apps – is Satellite AR.
When you first launch the app, you’ll see all of the potential satellites that Satellite AR has in its database for tracking.
This is another augmented reality app. When you point your device at the sky, on the screen you’ll see an animated reproduction of the sky, along with a layer filled with the satellite activity over the Earth where you’re looking.
As the satellites travel, you’ll see their positions updated every now and then on the display. Each satellite has its identification code displayed right alongside it on the screen.
If you point your device in a direction where there are no satellites in the sky, the app will point an arrow in the direction of the nearest satellite.
It’s one of the coolest apps I’ve ever seen for checking out activity in the sky above you. If you see a light streaking across the sky at amazing speed, this is the first app you should try out to see if you can identify the object, which is most likely a satellite.
Space Junk Lite
Another good satellite tracking app is Space Junk Lite. This also shows you call of the satellites in the sky, but it does so within a display that looks quite a bit like Night Sky Lite, which includes constellations and planets.
There’s an interesting “night vision” mode that looks like you’re looking at the satellites in the sky through some sort of night-vision camera. This mode is intended to be easier on your eyes when you’re looking at the screen in near perfect darkness.
One of my favorite screens in Space Junk Lite is the planet view, which shows you all of the satellites circling the earth. It makes the name of the app – space junk – very apt.
So if you are one of those people that tend to see a lot of really strange things in the sky, you would be well served to load up these apps on your Android phone. At the very least, you can cancel out all of the obvious things like planes or satellites, before you start entertaining the possibility that ET is returning back to Earth to perform some kind of “probe” on you…
Have you used any of these sky-tracking apps? Which ones do you like best? Do you know of any other good ones? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
Image Credit: Blue Planet Earth via Shutterstock
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