Air Force alert for ‘UFO’

A strange object passed over the Portuguese night skies last week, causing many who saw it to think that aliens were monitoring the nation. The authorities took the sighting very seriously. Portuguese Air Force’s defence radar tracked the unusual phenomenon. The consensus at the time was that it could have been an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) and, as a result, the Air Force was put on a state of high alert, with radar and F-16 planes on stand-by.

Witnesses described the UFO as “an intense light with smoke”. And the Portuguese Air Force spokesperson, Colonel Carlos Barbosa, confirmed that defence radar in the area registered a “target” for two or three minutes. All agreed that the object concerned was certainly not a plane. The phenomenon, described as a white, intense, noiseless light surrounded by a jet of smoke, was also detected by air traffic controllers from Beja and Montijo and fire fighters based at Lisbon Airport.

More than just a light

Other accounts from observers also thought the object in question was more than just a light. Paulo Lagarto, from the Management Company of Portuguese Air Space, made the following statement: “At 11.44pm on Wednesday, the control tower at Porto detected an ascending object in the sky, a sighting that 25 minutes earlier had been reported in Montijo and in Beja as an unidentified object.” Fernando Monteiro, a leading investigator from the Department of Geology at Lisbon’s University of Sciences, rejected the possibility that it was a falling meteor: “It would have been much faster and would have been far noisier if it had been,” said the expert. Monteiro also dismissed conjecture about other meteorological phenomena.

Confronted with details from the Portuguese Air Force, astronomer José Matos maintained that the intense light was the reflex of the Iridium satellite and would be seen on Wednesday night too. “These satellites orbit at around 780kms above the Earth and each one has three shiny antennas, as if they are mirrors that reflect the solar light,” he said.

Something strange in the sky

Luís Jorge Carmona Pires, who has worked in the General Offices of the Aeronautics Industry for 13 years, was driving along the A23, between Torres Novas and Castelo Branco, when he saw something strange. “Ahead of me was an object. At first, it looked like an aircraft. When it started to descend, it was surrounded by white smoke and emitted a glow of light. I thought it was an aircraft in trouble and so I dialled 112. Five minutes must have passed and the object, which did not emit any sound, started to rise in a sharp trajectory and then disappeared soon afterwards.”

But Clive Jackson, director of the Astronomical Observatory of Tavira, spoke to The Resident and had a clear explanation for the event. “From what I can gather, it was probably a luminous trail left behind by a large meteor (weighing about a kilo) – sometimes called a fireball. It enters the atmosphere and leaves behind a veil of vapour that can persist for up to half-an-hour. These can glow with various colours – orange, yellow, green or blue – and are quite common.”

But why was this particular sighting so conspicuous? “These things are visible roughly once a week. It was a warm and cloudless night and so more people will have been outside and looking up at the sky.” For those who remain convinced that the UFO was a solid object, Clive has an alternative explanation: “It could possibly be re-entering ‘space junk’, a solar panel or another part of an Earth orbiting satellite. Bits re-enter the atmosphere and these can make for very strange colours. There are lots of very odd things you see in the sky. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but they all have rational explanations!” he told us.