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 Case summary

Ramstein Air Base (RAB) is located near the town of Ramstein, in the rural district of Kaiserslautern, Germany. As part of the Kaiserslautern Military Community, RAB serves as headquarters for U.S. Air Forces in Europe. It is also an important NATO installation. Besides Americans and Canadians, the installation's population is comprised of military forces from Germany and eight other European countries.

On January 22, 2004, something out of the ordinary occurred at RAB. Strange lights were spotted in the sky over the base, seven in total, all maintaining a fixed position for several hours. No one had a clue where the lights had come from. A few weeks later, Kaiserslautern American, a weekly base paper for the American military people at Kaiserslautern, published a first-hand account of what had happened along with a photograph of the phenomenon. Below is the article as it was submitted to the paper on February 6, 2004, by Staff Sgt. Shawn BURKE of the 86th Operations Support Squadron.


"What in the world is that?" was what I thought as I gazed up at the night sky [on] Jan. 22. I stepped out of my house to walk my dogs at about 9 p.m. and instinctively looked up at the sky (I am a weather forecaster). I saw a row of seven lights directly overhead, which glowed bright white, even brighter than the surrounding constellations. Initially, I thought it was a rare space event or perhaps the planets were aligned creating an interesting pattern of lights.

seven golden lamps ? This reminded me of a Bible scripture from Revelation 2:1 - To the angel of the church in Ephesus write : These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lamp stands.

[U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Burke.]

I've been a weather forecaster for 14 years and have been stationed at Ramstein for almost four years. I have been looking at the sky everyday during that time - having said that, I have never seen anything as intriguing as this.

Command post said they received several calls, but had no determination of what it could be. Ramstein air traffic control also said nothing was indicated on their radar either.

Another idea was it could be reflections of the seven runway lights, however the clouds were at 20,000 feet that night - too high to reflect our runway lights so sharply. Lights become diffused even when the clouds are below 3,000 feet.

Furthermore, when the clouds became thicker, the lights faded and briefly disappeared. This indicated to me that it was from above the cloud layer. Later, they reappeared and became elongated, looking more like lines than dots. This is when I took the photographs. They remained stationary all night, however faded and reappeared as the clouds moved through.

Also as this was occurring, there was a communication outage or degradation. My cordless phone and Internet (along with others in my building) quit working and seemed to get worse as the lights got brighter - strange.

The space weather page indicated aurora borealis activity, however I have seen aurora borealis activity before - and what I saw was not that.

It's still a mystery.

An online version of the article by Staff Sgt. Shawn BURKE can be found at Kaiserslautern American is published by AdvantiPro, a private firm not connected with the Department of the Air Force or the Department of the Army. The contents of the paper are prepared by the 435th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office Staff at Kaiserslautern.


A sighting of mysterious lights over one of Europe's major military installations is likely to cause some commotion in UFO and conspiracy circles, and that is also what happened. Explanations put forward by members of different web forums were : "auroral activity", "phosphorus flares", "a light show", "secret military tests", "a satellite emitting a laser beam to the ground", "ET stuff" and "signs in the Bible happening again", the latter obviously inspired by the biblical quote in Staff Sgt. BURKE's article [1].

Attempts to contact Staff Sgt. Shawn BURKE and obtain uncropped, high-quality images of the photos he had taken, proved unsuccessful [2]. This is unfortunate, as it would have provided us with unique images of one of the most unusual phenomena in atmospheric optics, namely the reflection of bright, ground-based light sources off the flat horizontal surfaces of billions of ice-crystals floating in thin cloud layers several miles above the ground. The photo published in Kaiserslautern American leaves no doubt about the nature of the lights. What we are dealing with here are indeed atmospheric reflections, also known as "light pillars". Because the ice-crystal plates that form at these altitudes wobble about their vertical axis, reflections usually occur in different parts in the sky above the light source, causing a pillar-shaped image (much like the image of a street light mirrored in a river). The segmented appearance of the luminous streaks in the photo is characteristic for this type of reflections : it is the result of different concentrations of ice crystals at different heights within the cloud (for similar images and additional information on this type of light pillar, see also Chapter 4 of our article Light pillars in cirriform clouds). It is not unusual for light pillars to remain visible for hours, or to fade out momentarily, for instance when lower clouds with no ice-crystal plates in them move in front of the reflected image.

The question that remains is whether there were lights in the surroundings powerful enough to create these reflections. We think the answer is handed to us by Staff Sgt. BURKE himself when he refers to the seven spotlights on the runway of the base. Staff Sgt. BURKE rejected this possibility on the basis that "the clouds were too high to reflect the runway lights so sharply". Yet, the altitude he mentions, i.e. 20,000 feet (6 km), is well within the range of altitudes at which these specular reflections occur (see Table I in Chapter 2 of Light pillars in cirriform clouds).

Some have speculated that the green colouration in Staff Sgt. BURKE's night shot is due to night vision equipment [3]. More likely, however, is that the greenish tinge is caused by the runway lights themselves (mercury vapour lights for instance appear white-bluish to our eyes but greenish on photographs) [4]. We could not determine which lights were used at the RAB runway in early 2004. The only information we have about this comes from Above Top Secret forum member "usafairmen", who posted the thread on the Ramstein lights on said web site on the same date Staff Sgt. BURKE submitted his article to Kaiserslautern American. With regard to the runway lights, "usafairmen" stated the following : "there are seven of them on the main ramp area and do shine upward onto a mirror to shine over a large area". For the sake of clarity, the mirror "usafairmen" is referring to is usually placed at a certain distance from the light source so as to ensure that enough light still shines skyward.

From Staff Sgt. BURKE's photograph it appears that the pillars over Ramstein converged towards the zenith. This is due to perspective distortion. When an observer is close to a series of light sources, the reflected pillars will appear almost straight overhead (since the angle under which the light reaches the reflecting layer is small, the reflected angle is small too). In these circumstances, parallel lines will seem to converge with distance. The effect is the same as when you look down on a set of train tracks : they appear to converge on the horizon, while in reality the tracks are parallel (other examples of converging pillars are the star-shaped pattern photographed at Ath in 2006, and the suspected reflections from pool lights photographed at Montreal in 1990).

For detailed information about light pillars, we direct visitors to the article Light pillars in cirriform clouds and to the description that precedes the picture gallery we dedicated to this phenomenon.

 Our opinion

The lights over Ramstein Air Base were reflections from the lights on the runway.

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 Notes & References

[1] See for example and

[2] E-mail from Wim VAN UTRECHT to the editorial staff of Kaiserslautern American dated December 1, 2007.


For other images of light pillars that were captured on camera with the help of night vision equipment see Iraq - January 2, 2008.