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 Case summary

On August 2, 2008, the following report was posted on the web forum of the Belgian Public Observatory URANIA (we translate from Dutch):


We were outside on the terrace yesterday and there was a beautiful starry sky. At 0.06h we suddenly spotted about 20 lights moving upward. They were brighter than stars and had an orange-yellow colour as they moved upward, there clearly was some sort of combustion.

I live in Sint-Martens-Latem and the "lights" seemed to "rise" from the direction of Deinze. This is merely to indicate the direction we were looking at, I have no idea about distance and such. I think it took the 20 or so "lights" 3 to 4 minutes before they "started to move" and after that you could follow them for another 2 minutes or so.

At a certain height, the combustion stopped but it was clear that the objects themselves continued to "fly". We could follow each object like when you follow an airplane at high altitude until you can no longer see it.

cluster of lights

Reconstruction of the first phase of the sighting based on a sketch by N.L. A series of fiery lights rise up from the horizon. [Photo: N.L. - Editing: CAELESTIA]

When the combustion from the last "light" was no longer visible we spotted, in the same part of the sky, a much bigger and very clearly visible object that followed the same trajectory as the others. This object was white or grey, light-coloured and bar or prism-shaped.

During its flight the object rotated around its own axis. It appeared to be in space and, judging from the way it travelled and its speed, I felt it was of gigantic proportions, also because it was so clearly visible.

object rotation

Second phase: a bar-shaped object flies by with a tumbling motion. [Photo: N.L. - Editing: CAELESTIA]

I haven't got the faintest idea. What did I see yesterday?

On October 1, 2008, the witness also contacted Belgian's national UFO reporting centre "Belgisch UFO-meldpunt". Soon thereafter, an investigation was carried out by Werner POETS, a physics teacher and co-worker of the centre.


- forum Urania.

- Mail from Frederick DELAERE to Wim VAN UTRECHT dated October 1, 2008. DELAERE is Director of Belgisch UFO-meldpunt. The centre works closely with CAELESTIA.


Small, yellow-orange lights that rise up in the sky and finally fade out? Something that reminded of "combustion"? Experienced investigators will immediately point out that this description has all the features of a formation of sky lanterns, balloons made of flame-resistant paper, usually about one metre high, and kept aloft by means of a burner (a piece of wax-impregnated cloth or cardboard for example) mounted in the centre of the circular opening at the bottom of the balloon. Wind direction for the area that night was SW, which matches the flight direction of the unidentified lights [1].

Knowing the approximate location from where the lights rose into the sky, Werner POETS contacted several wedding and party facilities in the area and asked if they had organized festivities on the night in question during which sky lanterns had been released. Late October the banqueting manager of a wedding and party facility 2.16 km (1.34 miles) WSW of Sint-Martens-Latem responded to the request and not only confirmed that there had been a wedding party at his premises on August 1st, but also that sky lanterns had indeed been released by the partiers at midnight.

Initially, there was some uncertainty about the "gigantic bar or prism-shaped object" the witnesses reported seeing tumbling through the sky just after the lights faded out. In fact, the explanation for this object is obvious : shape and colour are in complete agreement with what a typical sky lantern looks like when seen from close by. Undoubtedly, this must have been one of the balloons with the burner extinguished and tumbling towards the ground, not in space but actually very close to the terrace where the witnesses were.

releasing skylanternstypical skylantern

Mass release of 5,000 sky lanterns
near Pukhet, Thailand,in 2004.

A typical bar-shaped, white-grey paper lantern.

The report shows how difficult it is to judge distance and size at night. The witness had the impression that the bigger object was "in space" and "of gigantic dimensions". Yet, sky lanterns almost never measures more than one meter and a half (59 inches). After having obtained data about the objects' apparent size, elevation and azimuth [2], Werner POETS calculated that, if the balloon was 1.1 m (44 inches) high, its distance to the witnesses must have been 252 m (827 feet) when at its closest point (i.e. a horizontal distance of 86 m and an altitude of 237 m) [3].

Since August 2008, two new reports with identical features reached the Belgian UFO reporting centre. The first one was received on January 19, 2009. It occurred in the community of Lanaken, Belgium. We translate from Dutch:

I would like to report the following.

On Friday 16-01-09 at 19 hours me and my girl-friend saw a strange phenomenon. A bit further than my house - think it must have been above Gellik-Veltwezelt (province of Limbourg) - we suddenly watched fireballs going up. First, there were about 10 small, burning fireballs that went up zigzagging and then faded out. Then there was a big fireball. It too went out. After that, from further away, we saw a big, black and dark something coming at us. It flew past our house and disappeared in the distance.

There were other people in the village (Lanaken) who observed strange objects that same day.

The second report, also from Belgium, was received by the centre on June 30, 2010, and occurred on June 29th in the community of Hamme, East-Flanders. Here's our translation of the e-mail received:

At about 23h12 I spotted a very bright aggressive light in the north. I first thought it was an airplane approaching with its landing lights on. The light was orange and varied strongly in intensity. I took my binoculars and tried to take a closer look but the light had already disappeared. Immediately thereafter, following the same trajectory, I caught sight of a strange contraption. It had the shape of a rubber boat (so not really oval-shaped) and was spinning round horizontally. It went from north to south with the speed of a jet and below the cloud deck. It moved completely silent and against the direction of the wind.

Verification of the wind data for Hamme using www.wunderground.com revealed that, at exactly 11:12 p.m. there was a moderate wind of 5.6 km/h (3.5 miles/hour) coming from due north. This means that, contrary to what the witness claimed, the spinning object did NOT fly against the wind, but was moving along with the prevailing winds. We've noticed on many occasions that witnesses include this gratuitous remark with their report, thus adding unwarranted strangeness to their experience.

 Our opinion

Thanks to the perseverance of the investigator and the collaboration of one of the witnesses and a banqueting manager, it proved possible to solve this mystery. What might otherwise have ended up in the UFO files as a possible sighting of a giant mother ship with baby ships, could thus be successfully identified as a formation of sky lanterns.

 Notes & References

[1] Weather data for a location 4 km (2.5 miles) north of the sighting location were gleaned from www.stationbaarle.be.

[2] E-mail exchange between Werner POETS and N.L. between October 1 and November 3, 2008.

[3] POETS, Werner, Onderzoeksrapport vreemde luchtverschijnselen -
Sint-Martens-Latem 02/08/2008
, Belgisch UFO-meldpunt, 2009. The report (in Dutch) can be downloaded for free at www.ufomeldpunt.be.