How not to report a UFO: It looks like Venus, but it’s not

A rash of mysterious sightings prompted this article:

Texans report multiple lights overhead April 6 from four locations – National ufo | Examiner.com

Multiple reports of fireballs, meteors or hovering lights were filed from Central Texas on April 6, 2012, from four locations spanning about 237 miles, according to testimony from the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) witness reporting database.

It’s the last report in this article that is the subject of this article:

Then at 11 p.m. in Wichita Falls, TX, about 237 miles northwest of Temple, a witness described a “very bright, hovering” light in the western sky in Case 37176.

“Appears to be Venus about 10 degrees above the horizon, but twice as bright,” the witness stated. “However, it’s not Venus! I can see Venus and Saturn aligned with Moon. This object is not a planet or star – it’s stationary as though it’s observing. Sheppard Air Force base is not flying or training at this hour. It was a very quiet clear evening observing the object for 30 minutes. It slowly faded in brightness and slipped below the trees not far from my location.”

Source: www.examiner.com

Wow! Specific information! It is pretty rare for someone knowledgeable about the heavens to report a UFO. Most people who report UFOs don’t know their west from their east.

But…

Venus is in the western sky and EXTREMELY bright. A quick check on Stellarium (a free planetarium program) shows Venus was 9° above the western horizon at the stated date, time, and location. Saturn and the Moon were in the southeastern sky and Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, was right between them.

Here are some screen captures from Stellarium. (open in other tabs)

The first screen cap shows Venus.

Here are Saturn, the Moon and Spica.

The author of the linked story is billed as the “National UFO Examiner”. Surely a “National UFO Examiner” has a planetarium program on his computer since, you know, UFOs are almost always spotted in the sky. But this was not done. The failure to check such an easily verifiable claim puts me at a loss for a civil description. The MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) website, where these reports were obtained, has a link to the Stellarium website! But, this is typically the quality of reports that come out of these sources. Doubtful News advises NEVER to rely on Examiner articles for their validity since they are not from reputable journalists but by citizen journalists who receive payment for hits to their articles, so the more sensational, the more the story will get hits.

Ufologists deride the claim that Venus is often mistaken for a UFO but here we clearly have a case of not only Venus being mistaken for a UFO but Venus being wrongly dismissed as not being Venus itself.

P.S. When something slowly fades in brightness and dips below the trees in the western sky you can bet the barn it’s a star or planet.

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