A cluster of mysterious objects sighted by Mexican Air Force pilots could have been an atmospheric phenomenon known as ball lightning, a Mexican researcher says. However, UFO believers insisted that the sighting was still a mystery.
The pilots grew nervous during a routine drug surveillance flight in March when their radar detected strange objects flying nearby and an infrared camera showed 11 blobs of light, invisible to the eye, hovering or darting about their plane.
Last week, Mexico's Air Force released footage from the infrared camera that was shown widely on television.
As Mexican and international media published photographs of the objects, UFO Web sites saw the case as possible evidence of a new sighting of some form of extraterrestrial life.
But nuclear science researcher Julio Herrera told Reuters on Friday that the blobs of light may have been nothing more than ball lightning — spheres of glowing gas that are little-understood but often sighted near the ground during thunderstorms.
"Just as you have lightning between clouds and ground, you can also have it within the clouds, and sometimes ball lightning can develop. I feel this is one of these rare events," said Herrera, based at Mexico's National Autonomous University.
"It's a very rare atmospheric phenomenon, and it would be very interesting to be able to analyze all the information these pilots obtained," he told Reuters.
Mexico has a long history of fanciful UFO sightings, most of which are dismissed by scientists as space debris, missiles, weather balloons, natural atmospheric phenomena or hoaxes. The Campeche coast on the Gulf of Mexico, where the objects were filmed, is Mexico's main oil- and gas-producing region. Oil platforms there release or burn off some of the gas they produce.
UFO follower Jaime Maussan said the objects seemed "intelligent" after they turned around to surround the plane chasing them — but Herrera said electrical discharges in ball lightning could have been attracted to the plane as a conductor.
In the wake of Herrera's comments, UFO researchers said they weren't satisfied by the ball-lightning theory. One Web site, Earthfiles, quoted physicist Bruce Maccabee as saying he didn't buy any of the conventional explanations.
"Even if ball lightning were somehow to be generated in this clear air atmosphere — no storms around, supposedly — they wouldn't move at all," he was quoted as saying. "They would just appear and disappear somehow or other and not lasting very long, a few seconds. These objects, whatever they were, lasted for a long time."