Experts have dismissed speculations regarding several sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) in several parts of the country insisting that they were simply natural phenomena.
Residents in several parts of the island claim to have witnessed UFOs in the recent weeks. However, experts at the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies clarified that it was merely the planet Jupiter and specks of a meteor shower.
“Most people have mistaken the planet Jupiter which is currently orbiting close to the Earth for a UFO,” said Saraj Gunasekera, Astronomer/Research Scientist at the Institute. “To the naked eye Jupiter appears to be like a star but is unusually bright,” he explained.
He added that the planet can be spotted until April 2013, but both duration and intensity will diminish with time. He further went on to say that sightings of unusually bright objects moving at a relative fast pace during the latter part of last week was merely a meteor shower.
“Every month, there is a meteor shower which is a natural occurrence. But the most significant one this year is the Geminids Meteor shower which was seen on and December 13 and 14,” he said. “As many as 50 meteors or shooting stars as they are commonly called can be spotted during a single hour due to the absence of moon light.”
According to him, this meteor shower is famous for its multi-colored lights seen in colors like white, yellow, green, blue, and red. These shooting stars appeared to be coming from the direction of the star constellation Gemini and therefore its name Geminid.
What is unusual about this particular meteor shower is that it is caused by a rocky object identified by NASA as 3200 Phaethon. Most meteor showers are caused by icy comets, which spew jets of meteoroids when they are heated by sunrays. The Geminids are not. NASA opines that it could be an asteroid.
He went on to say that on January 3 and 4, the Quadrantids will also be making an appearance in the form of another meteor shower. The Quadrantids meteor shower is an annual celestial event known to be one of the liveliest showers of the year. It is active from December 28 until January 12 with peak times being the night of January 3 and morning hours of January 4.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Air Force which maintained a 24-hour vigil regarding the unidentified lights in the wake of several unconfirmed claims of a flying object cited that there have been no blips on the radar so far.
Speaking to The Nation, SLAF media spokesperson Wing Commander Shiras Jalaldeen said that no unidentified airborne craft has been picked up. He added that the SLAF has their own air defense system in place round the clock to monitor any activity but it had not detected objects such as those people have claimed or the beams of light, images and videos of which were broadcast widely on TV.
“We’ve checked with camps in the areas where the incidents have been reported and even with the police but are yet to come up with anything concrete,” he added.
If anything were to cross the island’s aerial space, be it from another country, air defense systems were in place for combat he confirmed.
The Medical Research Institute (MRI) also launched its own investigations into the matter.
“We are doing this because no one else is,” said Dr Samaranayake when asked of why the MRI has vested interest in these incidents. “We are looking at these incidents to see if there is any organic matter, since they are all fossilized,” Director of MRI Dr Anil Samaranayake explained.
“This is not paranoia but precautionary,” he added. “These particles from space contain radiation and hence we request people not to meddle with them.”
He went on to say that there could be link between organic particles found in the red rain and particles that could be found in these meteors. “We are coordinating with Professor Chandra Wickremasinghe, a Professor of Biology from the Cardiff University who is at present researching the red rain.
The MRI has requested the public to contact them on the hotline – 0112693532 to and report such sightings in the future.