Unsettling Sky Phenomena - Hard To Explain!

Let's investigate some unsettling sky phenomena that are hard to explain!

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Have you ever looked out your window on a dark, clear night, and noticed something strange? Like a spiral of light slowly engulfing the dark, or a train of stars creeping across the sky? Sometimes, the things we see look so odd, we think we must have imagined them.

But even people who manage to capture strange phenomena on camera find they can’t be easily explained! Let’s dive into the rabbit hole of unsettling sky phenomena caught on camera that are hard, but hopefully not impossible, to explain!

The Strange Spiral

On December 9th, 2009, at 6:45 am, Norway’s sky lit up, not with a sunrise, but with an inexplicably huge, swirling spiral. It gradually got bigger and bigger, growing alarmingly in size, with an ominous blue tail of light streaming behind it.

strange spiral on the sky

But just 10 minutes later, it vanished. It looked too weird to be real, but multiple people caught the phenomena on camera, and footage of the strange spiral made it onto news broadcasts all around the world. It had lasted too long to be a meteor, and there were too many images of it from multiple angles for it to be a hoax.

light spiral different angles

Some suggested it was a failed experiment designed to weaponize the weather. And it didn’t take long for a few eccentric people to claim it was aliens welcoming in Obama’s presidency! Disappointingly, it wasn’t aliens; you can take your tin hats off now!

The next day, Russia’s Defense Military disclosed that it had test launched a Bulava ballistic missile from a nearby submarine. A nozzle on the missile’s third stage engine was damaged causing the exhaust to jet out sideways, spinning the missile round in a spiral pattern.

Simulations were made up to see if this explanation was plausible, and thankfully it was! In fact, ‘thankfully’ might be the wrong word - learning this was a big ballistic missile test gone wrong doesn’t feel all that reassuring.

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Out Of Nowhere

In the early morning hours of February 7th, 2022, the skies over Cuauhtémoc city in the Mexican state of Chihuahua were completely clear. It was another perfectly peaceful day, when, all of a sudden, this happened:

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Without any warning, a flock made up of thousands of yellow headed blackbirds dropped out of the sky and plunged straight into the ground. It was like some sort of satanic microburst! Many perished on impact, but the vast majority of the flock gathered themselves up and flew away.

The incident stunned local residents and left many of them scratching their heads. What could cause an entire flock of birds to just fall out of the sky? Some speculated the flock may have encountered a power line and were electrocuted, while others blamed the high level of pollution.

birds falling from sky

But then the experts stepped in and explained it was likely down to the flock being chased by a predatory bird. By hounding the flock and forcing them to fly low, it could have disoriented them and forced the flock to crash. But that’s just the leading theory. Maybe something else drove these birds into the ground.

Starlight Express

Stargazing is a popular pastime. There’s nothing like laying out on a warm summer’s night without a cloud in the sky, taking in nature’s light show! If you’re lucky, you might even spot a shooting star! But if you’re really lucky, you might spot something that almost defies explanation, like this:

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You don't need to be an astrophysicist to know that stars should be stationary dots, they’re not supposed to move like trains through the sky! The video above was spotted in May 2021 over Washington. But a few months earlier, over in Brazil, Aldo Machado spotted the same phenomena, only this time it seemed a little closer to earth.

Unsettling Sky Phenomena - HARD TO EXPLAIN!
©Aldo Machado

Meanwhile, Ian Taylor in the UK spotted the exact same thing in 2020! Despite what it looks like, this isn’t an alien species trying to get in touch with us using an interstellar conga line. It turns out, these are Starlink satellites, owned and operated by SpaceX, designed to provide internet access coverage to most of Earth.

By January 2022, SpaceX had launched more than 1900 of these satellites into space. Co-ordinated to move in these train-like lines while the earth spins below them, they catch the light from the horizon and reflect back to earth, like a series of tiny moons.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Black Hole

Back in 2019, astronomers released the world’s first photograph of a black hole; a point in space where the force of gravity is so strong that even light can’t escape it. Considering the speed of light is roughly 186,000 miles per second, that’s one powerful hole!

For years, complex theories gave us detailed ideas of what this would look like up close! But the sheer scale of this thing is still hard to appreciate. At least, it was, until footage and images of one of these big black holes like the one below hovering over a small Russian town began surfacing on the web back in 2015!

Unsettling Sky Phenomena thumb
©Roscosmos TV

It looks like our sun, if our sun was a weirdly ominous donut made of imminent death! Luckily, this was just a simulation created by the Rocosmos Space Agency. But if a black hole was that close to Earth, what would happen?

Well, let’s assume the closest black hole to our solar system, the one previously photographed known as A0620-00, suddenly appeared in our sky. This thing has a mass that’s more than 6 ½ times that of our sun, but it’s only about 45 miles across, meaning it’s roughly the same size as a large city that weighs more than 13.2 octillion tons.

So, the gravity well of this thing is so strong that if it appeared less than 500,000 miles from the Earth, a little over double the distance to the moon, it’d literally rip the Earth apart.

black hole

We’d all be gradually destroyed by something that, in the night sky, would barely look like a dot. So, if a large black dot appeared in the sky one day, we’d all be dead in a matter of moments!

Red Sprites

Lightning storms are incredible to watch from a distance, but sometimes they bring more than bolts of bright white electricity with them.

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Those weird red streaks in the footage above are not a glitch in this guy’s camera. Back in 2015, NASA captured an image of a similar red flash from space, hovering directly above a storm!

NASA image red flash

These flashes aren’t lightning, that’s for sure, so what are they? It turns out, these are called Red Sprites. They may look like they’re on the same level as the storm, but they’re flashes that occur in the mesosphere, some 150,000 ft above the storm itself!

While they look quite small on camera, the sprites can actually reach some 30 miles across!

red sprites

But what exactly are they? Well, the short answer is, scientists don’t know for sure. What they do know is that red sprites are often triggered by a strong, positive bolt of lightning near the ground.

Most cloud-to-ground lightning has a negative electric charge, but positive lightning has a positive charge. It only makes up less than 5 percent of all lightning, but it’s up to 10 times stronger than negative lightning.

It’s so strong that it breaks apart atmospheric molecules into ions, and it’s believed these ions smashing into molecules in the air is what creates these sprites and gives them their color. But this is just a theory.

how red sprites get created

Red Lightning

We’ve just covered red sprites, so what about red lightning? The image below cropped up on the internet several years ago, with multiple people claiming it was a crazy red lightning storm.

red lightning

Despite Internet claims, this is not a red lightning storm. It’s not even in the sky! Sure, it looks like a big red ball of lightning on a horizon, but if you follow that supposed horizon around, you’ll see this is actually a crater. This is, in fact, volcanic lava, not lightning!

lightning vs volcano

While the two couldn’t be more different, volcanoes and lightning do have a unique and mesmerizing relationship. When a volcano erupts, fragments of volcanic ash and ice collide at speed in the air, generating static electricity within the volcanic plume. This creates what’s known as a dirty thunderstorm!

volcano static electricity

Under The Sea or Sky?

Clouds are those fluffy, sometimes wispy, white things floating high up in the sky, right? Well, imagine looking up one day and seeing something like this footage below:

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It feels like being underneath a wave in the ocean! But this footage wasn’t shot under the sea. It’s actually a timelapse of the clouds covering Augusta, Georgia back in 2015. At the time, there was no name for this incredible phenomenon, because it had been witnessed so rarely.

But in 2017, the World Meteorological Organization finally gave the great rolling cloud wave and official name: Undulatus Asperitas. This made it the first new cloud formation added to the official cloud atlas in more than 60 years!

Undulatus Asperitas

But what makes those clouds wave like this? Well, the clouds themselves tend to be low-lying, and roll with a specific pattern of weather fronts that create undulating waves in the atmosphere. Depending on how thick the cloud is, the light can make the cloud waves look incredibly oceanic!

A Colorful Sky

Just about everyone’s seen a rainbow at some point in their life. These pretty arcs of color are fairly common, forming in the sky when sunlight is refracted through raindrops, splitting white light out into its many different wavelengths.

How about seeing a rainbow that fills the entire sky or even seeing a cloud stained in rainbow colors? The images below might look like something made in photoshop but they are incredibly real. They’re commonly called Fire Rainbows, although technically they have nothing to do with fires or rainbows.

fire rainbows

So, what the heck are they? A glitch in the matrix? Actually, these are called Circumhorizontal Arcs, and they belong to the ice halo phenomenon family. Ice halos are rings and arcs of light that appear in the sky when sunlight shines through ice crystals in the air.

Circumhorizontal Arcs form at the top of these halos when hexagonal-shaped ice crystals drift down from the sky like leaves from a tree. When the light passes through faces of the ice crystal that are 60° to one another, the light is refracted out into its rainbow-like components!

how Circumhorizontal Arcs is made

Depending on the density of these ice-crystal clouds, the colors can appear as horizontal rainbow splashes in the sky. But they can also form entire arcs that look like reverse rainbows.

reverse rainbow

Now, that sounds like a pretty decent explanation. But then how do you explain something like the picture below? That’s no rainbow, that’s a patch of iridescent sky!

How does that work? Despite looking like an oil spill in the sky, these are an all-natural phenomenon known as polar stratospheric clouds.

polar stratospheric clouds

Normally, clouds form from condensate in the troposphere, some 49,000 ft above our heads. But, as their name suggests, polar stratospheric clouds form in the stratosphere, the second layer of the earth’s atmosphere that stretches up to 196,000 ft above us.

Unlike the troposphere, which contains 99% of the total mass of all water vapor on Earth, the stratosphere is very dry, and very cold. Water vapor that manages to reach up to this level freezes to a frosty -117°F.

Depending on what state the water freezes to, be it ice or a supercooled solution, the resulting clouds form iridescent veils by reflecting sunlight from below the horizon. Considering all the different ways light can be spectacularly refracted through the atmosphere, it might not be too hard to think an image like the image below is real!

tornado sucking up a rainbow

That’s a tornado apparently sucking up all the colors of the rainbow, like mother nature’s own vacuum cleaner. As cool as it looks though, this is 100% fake. Rainbows occur when light is refracted through millions of water droplets, which then hits our eyes at a very precise angle.

Unfortunately, tornados can’t suck up light; they’re not that powerful! But rainbows, tornados and waterspouts can occur in the same place at the same time! Just watch this footage:

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Really Raptured?

According to some Christians, humanity will reach an end-time where believers will rise into the clouds to meet their lord in an event known as The Rapture. It hasn’t happened yet but there seems to be an assumption that those who are raptured will be drafted up in glorious trails of light. Kind of something like in the image below:

light pillars

Fortunately, no, this isn’t The Rapture. Nor is it the greatest loot drop the gaming world has ever seen. These are light pillars, an astonishingly pretty phenomenon that’s even visible to the naked eye in the dark. But if it’s not God throwing a few spotlights on a bunch of flying Christians, then what’s making them?

When temperatures drop below freezing, specifically between 14° to -40° Fahrenheit, millions of hexagonal plate-shaped ice crystals can start to form. The same ones that form Fire Rainbows! But when they form close to the ground, light from things like houses and streetlights can reflect off them, tunneling the light upwards into these impressively illuminated pillars.

They’re Watching

Avid stargazers will know how entrancing the moon can be. Many can stare at it through binoculars or telescopes for hours! But when Andrey Smetanin decided to get a closer look at the moon’s surface using his new camera, he was shocked to discover he wasn’t alone.

Andrey had spotted three ominous black dots slowly moving across the sky in roughly the same direction.

Andrey Smetanin moon close-up

According to Andrey, he estimated they must have been flying at an altitude of 310 miles. That would place them somewhere in the thermosphere, a layer of the Earth’s atmosphere that’s more than 40 times the height that regular planes fly at!

So, if they were not planes, could these unidentified flying objects belong to aliens? No, they're not aliens. It’s most likely a series of satellites, a few of the more than 12,470 that have ever been launched into space. While only 5,200 of these satellites are currently functioning, it’s still more than likely that those 3 dots are just active satellites.

active satellites

Cloud Creature

Back in 2021, while most of us were trying not to go mad with boredom during lockdown, one person looked out their window and genuinely thought they were going insane. On March 15, a Facebook user decided to live stream a storm; not because they were bored, but because they thought they could see something in it, something big.

Sure enough, on the livestream, it looked like there was something floating in the air, hidden behind the clouds. Its two bright, shining eyes even looked right down the barrel of the camera at one point!

cloud creature

The stream was viewed more than 75,000 times in the space of a few hours, and worried comments began to flood the chat. People were genuinely convinced some sort of unseen shadow lord was haunting the skies above them! Like lockdown couldn’t get any worse!

But, as you probably guessed, those people didn’t have anything to worry about. Internet detectives did some digging and discovered this supposed livestream was actually a video that had originally been uploaded back in 2018.

It was created by Mclelun; a designer and programmer from Malaysia specializing in visual effects. They’d been experimenting with a few different effects and created the sequence purely as a test.

So, what did they use to create the monster hidden in the clouds? It was a rubber duck. Suddenly this is a lot less scary.

rubber duck cloud creature

Morning Glory

How would you describe a typical cloud? Fluffy? White? Puffy? Not ‘long and tube-like’, then? In which case, what the heck is this meant to be?

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That thing stretches from horizon to horizon, like some sort of planet sized sausage! And, incredibly, it’s not the only one of its kind. These are Morning Glory Clouds, capable of reaching more than 620 miles across and more than 1 mile high! On top of that, they can travel as fast as 65 ft per second!

morning glory clouds

But how can multiple tubes form like that? Well, scientists don’t have a concrete answer, even though the clouds themselves are well-understood. Moisture and temperature play an important factor, as they’re spotted most often along coastlines where there’s plenty of moist air.

An oncoming wave of warm air carries this moist air into the colder troposphere where it cools and condenses. It then falls with the downdraft of the airflow below the condensation level, before sometimes being pushed up again, creating another peak of condensation behind the first.

how morning glory clouds are made

However, scientists aren’t sure of the exact weather systems that are needed for these sorts of clouds to form in the first place. While they’re not fully understood, that doesn’t stop these clouds from being any less spectacular!

A Sky Full of Bubble wrap?

Considering we’ve seen tube clouds, rainbow clouds, and wave clouds, you think that, by now, we’d run out of weird clouds to marvel at. Well, you’re wrong, because we haven’t taken a look at the amazing Mammatus Cloud formation, or as I like to call it, a bubble wrap sky!

Mammatus Cloud formation

The way they bulge like that just makes us want to reach out and pop them! The brilliantly bizarre pouch-like protrusions form inside large cumulonimbus clouds; the type that usually bring storms.

Turbulence within these clouds see’s air currents rise and fall, and it’s cool, sinking air in these conditions that drops down to form these strange, sagging pouches in the condensate.

Depending on the air currents though, the patterns these pouches form can appear entirely random, or disturbingly linear! But no matter their shape, they all look particularly spectacular during a sunset.

Mammatus clouds

Don’t Look Up

While scouring the Internet trying to find weird and unexplainable sky phenomena, a few similar images kept cropping up. They were landscape images of countryside and roads, but all of them had some sort of huge, giant figure looming in the background.

Some of these figures haunted highways at night, standing over them like menacing guardians.

giant figures

Others were just single appendages, snaking down from the clouded sky, hiding the true size of whatever it belonged to.

giant figures

At first, I just assumed these were all fake, but then I found one I recognized. This is Laguna Peak in Ventura County, California. But what the heck is that in that picture below? I really want to say this is fake, but seeing something so ominous staring down at somewhere I know made me feel unsettled, to say the least.

Laguna Peak in Ventura County giant figure

After a bit more digging, I found out that all of these are the works of Trevor Henderson. He’s the Canadian horror artist behind a whole host of iconic cryptid Internet creatures, such as Siren Head and Bridge Worm.

horror creatures

So, just to confirm, none of these giants are real. Still utterly creepy, but at least now you stand a chance of sleeping tonight. Or at least, until seeing the image below:

horror creature

There are only three very logical possibilities that could explain this. One, someone has drawn the abdomen and legs of a spider onto this photo of a beachside city to make it look super huge.

Two, a spider climbed onto the front of a camera while someone was taking a photo, so its up-close body is out of focus, making its back end look blurry, but also huge. Three, Earth is now controlled by giant spiders, and we must all submit to our new arachnid overlords!

Unsettling Sky Phenomena - HARD TO EXPLAIN!

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