How could Venus make people think they saw a UFO?

Just what it says. I’ve seen this little mention used in a recent reposting in a SD column, and in other debunking. But I’ve seen Venus and, well… :confused: It is a light in the sky that looks like a star except it just sits there.

I’ve often wondered this myself. If anything, The Great Unwashed might confuse it with a bright star, but an Unidentified Flying Object? Given many of the descriptions of UFOs I’ve heard about, a small, albeit bright, point of light just doesn’t work as an explanation.

Venus is very bright, much brighter than we normally expect planets to be. It’s often low in the sky, and visible in early evening before other stars have come out. In fact it’s visible before we think it’s dark enough to see stars. Venus is pretty small, but the brightness gives it an illusion of size. And if you stare at anything for a while, without a reference point nearby, it will appear to move. Low in the sky there is a lot of atmospheric disturbance, so it may appear to vary its brightness.

There’s also an optical illusion where we think the “middle” of the sky is closer to us than the “edge.” Subconsciously we think of the sky as a flattened dome, not a hemispherical one. Which means anything close to the horizon appears even larger and brighter.

Not only that, but when you are looking in the sky where there are clouds moving, it can look like the cloud is stationary and Venus is moving against it, because we have no fixed frame of reference.

There’s extensive treatment of this in Philip Klass’ books UFOs Identified and UFOs Explained. In one of Robert Scaeffer’s books on UFOs there’s an especally telling chart showing the times people in Exeter, N.H. (as described in John Fuller’s book Incident at Exeter)saw UFOs and the times of the rising of (I believe) Venus and Jupiter. The correlation is astonishingly good – it’s clear that people were mistaking planets for flying saucers.

In addition, Venus will “track” you as you drive (like any other planet or star). Due to parallax, it will appear to speed up when you speed up the car, and slow down when you slow down the car, and stop when you stop. This makes people discard the idea it’s a planet – it’s moving with you – and claim it’s a UFO.

Quite right. Klass mention thisphenomenon, as does Schaeffer. My four year old daughter frequently points out that “The Moon is Following Us!” when we’re driving at night.

But as Schaeffer points out, although a lot of people report that “a UFO is following them”, nobody ever seems to report that “a UFO is following another car.” This would seem to be pretty powerful evidence that it is this particular “Following Illusion” that’s responsible for such UFO reports.

I have nothing to add to this debate, except to say that I know what Venus looks like. Perhaps you were thinking of the slightly thicker the great unwashed”?

(Jeesh! I don’t know you go to the trouble of capitalizing and mumble &c)

Maybe if she served underhanded.

[ul]Starlight, starbright ** “First star I’ve seen tonight.” **[/ul]

In my experience, Venus also tends to look funny when it’s close to the horizon; sometimes it seems to change color, which may be refraction. The effect is often to make it look very unlike a star.

Or that flying saucers like to come out at the time Venus and Jupiter rise! :smiley:

>ducks & runs…

I’ve had this exact experience. I’ve seen Venus appear to be flying low over trees as we drive past them. I swear it really really looked like it was there, it was nearby, and it was flying fast, low, and silently. Pretty amazing! And cleared up erislover’s exact same mystery for myself.

To speak of it’s brightness. I have personally seen Venus in full broad daylight…at 1:00 pm on a sunny day. I knew where to look and I got a bit lucky. I was amazed.

They use them as decoys! :rolleyes:

I know a pilot of some experience who tried to join up with and refuel from Venus, mistaking it for a tanker aircraft he was suposed to rendezvous with. He didn’t realize his mistake until he realized the “tanker” was (apparently) able to easily outclimb and keep a good distance from him.

So it’s not just the unwashed that make this mistake.

I also understand that the book “Son of the Morning Star” says Custer was given that name by some of his scouts for once mistaking the rise of Venus for a signal rocket-flare and commencing an attack on an Indian camp prematurely.

Well, this has certainly been interesting! I, too, have seen it during the day, but still… I never would have thought it to be mistakable for an object flying through the sky…