People from Perth to Peterhead could have been forgiven for thinking they had witnessed a ‘UFO’ when a strange, triangular light appeared in the sky last week.
What hundreds of people along the east coast had actually seen was part of the Atlas V rocket launch from California putting the Landsat-9 observation satellite into orbit.
Around 10pm UK time, a strange, stellar sight appeared in the clear night sky leaving many people wondering if they had seen a comet or experienced an alien encounter.
It has since emerged that the light was the rocket’s deorbit burn as it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere.
However, it wouldn’t be the first time that an unexplained and other-worldly object has been spotted across the region.
Have there been UFO sightings in your area?
For centuries, the human race has been fascinated by odd sightings in the sky and, more recently, the idea that as a species we are not alone in the universe.
But the modern-day ‘flying saucer’ UFO phenomenon in the UK dates back to the late 1940s, during a climate of paranoia against the backdrop of the Cold War.
Hundreds of UFO sightings have been reported in Tayside since the 1950s – with some proving more credible than others.
Any sightings by police officers, the Coastguard, pilots or the military were given much more gravitas than those by the general public, who often seemed to have alien encounters on the way home from the pub.
DC Thomson data content specialist Joely Santa Cruz has created an interactive map of sightings between 1997 and 2009 from declassified Ministry of Defence files held by The National Archives.
Click on each UFO to reveal the location and nature of the reports.
Map data compiled and produced by Joely Santa Cruz, DCT Media
Flying saucers in Dundee?
Often, the Courier would be the first port of call for anyone who spotted anything strange, hoping to corroborate their UFO sighting with other eagle-eyed readers.
The closest UFOs came to Dundee in 1952 was a sci-fi inspired, “flying saucer” print on a dress for sale in Draffens and a “flying saucer” hat at Henderson and Mackay.
But in 1954, there was a flurry of UFO sightings. The first, reported on October 27, was a mysterious “moon-shaped object veiled in mist” spotted by 82-year-old Mary Wilde.
The Shaftesbury Road resident, who lived with her daughter Catherine and son-in-law, saw the unusual sight at 2am, and explained how the UFO moved silently from east to west following the course of the Tay.
Described as “an alert and intelligent old lady”, Mrs Wilde said “it seemed like something that should not be there” and although she had “no idea” what a flying saucer was, she “couldn’t help connecting the object with one”.
Her daughter Catherine said she knew her mother, “a countrywoman born and bred, to be a woman who didn’t allow her imagination to play tricks”.
While her son-in-law, Dr Allan admitted to being left shaken by his own paranormal experience some years before at Montrose, when an “enormous light” suddenly loomed over the horizon on a cloudy day before disappearing.
The same object was again spotted in November, this time by two men at Longforgan who initially kept quiet about the UFO after first seeing it in August.
Braithwaite Livie said: “I thought there was no use saying anything as people start saying you’re crackers.”
But after reading about Mrs Wilde’s encounter he felt compelled to get in touch with her and shared his own story.
He watched the object through binoculars hanging above Birkhall, then follow the Tay before disappearing in the Tayport direction.
In December 1954, a number of reports were received about an intriguing silver object glinting in the sky over Angus and Kincardineshire.
Some believed it to be a flying saucer, others a flying cigar.
But the mystery was solved three weeks later when it turned out to be a new meteorological balloon released from Edzell Aerodrome.
Mrs Morgan of Edzell saw the silver balloon coming down in a raspberry field and untangled it from the scientific equipment attached and received five shillings from the RAF for her trouble.
Mysterious lights in sky
UFO activity hit again in the early 1960s when “a mystery object was seen by hundreds of people in Dundee, parts of Angus and Perthshire”.
Some described it as a “bright light, flying noiselessly and tremendously fast”, while others claimed it to take the form of a “ball with a tail”.
An explanation was never offered for the mysterious aerial display.
In October 1967, three Dundee schoolboys saw what was reported to be Fintray’s first UFO, described as a strange red light; the following month more youths spotted an unexplained green light in the same area.
What could have been put down to youthful folly was apparently corroborated by two men who saw a “brilliant blue object flying over Dundee”.
But it was another decade before reported extra-terrestrial activity returned to Tayside.
Various sightings were made in 1977 and reported to The Courier; three men in Arbroath claimed to have watched a “cigar-shaped object” hovering for three minutes.
Later that year there was an unexplained silver-coloured object above the Sidlaws at Forfar, and the paranormal reoccurred in Arbroath when a UFO was seen over fruit fields.
A dubious Courier reporter did point out that the increased sightings coincided with the release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind – a film about a man’s encounter with a UFO.
Another alleged sighting of strange lights moving in a vertical manner near Dundee that year was quickly dismissed by the RAF as a refuelling helicopter, which the MoD said explained the rise and fall of the red lights.
But a sighting made by hundreds of people in 1979 appeared to have no rational explanation.
A mystery object was described as “hurtling through the skies” above various locations in Scotland on October 24 that year.
Eyewitness accounts of a red and white ball with a vapour trail poured in to police stations and airports across the country.
It was seen from Orkney to Inverness, Elgin to Aberdeen – and dozens of concerned calls were made to RAF Pitreavie in Fife.
There was perhaps a more rational explanation behind a sighting of flashing objects hovering over Kirkton High School in February 1986 – RAF Leuchars had two aircraft out at the time.
And Dundee police were said to be involved in a “nationwide UFO alert” the same month when a flurry of calls were received in the early hours of the morning about activity in the skies above the city.
Many were witnessed by people leaving the pub at 1am, but the claims were taken more seriously when sober beat bobbies witnessed a stream of green flares apparently falling to Earth.
The paranormal was ruled out when it was decided the strange phenomenon was actually a meteorite burning up when entering the atmosphere.
In May 1987, a Dundee inventor decided to take matters into his own hands. Rather than wait for the little green men to arrive on Earth, he unveiled his own flying saucer twin-gyroscope.
Former RAF technician Sandy Kidd spent 18 months building the machine in his shed which lifted off the workbench when “subjected to particular forces”.
But the Force was not with Dundee University.
There was disappointment for Mr Kidd when the institution pulled research funding from his project, with professors citing financial reasons and “doubts it could be developed into a power source to produce inter-galactic travel”.
Defiant Mr Kidd, undaunted by the doubts, vowed to silence his critics claiming that interest from an Australian firm would mean 1988 was the year his flying saucer would take off.
He said: “The unknown has always intrigued me. It was inevitable that I got involved with this project – if I don’t do it someone else will.”
Mr Kidd was not alone in his interest in the extra-terrestrial; the Courier reported in 1988 how leading bookmakers had slashed the odds on a host of predicted paranormal eventualities that year.
It was thought it could be the year when there was a credible sighting of the Loch Ness Monster, that a UFO would land on Earth complete with aliens, and that Alain Prost would win the Grand Prix.
None came true.
Is the truth out there?
It was perhaps no coincidence that a general increase of reported sightings in the 1990s tied in with the launch of hit sci-fi drama series The X-Files.
The show captivated a global audience from the moment it first aired in 1993 and certainly inspired those who like Fox Mulder believe “the truth is out there”.
The occurrence of mysterious crop circles in Perthshire in the 90s left many people baffled.
Strange flattened areas of grass appeared at a farm at Blairgowrie attracted the interest of Glasgow University professors in 1990.
Prof Archie Ray said: “The numbers of circles seem to be increasing alarmingly. From just a few 10 years ago to 290 last year, with around 200 reported this year.
“The patterns of circles are becoming more and more complicated now we have them in Scotland.”
Although he didn’t rule out alien intervention, the professor was adamant the detail was such the circles could not have been hoaxed, and that he was pursuing a scientific explanation.
An even more impressive crop circle in a soon-to-be harvested field at at Strathmiglo in August 1994 left locals scratching their heads.
For weeks there was speculation about its creation but the mystery was unsolved, and the Scottish Earth Mysteries Research group attributed the phenomenon to “some sort of energy force”.
‘UFO fever’ in Dundee
Of the 250 unexplained UFOs reported in Scotland between 1992 and 1995, two-thirds were in and around Bonnybridge in Falkirk.
A UFO-weary Courier reporter wryly wrote that the small town “must be the entrance to another universe, going by the number of flying saucers seen there”.
But the paranormal showed no signs of abating and “UFO fever” was declared in Dundee in 1996 after a number of extra-terrestrial encounters.
In February 1996, three Broughty Ferry youngsters were “terrified” after seeing a UFO in the middle of Orchar Park in the middle of broad daylight.
The 12-year-old Grove Academy pupils came “belting” home “crying uncontrollably” after witnessing an aircraft which hovered over them and shone lights at them.
One of the parents Pamela Stewart said: “None of them are prone to making things up and I’m pretty sure they haven’t read anything about UFOs recently … I tried to calm them down as best I could and then told them to go and sit down separately and draw what they had seen.”
Mrs Stewart said the drawings were so similar she had “no doubt they saw something which scared them very badly”.
The kids, Cameron, Joanne and Graham, were so panicking because they felt the silent, hovering burger-shaped object was following them and shining triangular lights in their direction.
The encounter was followed up by a series of calls to the Courier newsdesk that week to inform reporters of similar mysterious flying objects in Dundee, Perth and Forfar.
But the Mills Observatory, police and RAF Leuchars could offer no explanation for the children’s chilling encounter.
In September a concerned couple contacted the Courier when they saw “a strange bright light” hovering over the Baldovie Incinerator at 5am.
The man tried to find his own rational explanation assuming it was an aircraft leaving the air show at Leuchers, but the RAF confirmed there were no aircraft in the sky at that time.
Dundee city astronomer Brian Kelly said it was unlikely an attack from outer space was imminent and instead it was simply Venus, which was very bright in the sky that week.
But Venus could not account for further sightings of UFOs in Fife the following week.
Mark McRobbie of Cardenden saw two triangular lights “travel at an amazing speed” across the night sky.
He watched them hover and dart over the school and Clunie Woods.
A similar encounter was had by Edward Preston who saw a light in the sky in the form of “a perfect equilateral triangle”, neither sighting was explained.
Although some Dundonians thinking they had experienced paranormal activity after seeing strange lights about the city centre were informed that it was, in fact, the promotional search light from the Mardi Gras nightclub lighting up the night sky.
MoD UFO desk closed down
But the sheer number of sightings in Scotland wasn’t completely dismissed.
For decades the Minstry of Defence operated a UFO desk to record and file reports made by civilians at the military.
An in 1999 there was speculation that the Highland glens housed a top-secret military base to hide UFOs – Scotland’s very own Area 51.
Stirling University academic Ron Halliday had written a book about close alien encounters and believed the village Machrihanish was perfect for concealing UFO activity.
He said: “Extra-terrestrial flying discs could be stored here as geographically we’re in a good situation for communication with London, the US and Western Europe.
“Machrihanish would be an ideal spot from which to operate aircraft technology that the government wanted to keep secret, including devices allegedly developed from captured alien discs.”
But the suggestion was welcomed less enthusiastically by the MoD who said: “We do not have have any such bases.”
In fact, the reporting of UFOs to the MoD was reaching such levels that the decision was taken to close down the official UFO desk in 2009.
At the time, the MoD recommended the defence services “should seek to reduce very significantly the UFO task which is consuming increasing resource, but produces no valuable defence output”.
And added: “In more than 50 years, no UFO sighting reported (to MoD) has ever revealed anything to suggest an extra-terrestrial presence or military threat to the UK, and there is no defence benefit in MoD recording, collating, analysing or investigating UFO sightings.”
UFO fanatics accused the MoD of a cover-up, and the decision was made to release declassified UFO files in 2013, leaving the public to decide if the truth really is out there…
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