It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … certainly not a UFO. After Britain’s Ministry of Defense shut down its UFO desk in 2009, the ministry finally revealed the last of its X-files that seem to explain what people were actually seeing when they reported sightings of extra-terrestrials.
The 4,300-page cache of documents reveals that sightings of potentially alien objects tripled by the time the UFO desk shut down. In 2009, a total of 643 sightings were received. While even members of the nation’s armed forces sent in reports of UFOs in the sky, it turns out that most people were actually just seeing Chinese lanterns.
National Archives consultant on the UFO files Dr. David Clarke tells The Telegraph that roughly two thirds of 2009’s reports could be explained by people seeing Chinese lanterns floating in the sky. In one recorded 2008 instance, a police helicopter crew in Wales reported seeing small lights in the sky that were later confirmed to be Chinese lanterns set loose by a nearby wedding.
In another situation, tabloid The Sun claimed that a damaged wind turbine in 2009 was caused by aliens because spheres of light were seen in the sky at the same time. A journalist at The Guardian later explained the lights were fireworks she had set off for her father’s 80th birthday. The broken turbine was something completely separate.
Because of the increased amounts of reports of UFOs, the Ministry of Defense couldn’t justify keeping the UFO desk open. “That really did put a strain on the resources that the MoD had committed to this subject, and really led up to their decision to finally pull the plug on Britain’s X-Files, simply because they just didn’t have the resources to investigate these sightings, or to look at them in any detail,” Clarke tells NBC News. “So they just tended to be filed away.”
The X-files can now all be downloaded at the British National Archives website.