From The Archives

Lights in the sky remain a mystery

By Shepparton News

January 21, 1983

There seems to be no answer to last Friday's lights-in-the-sky mystery.

The Royal Australian Air Force has put the case away in the filing cabinet labelled: "Unusual Aerial Sightings".

The incandescent flares falling from the sky across Victoria were described as "a bright green ball spewing out bits of sparks", "a silvery kind of object" and "a bright whitish coloured flame with a round dark coloured head and about 3 m of burning trail behind it".

Sightings were reported between 6 pm and 6.30 pm last Friday. They remain unidentified flying objects.

Graham Canobie, of Shepparton, who was in Euroa on Friday, said he and his 10-year-old son, Tod, saw a bright white flame, dark head and burning trail flash across the sky.

He said they were rabbiting about 11 km east of Euroa and saw the fireball at about 6.15 pm.

He reported it to Shepparton police about 1 am after hearing similar reports on the radio.

“We had a clear view of it all the way through,” he said.

“It never dropped behind the horizon but the flame burned out and it disintegrated within about 100 m of the ground.

“There were four or five burning objects behind it as it began breaking up before landing.

“It was going very fast.”

Senior Constable Col Towe, of Shepparton police, said two people from the Shepparton City area telephoned to say they saw a fireball.

A young boy from Invergordon also called and a Tatura policeman rang to say they had received similar sightings from Merrigum.

Sen Const Towe said all described a fireball with a smoking tail, north of Shepparton, between 6.15 pm and 6.30 pm.

“It wasn't Cosmos because we're still tracking it,” Department of Science and Technology director of public relations Eric Hunter said.

Mr Hunter is a spokesman for the Federal Government committee monitoring the re-entry into the atmosphere of the Soviet nuclear-powered satellite Cosmos 1402.

The committee was alerted when the "object" was first reported by a flight service office working at Tullamarine Airport control tower at 6.03 pm.

A spokesman for the Department of Aviation said within seconds of the Tullamarine officer reporting a "greenish type of object flash across the sky", an air traffic controller at Moorabbin Airport reported he had seen a "similar kind of object".

“The senior operations controller at Tullamarine did an immediate check to ensure there were no aircraft in the sky at that time and subsequently checked that there were no aircraft missing,” the spokesman said.

“Nothing unusual showed up on our radar at Tullamarine, which has a radius of 160 nautical miles.

“When it was established that none of our aircraft were missing the matter was passed out of our hands to the Department of Defence.

“It's just one of those things that is put down to lights in the sky.”

A RAAF duty staff officer received six reports of a fiery mass with a burning trail and all from places in the general Shepparton area, according to a RAAF intelligence spokesman

“From the descriptions it sounds like a bit of space junk or a meteorite, but we don't know what it was,” the spokesman said.

“Perhaps it was a mass of burning gas which would not necessarily give a signal on radar if it was moving so fast.

“The six people ringing from Shepparton were asked if they'd like to receive a more detailed questionnaire, which they all did.

“If they are returned to us, they are then sent to the directorate of Airforce Intelligence and Security in Canberra and kept, but really only as a watch brief exercise.

“The air force is basically filing it away as we don't have the manpower or funding priorities to do a great deal about unusual aerial sightings as we once had.”

The RAAF spokesman said these "things" are "usually" caused bu man-made or natural phenomena and said it was "interesting" that the course of the unidentified sightings was parallel to the path of Cosmos.

Mr Hunter said it was unlikely the UFOs seen over Victoria were anything to do with Cosmos as they were well away from the satellite's track.

He said Cosmos was to pass Australia on Friday over Port Pirie, western NSW, central Queensland and over the ocean across Papua New Guinea.

“That's a long way away from north-east Victoria,” Mr Hunter said.

“Cosmos is still up there and it is unlikely that it would have been any other satellite as they are all tracked from North America. If anything was likely to happen with one, we would know about it.”

Mr Hunter said he had heard a fire brigade captain from the Shepparton area reported seeing a "bright green ball spewing out bits of sparks".

“I suppose it was possibly a meteorite,” Mr Hunter said.

“Another possibility is that it was Aurora Australis, a fantastic lighting display in the southern polar region not normally seen up here.”

But Dr David Cole, director of the Ionospheric Prediction Service, in Sydney, cancelled this possibility.

He explained that the ionosphere, the upper level of the earth's atmosphere, is of such composition that it shields the earth from dangerous radiation and is the basis of radio and telegraphic communications as it "bounces" radio waves.

Solar activities can cause the ionosphere to move about which may upset world communications and enable rare sightings of Aurora Australis.

“Aurora Australis, Latin for ‘southern lights’, is strips across the sky and the closer you are to the pole the more spectacular they become,” Dr Cole said.

“With a fair bit of ionospheric activity, they have been seen in the last six months by people flying from Sydney to Canberra and have certainly been seen in Hobart and Melbourne.”

After checking the records, Dr Cole said there had been some minor ionospheric activity early last week but none on Friday.

“So I don't think the lights seen over Victoria on Friday could have been a sighting of Aurora Australis,” he said.

The sightings remain a mystery.