Did UFOs Fly Over San Francisco & Brooklyn?

ufo san francisco
A string of luminescent orbs hover over San Francisco. (Image credit: CBS San Francisco)

Updated at 6:45 p.m. ET

The Mayan apocalypse believed by some to be taking place on Dec. 21, 2012, has apparently been preceded by multiple sightings of alleged UFOs hovering over major U.S. cities. In the past week, San Francisco and Brooklyn were both treated to the sight of mysterious illuminated objects floating in the sky.

And, of course, rather than of alien origin, the lights seem to have come from something commonly mistaken for UFOs: Chinese lanterns.

On Dec. 3, in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, an amateur video captured a slow-moving parade of lights overhead. The trio of lights appeared to move in a coordinated fashion, slowing down and then moving again in roughly the same direction and at the same speed.

A similarly choreographed ballet of lights, reported by some as a UFO sighting, danced over the Mission district of San Francisco in the wee hours of Dec. 9. As in the Brooklyn sighting, the lights seemed to hover calmly above the city, then slowly drift away in unison, as seen in this amateur video. [See UFO Video]

At least one astronomer was stumped by the San Francisco sighting. "It's not a planet, it's not a constellation, it's not meteors, it's not the moon," Bing Quock, assistant director of the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences, told CBS San Francisco. "It looks to me like it could have been balloons, carrying lights." [Infographic: Where to Spot UFOs]

Were these indeed visitors from a distant galaxy? Enemy surveillance drones? Or were these sightings merely the result of some holiday-season overindulgence?

"Absolutely, tequila was maybe an influence here," Enrique Barrios, who filmed the San Francisco event early Sunday morning after a Saturday night out, said in the CBS San Francisco article. Nonetheless, Barrios is adamant that his was not just an alcohol-influenced sighting. "I am 100 percent sure this was a UFO," he said. "Looked like flame, you know, fireballs in the sky."

And there's a good chance that Barrios is right — about the flames, that is. Chinese floating lanterns, also called "sky lanterns," have been blamed for at least one debunked UFO sighting. The lanterns, roughly the size of a small trash can liner, have a paper-and-wax wick mounted to the opening. When lit, the wick burns brightly and creates enough hot air for the lantern to float up, up and away.

Additionally, identical lanterns that were aloft at the same time and place would be subject to the same air currents, so they would probably appear to move in a coordinated fashion, as the lights over Brooklyn and San Francisco did.

Witnesses who were recorded speaking in both videos, in fact, allude to the Chinese lanterns — and both videos also contain a salty mix of obscene language.

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Marc Lallanilla
Live Science Contributor
Marc Lallanilla has been a science writer and health editor at About.com and a producer with ABCNews.com. His freelance writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and TheWeek.com. Marc has a Master's degree in environmental planning from the University of California, Berkeley, and an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin.