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This article was published 4/8/2012 (3457 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It's UFO season in Winnipeg, so consider this your heads-up to put on your tin foil hats and gaze suspiciously at the sky.
Winnipeggers spotted more UFOs than just about everywhere else in the country last year, and numbers so far for 2012 look as if we're in for another bumper crop of unusual flying objects, unexplainable lights and strange fireballs.
Summertime is the best season for UFO sightings, since warm weather makes sky watchers out of all of us. Manitobans spotted 81 UFOs in 2011, according to the 2011 Canadian UFO Survey released in late July. It's the third-highest number on record since 1989 for the province, but the stats over the last few years show UFO sightings are on the rise for the rest of Canada, too.
"People do see things in the night sky they can't explain," said Chris Rutkowski, research co-ordinator for Ufology, which put together the survey. "It shows UFOs haven't gone away. It shows it wasn't a trend or a fad. People are still reporting them."
Across Canada, the number of sightings is up -- 986 in total, slightly more than the 968 we saw in 2010 and the second highest on record. Winnipeg stands in fourth place for the most UFOs; good considering our population doesn't even come close to that of first place Toronto.
So, what's the deal? Is there an increase in weather balloons, dubious military operations and parties with bad fireworks in the city?
In fact, 89 per cent of Winnipeg's strange sightings can be chalked up to reasonable explanations, said Rutkowski, especially with the new popularity of Chinese lanterns lighting up the night sky. This is in part thanks to the Disney movie Tangled, where the lanterns play an important role.
"There are a whole number of factors that can explain (sightings)," said Rutkowski. "A lot of people are reporting lights on fire going across Manitoba skies."
These silent, glowing balls of light can be stamped with the Chinese-lantern explanation. The other most common explanation is simply plane lights that appear from certain vantage points to be moving in a strange way.
Another explanation, said Scott Young, astronomer at the Manitoba Museum, is planets and stars can appear to dance and change colour when they are low on the horizon.
Despite this, Rutkowski said there are still 11 per cent of reports that can't be explained.
"There are things up in the sky that are UFOs," he said.
UFOs don't necessarily mean little green men in saucers who've come to vacation in our lovely city. They are simply phenomena in the sky we can't explain.
The classic Manitoba example, of course, is the Falcon Lake UFO from 1967, where Stefan Michelak saw two cigar-shaped objects descend from the sky, one of which landed next to him. A hatch in the object opened and he heard voices inside. Michelak claims he burned himself when he touched a grid-like exhaust vent on the object. He had a series of gird-mark burns on his chest and was sick for months after the supposed encounter.
Almost 50 years later, there are still unexplainable objects in the skies in and around the city, although none as dramatic as Michelak's story.
Mike Mandrick, 60, searched for explanations for what he saw on July 14 this year.
Mandrick was out walking his dog at a park around 10:30 p.m. in his Charleswood neighborhood.
"I casually glanced overhead and saw three glowing orange lights," he remembered.
He wasn't the only one who saw the lights. Others around him noticed, as well, taking cellphone pictures and video.
He said there was no sound as the lights moved from a northeast direction to a southwest direction. They didn't vary their speed or their course and seemed to be spinning in a counter-clockwise direction. They soon faded in the distance. A few minutes later, two more appeared travelling at the same speed in the same direction. Five minutes later, another five lights appeared and repeated the same pattern moving towards the horizon.
Chinese lanterns? That's what Mandrick thought at first. However, Rutkowski, who's heard many a Chinese lantern story, doesn't agree -- and on second thought, neither does Mandrick. There were too many lights, Rutkowski said, and the fact the pattern never varied is odd.
The final piece of the story is the most important, here. As the lights moved towards the setting sun, Mandrick said he strained to make out their shape, or if there was any shape at all. The lights had faded out by this point, he noted, but there was something else in the sky to the west: a cylinder-like object.
"It seemed grey in colour and it was oblong," he says.
Perhaps the lights were on the bottom of the oblong object, he suggested, visible as the object flew overhead in the dark, and disappearing as it went into the distance. Who knows, but that's the fun of it, right?
One out of 10 Canadians claim to have seen a UFO, said Rutkowski, and with summer being the peak of UFO season, there will no doubt be many more puzzled Winnipeggers staring at the sky in the coming weeks.
Some of the more unusual UFO reports from 2011 in and around Winnipeg:
APRIL 5, 2011: A witness saw a large, "triangular airplane" over Winnipeg about 9 p.m. They said it didn't have lights, but was grey in colour and looked solid. It moved across the horizon for one minute without making a sound.
APRIL 20, 2011: A dark, triangular object with three massive lights was reported over the city around 11:30 p.m. It blocked out the stars, the report said. The object was silent and stationary and then suddenly took off north at a high speed.
APRIL 24, 2011: A security officer managed to get video of an object flying over Selkirk. "It was a steady moving light. It did not appear to be an aircraft and it did not appear to be a balloon," said Rutkowski. The security officer phoned air traffic control and found there were no aircraft in the area at the time.
JULY 30, 2011: At around midnight in Hecla, three people camping in a tent with a screen top saw a "large, circle-shaped object" float over their tent for more than five seconds.
AUG. 17, 2011: A very bright spherical light flew over Winnipeg eastward around 11 p.m. It wobbled and zig-zagged, the report said, before turning a reddish colour and disappearing.
AUG. 19, 2011: In Lockport around 10: 30 p.m., three lights that looked to be on a dark, blurry triangular object moved quickly from south to north. They moved at the speed of a low-flying plane, the report added.
JULY 30, 2012: At around 11:30 p.m. in the west part of Winnipeg, a witness going for a walk noticed an orange light floating in the sky, then a yellow one. They suddenly disappeared. They were not very high in the sky and made no noise.
-- Sources: Chris Rutkowski, research co-ordinator for Ufology and the Ufology Research blog
Think you have an explanation for some of these sightings? Let us know in the comments online.