Manitoba

Mysterious flying object over Lake Winnipeg likely sun reflecting off plane clouds

It's not out of this world, but a ball of light that was captured flying over Lake Winnipeg is still a unique event, according to those who study Manitoba's skies.

Video captured bright fireball streaking across sunny sky near Jackhead, Man.

A video captured by 16-year-old Kieisha Traverse shows a ball of light streaking across Lake Winnipeg. The image was likely caused by sun reflecting off the contrails of a jet plane. (Provided/Kieisha Traverse)

It's not out of this world, but a ball of light that was captured flying over Lake Winnipeg is still a unique event, according to those who study Manitoba's skies.

A video of the drifting object was captured on Jan. 11, about 15 kilometres from Jackhead, Man.

Henry Traverse says his 16-year-old granddaughter Kieisha Traverse was out fishing on Lake Winnipeg around 3 p.m. when she noticed the ball of light in the sky and took out her phone to record it.

"I didn't know what to say or think," Traverse said.

"We rarely see those kinds of things in the daytime, but we have experienced those kinds of things in the night," he said.

"We have stories that date back — that old fishermen saw fast-moving objects disappearing into the water into the lake," he said.

A brightly coloured ball of light captured on video on Jan. 11. near Jackhead, Man. 0:20

The phenomenon was most likely a perfect combination of atmosphere and sunlight, according to Scott Young, an astronomer and museum manager of the Manitoba planetarium.

Young says sunlight was reflecting off a jet contrail, which is the cloud of steam that a plane leaves behind it.

"The whole thing is all being backlit by the sun," he said. "It's really making the head of the contrail glow very, very brightly."

'Acting like a lightbulb'

Young said the clouds behind a jet are made out of little droplets of water.

"So essentially a little drop of water is taking the light and bouncing it around, and acting kind of like a lightbulb with the sun shining into it, so it really gives us this radiant glow."

Young believes the jet might have changed direction away from the viewer and toward the sun, meaning the light coming through the contrail would become even more concentrated.

"For some reason, there's that one spot of the cloud that seems to be very bright and concentrated. It's certainly an unusual contrail," he said.

The flying object was seen around 3 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 11 over Lake Winnipeg. (Submitted by Kieisha Traverse)

Too slow to be meteorite or space junk

Young says after studying the video, he can tell the bright ball of light is not a meteorite, asteroid, or anything else coming from outer space.

"It almost looks like something that's frozen in time," he said. "Usually when we see a fireball or something burning up in the atmosphere, it's over and done within two or three seconds."

"It's certainly not zooming at any kind of cosmic speed. So it was a little bit of a mystery it at first."

Chris Rutkowski, a science writer who specializes in UFO sightings, also thinks the mysterious ball of light is from a jet plane.

"I know that it's not a meteor or a fireball because it's hanging in the sky a little bit too long. It's not some sort of rocket crashing to the ground."

Chris Rutkowski says this winter has been a great one for sightings in the sky. (Rudy Gauer/CBC)

"It probably was some sort of aircraft heading south toward Winnipeg," he said. "There's a lot of aircraft that fly directly over the province from south to north, and north to south."

"We haven't been able to nail down which aircraft it was yet so that's our best guess."

UFO over Jackhead debunked in 2015

This isn't the first time a strange object has been spotted flying over Jackhead.

In February 2015, social media reports surfaced of a possible UFO sighting in the same area. At the time, the Canadian Forces said the bright light that locals witnessed was actually an airplane involved in a training exercise.

While Manitoba isn't a particular hotbed for UFO sightings, the wide open prairie skies do allow people to witness amazing sky-events.

"We've had spectacular weather for unusual things," Rutkowski said, pointing to the recent light pillars and sun dogs being spotted in Manitoba.

The province also has a history of UFO-related encounters, including the famous Falcon Lake incident in 1967.

Rutkowski said he's a received a number of UFO reports so far this year, and while most sightings like this one can usually be explained, there are always a few that can't be.

"We have this fascination with, are we alone? It's that innate nature in us, that we wonder, is there something out there?" 

About the Author

Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Winnipeg. She previously worked for CBC in Halifax and Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or marina.von.stackelberg@cbc.ca

With files from Shane Gibson

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