10 November 2023

Look up in the sky, it’s a …it’s just an airplane!

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Nope, they’re not UFOs, they’re just commercial jets. Photo: Facebook.

Canberra social media was abuzz this week after an anonymous participant posted images of an airborne phenomenon on the Canberra Notice Board Group Facebook page.

We haven’t checked if sales of tin foil have spiked as a result.

The poster claimed they took the four photos around 7 pm on Wednesday – shortly before sunset – of what was a “really big (almost glowing) plane” moving in what they said was a “vertical motion, going downwards”.

Three of the images show a blurry object at the head of two distinct contrails, but there is no indication of where it was taken, nor what direction – except “downwards” – the object was heading. A fourth image appears to be of a different object taken at a slant range of some tens of kilometres.

But folks, you can relax. It wasn’t “aliens”, the “Optus CEO leaving town”, nor was it “B B B Bennie and the jets”!

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At or near sunset, aircraft flying at high altitude can often be lit up by the sun, even if the sun is below the horizon from ground level, and white or metallic-coloured aircraft can be especially bright.

Similarly, an aircraft with a contrail flying directly overhead away from an observer can look like its in a dive, whereas it’s actually more likely just continuing at a constant altitude.

At the times the anonymous participant claims he took these images on Wednesday afternoon, flight tracking data available on a number of commonly used apps show there were two aircraft flying from Sydney to Melbourne that flew almost directly overhead Queanbeyan and Tuggeranong on a south-westerly course.

One was a Qantas 737 at about 6:58 pm, and the next was a larger Air New Zealand 787 a few minutes later. Both of these aircraft are predominantly white.

The fourth shot in the series appears to be taken from the side a few minutes later. This was likely a Jetstar 787 flying west of the Brindabellas on a north-easterly course from Melbourne to Honolulu. Being silver, this aircraft may have also amplified any reflected light off its fuselage and wings.

So, as you were folks!

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Stanleyhistory1:15 pm 10 Nov 23

NO, it’s an AEROPLANE – unless it appeared in the sky over the USA. In Australia, we (still, for the time being) say ‘AEROPLANE’!

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