Reddit Spotted A UFO From The ISS Live Stream. The Real Explanation Involves Squid


Dr. Katie Spalding


Dr. Katie Spalding

Freelance Writer

Katie has a PhD in maths, specializing in the intersection of dynamical systems and number theory.

Freelance Writer


To be fair, we can see where the confusion came from. Image credit: DiveIvanov/

A strange cluster of lights has been spotted this week in live footage from the International Space Station, prompting a flurry of excitement in online ufology circles.


But don’t get too excited: social media quickly found an explanation for the eerie array, and it’s more “meaty” than “ET”. Despite enthusiasm from some netizens of the r/UFOs subreddit, the video probably doesn’t show proof of alien life – just proof of calamari.


“This has been definitively solved,” r/tyrannosnorlax wrote in an update to their original post. “… squid fishing lights are the most plausible explanation, by far.”

Now, it’s possible this is still proof of alien life – squids are very strange animals after all – but the leading theory of cephalopod evolution is notably not extraterrestrial. In fact, an almost identical sight can be seen in a photo taken by the crew of the Expedition 37 mission in October 2013 and uploaded by the NASA Earth Observatory.

The blue lights in the middle are fishing boats luring squid to the surface. At the bottom, we see the greenish lights of the Japan, and at the top, the orangey lights preferred in Korea. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory

“[S]everal distinct colors of electric light are visible in this image of the Tsushima Strait, the shallow body of water that separates southern Japan and South Korea.” explained Adam Voiland for the Observatory. “The fishermen are likely luring Todarodes pacificus—a species known as the Japanese flying squid—to the surface with bright xenon bulbs.”

Images like these first started popping up in the late 1970s, when scientists first started compiling images of the Earth at night. Although they may look strange and unearthly at first glance, they’re regularly used by governments across the world to monitor fishing activity in their waters. They also offer ocean scientists valuable information about natural marine phenomena: for instance, NASA oceanographers have found that ocean eddies formed by churning vortices and back-currents in the water can sometimes be located by the lights of fishing boats.

Scientists can measure chlorophyll concentrations (left) by nighttime ocean lighting (right). Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Once the squiddy explanation had been offered, the rest of the footage made much more sense.

“In the second post I made, you can see more fishing lights in the bottom right at the beginning, and many city lights through the rest of the video,” r/tyrannosnorlax clarified. “The artifacts that look like stars are a result of high gain that the ISS camera uses in low light, combined with radiation from space, from what I understand.”

And if that isn’t convincing enough for you, they offered another tidbit that really puts the whole “the truth is out there” idea to rest: the footage doesn’t actually show anything “out there”.

“This ISS feed doesn’t, in fact, ever face out towards space,” wrote snorlax. “It’s a convincing optical illusion though, for sure.”


As much as people might like the idea of Life being Out There, so far it seems to be pretty firmly Down Here: just like shadows, kites, and, um, the Google Maps logo, these “UFOs” are neither U nor F. But despite the disappointment, r/tyrannosnorlax has taken an admirably scientific approach to the whole thing.

“[P]ositively IDing UFOs should always be the goal, so explainable lights/phenomena can be ruled out when looking at truly compelling examples,” they commented. “Jumping to ET conclusions only hurts the ability for the UFO/UAP community to be taken seriously.”


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