A perfectly reasonable couple saw a Christmastime UFO in the skies over Whidbey Island last week.
Evidence suggests that the unidentified object was likely not an ungulate-drawn sled driven by the fat man of wintertime lore. The timing was wrong, the color was wrong and no jingling bells were heard.
“I immediately thought about Santa, but it’s too early,” Christine Laing, a resident of the Sierra neighborhood off West Beach, said with a laugh.
Of course, there’s no telling what the elves may have been up to.
Laing explained that she was walking her lively dog, Lenny, at about 9 o’clock Monday night when something in the southern sky caught her eye. An extremely bright, orangish-yellow light appeared to be coming closer and closer. It was roundish with wavy, blurred edges.
“It was such a weird shape and such an odd color,” she said.
The light loomed larger and larger above her, but there was no sound. She said it was the brightest thing in the sky except for the moon, which was nearly full. It stopped moving and appeared to hover like a bright, orange, shimmering ball.
Excited, Laing ran into her house to get her husband, John. When she returned outside with him, she found that the light had moved to a different part of the sky in the short time she was away. As they watched, it seemed to move away at an amazing speed until it was just a dot and finally disappeared.
“It was something I could not identify and it was a flying object,” Laing said, “so I guess it was an unidentified flying object.”
She said her husband, a former physicist, also had no clue as to what it could have been. Lenny was too busy smelling stuff to notice.
Laing said she spoke to neighbors, but nobody was looking outside at the time.
The Laings are not alone in reporting UFOs over the island this year. In March, a South Whidbey man and a Marysville woman reported seeing a number of mysterious orange lights. Their descriptions were similar to what Laing reported, except they saw multiple objects.
In September, a woman camping with her husband at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station reported seeing a white light similar to a satellite that suddenly made “impossible maneuvers” in the night sky.
The National UFO Reporting Center has a long list of sightings in Western Washington, many of which are described as orange orbs. The most recent report on the list was from Whidbey; a witness claimed to have seen six orange objects on the south part of the island, Dec. 11. A Dec. 8 report from Port Orchard closely resembles Laing’s observations.
No aircraft from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station was in the area Monday night, according to Tony Popp, a public information officer.
“Nothing was reported or observed by air traffic control personnel,” he said.
The International Space Station was likely visible from Whidbey at that time, which was a mostly clear night. The online space station tracker shows that it would have been directly above the north end of Marysville at 9 p.m.
Yet NASA’s description of the space station doesn’t match very well with what Laing reported seeing.
“The space station looks like a fast-moving plane in the sky, but it will be seen as a steady – not blinking – white pinpoint of light,” according to NASA’s website. “Typically it will be the brightest object in the night sky (except for the moon). It is bright enough that it can even be seen from the middle of a city!”
Dan Pullen, president of the Island County Astronomical Society, said none of the members reported seeing anything unusual. He said there’s a lot of fascinating things to see in the heavens this time of year, including planets that are visible with low-powered telescopes or even the naked eye.
He’s seen a lot of wonderful things in the skies — including objects he couldn’t immediately identify — but no flying saucers or reindeer.
“The most amazing thing I’ve seen is a meteor entering the atmosphere and breaking into five or six pieces,” he said. “It started out green and turned to red.”
Pullen said he doesn’t know what the Laings might have seen, but he’s certain about what it was not.
“It was not an alien space craft,” he said. “I don’t believe aliens have ever landed here.”
The North Pole did not return a call for comment.