How to identify a Chinese Lantern

How to identify a Chinese Lantern

posted in Guides on by with 13 Replies

I’ve had an interest in UFO’s for a long time now, I try to analyse every sighting video or photo I find, trying to figure out what the hell it is. I’m always eager and excited at the prospect of something otherworldly or truly unexplainable, but I’m usually left disappointed. One major source of disappointment over the last couple of years, is a flood of a very consistent type of sighting, of eerie orange orbs floating over cities across the UK, and the rest of the world.  These orb sightings are something quite mundane 99.9% of the time, and seem to take up a similar percentage of the amount of sightings reported (at least in the UK). These sightings are usually Chinese lanterns, also known as Sky lanterns. The sheer amount of these trash sightings makes it ever more difficult to find that gem of a sighting that could actually be something interesting.

I’ve seen several of these Chinese lanterns, even in my remote little town, and have even released some myself to further explore the visual traits that give away these lights as something quite identifiable. But regardless of their quite distinctive nature, a lot of people still aren’t familiar with how they look, and so think they are seeing something quite extraordinary. Here’s a quick run-down of the primary features that give away these objects are entirely identifiable phenomenon. These points are what I use as my personal identification checklist, and serve as the basis for the questions I tend to ask someone who has reported having seen a strange orb floating through the sky.

Was it following the wind direction?
This is the first thing to check for, as these lanterns always follow the wind direction. This can be deceptive however, as the wind speed can vary higher up in the sky compared to where the observer is on the ground. So regardless of how much faster or slower the object seems to be going compared to your estimate of the wind speed, if the object is going in the same direction as the wind, it’s likely a floating terrestrial object.

Did it maintain a consistent path?
Because they are essentially primitive hot air balloons, these lanterns don’t have any way to change path other than following the whims of the wind. Unless it was particularly stormy, or you live in a region prone to erratic gusts, they should have a consistent path through the sky. The area I live in, for example, is a coastal town with pretty strong and erratic wind, and I’ve seen Chinese lanterns released into the sky here when it was windy, that looked like they were being pushed and pulled about the sky erratically.

Was it orange* in colouration?
* Orange is by far the most popular colour, however the lanterns can be bought with a paper shell of any colour. So while I include it here because of the popularity of this particular colour, the object not being orange has little bearing on whether it was a Chinese Lantern or not.

Was it an orb* shape?
* Slightly elongated Orbs are by far the most popular shape, however the lanterns can be bought in many geometric shapes. So again, I include it here purely because of how much more common an orb shape is, the object not having been an orb does not rule Chinese Lanterns out.

Did it stay a consistent colour and shape?
The colour and shape of each individual lantern could not change mid-flight.

Did it flicker or pulsate?
Because of the naked flame within the lantern, they will nearly always flicker, may seem to slightly pulsate from a distance. The further away the lantern is from you, the more difficult it’ll be to notice this trait.

Was it entirely silent?
Because these are non-powered floating lights, there is no engine or moving parts to generate sound.  Someone would have to attach an electronic device with some pretty powerful speakers to be noticeably heard from a distance.

Were there more than one?
These lanterns are usually bought in large packs, and several may be released, usually one at a time, and may form a straight or staggered line in the sky. The distance apart could vary dramatically depending on how quickly each one is lit and released.

Did it eventually fade and disappear?
After a while, the flame inside the lantern will start to burn out, and the source of light will fade and then disappear. The light may even start to fall to the ground as the light fights. The further you are from the lantern, the more sudden this will seem.

After going through the above list, you should hopefully have a good idea of what you would expect from a Chinese Lantern, and will know what to look out for should you see a Chinese Lantern in the sky.

13 Comments on “How to identify a Chinese Lantern

  • Ok I need some help. Yesterday evening (6-27-11) I was sitting outside on my deck when I saw an object in the sky that I have never seen before. As it was approaching, it just looked like a bright amber light with absolutely no sound. It was on a steady course…..looked as if it was flying as straight and consistent as airplane. As it passed directly over my property, it appeared to be projecting a red beam of light that appeared square above the amber light. It continued on a steady course until it was out of my sight. I have heard of no one else that saw it. I had never heard of a chinese lantern before last night when I was trying to figure out what I saw. I could not tell how large the object was but it appeared to be too high to be a chinese lantern. It was still very visible and I just don’t see how something that small could still appear to be as large as this did. Any help would be appreciated! Mike

    • Brian McGillivray Post author

      Hi Mike,

      The description of a bright amber light with no sound, straight consistent path, certainly fits the criteria for a Chinese Lantern. Could you clarify what you mean by the red beam of light? This sounds abnormal for a Chinese Lantern, but I’d like to hear further clarification of this point to be sure.

      How high the lantern may have been can be fairly variable, they can climb to a considerable height given the right conditions. How large did this light appear to be?, could you compare the size of the object/light in the sky (from memory) to the size of your fist with your arm outstretched, was it larger than or smaller than your fist? If much smaller than your fist, could you compare it to the size of your thumb?

  • I had an interesting encounter with something that I think may have been a Chinese Lantern….but I have not seen any videos of CL’s that look exactly like it. The reason I believe it may have been a CL is because of the color (and because I’m a bit of a skeptic)….none the less some parts of what I saw just didn’t fit what I have seen of CL’s so I thought that perhaps someone with more experience with different types of CL’s could tell me if it’s possible what I saw. It was a very bright reddish orange light….and it flew straight up….then stopped and moved directly over my position at a much faster rate than it had ascended. It was very close, and I could see it quite well….but what didn’t seem to fit what I know of CL’s is that there when it flew overhead there was a very visible black shape that the light was attached to. I thought perhaps it may have been a large black trash bag with a flame under it? Still though the black shape was not illuminated at all, and the orange light was bright as the black shape was black. The shape of the black area appeared to be roughly circular…perhaps a bit more flattened than a perfect circle, and also it may have been a bit more angular….like how a geodesic dome can be circular, and yet angled… but that is just speculation, as I could not make out the shape of the black part well enough to tell… seemed a bit rougher than a perfect circle is all I could say for sure. It flew directly overhead and the bright orange light underneath was perfectly visible from all angles….yet it was bright enough to blot out the black shape when it was a bit farther away….Still I’d say the black shape was at least as large as the bright orange light, and actually appeared a bit larger….In all of the CL videos I’ve seen the lantern itself is illuminated from within from the orange flame….this object was a very bright orange/red light attached to a very dark black ’round’ shape above it. Does a Chinese Lantern make sense for that description?

    • Brian McGillivray Post author

      That’s an interesting encounter, I’m curious though, how large was this object in the sky? if you could compare to the size of your fist with your arm outstretched, or if much smaller than that, compare to the size of your thumb outstretched.

      How was the wind at the time? Was there erratic gusts that could explain the movement of the object? or was it calm? One of the tell-tale signs of any floating object, is how they follow the wind direction. From what you describe though, it sounds like it could be more of a controlled object.

      What I mean by controlled object, is things like remote control helicopters, one of these with a light attached could potentially describe what you saw, they don’t tend to be very high up in the sky, and likewise would be fairly close to your position before you’d notice them (and as they are likely close to you, they would appear larger in the night sky). The reason that a remote control helicopter came to mind, was your description of it taking longer to ascend than to move horizontally, this is very true of remote control helicopters, as it takes more effort to ascend, than to maintain it’s elevation while tilting to move horizontally.

      • Thanks for your reply…I can see what you mean about how the flying characteristics match a remote controlled helicopter….but unfortunately I don’t think anything else of my sighting fits that scenario…While I know it’s fairly easy to misidentify the size of something flying overhead, this seemed quite a bit larger than a remote controlled helicopter. I’d say that as it flew directly over my head it was about half the size of my fist….perhaps closer to 3/4 the size…It seemed to appear about the size of a helicopter flying low to the ground. Also the light was really, really bright..And keeping in mind it was still daylight out,I’d have a hard time seeing a light that shown that brilliantly in the day (or even at night to be honest) on a remote controlled helicopter….When I first saw it I thought it might be a searchlight of a real helicopter….but as it flew overhead it was quite clearly a solid black round shape…while I couldn’t make out the details perfectly I am quite certain it was a fat round ball shape….perhaps even something like a geodesic dome, which doesn’t seem to match a remote controlled helicopter. The only skeptical explanation I can come up with, is that perhaps it was a large black garbage bag balloon, made by taping multiple bags together…..However I’ve looked these up online and so far the ones I’ve found look nothing like what I saw….Most of them are much longer, rather than being a ball….and the flame part is no where near the level of brightness of what I saw.

        • Brian McGillivray Post author

          I admit, yours is an unusual sighting, not one easily classified or identified. A flame based light would definitely not be that bright in daylight, to be that bright, it would have at least be a high lumen bulb like those found in Surefire (and similar) torches, which are common for Police/Military purposes.

          The amount of light needed to shine brightly in daylight, combined with the unusual shape, means we’re approaching intentional hoax territory or a sighting of some new craft.

          Saying that, since we’re approaching unusual territory, it might be worth mentioning that some police forces (USA & UK) are testing small surveillance drones, using similar technology to remote control helicopters, a prototype machine along these lines could theoretically produce a sighting of your description, have a look at these articles to see what I mean.

          If you look at the example drones in those articles, you can see some potential similarilities to what you’ve described.

          • Very interesting idea….I suppose that is always a possibility. I do believe man made objects are more likely than something alien for UFO sightings….I think that if aliens are here watching us (which is of course…at the very least a possibility) then they’d have the technology to stay hidden and we’d never see them. After all if they can travel light years (which seems a necessity since our solar system doesn’t harbor any apparent life as far as we can tell) then it seems likely they would have camouflage technology far in advance of ours…
            I suppose it could be a drone of some sort…though I don’t live in a large city, so I kind of have my doubts they’d be testing something like that here…but you never know.

    • Brian McGillivray Post author

      The video in that article is pretty terrible, a dot against a black background with no context for size or movement. The description in the text, could still be lanterns, or drones, which are now getting extremely common also.

  • A few months ago I was sitting on my couch in living room around 9pm I’m always looking out window from couch as there are helicopters that circle due to crime, stolen vehicles etc. we live in a nice neighborhood but city has a high rate of stolen vehicles. From a distance I saw something red in the sky my first thought a Chinese Lantern, by the time I went to the front door this thing was across the street just above the tree line the thing was huge. Looked like fire orange, red and white but constantly turning inside it reminded me of that anti matter nuclear thing that was in the movie Angels and Demons. The thing was huge and just hung all the while the inside was moving and turning. I stepped off porch to walkway to get closer and this thing started to move so I ran inside to grab my phone to get a photo but I had to go out the back door figuring I could get a quick photo. I would say less than five seconds it took to get to the backyard this thing was just a small white orb looking thing 2-3 miles away and I noticed another white looking orb flying erratically near that one.

    • Brian McGillivray Post author

      Quite a few US states have been using Camera Drones (the same type hobbyists use to record cool videos from the air) to perform aerial surveillance much in the same way they would use helicopters. Because the Drones are near silent by comparison, it doesn’t give the criminals a loud audio cue to avoid stealing the cars when the police are watching. This seems like a likely cause, since you mentioned that helicopters are frequent, and vehicle theft is a common issue there.

      It’s also worth noting that lights can seem pretty big from afar at night, but be emitted by a relatively small source. Flame from afar can seem huge compared to it’s actual size, same with other light sources.

  • Can you check this video out for me? This was Saturday 24th of 2021. Madisonville, KY. Wind conditions weren’t bad, not much wind at all. The light was bright orange and almost perfectly round, no flickering, no fading, etc. It seemed to move pretty fast in a steady direction, almost like it was on a path. No noise. Seemed to move West to East.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.