Jim Montanus stood on a dock at Braddock Bay Marina Wednesday night making long-exposure photographs of a clear dark-blue sky set with twinkling stars being overrun from the west by a dense mass of clouds.
“It was a very dramatic situation with that front coming in. I was all excited about the photo,” said Montanus, an experienced photographer now trying to make a living with his cameras.
When he checked the preview window on his digital SLR to see how the images looked, he was stunned to see something that hadn’t been visible to the naked eye: Two orange objects, shaped like an inverted cone or, if you prefer, a disk with a conical.
“I was looking at these shapes on the back of my cameras and saying what IS it? I don’t believe in UFOs, but, you know, it’s just one of those things. It was just cool.”
Montanus, who lives in Greece, was standing on a dock that juts out into the bay toward the northwest, and the objects were in that direction. The frames in which they appear were recorded at 9:34 pm, he said.
He was shooting 15-second exposures, so his camera recorded images that weren’t easily seen unaided and Montanus thus wasn’t able to detect whether the objects were moving. But at least one of them showed up in different places in several different frames, suggesting movement.
He pulled magnified images from two different frames and superimposed them on one of the shots, and posted the image Thursday morning on Facebook and Twitter, where they are drawing drawing considerable attention.
Most people who have posted their thoughts about the images think they depict meteors. Montanus, though, isn’t convinced. “It didn’t look like a meteor to me. How a meteor would show up on the camera would be like a stream of light. These were weird, bizarre shapes. I said ‘Look at it, it’s got a parachute or something on it.’ If anything looked like a UFO, it would be that.”
Montanus does not think the objects were an artifact created by his camera or lengthy exposure, though he still researching that possibility.
The Democrat and Chronicle has done some fact-checking as well, with no explanation found yet.
- The Monroe County 911 emergency communication center said it had no calls about lights in the sky Wednesday night. The National Weather Service in Buffalo also said it had no record of calls about the aerial phenomenon.
- It is true there has been plenty of meteor activity lately, including one that was seen Sunday by people in the Toronto area. A known shower, the Eta Aquarid, was taking place Wednesday, but in the pre-dawn hours, not just after sunset. And as of 11:30 am Thursday, the American Meteor Society website has no reports of sighting in this part of the country.
- As Montanus noted, both the U.S. and Canadian military engage in training in restricted airspace over Lake Ontario. At times they drop flares, which lakeshore residents sometimes spot from afar. But officials at the Federal Aviation Administration Cleveland air traffic control center who are notified when the U.S. military is planning to use the restricted airspace over Lake Ontario said their log showed no activity Wednesday night.
- The U.S. Coast Guard in Buffalo said that agency was neither training not engaged in any activity Wednesday night that could account for the images Montanus recorded.
Officials with the Canadian air traffic control agency did not respond to a question as to whether the military there might have been responsible for the lights. But as the day wore on Thursday, various other parties came forward with more possible explanations. Lens glare related to the lights on the dock where Montanus stood or some other source, several people said. Chinese lanterns, those paper globes light by candles that rise and float through the air. Light reflecting off a passing airplane or satellite. Light from the surface refracting through the atmosphere.
With his father, Neil, who was a renowned photographer for Eastman Kodak Co., Jim Montanus has set up Montanus Photography, filled with high-quality images, and as he told the Democrat and Chronicle for a story published last month, he is thinking about opening a studio to display his work.
But he never expected to add a photograph of strange lights in the sky to his portfolio. “I was really freaking out when I took it,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”