July 19, 2001 -- -- A set of golden lights hovering silently in the night sky in a "V" formation stopped traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, but were the drivers seeing visitors from outer space or just a set of military flares flaming out?
More than a dozen people, including two Carteret, N.J., police officers, saw the lights last weekend, and several of the witnesses described a sense of serenity that seemed to emanate from the celestial display. The gold lights hovered for awhile, according to the witnesses, and then disappeared.
To some, the description sounded very much like the so-called Phoenix Lights, another V formation that appeared in the sky near Phoenix in March 1997. Like the apparition in New Jersey, the Phoenix lights were caught on videotape.
The formation also matches reports of unexplained lights in the sky from all across the United States, as well as England and Europe.
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said that there were no planned military operations in the area and that air traffic was light at the time of the reported sightings. He also said that no pilots flying in or out of Newark Airport reported seeing anything out of the ordinary.
To Michael Hathorne — who has written several books about UFOs and hosts a program on community television in the Tampa, Fla., area and a weekly Webcast about unexplained sightings — what was seen in New Jersey certainly was extraordinary.
"It's certainly unusual," Hathorne said. "From my experience it sounds like something very anomalous, a true UFO or even an extraterrestrial craft. But of course it could turn out to be something else. Most of them do."
He said that of the more than 1,000 sightings reported to him each year, more than 80 percent turn out to have earthly explanations.
Colm Kelleher of the National Institute of Discovery Science says that from what he's heard, this one fits into that category. He said based on a preliminary investigation, it sounds like the Jersey Lights were a set of military flares.
The same explanation was given for lights seen over Arizona four years ago.
One of the half-dozen witnesses who have spoken to the institute used infrared night-vision glasses with a rangefinder to look at the lights, Kelleher said. He reported that the lights were just 1,800 feet up, which should have been close enough to see the outlines of a vessel, if there was one.
Several witnesses, including the retired military man who used the night-vision equipment, described a kind of flare-out as the lights disappeared. The retired military man also said that he saw smoke after the lights disappeared, according to Kelleher.
"This is early days, though," he added. "We want to talk to more eyewitnesses. This is a work in progress."
What struck several people who study sightings of unexplained lights or objects in the sky was the emotional weight they gave it.
"There is something about it that strikes them deeply," said Michael Mannion, author of Project Mindshift, The Re-education of the American Public Concerning Extraterrestrial Life 1947-Present.
"When people tell about a sighting even 15 years later, that emotion comes through. You don't get that a lot with things that turn out to be mistaken sightings," he said.