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The strange red lights hovering over the Pacific are fishing boats, not aliens

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US pilot Dustin Maggard captured a photo of strange red lights he saw while flying over the Pacific on July 16. Since then, many people have shared the images on social media or left comments claiming the lights are secret military exercises or supernatural phenomena. In reality, the lights came from fishing boats equipped with particularly powerful LED bulbs.

If you only have a minute

  • On July 16, during a flight across the Pacific, pilot Dustin Maggard saw strange red lights glowing beneath the clouds and managed to capture them on camera. Maggard told us colleagues at CNN that he had “never seen anything like it”.
  • Since then, the photos of the pilot have been widely shared on social media. People have all kinds of theories – some say they’re showing supernatural phenomena, while others say it’s an underwater eruption or secret military exercises.
  • We contacted a meteorologist who investigated this. According to her research and that of journalists who specialize in fact-checking, these lights are not supernatural…it turns out they are LED lights used by fishing boats in this part of the North Pacific.

The fact check, in detail

People online have left many comments and many theories – some more serious than others – about the origin of the strange red lights. The captions range from “you’d think we were in Stranger Things” to “there’s no doubt it’s a volcanic eruption” to “it’s a nuclear submarine!”. However, it turns out that these photos, taken by an American pilot on July 16, 2022, have a much simpler explanation.

“A strange phenomenon was observed in the Pacific Ocean by the pilot of a commercial flight at 39,000 feet.  Are they back?
“A strange phenomenon was observed in the Pacific Ocean by the pilot of a commercial flight at 39,000 feet. Are they back?” reads this tweet posted in French on July 17, 2022, including the image taken over the Pacific Ocean. © Observers

One of the people looking at this image was the founder of the Twitter account FAKE Investigation, which specializes in fact-checking, and American meteorologist Neil Jacobs. They all share the same hypothesis: that these red lights come from fishing boats, especially Chinese ones, equipped with LED lights (or light-emitting diodes).

In the northern part of the Pacific Ocean, in Japan for example, lamps are used for: fishing squid, as well as saury, a type of fish.

Meteorologist Neil Jacobs told the FRANCE 24 Observers team:

Traditionally, these ships used high-pressure sodium or metal halide lamps, but these are extremely inefficient and very expensive. They are also limited in what color wavelengths they can emit. These ships use onboard generators to generate electricity, so you can imagine how expensive the fuel costs would be to produce all this light for several hours each night. When LEDs came on the market, they were quickly adapted to this application because they were not only exceptionally efficient, but you can also switch between different light colors. This meant that the ships could simply sail north and change from white to blue at the push of a button [to attract squid] to red light [to attract saury].


These LED lights are so powerful that they caused the sky over Zhoushan city, China, on May 7, 2022. glow red.

These types of fishing boats were indeed operating in the area where Maggard’s plane flew over on July 16. FAKE Investigation and Neil Jacobs verified this using Global Fish Watchan online map that tracks the movements of fishing vessels.

On July 16, Chinese fishing vessels equipped with these LEDs – including the YONG FA 5 and the GUOJI907 – were fishing at coordinates 50N/167E.

“Yesterday, when I was searching for “fishing boat location map”, I came across this site. But the archives of July 15 and 16, 2022 were not yet available online. Now that they are, we can confirm that there are, indeed , fishing boats in this zone on July 16, 2022,” FAKE Investigation posted on Twitter. “According to records, there were seven boats in the zone, which seems like it could match the photos circulating. Here are two examples.”

“So in the end we have big ships equipped with red LEDs that were in the exact location at the time the picture was taken — pretty compelling evidence,” Jacobs said.

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