Sunday, June 7, 2015

Investigation report - Townsville, Queensland - 29 May 2015

INVESTIGATION REPORT - Townsville, Queensland - 29 May 2015

Compiled by Keith Basterfield.


On the evening of 29 May 2015, I was contacted by a resident of Townsville, who emailed me that she and her daughter had been watching lights circling in the clouds for about 20 minutes just before she emailed me. The lights were first noticed at about 1825hrs on 29 May and last seen at about 1845hrs. There were three white, oval/circular lights moving around the clouds. There was no associated noise. The female resident took five photographs of these lights which she emailed me that night.

The photographs show a night scene, with house and street lights visible. In four of the photographs there is a very bright light source to the top of the images. The clouds are between this light source and the street lights. It is possible to faintly see some lights on the clouds.

I emailed the witness back and asked some questions. These, together with the witness' responses are listed below:

Q1. In four of the photographs is the very bright circular lights source at the top of the photographs, the Moon?
A1. Yes it is.
Q2. What was the weather like at the time?
A2. Wind was still. Few patchy clouds around.
Q3. How did the lights move?
A4. Sometimes at random, sometimes clockwise pattern.

Further information:

1. Location - is latitude 19.26 degrees south. Longitude is 146.82 degrees east.

2. Weather - obtained from the Bureau of meteorology for Townsville airport at 1830hrs that night was:

Temp. 24.3C; Dew point 19 C; 72% relative humidity; Wind from the east at 22km/hr;  Pressure 1019.0hPa. Rain since 9am 0mm.

3. The Moon was at 51 degrees elevation. Azimuth 74% 82% illuminated.

4. I submitted an electronic letter to the editor of the Townsville Bulletin newspaper; and also submitted a post to the blog of the same paper, asking for anyone else who may have seen these lights, to contact me. No one did.


1. At first viewing of the images, and a check with Google Earth, I found that the lights were seen in the direction of the Townsville airport. Unfortunately, the WebTrak aircraft tracking website indicates no coverage for Townsville.

2. The location of the Moon as determined from an astronomical website, confirms the witness' statement that the very bright light source in the photograph is the Moon.

3. As the lights were in fact seen in the direction of the Townsville airport, and as the Bureau of Meteorology has a base at the airport, I initially thought about the possibility that the lights were from the BOM's ceilometer, which uses beams of light to measure cloud heights. Further investigation; plus the fact that there were three lights seen, plus the duration of 20 minutes led me away from suggesting this as an explanation.

4. However, the witness' description and the images on the photographs are strongly suggestive of searchlight beams, visible on the clouds. I have seen identical lights, circling in various patterns, on clouds, in Adelaide.  Upon investigation they turned out on one occasion to be advertising a new night club in the city 20 kilometres away. On another occasion they were advertising a new model of car. I recall similar observations from both Melbourne and Sydney.

5. For transparency, I must add that although I conducted an Internet search for an event which may have been using searchlights in Townsville that night, I was unable to find any such event.


I obtained the witness' consent to publish her observation, and use her photographs in this report. I have advised her of the report's conclusion.


The most likely cause of the observations are searchlights.

1 comment:

  1. A bit off topic, I envy people who live in areas where they don't get light pollution. Makes it so much easier to bring the camera out of storage and get a proper shot of the sky, and whatever lurks in it!


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