Recognising balloons in the night sky
Become a Friend of Astronomy Ireland to keep informed of events in your area!
Sky lanterns, or Chinese lanterns, have become a common sight over Irish skies in recent times. These are beachball-sized balloons made of a light paper that are powered by a small flame inside. According to lore, these lanterns were the first hot air balloons. They were first used at the start of the 3rd Century as a type of signalling balloon.
While these lanterns are not astronomical in nature, they are sometimes confused with fireballs (due to their fiery appearance). Fireballs are small rocks and debris from space that will only last a few seconds as they fall through and burn up in the atmosphere. They flare up extremely brightly (some can be seen during the day) and will often leave a trail of smoke or sparks.
If you see a Chinese lantern, enjoy the sight! If, however, you are lucky enough to witness a fireball, please let us know by filling in a fireball report form. If a fireball is large enough to survive the whole way to the ground, accurate reports may allow us to pinpoint where it could have landed.