It’s perhaps a philosophical question for some — are humans the only form of life in the universe?

For the layman, maybe it’s a more direct question — are aliens real?

People may joke about the existence of aliens, while others truly believe they do, in fact, exist. It’s a debate that does not have a definitive answer. Harvard professor Avi Loeb went on record stating aliens do exist and stated they passed by Earth in 2017, according to several published articles, including one in the “Scientific American.”

The mystery has not escaped the Brainerd lakes area.

White lights were seen during the early morning hours Sunday, May 9, dashing across the dark sky over the area, causing at least one local resident to ponder the philosophical question once again. The white lights that flew in the sky may have been, and certainly met the definition of, a UFO — an unidentified flying object. Or, most likely, they may have been low-flying satellites launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX as part of its Starlink internet service.

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According to CNN, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has deployed about a 1,000 Starlink satellites that will provide high-speed broadband internet service to billions of people around the world. The satellites whiz around Earth at more than 17,000 mph as they beam the internet to high-tech antennas mounted on people’s houses. This project’s mission is to reach people in rural areas who have problems accessing high-speed internet.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the satellites at different times, with the last one launched May 8. Callers swamped TV stations from Texas to Wisconsin reporting the lights and musing about UFOs, according to one TV station in Philadelphia.

The lights caused a bit of a stir May 8-9 in the Brainerd area. A Facebook community group called “Actual Community Happenings” featured a post entry that read, “Big line of lights in the sky above Merrifield. I guess they’re satellites, but that’s what they want you to think,” with an alien emoji included. A few comments under the post included ones that said, “China also has a out of control rocket falling back to earth;” “‘.. it really worked!!! Thanks to everybody involved in the car horn event, our alien ancestors have come upon us to gift us with their knowledge” to a few stating it was the Starlink satellites.

Brainerd resident Russ Anderson had a different experience. He was on his way to work just before 5 a.m. May 9 when he saw a white flying object in the night sky. He stopped to film it around the intersection of Red Pine Road and Two Mile Road, just east of Brainerd.

Anderson guessed the object passed him going about 30-40 mph traveling about 200-500 yards to his north and about 1,000 feet above the forest canopy. Anderson described the object as disc shaped with a dark border around it and it was the size of a competitive pool. Anderson believes the object is a UFO, as it also hovered from side to side while changing direction and elevation before disappearing into thin air.

“I saw it with my own two eyes and clearly in the video there was no rocket momentum or any other explainable propulsion being used for a craft that big to only go as slow as it did and behave the way it did,” Anderson said. “It was too close and personal for me to pretend my eyes didn’t see what I saw and my phone captures enough to keep me believing my testimony is real and unexplainable by current aerospace activity.”

Anderson called the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport and Camp Ripley and staff at both reported no aerial activity at that time from their data in the lakes area. Anderson said he also reached out to a pilot friend, who also could not explain how the aircraft was able to stay adrift without enormous amounts of energy expulsion and noise.

Steve Wright, Brainerd airport manager, could not verify what the white object was that Anderson spoke to him about. Wright said he can only speak facts and wasn’t going to speculate. Wright did confirm that there was no aerial activity in the lakes area during that timeframe Anderson provided him.

This is a screenshot of Russ Anderson's video he took May 9 of what he believes is an unidentified object. Screenshot / Jennifer Kraus
This is a screenshot of Russ Anderson's video he took May 9 of what he believes is an unidentified object. Screenshot / Jennifer Kraus

David Kobilka, a geoscience instructor at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, 100% agreed with Anderson. After watching his video of the white object, his final analysis was it most definitely is a UFO.

“I don’t know and I can’t say with any kind of certainty what it might have been that he saw,” Kobilka said. “This person (Anderson) kept saying in the video, UFO ... and that’s us being human. It’s not saying it’s an alien spacecraft ... and if he is implying that it's an unidentified flying object he’s absolutely right. That’s what it is and that’s what it remains to be and that shall be what it remains to be forever, as we’ll never really know for sure.

“If anyone who sees this video and thinks it’s an alien spacecraft, I can say they're probably unequivocally absolutely wrong. There's no evidence for that ever happening on Earth. And moreover, it's just the human tendency to see something and automatically think, ‘Oh, I see this thing. I don't know what it is, therefore, it must be something extraordinary.’ But there's this saying in science that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. ... This (white object in the sky) could be something between extraordinary to all the many, many things in between ... but this video is not evidence of something extraordinary.”

At the same time, Kobilka said the white object in Anderson’s video could possibly be one of the Starlink satellites. He said the Starlink satellites are popular and people can look up on its website at findstarlink.com/ to see where they currently are. Kobilka wasn’t able to go back to see if they were over the Brainerd area this past weekend, as it only allows people to go back so far.

“These satellites have a very distinctive appearance, so it may very well be what this person saw,” Kobilka said. “However, in the larger context beyond that, this person judging by the audio of his running commentary, he seemed very astonished. ... These satellites show up at times of day typically when the sun is set on Earth, but the sun is not set on the satellite in question.”

Planetarium Director Brian Wallace at Forestview Middle School in Baxter said there is no question in his mind that the white lights in Anderson’s video were the Starlink satellites.

“I’m not exactly sure when the exact launch date happened, but he was probably seeing them on their first or second spin around the Earth,” Wallace said as the white lights were close together and not spread out. “You have to be in the right place and the right time to see any satellites ... and once they spread out then they won’t be as condensed, won’t be as close.

“It’s nothing of any alien source for sure, but it’s pretty coincidental that he was able to capture that on one of the first trips around, that would be pretty cool to see, actually.”

Wallace said the Starlink satellites are controversial as they mess with photographers' light exposure while they are taking pictures of the night sky.

Capt. Andy Galles of the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office said the sheriff’s office did not get any calls regarding the white lights in the sky. However, his children saw them at his home. Galles said his children yelled, “‘Dad, there’s aliens out here,’ and I was like ‘Yeah right.’ Then I go out there and there's this constant string of symmetrical, linear lines of lights going across the sky ... and I’m like ‘Oh, the aliens are here,’” he said with a laugh.

Galles right away did some research and learned they were the Starlink satellites.

After watching Anderson’s video, Galles believes those lights were also the satellites.

Anderson’s story in more detail

Anderson was on his way to work that morning, driving west into Brainerd. When he saw the white light object in the sky, he knew he had to stop his car and videotape it.

“As I was videotaping, I noticed that this thing came from a very great height, and then it descended towards me, and then it crossed the road, and then came onto the north side of the road,” Anderson said. “In the video you can't see it, but this thing's actually actively dropping elevation, and then coming towards me and getting bigger.”

Anderson encourages people to look at the video on a larger screen instead of their smartphones to give them a better view of the object.

“You can actually see the borders of the aircraft as ... it gets perpendicular to my vantage point when it's running directly north of me,” Anderson said. “And then as it moves farther east and north of me you can start to see, like I said, a border to it and then that disappears once it starts to go into, like what I refer to as stealth mode ... it completely vanished from thin air. You can also see the rotating revolving mechanism. I was able to clearly see this about five times when you blow up the image. ... It's a little fuzzy but you will see the gradient of dark revolve around it. Just these little details make it more compelling.”

Anderson said as it hovered over him, he could see the aircraft was flat, almost like what people see “in the movies of a UFO, or a disk,” he said.

“It definitely was not a plane, it wasn't a satellite, it wasn't a blimp. There was no wind, it was completely quiet. There was no propulsion that I could see it just hovered in past me and ... there's a revolving mechanism that goes around it multiple times, causing the lights to flicker.

When asked if he was scared or nervous when he was taking the video, Anderson said, “Yes because I was so vulnerable. I was the only car on the road all the way to town and surrounded by trees on both sides and this thing was hovering over me.”

Anderson said he was never one to believe in UFOs, but said after this sighting, it tells him there is some technology out there that hasn’t been explained to the people yet.

Anderson said if he didn’t have the video of the UFO sighting, he never would have said anything about it.

“This was like straight out of a sci-fi movie. ... It was crazy,” he said.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at jennifer.kraus@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.