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British media are carrying a wonderfully Fortean news story about a school-girl sighting (and videoing) a ‘UFO’ composed simply of a large black ring (see image above).

A schoolgirl was stunned when when she looked into the sky to see an enormous unexplained black ring. Georgina Heap, 16, was playing tennis with mum Jo when she was stopped in her tracks by the fascinating sight.

Gazing into the sky, the pair saw a clearly defined black circle which looked like a giant smoke ring. The UFO remained there for around three minutes before it disappeared completely.

Georgina, who is studying for her GCSEs, said: “I looked up at it and thought, ‘what the hell?’, it was amazing. It was just floating there like a cloud and then it disappeared. It wasn’t birds either. There were about ten of us who stopped what we were doing and watched. It is the weirdest thing I have ever seen.”

The spectacle, which appeared near Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, on Friday evening, has stumped officials.

The ‘UFO’ has a wonderfully spooky look to it, but what is it? British UFO commentator Nick Pope is quoted in the Huffington Post as saying it might be a swarm of insects – and is definitely not smoke – although I’m not sure what evidence he’s basing his conclusions on.

Over at Who Forted, Chris Savia points out that ‘black ring’ sightings such as this are actually not so rare, and has posted a similar image sighted in the skies above Texas in 2013 shortly after a transformer caught fire, an eye-witness account from 2003 that suggests a black ring formed after a lightning strike, and the video below from Chicago in 2012:

Skeptical news site Doubtful News offers a more detailed explanation: these ‘black ring UFOs’ are actually well-documented IFOs, being properly known as ‘vortex rings‘, which “are often remnants of explosions”:

In most instances, the rings are formed by air mixed with smoke or steam that is forced out of a (relatively) small circular or cylindrical opening (this can be a chimney, the barrel of a canon, or a vent in a volcano crater). Because of the drag of the surface of the opening, the air expelled from the centre will move faster than the air exiting the opening near the edge. The air from the sides is sucked in, and a circular motion is created. In this way, a doughnut-shaped vortex is formed, just like a smoke ring that is blown from a smoker’s lips. The ring-shape is maintained due to the rotational motion of the air flowing in the vortex ring.

In short: it’s a smoke ring, like some cigarette smokers blow occasionally, just on a larger scale.

Update: A likely source of the smoke ring has been identified. Via the BBC:

A Warwick Castle spokesman said they had been testing “fire effects” to go with the daily firing of the Trebuchet Fireball – a giant catapult. “We’ve seen a number of different effects, including the vortex images that have been reported,” the spokesman said. “As yet we don’t know what causes the phenomenon but it’s certainly a spooky spectacle.”

News Link: Schoolgirl takes picture of ‘black ring’ UFO

Link: Who Forted: Big Black Ring Spotted Over Britain

Link: Doubtful News: What is the Black Ring of Leamington Spa? A vortex ring