UFO Seen in Cape Town, South Africa
The mysterious image of the UFO, caught by Google Earth.

Does the surge in UFO "sightings" being reported since the start of the New Year have anything to do with 2012 doomsday predictions?

According to meteorologists based in New Zealand, the phenomenon is the result of the "2012 hysteria" sparked by predictions that the world is coming to an end this year.

WeatherWatch.co.nz has seen a dramatic rise in the number of eyewitness reports of meteors, lights and other strange phenomena in the sky. Most of them centred around mysterious objects moving around in the sky. The weather information firm received 80 such reports from across the world in a span of just 24 hours. Such claims are still flooding in at the rate of about 10 an hour, WeatherWatch.co.nz has said.

Experts at the firm believe that most of these people have seen meteors, or shooting stars, Chinese lanterns and some normal aircraft such as helicopter or a plane. But the fear psychosis triggered by the end of the world in 2012 theory must have prompted them to believe that they are witnessing a strange, mysterious phenomenon.

Sightings of "UFOs" and "floating orbs" have been reported from different locations such as New Zealand's Otago Peninsula, the UK, the U.S., Cape Town, Venezuela, Mexico and Russia over the last few days.

"Many people around the world have been outside celebrating the New Year. In the U.S., where most of the sightings came from, conditions were fairly mild and dry in many areas - so more people were outside to see things. Finally, it's 2012, the year the world is supposed to end according to the Mayans and it seems many are already worrying," said Philip Duncan, an analyst at WeatherWatch.co.nz.

Some of the comments made by people who claimed to have seen strange objects have been listed on the firm's website. "We were shocked to find that not only have these orbs been seen over the last couple of years, but that they have also been seen all over the world within the last few nights!," wrote Laura B, California.

Nikki B, from Arizona, wrote: "how can we see it here in Arizona and people in Africa and Australia are seeing the same thing? 2012 vibration is freakin me out already! ...I know the news will have some "reasonable and logical explanation" but i'm not buying it!."

Another account by Susana, who wrote from an unknown location, read: "yesterday around 1230 or 1245 there were some red brownish lights first i saw one of them and kind of got my attention and of the sudden there were a BUNCH of them i couldnt count them but i can say there were around 30 lights UFO'S OR CANDLE LIGHTS who knows all i know i saw those lights and were beautiful. Are we ready for the 2012? are we enough educated not to panic?"

There was a similar story from Spain posted by an unnamed reader: "My father and I saw them in Spain at 00:45 am, but there were 5 or 6 of them all in a vertical line quite close to the earth....I have no answer to all these questions that we are all asking ourselfs and when I think I have an answer it just leads to more questions, so all I have to say is, WE ARE NOT ALONE!"

A couple of ancient relics of the Mexican sect of Mayans predicted that the world is coming to an end by the end of 2012. Another related theory is centred around Nibiru or Planet X which was said to have been discovered by the Sumerians. The proponents of this theory believe that the brown dwarf is headed toward the Earth and will hit the planet sometime in 2012 causing widespread destruction.

But Nasa has discarded all the doomsday predictions. "Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than four billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012," Nasa said.

The agency has also added that Nibiru and other stories about wayward planets are an internet hoax. "There are no planetary alignments in the next few decades, Earth will not cross the galactic plane in 2012, and even if these alignments were to occur, their effects on the Earth would be negligible," Nasa said.