Ufologists believe a moon-like orb seen shimmering in the skies above the city of Hull in 1801 is the first sighting of a UFO. Eyewitnesses saw "an immense moon with a black bar across it" at midnight on 19 June 1801, which hovered over the Humber. Mike Covell, a historian and author, found press articles about the orb when researching old newspapers from 200 years ago.

"It seemed then to form itself into seven small distinct moons or globes of fire which disappeared for the space of a few seconds," according to a report in the Northampton Mercury on Saturday 11 July 1801. "Its reappearance was equally brilliant, at first showing itself like the face of the moon, afterwards in five circular balls, and lastly like several small stars which gradually faded away, leaving the whole atmosphere brilliantly illuminated."

Another report in The Chester Chronicle of Friday, 17 July 1801, said: "During the time of it being visible, a faint blue light fell upon the surrounding objects, like that of distant torches."

Covell has collected a large source of UFO clippings, dating back to the 19th century. "This looked more like a Death Star. It bathed the entire city in blue light, which must have been terrifying," he told the Express. "It is the oldest sighting we have managed to track down so far."

Centre of the UFO universe

Hull has been at the centre of UFO activity and the search for alien life for many years. An unidentified flying object spotted over east Hull and Hedon by two police officers was among some UFO documents released by The National Archives.

The 25 files, which contain 4,400 pages, include details of a lit object seen by Humberside Police officers in 2002. A Humberside Police report dated 17 October 2002, documents how officers saw an object which "appeared as the size of a 'normal' bright star but of different colours – blue, green, red and white".

The object "appeared to move fast and then stop – it stopped and started on a couple of occasions and repeatedly changed its colour/shape, fading and also becoming brighter at times", the report says in the Hull Daily Mail.

The lights were visible to the naked eye for around 45 minutes, just before 3am from several locations in the Hedon area from a police vehicle.