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Strange flashes in the night Sky


AJS84
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If this is the wrong place for this topic I apologize. But hopefully this isn't the wrong site for such a topic as this. I google search forums that are fairly active and this seemed like the best one. I didn't want to ask this on a UFO website where every single person said it was Aliens. What I'm seeing I'm sure has a good explanation but as of right now, I'm stumped. I stargaze a lot. Amateur astronomy is my #1 hobby. So I'm not just some random person who has no clue about Astronomy, see's a weird flash out of the corner of their eye and automatically assume it was the Mothership taking off at warp speed.

I first saw a strange flash about 2 years ago. Was looking for random meteors when all of a sudden this speck of light, just like a star, formed out of black sky, reached a magnitude of about -2 and quickly went out. Just imagine an Iridium Flare but it's stationary. You don't see it, then when you do it's dim and then quickly gets brighter then back to dim and eventually not visible. From then to now I have seen 3 flashes that has done exactly that.

On to the other flashes. Again black sky, all of sudden it's as if someone in Space has a huge camera flash and flashes it. No warning, no starting out dim. Just a flash and back to black. I have seen this probably 30 times in the past 2 years. These take place between an hour to 3 hours after Sunset. I have seen flashes at times at all hours after Sunset to Sun rise. But not many. Maybe 5 or so.

**Pic included** Another flash is one that was actually moving around 7:00 pm Oct 25, 2014 and I had managed to capture a picture of that on 2 different cameras. I will post that if I can. I saw a flash that was about a magnitude of -4, I quickly looked through the binoculars and I saw a very dim speck, probably a magnitude of 5 or 6 traveling in a straight line towards the South slower than what the ISS appears to be. There was no pattern to the flash. The flashing was at random intervels and random brightness. 1 second between each flash or up to 7 seconds. I watched this object for about 4 minutes until I could no longer see the flashes.

This past Thursday, November 20th at around 7pm I saw flashing that has me totally stumped. I was looking more towards the West when I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head looking above Mars. I figured it was a bright meteor. Then I saw another flash higher up, about a magnitude of -2. It was right near Alpha Capricorni. Raised the binos, looked in the area of the Double Star and saw a flash at Xi2, just right of the Double Stars. Automatically I said "whoa". Then there was another flash but it had not moved. Then another and another. These flashes were a magnitude of about 2. I watched for about a minute. There was about 6 more flash. They had not moved. I went inside to get someone to witness this as well. I didn't want to tell the story without someone else seeing these flashes. So I got my Dad to come out, showed him where to look but I had not told him what to look for. About 6 seconds after looking, "What flashed?". I was glad to hear that. He watched for about 30 seconds. Saw about 4 flashes. He gave me the binoculars back while he went to get his own pair. and I looked again. I saw a flash but this time it had moved to the 10 o'clock position of Xi2. There was 2 more flashes. The next flash it was at the 8 o'clock position. 2 flashes later it was at the 12 o'clock position but further away from the star. The last time I saw it, which was about 8 minutes from the first bright flash that got my attention, there was 2 dull flashes at the 3 o'clock position of the Star. There was no more flashes after that. The first words out of his mouth after the flashing had stopped was, "What the hell was that?". It boggles my mind. I wanted to think rationally but everything that came to mind didn't make sense. A satellite isn't going to dance around like that. Neither will a meteor or space junk. I just have no idea.

These 2 pics are of the moving object that flashed. One with a Canon SX130 IS, the other with a Canon SX 510HS.

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You get occasional flashes from sunlight reflecting off solar panels of (rotating) satellites, although you then also see the (fainter) trail of the satellite. I have seen two "point meteors", i.e. meteors coming straight at the observer. In both cases I could identify  it as such because it was in the radiant point of a shower (the first was a Geminid, the second a Quadrantid).

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You get occasional flashes from sunlight reflecting off solar panels of (rotating) satellites, although you then also see the (fainter) trail of the satellite. I have seen two "point meteors", i.e. meteors coming straight at the observer. In both cases I could identify  it as such because it was in the radiant point of a shower (the first was a Geminid, the second a Quadrantid).

Ahh. I always wondered about meteors coming straight in. I thought about that with the random flashes I have seen but someone told me that all meteors come in at an angle. You wouldn't be able to see one coming straight towards you.

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There are a lot of debris in orbit that can reflect light. I see something like that quite often, and it has increased over the years as space debris and sattelites has increased in numbers. Some flashes can be very bright, and some seems to tumble along, leaving periodic flashes. More on wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_debris

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1. Moving flashes (as in your pictures): +1 for the 'rotating satellite catching the sun' explanation. You can verify by checking satellite predictions for your location from http://www.heavens-above.com/.

2. 'Dancing' lights: not the above then.  How about the usual suspects: military aircraft activity, high altitude weather ballooons? Not very original, I know...

3. On to the other flashes. Again black sky, all of sudden it's as if someone in Space has a huge camera flash and flashes it. No warning, no starting out dim. Just a flash and back to black. I have seen this probably 30 times in the past 2 years. These take place between an hour to 3 hours after Sunset. I have seen flashes at times at all hours after Sunset to Sun rise. But not many. Maybe 5 or so.

So the whole sky becomes light? Distant lightning perhaps or some ground-based lights. I've seen brightening of the sky that I realized after a while was from distant searchlights.

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I find it can be very difficult to judge the position of a tiny pin-point flash of light, and quite often I start off thinking I've seen something odd, only to find that, with careful attention, the flashes (even if they are irregular in frequency) appear to be in a straight line, so I'm happy to conclude they are very high altitude planes or tumbling satellites.

The wider flashes could perhaps be sparking electric trains?  We have rail services round our way that are powered by a third rail, and at the joins there are often very bright flashes.  Close up, they can be spectacular and loud, but from a distance we just see a part of the sky light up.

I've see a few other oddities - and I think I've posted about at least one of them here, a bright "extra star" that appeared for a while, making what would normally be a familiar constellation suddenly look unfamiliar.

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Everytime I 'm out imaging I normally see at least one or two.

Last time there was seven flashes from one satellite traveling near Cassiopeia after the last flash

I could just detect the feint satellite, in my 10x50 bins, travelling north.

Edited by wxsatuser
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I've seen that with tumbling space junk although my allsky cam has picked up some strange flashes which I am not sure of. Its almost like a flash from a firework and only 1 to 2 frames at 30 fps so I put it down to either interference of some kind or point meteor's as already suggested. 

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  • 4 years later...

We just got back from camping up past Mt. Lassen. We stargaze every night. Count satellites, as well as the ultra coveted shooting stars. For the first time in my life I witnessed the lone flash, and I am no "amateur astronomer" like the original post (plenty of astronomy jargon I did not understand) just a person who loves watching the stars.

We kept seeing these "flashes" in the sky. No, the entire sky does not light up. It is more as if you are in a dark football stadium and one person up in the stands takes a picture with flash. The flash will not light up the entire stadium, but you will see the flash, and then darkness. 

I followed the "Flash! Iridium Flares Captured" link, and that was nothing like what we saw. Very beautiful video footage if you follow the link, the satellite light getting so big and bright and then dimming back down. However, not what I witnessed on our camping trip. Just a bright flash, like a very distant camera flash, then darkness...no trail, no dim satellite moseying along, also the bright flash does not move like those in the link. Just a bright flash as if, as someone mentioned, a "shooting star" were coming straight at the observer and not at an angle. 

I did a random Google search and nothing really came up. This forum topic (original post) seems to be exactly what we saw. Based on the responses it seems as though the flashes may just be the debris floating around our planet catching and reflecting light, or a meteor coming straight towards earth, or maybe the collision of the debris? No concrete answer, but it is nice to have an idea of what it might be.

If there is any certain explanation as to what the flashes are, and if anyone reads old thread posts, kindly point me in the right direction please. We were pretty shook. Not really. We just hypothesized they were shooting stars we were seeing burn up in the atmosphere coming at us head on, so no trail or tail. Thank you for your time and for the posts!

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  • 1 month later...

I appreciate this is an old thread, however:  I'm an ex-amateur astronomer, (my hobbies moved on over the decades). I do still spend a small amount of time sky-gazing with my naked eyes. I used to be quite obsessed by Iridium Flare spotting... and additionally spent a few years ticking off as many satellites on the Heavens Above database as I could.  So, I'm reasonably familiar with 'observing stuff' in the night sky.  I too have seen the unmoving pin-prick flashes. For example, tonight I saw 3 flashes, spread over perhaps 2 minutes of time, coming from the same position (I. E. within perhaps one minute of arc), of magnitude 1.  The time was 10.20pm (GMT+1) and skies were clear.  As a previous poster states, these are just like a camera flash going off in a dark stadium. I don't buy the "meteor coming in dead-on" explanation... Primarily because the statistical chance of three coming in like that is vanishingly negligible.  I guess a geo-stationary satellite catching the sun would be a reasonable explanation... But it's odd that I've never seen anything like it before in my 40+yrs (on and off) of sky-watching. 

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I often see these flashes of light, i recorded the time and postion of a flashing object i saw once and with the help of a satellite observer on SeeSat was able to identify it as a satellite

http://www.satobs.org/seesat/seesatindex.html

So i think most of these flashes are just satellites and debris, cool to see and some are quite spectacular!

 

 

Edited by SkyJamie
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So I have just seen this exact same phenomena and to be honest I was a little freaked out. So I googled flashing star like objects and this thread came up.  I see it's an old thread but has recently be posted to.

The flashes me and my partner saw were just as described. But i would add that the flashes were random with no distinct timing pattern. What's more I have seen this twice now this week in the same or similar area of sky. 

We were looking for meteors (with very little luck) and saw a lot of satellites whizzing past. This light flashes around 9 or 10 times in a random pattern and stayed in the same spot for over 2 or 3 minutes. The light then appeared to move slightly and dim with a reddish tinge before disappearing completely.

I do not believe in UFO s as in alien visitation but my God this has got me thinking.  I am trying to find logical explanations but the stationary sattelight doesn't ring true...but then I am no expert. Just trying to figure out that the hell it was we just saw.

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