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What is it that I am seeing?


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Hi, I'm new to the board, but I'm a long time sky observer and physicist by education. I also have a background in astronomy and aerospace engineering so I generally know what I am looking at. I spend a couple of hours every month observing the night sky with the ole Mark I Eyeballs. I can see 6 of the 7 Sisters so my vision isn't horrible. Over the years I have seen some pretty cool stuff, but lately I've become aware of something I can't explain and fortunately a few nights ago I got a perfect observation of it.

I have periodically noticed flashes of light in my peripheral vision and when I turn to look I see what appears to be a dim fading star for maybe a split second. I just assumed these were meteors headed right at me so they appeared as a point and were gone before I really could see them. BUT, this all changed the other night. I was out for about 2 hours with cold, crisp clear skies. I was laying in a deck chair with my gaze fixed in one direction. I saw 3 satellites and numerous aircraft. Then suddenly a bright light appeared directly in the center of my vision nearish the star Sirius and the light was easily brighter than Sirius, brighter even than Venus at its fullest. It was clearly much larger in apparent size as well. It lasted for at most 2 seconds and then faded over the next 2 seconds, very briefly appearing as a dark, almost rust red color before disappearing entirely. This light did not move at all, so I cannot accept that it was a shooting star, even headed right at me.  

So, what can produce a bright light that fades that quickly without appearing to move at all? I would think if I saw an exploding star that it would last longer than that.

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We may never know! I had something similar, no apparent lateral movement, just  a flash ( NOT Iridium !)  with that feeling that you are the target, heading your way,  as you describe! 

There is a similar thread on SGL, regarding the same, I`ll have to check whereabouts?

here........http://stargazerslounge.com/topic/224181-what-did-i-see/

Edited by Charic
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Was absolutely NOT a satellite flare, I have seen many of those before. Whatever it was it had 0 relative motion to all nearby stars. My first thought was actually that I had witnessed two asteroids collide, but that has to be an infrequent event.

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We see something, but what,  who knows?  unless someone else is there  to verify what you BOTH just saw, then expectedly there are many humorous answers on the various websites. Its possibly just  small particles, heading your way (appear to be) but burn out on entry. I don't suppose everything that travels towards Earth has to follow a specific trajectory. 

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Well there's one way to determine if it may be a satellite giving a flare - which can give the impression of having no motion against the starfield through a visual parallax-error:

http://sourceforge.net/projects/previsat/

This being a very good satellite-tracking software-program. It's free to download and use.

Clear Skies & Great Unknowns,

Dave

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Here in the UK, I used to carry out observations of Iridium flares with my wife on a regular basis, she seemed to have a fascination for them  :smiley:. But there was always the odd occasion, when some bright flares seemed to have no movement after they reached full brightness, which we found rather strange, but put it down to trajectory :)

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I've done some further reading and still no answer that satisfies me. That distinct red color as it faded made me think it could have been a luminous red nova, but those should be visible for a long duration. I cannot accept a satellite flare as an explanation, I have seen a dozen such flares and tracked several dozen satellites over recent years and I know too well exactly what they look like. My head was in a fixed position while laying down and I had nearby reference stars, this flash was not moving. It gave every impression of a powerful explosion deep in space. Is there any group that maintains a wide-field, visible light, night time observing system... maybe one designed to catch meteors, but might coincidentally record events like this?

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I saw exactly the same basic phenomena from a dark site in Berkshire, on the 24th of November 2013, at 1821GMT. There was a sudden, intense point of light, brighter than Venus, near Pi Herculis. It lasted 5 seconds, maybe, before turning reddish and fading. There was no apparent movement during that time, but after the flare had subsided I could still see a faint, reddish-brown point of light that did drift off to the south, before turning brown and vanishing.

My instant reaction had been 'aircraft with landing lights on coming directly at me', but the lack of navigation lights and growing brightness made me realise it wasn't that. It was startling, and it wasn't like any flare I'd seen before - but I am happy that it was a satellite. I could see it drift off at a speed I associate with satellites, and the 'turning red' as it passes through sunset was another hint.

That's not to say that what you saw wasn't something else, but your description could've been lifted from my log book, and I'm sure that it was a satellite of some form. I couldn't find anything that might match it on Heavens Above, though. Not Iridium, nor nothing else predicted.

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I saw that myself at 22:15 on 3rd December just before I was anally probed.

Going purely on your report of such a bright light, could it have been the International Space Station seen perhaps for just seconds?  The intensity certainly seems to fit but it's normally visible for many seconds or a minute or two.  

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Techno, that explanation at least makes sense for the color. But, I've never observed a satellite that didn't appear to be hauling ass the instant I saw it. I can see how if maybe the satellite was near the horizon it might temporarily appear to be stationary, but this object was around 45 degrees above the horizon. I had seen 3 very dim satellites earlier that night and I would expect I could have seen this one dimly after it 'flared' and moved along. I will file this away as a likely satellite, but with strong reservations.

BTW, I was just looking at old photos I took of the little castle in Reading, it was a nice area to visit.

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