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Rogue Satellite?


Rich1980
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Hi everyone, 

We were out last night on meteor watch and saw what we assumed was another satellite, must've seen thousands over the years but after around 15 seconds of a normal consistent path it began to what I can only describe as 'wobble' and slow down transitting the sky. I've never seen anything like it before though. Anybody any serious suggestions on it?

Location was South West of York and time being around 1am.

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2 hours ago, Astro Noodles said:

Hi Rich

I have noticed this phenomenon a couple of times now. I wonder if it is something to do with spatial orientation, or something vision related.

Were you using a telescope or binoculars or just eyes?

 

 

Eyes only last night. We sat there for a while trying to come up with a theory but absolutely nothing came to mind. Interesting to see though, I wonder how common it may be? To be honest I rarely track a satellite for more than a few seconds but will do from now on. 

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Not many suggestions..................

But I will make an obvious suggestion - it does not sound like a satellite. Satellites can appear to slow down as they head towards the horizon due to the effect of perspective, but wobbling is not something they do. Must have been something else.

On 13/08/2021 at 15:59, Rich1980 said:

We sat there for a while.......................

If more that one person saw the same behavior, it would argue against a visual misperception (which might affected one person but would be unlikely to affect two or more) suggesting that the unusual movement was due to the object and not the observer.

No idea what it could have been though, but interesting as you say.

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There are some double and triple satellite close formations, Ive not viewed them myself, but could they swap places as they come in and out of view, perhaps glinting/flashing differently ?

NOSS is one set to google but there are several others. (eg. the Chinese Yogan/JianBing)

Edited by Malpi12
added Yogan/JianBing
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Worth considering every possibility!

10 hours ago, Rich1980 said:

Could passing behind some faint cloud maybe alter the appearance of its path? 

Well, this is a possibility - was there cloud about you noticed?  A similar phenomenon can be seen with flaring satellites, those that increase in brightness and then fade away to nothing. I have seen a few where the initial flare is followed by a couple or three much fainter ones, and when this happens the feint ones do not seem to be in line with the first brighter one. This I guess is down to the lack of obvious visual background references which leads the brain/eye to see a difference in trajectory. With a pair of binos you can see a perfectly well behaved satellite going in a straight line - so a clear case of misperception. The same might have happened in your case if you lost sight of it momentarily and then tried to align the old trajectory with the new one you were observing. For 3 to see the same thing however is peculiar, but then again the three of you might not have seen exactly the same thing, just something similar - maybe?

I did wonder if an accidental fuel leak could have caused the effect, but I suspect it is unlikely as any movement sufficiently violent to be seen from earth would be catastrophic for something in Earth orbit - maybe someone else knows a bit more about this. Satellites can obviously be shifted to different orbits, but this has to be done via gentle nudges into intersecting transfer orbits, and this would not be apparent from down here.

8 hours ago, Malpi12 said:

NOSS is one set to google but there are several others

I am not 100% up on these sneaky beakies, but I think the positional accuracy data they supply relies on them maintaining precise station relative to each other, rather like a GPS network - again maybe someone can comment more authoritatively on this.

The number of people who have seen something similar to you is not trivial - many of them amateur astronomers, and what you saw seems to be another example of 'satellites' behaving badly.

 

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One thing is certain; if its actual speed varied as it transited your sky then it wasn't in orbit. Change of orbital velocity would require the firing of thrusters or rockets and those burns would be significant events. Of course, approaching LEO objects have more radial motion than when they are abeam, when most of their motion is angular. So for example ISS seems to move slowly as it "rises" then  faster as it gets closer and passes through its apex then apparently slows as it goes off into the distance.

Significant lateral motion of satellites is effectively unheard of and would also require huge energy input. Supply vessels to ISS have to be inserted into the exact same plane as ISS. And manoeuvre only in relative altitude to dock with ISS. Its very counter intuitive!

Effectively the only thing an orbiting body can do is accelerate to a higher orbit or decelerate to lower orbit or reentry. Both take time and would be imperceptible to the casual observer.

So my guess is that this object was in the atmosphere in powered flight.

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On 13/08/2021 at 13:16, Rich1980 said:

Hi everyone, 

We were out last night on meteor watch and saw what we assumed was another satellite, must've seen thousands over the years but after around 15 seconds of a normal consistent path it began to what I can only describe as 'wobble' and slow down transitting the sky. I've never seen anything like it before though. Anybody any serious suggestions on it?

Location was South West of York and time being around 1am.

It could have been an optical illusion caused by the changes in air temperature - an example here showing a 'wobbly' space station transiting the sun:  ISS Wobble

Edited by Shimrod
corrected link
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There was never enough cloud that you couldn't see stars behind it but I wouldn't say it was crystal clear. 

If I'd have thought it was an aircraft at such height I'd also question the behaviour of the flightpath, it just didn't appear normal for either. 

The iss wobble link doesn't seem to be complete sadly. 

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.....................of course an aircraft would show other lights - usually red/green navigation lights or occasionally blinking white strobes, as well have having engine noise - so whatever it was was either reflecting sunlight but this would mean great hight such as above the atmosphere, it was self illuminated or just had one light that could be seen from all directions. Landing lights only illuminate ahead of an aircraft, not behind. 

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8 hours ago, Rich1980 said:

There was never enough cloud that you couldn't see stars behind it but I wouldn't say it was crystal clear. 

If I'd have thought it was an aircraft at such height I'd also question the behaviour of the flightpath, it just didn't appear normal for either. 

The iss wobble link doesn't seem to be complete sadly. 

I have updated the link in the original post, and also here

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Not having seen this sort of 'wobbly object', I can only comment on possible factors, as an outsider.

On aircraft. Yes we all expect a smooth straight line flight as passengers. No wobbles or bumps.
A civil aircraft will keep to this sort of path. Further it will display navigation lights (wingtips, tail, nose) as a minimum.
Though they may also display strobe lights. Most of us have suffered a combination of steady and intermittent lights on long exposure photos.
A civil aircraft is therefore usually recognisable at night.
For those especially interested, take an approximate direction and accurate time.
On return indoors, consult Flightradar24 or similar.

On civil aircraft lighting, colours and viewing angles are of course strictly specified. Unlike dazzling car headlights!
From certain directions a bright landing light (if left on) may drown out the red & green wingtip lights.
The aircraft orientation to the observer may mean the usual or expected light configuration is not seen.

On the question of engine noise. There are two things to consider.

First is the speed of sound vs light. In a clear sky, the sound will appear to originate from a point a long way behind the aircraft.
Sounds travels about 1KM in 3 sec. Yes I know it depends on air density, temperature, etc. etc. but this is a rough figure.
If an aircraft is vertically above you at 35000ft (a cruise altitude) that is about 10KM.
In this case the engine noise, if audible, is from a place 30 seconds behind the aircraft.
The noise ahead of an aircraft in the cruise is far less than from behind, so an approaching aircraft may be inaudible.
If an aircraft is at 10Km altitude, and 10deg above the horizon, it is 50Km away. Definitely inaudible.

Second, the upper air winds may cause the sound to be lost to the ground observer.
While we notice engine noise more at night, when it is quiet, apparently silent powered flight 😕 is there.
An upper air wind blowing across the flight path will ensure someone a few KM up the road has a better chance of hearing the engines.
Any turbulence may disperse the sound to it is not noticed by anyone.

A visual 'wobble' can be induced by air temperature differences or air masses mixing.
We all recognise the shimmer around hot objects and know the problems of viewing over a roof line. It happens in general.
Manufacturers of goto mounts (should) know that steady air refraction results in about a 0.5deg (moon diameter) error in viewing angle from zenith to horizon.
Not all take this into account!

However, air generally is not uniform. Any changes in air density will give rise to refraction, or apparent object movement.
At low level, there are thermals caused by uneven heating of ground objects.
Any light aircraft pilot will tell you about the problems of approaching an airfield with different crops or field colours on final approach.
At higher altitude, particularly in the region of clouds or hills there are temperature differences and up/down draughts. 
Glider pilots are very good at identifying these places to stay aloft. Optically they are bad places due to the refraction changes.

Just my two pennorth,

David.
 

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12 hours ago, Shimrod said:

I have updated the link in the original post, and also here

Thanks for that, now I would say that gif is very similar to the behaviour witnessed but a little intrigued given the temperature at night. Feel we may be on the right lines though. 

As a side not there were plenty more satellites that night that weren't affected. 

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OP (and others_, i have also seen something like this. a LONG time ago, maybe 20  years ago. From my parents garden in London.  I had seen a few satellites before (so i knew what they looked like)  and one night when i was out with my crappy telescope, i saw something similar to what the OP described.  i have never been able to explain it.

To be honest, i never tell anyone because it sounds so odd. Im not one that believes aliens are visiting us, so, even now i haven't leaped to that explanation,  but i have never ever figured out what it was.  In fact, to be more honest, although it was similar to what the OP  said, my sighting was much more detailed in terms of movement and slowing down and speeding up and since drones hadn't been invented yet and no plane can move like that...ALIENS! joking...but still, its a mystery that has stayed with me and that ill never forget. 

Id say you are lucky t have seen something cool in the sky mate. 

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High flying birds like geese may reflect light and appear like a satellite.

Not saying it was a bird but it may explain a wobbly path and slow or speed up.

Never seen a satellite do anything unexpected and have seen the usual flares, blinking and going into eclipse.
I have seen large birds at vary heights when imaging and surprising how many fly at night.

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1 hour ago, wxsatuser said:

High flying birds like geese may reflect light and appear like a satellite.

Not saying it was a bird but it may explain a wobbly path and slow or speed up.

Never seen a satellite do anything unexpected and have seen the usual flares, blinking and going into eclipse.
I have seen large birds at vary heights when imaging and surprising how many fly at night.

To be honest, that's something I never thought of and although it seems unlikely to me, it's more likely than anything else ive ever come up with

My sighting was very rythmic in speed an position changes which I guess a bird could do, although I've never seen that (no that that means much).

I'd be interested to hear what the OP thinks of this theory.

It clearly wasn't satellites or planes, I'm sure there is an explanation.

 

Thanks for your input.

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4 hours ago, MKHACHFE said:

To be honest, that's something I never thought of and although it seems unlikely to me, it's more likely than anything else ive ever come up with

My sighting was very rythmic in speed an position changes which I guess a bird could do, although I've never seen that (no that that means much).

I'd be interested to hear what the OP thinks of this theory.

It clearly wasn't satellites or planes, I'm sure there is an explanation.

 

Thanks for your input.

The other thing that springs to mind is weather balloons - they would demonstrate all the characteristics described above as wind speeds and directions change.

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16 hours ago, MKHACHFE said:

To be honest, that's something I never thought of and although it seems unlikely to me, it's more likely than anything else ive ever come up with

My sighting was very rythmic in speed an position changes which I guess a bird could do, although I've never seen that (no that that means much).

I'd be interested to hear what the OP thinks of this theory.

It clearly wasn't satellites or planes, I'm sure there is an explanation.

 

Thanks for your input.

My main doubt of a bird is how is it reflecting light around 1am?

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