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Ceph and Cass

A report of the June Scutids


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A friend of mine who lives in a very dark area of northern France described a strange event in the night sky.

He is not an astronomer but has done Astro with me and is familiar with the constellations and compass points. In other words he can describe where he was looking.

At the new moon 2am he and his partner saw odd shooting stars that seemed to be more like small camera flashes every ten to twenty seconds in the sky. They saw about fifteen to twenty in total all in the same area of sky.

My gut feeling is that they were seeing shooting stars hitting us head on. The only meteor shower that is a candidate is the June Scutids.

Oddly the info I can found out about the source of this shower is an asteroid! Up until now I assumed that all meteor sources were from Comets.

Any further info from anyone who knows anymore would be most appreciated.

Marvin

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Possibly Starlink  flaring ?  although the flashes doesn't sound like satellite flares. 

The Quadrantids and Geminids meteor showers, are thought to originate from Asteroids.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Generally speaking point meteors are observed during very high meteor rates (storms - >1000 ZHR) in any numbers as they are fairly rare, although I have caught them occasionally during more normal annual meteor shower peaks. If you were seeing multiple point meteors, then you would definitely be seeing plenty of normal meteors!

A much more likely cause is an artificial object in orbit, as scotty suggests, however most operational satellites (starlinks included) are not rotating, but just gently changing their angle with the observer/Sun as they orbit in a gradual way that produces relatively long lived flares. What your friend is describing sounds much more like a fast rotating object (or even objects) which results in short lived flashes or glints. This is typical of space junk, which can be rotating fast in/on multiple axis. Sometimes it'll just flash once or twice, but I occasionally observe objects that have complex flash patterns with many individuals flashes. They are certainly becoming more common as the level of junk increases.

Here is a little compilation I put together of random flashes/glints, which my cameras caught over recent nights this month. Although my cameras are capable of recording stars down to at least +7 mag. (when I point up and crank up the ISO), these shots are with the ISO relatively low, so you are seeing more or less what the human eye would see, and the second flash would probably have been at least as bright as Venus. I recommend downloading the footage so you can play around with it more easily (slow it down etc).

Satellite Glints Compilation

In contrast to the above footage, here is footage of a wildly glinting object (suggesting it's junk) which the camera caught pointing up, and at high ISO (80000), so these glints would likely be hard to observe visually unless in a very dark sky situation. I'm in a Bortle 6 sky (surrounded by fields, but not far from the city) so I can get away with a camera capturing footage at high ISO if pointed up, just about!

Space junk

I don't bother to formally identify every object I observe (it happens so often, and I have plenty to be getting on with), but I have done so in the past. Software like Stellarium can be used to track objects (including junk - requires manually loading specific TLEs that can be found on the inteweb), but it makes life much easier if you can get footage or images with a fast 20-50mm (full frame equivalent) lens.

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Interesting topic this and something that visual observers see and cataloge as odd.
So intereting to its poetential and knowing what space debris looks like as it burns up.

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9 hours ago, Marvin Jenkins said:

Thank you very much for the extremely detailed reply.  I will look at everything you have written, and the links.

I must agree with you from your observations it was not a meteor shower.

Marvin

You're welcome Marvin.

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9 hours ago, Alan White said:

Interesting topic this and something that visual observers see and cataloge as odd.
So intereting to its poetential and knowing what space debris looks like as it burns up.

I actually came on here to reply to a similar thread I saw here a couple of weeks back, but couldn't find it, so posted a reply here instead. If anyone knows the thread I mean, please post a link. It is a topic I see mentioned with increasing frequency on various forums, so perhaps now is a good time to share what I have learned, and hopefully settle a few mysteries that have had people scratching their heads.

A word of caution though, there is no "burning" going on here. This is purely down to sunlight being reflected back to our eyes/cameras from highly reflective surfaces on the objects that are in orbit. That said, most junk does re-enter our atmosphere sooner or later, but even then it does not "burn up". There is simply not enough oxygen to support combustion up there. Instead, the light we see from a reentering object, much like a natural meteor, is due to the processes of ablation and ionization. I could talk for hours on the subjects of spectral emissions and the plasma trains created from objects entering the atmosphere at hyper-velocity, but it's unfortunately getting a bit off topic here!

I did actually catch what I believe to be an artificial reentry a few weeks back, but it was a bit too far (over France) to be very impressive!

 

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Almost forgot to add, there is another characteristic of the type of light involved that can help to determine the cause in such cases. A reflection/glint from an object in orbit has very limited visibility to observers on the ground. A few km in either direction, and the brightness drops of dramatically. Think of a signaling mirror used to attract attention in an emergency - the reflected beam of light is fairly narrow, almost laser like.  A meteor on the other hand emits light in all directions, meaning bright meteors can be observed from many hundreds of km away potentially.

Here in the UK we have the UKMON network of cameras designed to record natural meteors, but the cameras also catch satellite flares/glints all the time (at least a few times on a clear night), and you can browse through the latest images if you go here and click on the "meteors live" link at the top of the page. The glints usually look like a short line that goes through the middle of a large dot, and will usually only be caught on one or perhaps two cameras, where as meteors tend to be caught on many cameras. The UK currently has the most monitored sky in the world so it's not hard to check if what you saw was a meteor since very few are missed (still a few parts of the UK could do with more cameras) if the sky is mostly clear. You can find the analysis for every confirmed meteor here. At this stage all artificial events have been filtered out.

While that's not much help to the OP (Perhaps the nearest equivalent French network, FRIPON , may be of some use, but I have yet to look into it), it can help those of us in the UK.

Before I forget, there is another related phenomena that is also becoming more frequent, and a few of us on here caught an example a couple of months back, although I still don't think there is a definitive answer as to what exactly caused it: Fuel dumps and launches

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