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Walking on the Moon

A daylight meteor - or not?


The Admiral
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My wife, our son and his wife, noticed a light coloured object moving at a steep angle in the Eastern sky this morning, moving towards the ground, when it went behind some trees. This was from the Cotswolds between about 7am and 8am. Our son says he saw it again about between 9am and 10am.

I wouldn't have expected to be able to see a meteor in daylight (or perhaps dawn), but given this report of a similar object over Clifton I guess it's possible, though may be space junk.

https://westbridgfordwire.com/object-seen-in-the-sky-over-clifton/

Has anyone heard of today's event or have seen any reports of today's sighting?

Ian

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It's possible. There were 3 events reported between 7-8 AM:

07:05

07:07

07:28

It may be that the first two are the same event.

While daylight meteors do occur all the time obviously they are harder to spot, and it requires the meteor to be at least around -4 magnitude (a fireball), but fireballs are probably a lot more common that most people suspect, in my experience at least - there are probably one or two visible from the UK every night on average, providing it's clear, and you can probably double that for the estimate of fireballs visible every 24 hrs.

That said, often people mistake high altitude aircraft/contrails for slow moving meteors around dawn/dusk. Here's a recent example, and the link you posted also shows a sun-lit contrail. The give away is that they are usually long lasting events, but meteors don't often last more than a few seconds, with the vast majority lasting under a second. Occasionally a large event will last 15+ seconds, but these long lasting events are exceptionally rare. Also, you can often see that there are dual-contrails, which is almost always a sign of an aircraft, although large meteors can sometimes break up and create multiple trails, but again, this is very unusual to see, so without further evidence it can usually be put down to an aircraft.

A reentry can be very slow and long lasting, crossing the sky in perhaps 90+ seconds. Similar rate of travel to a high altitude commercial jet. Very slow meteors can sometimes travel at similar speeds across the sky, so it's not always easy to separate the cause using speed alone, but in many cases a reentry will show obvious fragmentation. However, so can a slow meteor! Generally reentries draw a lot of attention since they are long lasting, so while we can't rule it out at this stage, out of the 2 most likely possibilities it is probably the least likely. The other big difference between objects entering the atmosphere and aircraft is the range of visibility. Meteors (natural or artificial) usually occur between 10-120 km altitude, while aircraft are only a few km altitude, so a bright meteor/fireball can be observed from many 100's of km away, while an aircraft is visible for 10's of km, so it's usually the case, if an event is not widely seen, that it is probably not a meteor.

That leaves aircraft as the most likely possibility IMHO, with a natural meteor being slightly less likely, but certainly a real possibility given that there are reports from around the time. If you want to narrow it down, check where the air corridors are - it should be fairly easy to rule out (or confirm) aircraft as a potential case.

In future, if you encounter similar again I'd suggest to start counting, so you get a rough idea how long the event lasted, and if possible, get some footage/pics on a phone/check the exact time. Ideally, I'd recommend setting up dedicated cameras to record such events, but that becomes difficult when the sky starts to get bright. I usually pack up my own cameras between 6.30-7.00, although I could in theory keep running, but I'm usually ready for bed by then!

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36 minutes ago, Leo S said:

There were 3 events reported between 7-8 AM

Thanks for detailing all this. When you say 'reported', by whom and to whom?

Do you really think the object in the photo in the newspaper article is a contrail?

Of course, I didn't observe it myself, unfortunately. I'm going by what my family were saying.

Ian

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Looks particularly plane like to me.

Too slow to be a meteor and a bit slow for space junk too.

The last couple of days have been particularly good for short but bright contrails. 

An exact timing and geographical info would likely enable the aircraft to be identified.

Edit to add. My guess without more info would be Emirates EK2504 climbing east from Birmingham around 07:10 :)

Screenshot_20230122_214759_Flightradar24.thumb.jpg.17a272cc7cb229cff3a894db4acc36c0.jpg

Edited by Paul M
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1 hour ago, The Admiral said:

Thanks for detailing all this. When you say 'reported', by whom and to whom?

Do you really think the object in the photo in the newspaper article is a contrail?

Of course, I didn't observe it myself, unfortunately. I'm going by what my family were saying.

Ian

Ian,

The IMO collates reports from the general public via local organizations such as UKMON here in the UK, and makes them available on a public database.

The photo in the newspaper definitely looks a lot more like a contrail than a trail from a meteor/fireball. I've looked at hundreds of individual fireball events over the last couple of decades, and also many cases where con-trails were mistakenly identified as meteor trains. This classic case from 2003 springs to mind - it was later decided that it was likely a contrail. While the trails caused by very large events can look a bit "billowy" and cloud like (Chelyabinsk being a great example - see image "D" here) most trains start off straight but quickly distort and loop around to look something like the example here.

But apart from that, the fact that each of these events has only been reported by a single person is a red flag. If there were a large high altitude (this is important) event, it should be visible over a very wide area, and you'd expect at least a few unrelated/geographically separated reports. So a single report from a person or group, has to be taken with a pinch of salt, especially if the witness/witnesses have no/little previous experience. As mentioned, it is a very common mistake to make, and I come across it all the time - that link I posted previously was posted in the last few days for example, and I'm sure I'll come across similar again multiple times before the year is out.

Leo

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Thanks for that detailed reply Leo. I've no axe to grind here, I'm only going on 3rd party information. In fact, the other morning I was looking out of the window at the dawn sky and noticed how distant contrails could be mistaken for something else. When I suggested that to my wife she was not convinced, but then, she is not familiar with how meteors look. It was our son who found the newspaper article through the wonders of the internet. He did have a look at FlightRadarat the time but said he couldn't see anything it might have been, but I don't know over what distance he was checking. I'm not sure whether FR covers all military flights either.

Ian

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A thought on contrails. I see quite a lot from home, having a good view west.
When I saw a low trail, moving very slowly I used to wonder how far away it was.
Timing from first view to overhead and estimating 500mph for civil airliners I realised I was frequently seeing aircraft over Manchester/Liverpool.
With help of Flight Radar for identification I realise have seen bright contrails from aircraft at about 160Km.

I have also seen smoke loops persisting for a couple of minutes courtesy of the Red Arrows practicing.
Checking my location against their location, this was from about 40KM.

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I'm on the Irish Sea coast of NW England and have followed airliners at altitude arriving from the N Atlantic Tracks overhead to the N. Sea coast heading towards Europe.

The Radar apps make it much easier to identify planes than ever before. Still every bit an anorak pass time as stargazing!🤣

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On 23/01/2023 at 08:02, The Admiral said:

Thanks for that detailed reply Leo. I've no axe to grind here, I'm only going on 3rd party information. In fact, the other morning I was looking out of the window at the dawn sky and noticed how distant contrails could be mistaken for something else. When I suggested that to my wife she was not convinced, but then, she is not familiar with how meteors look. It was our son who found the newspaper article through the wonders of the internet. He did have a look at FlightRadarat the time but said he couldn't see anything it might have been, but I don't know over what distance he was checking. I'm not sure whether FR covers all military flights either.

Ian

You're very welcome Ian. The mind is a strange thing. As humans we are incredibly good at recognizing patterns, even when they are not there... so it is a double edged sword. The other problem, at least in my own experience, is that we often incorrectly assume because we know a little, we know it all. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, as they say. What I mean here is, it's easy to assume because you've seen aircraft a few times, that you know how they will look all the time. In reality, what you see can vary dramatically depending on the conditions present at the time. Every so often, the right conditions come together and something that normally looks "mundane" now has people wondering what they just saw.

WP3C7682_cl.thumb.jpg.73466abbe7c846aeb7bfabbfecd80335.jpg

In the above example, I believe Sun, con-trail, and camera/observer must all line up perfectly for the phenomena to be visible - quite a rare occurrence in my experience, but I finally managed to capture this example in 2017 or 2018 (unfortunately with only a 180mm lens to hand so I had to crop to 100% if I recall).

Aircraft are not alone in this. Jame Oberg (an ex-NASA employee) has researched what happens when people see something even less familiar, rocket launches, and it's surprising how people seeing the same event, at the same time, can describe very different recollections. His research very much parallels my own experience with meteors/fireballs over the years.

So there are a few factors at play here that can lead to misidentifications, and UFO reports. In my experience, most (if not all) UFO reports are reports of mundane objects, that people can't identify for any number of reasons.

The real crux of the matter is that, when we observe objects/phenomena in the sky, depending on how familiar you are with that object/phenomena, what you see will be different to what someone else sees, who has a differing viewpoint or familiarity with what they are seeing. What is special about the sky though is that, in the sky your subconscious brain is robbed of the visual cues it normally uses to determine what is going on/what the nature of an object is - for example, our brains get clues about how far an object is if that object passes in front of or behind another object, but in a clear sky there are no such visual cues - an object can be anywhere from 1 mile away to 1 million miles away, and in certain cases it would not be possible for an observer to tell the difference between the two.

In a situation like this (lacking in visual cues), the subconscious HAS to "fill the gap" so to speak, or the alarm bells/klaxons start ringing (your subconscious can't make sense of the input it's getting). Your subconscious will be doing cart wheels now, trying to fill the blank/s, and it tends to do this from experience. Ie. what you see is influenced by your own past life experience. Unfortunately, in many cases what the subconscious picks to fill the gap can lead to more confusion. Your subconscious might decide for example that because an object is bright, it is close, but this is not necessarily always true, which is why I often hear people erroneously saying that "the fireball was close", when we know it was far away, but the brightness takes many by surprise!

So while no one in your family thought it was a UFO or missile (you should be proud of them for that), some of the above are more extreme examples of what may be going on in a case like yours. I think we can all see why someone might mistake a con-trail for a big meteor - the two do share some similarities. Anyway it is a fascinating topic, and I could go on, but this has already turned into quite a long post.

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On 23/01/2023 at 11:48, Carbon Brush said:

A thought on contrails. I see quite a lot from home, having a good view west.
When I saw a low trail, moving very slowly I used to wonder how far away it was.
Timing from first view to overhead and estimating 500mph for civil airliners I realised I was frequently seeing aircraft over Manchester/Liverpool.
With help of Flight Radar for identification I realise have seen bright contrails from aircraft at about 160Km.

I have also seen smoke loops persisting for a couple of minutes courtesy of the Red Arrows practicing.
Checking my location against their location, this was from about 40KM.

Thanks for putting some numbers on the distances involved. 160 km is further than I expected I have to admit, but still fairly close when compared with fireball magnitude meteors which are often observed at distances of 600 km, and in extreme cases I'm fairly sure it can be more. Of course this is mainly due to to the extreme brightness of fireballs, which can easily exceeded the brightness of a full Moon, and a train from a bright meteor would not be as bright/visible.

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I think another example of our inability to measure distance in the sky comes from aurora observation.

Until a little over 100 years ago, the common knowledge in Norway was that you should not go climbing mountains in winter.
Not because you would die of exposure, get buried in snow, etc. But because the fiery lights in the sky, just over the mountain tops, would burn you.
These people had front row seats for auroral displays for their entire lives. They had to be right.

Thanks to Birkland and his teams in the early 1900s, the actual situation, huge electric currents 100 or so miles up, was realised.

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