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What did I see?

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1 minute ago, saac said:

Sounds like you saw a satellite or small meteor then breaking up. I still wouldn't rule out aircraft as the most obvious, senses are readily tricked especially at night and with relative motion. Like you say, pretty inconclusive as these things tend to be,  but good job spotting it. 


Yes, it was just luck that I was looking at M81and M82 at the time. Usually this time of year I’m the looking the other way towards Cygnus and Hercules. I doubt there will be a definitive answer and will remain a mystery I guess, but great to have seen something so unusual.

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I think the first consideration in these types of cases has to be, can we even trust our own eyes? Unfortunately, when we observe objects in the sky, these are just the RIGHT conditions for our eyes to play tricks on us. Here is a classic example from Ex NASA employee turned UFO investigator James Oberg.

In this case, as in many, there is no way to say for sure if the object was 5, 50, or even 50,000000 km away, although the most lightly possibility is that it was towards the closer end of the scale - ie in our atmosphere since most transient phenomena that are observed in the sky occur there.

To me, a series of small flashes over a 10 second timescale sounds a lot like the series of flashes a piece of space junk (in orbit) might produce. If we ignore the "smoke", which might have been the eyes playing tricks, this seems the most likely explanation to me. On the other hand it might have been something much closer - perhaps someone messing with RC aircraft/drones/balloons. There are many possibilities as people do odd things sometimes, and there are plenty off off the shelf options these days to launch your own "new phenomena" in to the sky that is sure to confuse others.

Reentries or meteors can probably be ruled out if there was no tail/tails visible. If it was one of those, then it almost certainly would have been picked up by at least a few of the 200+ cameras that operate as part of the UKMON network. My own cameras (pointed SE and SW, so they effectively cover the whole of the south including the atmosphere above Ashurst Wood) were also running at the time, and I was monitoring the images from UKMON all night, but can't remember there being much going. Unfortunately my own footage from that night is deleted. I usually delete all footage the following clear night unless there is a reason not to.

It also sounds a little like a nebulous meteor, which can be fairly dim, but would likely have been picked up by various cameras, although if it was one, it may well have been overlooked.


Edited by Leo S
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