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  1. #1
    Aeroman08's Avatar
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    Default Strange Bright Light??



    [I originally posted this in another forum, but thought I'd have better luck here]

    Ok, so I was out on my back porch yesterday evening in Dallas, TX (Sunday September 4, 2011) at aprox. 19:55 Central Daylight Time. The sun had just set (sunset was 19:51 local) so there was still a good amount of light out, enough to see a nice glow in the Western horizon.

    Anyway, I looked up (almost straight up) and noticed a bright star-like light in the sky. It was bright enough to seem very bright even though there was still light in the sky. I noticed it wasn't twinkling so my first thought was it might be Venus or some other planet.

    I have an application on my Android phone called Google Sky Map. You can hold it up and it shows you a map of the sky and what you should be looking at. So I brought that up and when I pointed it at the light, there was no planet anywhere near that location, nor was there a bright star. To be sure it was calibrated, I pointed it at the moon, and sure enough, the moon was right where it should be on the application.

    I was out there with my dad and I asked him to look at it just to make sure I wasn't seeing things lol. He saw it too.

    About a minute or so later, I looked back up and it was gone! The light had totally disappeared. Again, my dad confirmed it was gone as well. When we both looked at it, it did not appear to be moving which is why a satellite was never one of our initial thoughts. However, after it disappeared, I began to wonder.

    I tried to figure out what that could possibly have been. It wasn't twinkling, which suggested it wasn't another star or other galactic phenomenon. However, since it couldn't have been a planet, the only other explanation I could come up with was a satellite. I know it wasn't the ISS. I've seen that many times and it only stays in the sky for about a minute as it tracks across the sky, and its movement is obvious. This however, appeared to be still for the whole time I viewed it (aprox. 2 mins).

    Could this have been a geosynchronous satellite? I know geostationary satellites are only over the equator, but geosynchronous satellites, not necessarily. This is the only explanation I could come up with. So I looked into them and I found this:

    "If a geosynchronous satellite's orbit is not exactly aligned with the equator, the orbit is known as an inclined orbit. It will appear (when viewed by someone on the ground) to oscillate daily around a fixed point."

    So, that would suggest (to me, anyway) that it is possible that for the short length of time that it was visible to me, it could have appeared to be stationary. As for it being visible and then disappearing? My only explanation I could come up with was the sun had dropped below the horizon, which means the light was aiming up at it briefly and lit it up, reflecting it brightly. However, after a few minutes, the sun continued to set and stopped illuminating it.

    What do you guys think? Any other explanations? Does my theory sound plausible?


    EDIT:

    Well I saw it again tonight (Monday September 5, 2011). It was at 19:56 Central Daylight Time near Dallas, TX (sunset is 19:50 local). This time it appeared a bit farther South than the previous evening, this time at about 30-40 degrees from the Southern horizon, as opposed to aprox. 80 degrees the night before. It was actually about even with the moon tonight, maybe about 20-25 degrees West of it in the Southern sky.

    Anyway, just as last night, it appeared and disappeared within aprox. 2mins time, if that. Since I was actually looking for it tonight, I paid a little more attention to it and it did appear to maybe be moving slowly North before it disappeared. Again, it was a bright steady light, not twinkling.

    So again, my theory is its a satellite of some sort, maybe a geosynchronous satellite. But another question that comes up is why is it going dark so quick, only after a couple minutes at the most? I was thinking it could be because the Sun is setting, hits it just right, and then continues setting and quits reflecting it toward me. But, at 20:14 tonight, I saw the ISS travel across the sky from the West to the Southeast, and it stayed illuminated the entire path across the sky, at a later time than the bogey object in the sky did. So, why would the ISS stay illuminated the whole time, but this satellite only for a couple minutes? I understand the satellite I'm viewing could be and probably is at a much higher altitude and different angle and inclination to the Sun and Earth compared to the ISS, but would it be enough to cause this dramatic difference?

  2. #2
    VincentMcKenzie's Avatar
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    Default

    You answered your own question...

    If it's visibly moving across the Sky then it's something close to Earth. E.g. a satellite, plane, ISS, etc.

    If it's not visibly moving then it still could be a satellite in geo-sync orbit (one that doesn't move relative to the Earth, such as TV satellites), but could also be a planet or star - which you've ruled out with Google Sky Map.

    Satellites can appear very bright. It was most likely exactly that.
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  4. #3
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    Default

    The timing is a huge clue too. It's bright soon after sundown, and disappears a while later. Watch it again tonight, and keep watching - I bet after a while it'll look like it's burning, then it'll flicker a few times and 'go out' like a fire.

    I've seen something just like that myself, except that it was moving. It was indeed a satellite. What happens is that the sun goes below the horizon, but because the satellite is so high up, from the satellite's position the sun is still in the sky, so the sky is going dark but the satellite is brightly lit up. Then the sun goes down from the satellites position too, and as it goes down you get a sunset, and the sun turns red and starts to shimmer, that's what makes it look like it's on fire. It's fantastic to watch!

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  6. #4
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    Default

    You have identified one reason why different satellites go dark at different times: altitude. Another reason is the orientation of the spacecraft. If the light you see is a reflection off a flat surface, such as a solar panel, a slight rotation will put the reflection out of view. If the satellite is tumbling, its brightness will change.

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  8. #5
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    Default

    I must say that this is one of the best "What was that" reports I've read. Nicely detailed, confirmed, and lots of reasonable possibilities discussed in the OP.

    I'm not going to claim to know with certainty what it was - with the OP noting no evident movement I'm really not certain that it is a satellite.

    I'm wondering if there is an explanation a bit closer to hand? Could there be something like a blimp that has been put up there for surveillance purposes?

    Anyway, I'll happily admit that I don't know what the item was - but I'm getting a bit more excited about the possibility that Elvis is returning!

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  10. #6
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    Default

    If you make a note of the time when the light disappears, maybe it's possible to calculate the altitude? We'd need to know your location, and also the angle of the object in the sky. There's quite a difference in altitude between a blimp and a satellite, so even rough figures from your smartphone might be enough.

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  12. #7
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    Thumbs up

    Have you ruled out a jets on final approach to Love field or DFW? I too see bright (very bright) lights all over the DFW are at night that appear not to be moving for several minutes only to see them eventually make a final turn on approach to one of the airports. Because they are basically flying straight towards you you wouldnt notice any motion and the landing lights are bright enough to overwhelm the dimmer flashing wing lights. Try catching it with binoculars if you have any or a finder scope removed from a telescope. It would be cool if it wasnt a jet but a sattelite as others have said. Ill watch tonight around then too. Good luck...Chris

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  14. #8
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    As above I believe you are seeing jets on approach to one of the Dallas airports-- they are usually all in the same flight path on approach.
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    Maybe it was an iridium flare from a satellite?
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    Default

    I'm definitely not seeing aircraft. As my username suggests, I'm a pilot. Whatever this is is MILES high..obviously I can't tell how many, but it looks like a satellite.

    I will watch tonight and come back and post here. I'll give as best a description as I can.

 

 
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