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ShadowNC
2008-Mar-06, 04:41 PM
Hi first post here, and I have a question I hope someone here can answer.

I live in eastern NC and last night after returning from a quick shopping trip with the wife and kids I pulled up in our driveway, stepped out of the car and looked up in the sky to the North. I think the time was around 7pm EST.

I guess I was looking up at about a 35-45 degree angle, pretty much due North, when I saw something absolutely scream across the sky. I guess it only took about 5-6 seconds to cross what I could see of the sky. Probably from horizon to horizon I estimate it would have taken about 20 seconds tops.

My first thought was a meteor but it had no trail behind it, so my next thought was something like a satellite or even cooler, maybe the ISS.

I found a website where you could track the ISS orbit and even some satellite orbits but couldn't find anything where I could put in past dates and times to see where it would have been last night.

Can anyone help me out here? I'd really love to know what it was I caught a glimpse of.

Thanks.

jamesmatthews
2008-Mar-06, 05:30 PM
Try a program called "Stellarium" - it's free, but I'm not sure if it keeps track of satellites. "Starry Night," another program, does track the ISS and other space objects, I believe.

Did it move straight, in a parabola, or otherwise? How far away did it appear to be? How did you lose sight of it? What color was it? Were there any other anomalous details you may have left out? What did the wife and kids think?

schlaugh
2008-Mar-06, 05:33 PM
Maybe it was this Iridium satellite (observing site is Raleigh, NC):

04 Mar 18:48:18 (http://www.heavens-above.com/flaredetails.asp?SatID=24944&Session=kebgcpahnpdckilpkldbibbd&Date=39511.9918742216&Mirror=2) -8 52 173 (S ) 3.4 km (W) -8 Iridium 29 (http://www.heavens-above.com/satinfo.aspx?SatID=24944&Session=kebgcpahnpdckilpkldbibbd)

ETA: From http://www.heavens-above.com/

hhEb09'1
2008-Mar-06, 06:03 PM
I guess I was looking up at about a 35-45 degree angle, pretty much due North, when I saw something absolutely scream across the sky. I guess it only took about 5-6 seconds to cross what I could see of the sky. Probably from horizon to horizon I estimate it would have taken about 20 seconds tops.That's too fast for a satellite, or the ISS, but seems too slow for a meteor, if you're right about the times.

NEOWatcher
2008-Mar-06, 06:23 PM
That's too fast for a satellite, or the ISS, but seems too slow for a meteor, if you're right about the times.
Combined with schlaugh's research (more like a lookup:D) I would guess that the distance travelled is more in error than the times.

For the -8 flare, you are talking about a few seconds of viewing which is easily interpreted as 5-6. Since the light level is changing, it could be interpreted as traveling farther than it did.

Plus, it sounds like the view was somewhat narrowed, which tells me that there were nearby objects to gauge against. This could have the same effect that a full moon has when it's near the horizon. It looks larger than it really is.

Since the 20 seconds is an interpolation instead of observation, then I believe flare.

hhEb09'1
2008-Mar-06, 06:55 PM
Combined with schlaugh's research (more like a lookup:D) I would guess that the distance travelled is more in error than the times.

For the -8 flare, you are talking about a few seconds of viewing which is easily interpreted as 5-6. Since the light level is changing, it could be interpreted as traveling farther than it did.I don't think an Iridium flare could be mistaken as "screaming" :)

Besides, schlaugh's satellite was due south, whereas the OP said due north. We obviously need more details, like exact time and location.

NEOWatcher
2008-Mar-06, 07:21 PM
I don't think an Iridium flare could be mistaken as "screaming" :)
I look back to the first time I saw one, I didn't know what it was at the time, and yes, it appeared to be going rather quickly. Narrow view, at night, caught by surprise? Not that I would argue it to the ends of the Earth, but I wouldn't dismiss it either.

I could also have it backwards, and it was much faster than it appeared.

I would guess that re-entering space debris would fit the description also. If the debris wasn't breaking up, would it necessarily leave a trail? Or, maybe one faint enough that it wouldn't be seen?


Besides, schlaugh's satellite was due south, whereas the OP said due north.
Yep; that could be very important. :doh:


We obviously need more details, like exact time and location.
...and some good time/speed/distance and direction estimates.

schlaugh
2008-Mar-06, 07:53 PM
Yes, I saw that ShawdowNC said he was facing North and the Iridium was passing to the south. But the timeframes (18:48 and "around 7 pm") and the brightness (-8 mag ) make me lean towards Occam and that perhaps the OP was really facing South and just got turned around?

I know Iridium flares are usually short-lived but they also appear to move very fast. So yes, more details please!

NEOWatcher
2008-Mar-06, 08:14 PM
... and that perhaps the OP was really facing South and just got turned around?
In his driveway? Now THAT would be a bad sense of direction. :lol:

schlaugh
2008-Mar-06, 08:34 PM
In his driveway? Now THAT would be a bad sense of direction. :lol:

Nothing would surprise me. We just moved from a home where we lived for 16 years and I knew over which roofs the sun would rise and set depending on the time of year. But in our new place I still get turned around even thought we've been there for a few months.

But yeah, I'm grasping at a straw here! If he didn't see the Iridium then maybe it was a chunk of USA 193 or a cousin. And it doesn't sound like a meteor -no trail and too slow.

ShadowNC
2008-Mar-07, 03:09 AM
Try a program called "Stellarium" - it's free, but I'm not sure if it keeps track of satellites. "Starry Night," another program, does track the ISS and other space objects, I believe.

Did it move straight, in a parabola, or otherwise? How far away did it appear to be? How did you lose sight of it? What color was it? Were there any other anomalous details you may have left out? What did the wife and kids think?

I'll have to check out Starry Night that sounds pretty interesting.

It moved in a straight line across the sky. It *appeared* to be very far away, and based on how fast it went across the sky I'd say outside the atmosphere because like I said there was no trail behind it. The color was white I guess, it was almost blurry looking, and was about the 2 to 3 times the size of a star in the night sky. Unfortunately the wife and kids didn't see it :(

Ok since everyone is asking for more details.

I was *definitely* facing North. I even tripled checked when I got home..."the sun sets over there, I-95 is that way from the subdivision, so that is North" :)

The best I can narrow the time down to is around 7:15pm. More specific stuff....Latitude is 35.99030, Longitude is -77.88268 and the object was moving from West to East across the northern sky. I wish I could give a speed estimate but I have no idea how to gauge something like that. Just in layman's terms I'd say faster than an airliner seen at 30k feet and slower than a shooting star. LOL I know that's a pretty wide range speedwise, but I don't have anything else to reference it against.


I look back to the first time I saw one, I didn't know what it was at the time, and yes, it appeared to be going rather quickly. Narrow view, at night, caught by surprise? Not that I would argue it to the ends of the Earth, but I wouldn't dismiss it either.

After reading some stuff today, and your description of the first time you saw a flare, I really think that may be what I saw. I was definitely taken by surprise when I saw it, and could easily have been fooled by the fact that my mind was jumping from one possibility to another in a span of a few seconds.

Like I said in the original post, my initial thought was that it was a meteor, and when I realized that was not what I was seeing a bit of excitement set in and my sense of the amount of time may have gotten really skewed at that point :)

Thinking back on it now also, I seem to recall that it didn't really disappear behind the trees, it kind of faded out actually.

I really think it was a satellite flare, it would be cool to figure out which satellite it was though.

I pulled this up from heavens-above. These are the flares predicted for the previous 48 hrs. Those would have actually been to the South though wouldn't they?

Date Local
Time Intensity
( Mag) Alt. Azimuth Distance to
flare centre Intensity at
flare centre
(Mag.) Satellite
05 Mar 18:41:53 -6 53 176 (S ) 4.3 km (W) -8 Iridium 90
06 Mar 18:36:04 -4 53 176 (S ) 9.1 km (E) -8 Iridium 58


Anyways, I appreciate everyone's interest in helping me with this. I'll have to see if I can catch one of these things one night with the wife and kids.

NEOWatcher
2008-Mar-07, 01:05 PM
I really think it was a satellite flare, it would be cool to figure out which satellite it was though.
Me too, but I think it may have been something other than Iridium. Iridiums are only noteworthy because of the predictable nature of it's array positions. And; as pointed out, the ones listed were to the south.

Many other objects also flare.
The tumbling ones also look like a flare sometimes. They appear anywhere from a blink to a slow fade in and out.
H-A doesn't have too many details like that, although I have seen some of thier satellite descriptions mention it.

There were plenty of Cosmos' at the time that may also fit the bill.
stats for Raleigh that night (http://www.heavens-above.com/allsats.asp?lat=35.772&lng=-78.639&alt=91&loc=Raleigh&TZ=EST&Date=39512.9791666667&Mag=4.5)
Not really West to East, but maybe if your head was tilted, and the appearance was short enough to trick you into a direction...:think:

mugaliens
2008-Mar-07, 01:06 PM
A twenty-second tops "streak" sounds to me like a meteor. The larger, slower-moving ones can last must longer than the second-long pinpoint streaks of the smaller ones. I've witnessed two that have lasted longer than 20 seconds.

Rare, though.

And one didn't leave any sort of trail (at least not one what was visible at night).

Still, a satellite flare is quite likely, given what you described. If it was more pinpoint white light than orange-ish, I'd say it was a satellite flare.

Hey, though - there are tens of thousands of objects up there. Could have been any one of them.

hhEb09'1
2008-Mar-08, 04:47 PM
More specific stuff....Latitude is 35.99030, Longitude is -77.88268

stats for Raleigh that night (http://www.heavens-above.com/allsats.asp?lat=35.772&lng=-78.639&alt=91&loc=Raleigh&TZ=EST&Date=39512.9791666667&Mag=4.5)I don't know why you guys keep using Raleigh, clearly he lives over by Rocky Mount :)

Jeff Root
2008-Mar-09, 02:06 AM
Iridiums are only noteworthy because of the predictable nature of it's
array positions.
Iridium flares are noteworthy because they are so bright. Brighter
than flares from other satellites, because of the large, flat, shiny
antenna panels and the relatively low altitude of the satellites.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

NEOWatcher
2008-Mar-10, 12:01 PM
Iridium flares are noteworthy because they are so bright. Brighter
than flares from other satellites, because of the large, flat, shiny
antenna panels and the relatively low altitude of the satellites.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis
Ok; ya got me there.
Since, just about any satellite could flare... I was thinking more about what makes them unique to be able to predict them rather than the scale of the effect.
A shuttle window flare is pretty impressive too.

NEOWatcher
2008-Mar-10, 12:05 PM
I don't know why you guys keep using Raleigh, clearly he lives over by Rocky Mount :)
Yes; kind of lazy for me. But, at about 40-50 miles, the E/W ones probably wouldn't have been much different.

hhEb09'1
2008-Mar-10, 03:11 PM
But, at about 40-50 miles, the E/W ones probably wouldn't have been much different.E/W Iridium satellites? :)

NEOWatcher
2008-Mar-10, 03:28 PM
E/W Iridium satellites? :)
Exactly my point, based on OP.

hhEb09'1
2008-Mar-10, 10:17 PM
Not sure what you mean by the OP, but there are no E/W Iridium satellites, right?

NEOWatcher
2008-Mar-11, 11:45 AM
Not sure what you mean by the OP, but there are no E/W Iridium satellites, right?
Right...they are at 86.4 inclination.

That's why I later discounted them and went to normal satellites.