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Buckwild
2009-Jul-23, 10:21 PM
Hi everyone,

"Simple" question for you folks.

Can artificial satellites look red (to the naked eye) for an observer ?

I did some research and asked some astronomers around me and I only found one amateur astronomer who observed a similar event and two links on the internet talking about it :


THE MYSTERY SATELLITES by Harold Egeln

"Mysterious satellites" were officially reported six times in orbit around the Earth in the 1950s before the first Sputnik of October 4, 1957. Clyde Tombough, the discoverer of Pluto over 20 years before, studied two moonlets in orbit in 1954.

The radar detections were: April 1949, first reported by Naval Commander Robert McLaughlin, a rocket expert; 1953: one in a near-equitorial orbit 400-to-600 miles out, and the two at Lagrange Points, then calling the satellites "Toro moonlets"; 1954, an "Aviation Week" report ("Satellite Scare," Aug. 23, 1954) told of Dr. Lincoln La Paz (a government expert on meteors) announcement of a satellites orbiting at 400 and 600 miles out; a search by the Adler Planetarium in Chicago tracked one or two of these "moonlets"; in 1957, three months before the USSR launched the first Earth satellite in October, Italian astronomers tracked a large mystery satellite, also reported in the news, like the others had been.

Even in the Space Age, an unknown satellite, tracked by the Navy's Space Survelienance Radar and photograped by Grumman Aircraft Company's tracking camera, was seen in retrograde orbit from late 1959 to mid-1960, travelling east to west direction at a speed of 25,000 mph, the required velocity for such a satellite (none of this nature have been launched from Earth).

"The U.S, is trying hard to unravel a mystery which involved everybody in the world. A satellitte, clearly spotted on radar, was circling the Earth, but no one claimed it... It travels westwardly, whereas other satellites are launched eastwardly to take advantage of the Earth's spin." [LIFE Magazine, February 22, 1960.]

Having read and heard about this in the news and on TV, I, then a boy, and friends witnessed the strange satellite during one of its predicted passages over the New York metro area, moving much faster than any other satellite, such as Echo I visible that August. The strange satellite, giving off a bright red color, was an impressive, unforgettable sight! After a few weeks in orbit, it, like the "mystery satellites" of the early 1950s, vanished from orbit, suggesting that it disintegrated or was removed somehow from orbit.

Link : http://community-2.webtv.net/AstroEcologist/SPACESHIPGAIA/page11.html



NASA SKYLAB'73

"Garriott pointed out that when it was first seen and for about 10 minutes afterward the object and Skylab were not in a region of the orbit where the sunlight would have passed through the earth's atmosphere and therefore would have been reddened by scattering from particulate matter in the atmosphere (as in a red sunset). Hence the red color could not have been a result of the reflection of reddened sunlight from a typical satellite. To explain the red color Garriott may have assumed (although he never mentioned this assumption) that the satellite was painted red. He awaited an identification by NASA, but there was none because there were no satellites with red surfaces. The surfaces are typically painted black or white or are unpainted bare metal. An alternative hypothesis is that it was a satellite emitting intense red light. Garriott probably didn't consider this to be a possible explanation since there were no satellites with bright red lights."

I wrote a report of my observation but it is in french, I could translate it for you if your virtual translators are too much of a pain in the Buck-hole :lol:

Here it is : http://ufo-logic.xooit.com/t1681-Observation-d-un-satellite-un-peu-hors-du-commun.htm


Cheers,
Buck

eburacum45
2009-Jul-23, 10:30 PM
I saw the ISS appear out of the Earth's shadow recently and it looked surprisingly red; perhaps the large size of the object allowed my colour vision to pick out the red tones. This colour was probably caused by light transmitted through the edge of the Earth's atmosphere; I don't think the ISS is intrinsically red.

The stories about the early 1950's satellites are spooky, but are probably down to poor observations; after all, at that time they had no real satellites to compare them to, so they were probably reporting meteors and so on.

Buckwild
2009-Jul-23, 10:40 PM
I saw the ISS appear out of the Earth's shadow recently and it looked surprisingly red; perhaps the large size of the object allowed my colour vision to pick out the red tones. This colour was probably caused by light transmitted through the edge of the Earth's atmosphere; I don't think the ISS is intrinsically red.


Thank you for the info'. Could you give me the geographical coordinates and the time and day of your observation + Az/Alt (as angular height) + local weather data (air & light pollution level & estimate if possible) ?

Thank you again.

Cheers,
Buckwild

eburacum45
2009-Jul-23, 11:05 PM
I didn't write it down, but the azimuth was about 30 degrees throughout. I couldn't see many other stars, so it was probably a bit misty; about 2000hrs or later, deep twilight or full night. These figures are all unreliable, and I wouldn't trust them if someone else gave them to me as a UFO report (for instance).

Buckwild
2009-Jul-23, 11:14 PM
I didn't write it down, but the azimuth was about 30 degrees throughout. I couldn't see many other stars, so it was probably a bit misty; about 2000hrs or later, deep twilight or full night. These figures are all unreliable, and I wouldn't trust them if someone else gave them to me as a UFO report (for instance).

Where and when (date) dit it happen ?
For how long (rough estimate) and what was the approximate angular height at the beginning and at the end of the (red) sighting ?

I know and understand why you think that your data is unreliable because memory reconstruction can play tricks on us but I want to check a couple of things regarding your own observation.

Thanks again.
Buck

eburacum45
2009-Jul-24, 12:08 AM
The observation lasted ten to twenty seconds, and the ISS passed from East to West. I have the distinct impression that it was brighter when it first came out of shadow, then gradually got dimmer as it travelled westward. I think this was due to the angle of the solar array, but I can't be sure. I really don't remember when it happened- early in the year, late winter, I think.

Despite having access to the Heavens-Above website, I didn't check the sighting - I've seen the ISS many times, and this didn't look very much different, apart from the colour.

Eoanthropus Dawsoni
2009-Jul-24, 02:35 AM
When there are large forest fires out west a lot of smoke can drift in here. The ISS and other satellites will appear red. However generally they will look red only when lower to the horizon. It's interesting to watch the ISS pass overhead as a bright white, then suddenly shift to red.

Buckwild
2009-Jul-24, 05:41 PM
The observation lasted ten to twenty seconds, and the ISS passed from East to West. I have the distinct impression that it was brighter when it first came out of shadow, then gradually got dimmer as it travelled westward. I think this was due to the angle of the solar array, but I can't be sure. I really don't remember when it happened- early in the year, late winter, I think.

Despite having access to the Heavens-Above website, I didn't check the sighting - I've seen the ISS many times, and this didn't look very much different, apart from the colour.

Thank you very much for your answer.

Cannot be the ISS if it was on a retrograde orbit. Too bad we don't know the exact date to start with.

Cheers,
Buckwild

Buckwild
2009-Jul-24, 06:00 PM
When there are large forest fires out west a lot of smoke can drift in here. The ISS and other satellites will appear red. However generally they will look red only when lower to the horizon. It's interesting to watch the ISS pass overhead as a bright white, then suddenly shift to red.

Hi there,

I thought about this today at work, sounds logical. :) One do not need to go "very far" to find an exemple. Too bad it did not happen at night with the Moon or a known (identified) celestial body or satellite (artificial) and at a high angular height (>60) :

http://www.bautforum.com/astrophotography/91064-pics-sunset-through-forest-fire-smoke.html


++
Buck

Buckwild
2009-Jul-24, 07:29 PM
Talking about forest fires, I would think that if it would have been the case, then I would have observed all the celestial bodies nearby in red. It was not the case and the sky was pretty clear that night :

Neb 1/8 @ 21h00 UTC 23h00 CEST in Nice (some 15 km East of my position)
http://www.infoclimat.fr/archives/index.php?d=2008-09-16&s=07690

From A to B it remained red (steady magnitude) and then from X to Y it started flashing (white) :
http://i263.photobucket.com/albums/ii149/europa73/Stellariumfinal.png

Cheers,
Buck

eburacum45
2009-Jul-24, 11:51 PM
If the satellite was illuminated for part of your observation by light which had passed through a substantial part of the Earth's atmosphere, then it could easily be red despite the fact that no other object appeared red. Dust in the atmosphere might increase this effect, but it is not absolutely necessary; simple Rayleigh scattering would cause a reddening of the light.

Imagine yourself on the ISS as it sails out of the Earth's shadow; the horizon up ahead starts off red, then turns brighter and yellower until the Sun itself appears fully above the Earth's limb. This red light is reflected from the ISS down to Earth, to be observed by bemused Earthlings.

Buckwild
2009-Jul-25, 08:36 PM
If the satellite was illuminated for part of your observation by light which had passed through a substantial part of the Earth's atmosphere, then it could easily be red despite the fact that no other object appeared red. Dust in the atmosphere might increase this effect, but it is not absolutely necessary; simple Rayleigh scattering would cause a reddening of the light.

Imagine yourself on the ISS as it sails out of the Earth's shadow; the horizon up ahead starts off red, then turns brighter and yellower until the Sun itself appears fully above the Earth's limb. This red light is reflected from the ISS down to Earth, to be observed by bemused Earthlings.


Thank you eburacum for your message.

Here is an interesting document :


It frequently happens that a satellite is confused with aircraft navigation lights and even the most experienced observer occasionally gets caught. What must be remembered is that satellites appear whitish in colour with perhaps a tinge of yellow or orange, especially at low elevations, and that satellites do not change direction. Obviously, green and red lights are `out'! However, from time to time satellites may look a little different to what we are accustomed to. The following are some examples...

Link : http://www.saao.ac.za/~wgssa/as3/roberts.html


I did write to them, here is my message :


Dear Sir(s),

I've read your interesting article about satellites : http://www.saao.ac.za/~wgssa/as3/roberts.html

Last year, I observed a red "satellite" on a retrogade orbit that later switched to white (emiting flashes). I did write a report in french and checked with Orbitron & Heavens-above and the ONERA to see if they
knew what it was. They did not.

Here is a thread where I am talking about it with a link to my report :
http://www.bautforum.com/astronomy/91139-red-satellite.html

From A to B it remained red (steady magnitude) and then from X to Y it started flashing (white) :
http://i263.photobucket.com/albums/ii149/europa73/Stellariumfinal.png


I am not talking about observing a rather orange satellite but it sure was red, is it possible ? Is it common ?


Thank you in advance for your reply and please excuse my english.


Sincerly,
XXX

I just wanted to check with some specialists, no offense eburacum and thanks again for your message.


Cheers,
Buck

slang
2009-Jul-27, 07:31 AM
How certain are you that it was indeed a satellite, and not an aircraft? I'm asking because I sometimes think I see a satellite, a light moving slowly, but then after a while it starts to blink. It then becomes very obvious that it is an aircraft, and somehow the blinking lights were not visible at first. Perhaps because they were obscured by part of the plane. (This isn't a rare situation either, it's common to have 5 or more aircraft in "our" patch of sky at the same time, even at night.)

Buckwild
2009-Jul-27, 07:10 PM
How certain are you that it was indeed a satellite, and not an aircraft? I'm asking because I sometimes think I see a satellite, a light moving slowly, but then after a while it starts to blink. It then becomes very obvious that it is an aircraft, and somehow the blinking lights were not visible at first. Perhaps because they were obscured by part of the plane. (This isn't a rare situation either, it's common to have 5 or more aircraft in "our" patch of sky at the same time, even at night.)

Very good point. One cannot be a 100% certain.

As a matter of fact, a friend of mine (Itestoo) filmed this, it's called UFO becomes aircraft :
http://www.dailymotion.com/relevance/search/focal/video/x1z05t_ovni-devenu-avion_family

Off course this is one hypothesis I thought about, just like atmospheric reentries, rocket casings, missiles, weather balloons and even lasers (skytracers & telemetry used for satellites).

The thing about planes is that it was not following a known (civilian) flight route or a military transit route, here is one of the 2 air charts I own (military) :

http://i263.photobucket.com/albums/ii149/europa73/carte2008.jpg

But the French Air Force pilots and/or French Navy can probably do what they want (since I've seen Mirage 2000 doing some manoeuvers (low level flying) outside of their known practice area) and airliners can change their flight route in order to avoid bad weather.

Then, as an amateur astronomer and as someone who loves anything that has to do with the aeronautics & astronautics & astronomy. I do know a little bit (argument from authority :eek: ) what a satellite or a plane looks like, specially when the sky is clear which was the case that night. But, you did ask a good question because I thought about it as I was observing the "satellite" from X to Y and :


Some satellites exhibit very complex flash patterns which change quite noticeably over a period of time. Spherically-shaped satellites appear either steady or scintillate rather rapidly, which indicates the rotation of a sphere that has external protuberances. A remarkable similarity exists between the flash patterns of rocket casings in low orbits with similar rocket casings in higher orbits having a much more rapid tumble -- this is probably due to the damping effect of the earth's magnetic field. Rocket casings have a distinctive and more prominent appearance than satellites, usually flashing or tumbling very rapidly with flashes separated by between 0.5 and 2 seconds, while satellites exhibit a smaller range of brightnesses and are usually steady. Most satellites spotted casually are in fact rocket casings.

It frequently happens that a satellite is confused with aircraft navigation lights and even the most experienced observer occasionally gets caught.

http://www.saao.ac.za/~wgssa/as3/roberts.html

So, no I cannot be sure 100% that it was indeed a satellite but it's angular size and the way it looked and the duration of the sighting (between 3' & 6') + what I've learned about satellites (see link above) made me think of a (LEO) satellite and/or a rocket casing.

Cheers,
Buckwild

mikeumr
2012-Jun-25, 04:20 PM
I witnessed this last night. I am sorry I don't have the exact time as I was outside without a clock but I think it was a little after 10:00 Central time (-6). I first saw it slightly to the west of overhead. It was a solid bright ruby red for a good 10seconds, transitioned to white slowly but remained fairly bright for another 10 seconds until it passed overhead and slowly dimmed as it continued east disappearing around the constellation Cygnus. It was in view for at least 25 seconds. There was definitely no strobes or other indications to being an aircraft. If it was a satellite I suspect it was a lower orbit than most because of its higher than average speed but not significantly so. I would love to find out what this was. This was the only forum I could find mentioning something like this.

Mike

slang
2012-Jun-25, 05:11 PM
I witnessed this last night. I am sorry I don't have the exact time as I was outside without a clock but I think it was a little after 10:00 Central time (-6). I first saw it slightly to the west of overhead. It was a solid bright ruby red for a good 10seconds, transitioned to white slowly but remained fairly bright for another 10 seconds until it passed overhead and slowly dimmed as it continued east disappearing around the constellation Cygnus. It was in view for at least 25 seconds. There was definitely no strobes or other indications to being an aircraft. If it was a satellite I suspect it was a lower orbit than most because of its higher than average speed but not significantly so. I would love to find out what this was. This was the only forum I could find mentioning something like this.

Hi Mike, welcome to BAUT! Can you make your location a little bit more specific than just Central? A (nearby) city would be great.

mikeumr
2012-Jun-25, 07:39 PM
Hi Mike, welcome to BAUT! Can you make your location a little bit more specific than just Central? A (nearby) city would be great.

Ha, sorry about that. I'm in Fults, IL. Just south of St. Louis, MO

Swift
2012-Jun-25, 08:25 PM
Hi mikeumr

First, I'd suggest checking a site like heavens-above.com (http://www.heavens-above.com/) to see if there was a satellite pass at that time.

I have a guess as to the color change... the bending of sunlight close to the horizon, as we get at sunrise and sunset, to give reddish colors to the light, also works in space. I'm guessing that at the start the satellite was illuminated by the sun close to the horizon, and as it "rose" the color turned more white.

slang
2012-Jun-25, 08:53 PM
Ha, sorry about that. I'm in Fults, IL. Just south of St. Louis, MO

Alright, like Swift said, check Heavens-Above. This link (http://heavens-above.com/allsats.aspx?Mag=3.5&lat=38.62722&lng=-90.19778&loc=Saint+Louis&alt=135&tz=CST)* should take you to the list of brightest satellites visible tonight in St. Louis, use the date-picker on top to switch to yesterday. If you click on the time listed for the pass, it should show you a view of the track in the sky, perhaps you can find the one you saw that way. If not... click around, it's a great site. :)

*(If you want to give a go on catching Iridium flares, you'll have to pick your location in Heavens Above as precisely as possible).