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Flashes and Star-like objects that move strangely in the sky explained

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posted on Aug, 28 2012 @ 12:45 AM
I've seen many posts appear on ATS that fall in to the categories mentioned in the title of this thread, but have not seen any real efforts to address them, which is what I will try to do here.

I'll take a few examples from various threads posted on this forum, starting with:

Starlike objects that move strangely in the sky

In the OP in the above thread, the author justjoemusic describes various objects, including what sound like aircraft following a flightpath that points towards the observer. Aircraft that are heading directly towards an observer, at a distance, can often appear to be star-like in nature since the strobes are not usually visible from this angle, or may not even be turned on at times, and because all of their motion is in a direction pointing towards an observer, they do not appear to move.

Only when they change heading, do they reveal themselves as not being stars, since they no longer seem to be stationary in the sky.

Originally posted by justjoemusic
I looked up and noticed a group of stars together but where in a weird formation.... it looked like a dot to dot of some kind of flying craft. I noticed that the so called stars seemed to move around slightly. I thought ok maybe it is my eyes, but then i noticed a star get really really bright, it then faded slightly and started moving to the North direction of the sky and faded out into the distance. This astonished me, then a few minutes later, where this group of weird stars where, 2 of them broke off and headed north, they headed north in a straight line, one light was behind the other and the one at the back started to light right up! they went to the distance and then turned sharply and disappeared.

Obviously, the brightening mentioned is what you would expect if the aircraft were not heading precisely towards the observer initially, but as they started to turn (North in this case), the beam from the front headlight/lights could easily "sweep" over the observer, getting brighter as it did so, and eventually fading as the aircraft continued to turn.

Here are a few examples:

These two are "sped up" since they are timelaped-footage, but you can see that strobes are not visible (at least initially) on many of the aircraft:

Another post from the same thread:

Originally posted by skywatch
just saw one now..

but it was more strange than usual

it was a tiny star traveling quite fast

2 times it lit up in a flash...
while traveling..

ive never seen that before..

it was going (again) from to the left of the big dipper and towars it.

it disappeared by cloaking itself as usually, but it was quite clear

What the poster is describing here can easily be explained by a satellite flare. Satellite flares occur when the observer-satellite-Sun angle is changing, and a highly reflective surface on the satellite starts to catch the light, and reflect it back to the eyes of an observer.

As for the "cloaking", that was probably just the satellite entering Earth's shadow, so without any light reflecting from the satellite it effectively becomes invisible.

The following post, also by the same poster, and posted a few minutes later:

Originally posted by skywatch
and then one more..

this one not flashing, but just traveling in their usual way...

again from to the left of big dipper this time going over the top of it

again disappearing..

thats counts 3 in 30min.

So the same area of sky once again, and surprise surprise, Earth's shadow is still more or less in the same place, so the satellite disappears again.

Here's another post from the same poster a bit later on in the thread:

Originally posted by skywatch
hmm people have posted seeing them in both southern and northern hemisphere and also both in europe and the states so i guess they are all over

Which is exactly what you'd expect if they were satellites.

Originally posted by skywatch
a very high flying airplane in the night can still be seing flickering from the lights it emits and also a plane will travel in straight lines and not cloak. planes can't stop entirely in the sky either.

Yes planes don't "cloak", and they generally fly a straight (more or less), but as I explained above, the rest of the above statement is 100% assumption, which also happens to be wrong.

Originally posted by skywatch
they look like the other stars, or thats how they are easiest described, they dont seem to flicker and they can be both bright as in the video or more faint. they move like its easy for them to fly in whatever speed direction they like, mostly they dont move as if going somewhere, more like they are searching / watching.. a plane has a destiny port somewhere, a sattelite have a track, these things fly about as if they have nothing better to do (;

Who says satellites can't appear to travel erratically in the sky?

In my experience they appear to follow a path that looks like a sine wave:

In fact, all satellites do follow a straight (more or less) path in the sky, and this can be proved by photographing them, as I have done many times in the past. Most recently during the the Perseid meteor shower which peaked a couple of weeks back, both me and my partner both saw satellites zig-zagging across the sky which passed through the field of view of our cameras, and they all recorded as straight lines.

The reason for this odd motion is an illusion known as the autokinetic effect, or it's equivalent for moving objects. Once again, the lack of visual cues is probably the cause. It's actually quite common to observe this effect, especially with fairly bright satellites in my experience.

The first few hits in this search have further statements from experienced satellite observers which backup this explanation.

Originally posted by skywatch
you will not be in doubt when you spot them

...which I and many others have, and there is no doubt what they are - satellites!

One more post from the same member:

Originally posted by skywatch

-good catch again.

this is how they cloak

sometimes its possible to track them a little with the naked eye when cloaked...
they seem to change direction, speed up or slow down as if to hide further when they have cloaked

The bolding is mine, to highlight the operative words here "they seem". In real life, it's often the case that something that seems to be true is actually not, and I'm talking about optical illusions here, which are part of every-day life whether you are aware of it or not. The fact is that people do not make very good witnesses, because we are all prone to optical illusions, misidentifications, and even false memories.

Now I'm not saying that everything reported in these posts is due to false memories (but some parts might be). It just illustrates how complex the mind is, and why we make bad witnesses.

Here's part of a post from the same thread from another member:

Originally posted by devareous
as to y people dont report or u dont hear it in the news,the same reasons u stated in ur first few post is a reflection of most people as a whole.They do see them, but instead of study, they write them off as sattilites.Its much easier to swallow them being a sattilite or a plane or anything but a ufo,so people just fool themself cuse it easyer to swallow. ignorance is bliss.

I'm here to prove ignorant posts like the one above, wrong...

Not all of us "write off" what we see without studying and trying to identify what it is that we are seeing, although I know that is what some members of this forum would like to believe.

To prove my point, here are a few examples photographed a couple of weeks back whilst trying to photograph the Perseid meteor shower as I mentioned before.

Example 1

This image is a re sized composite of 3 subsequent 13 sec exposures one of the DSLRs took starting at 23:07:07 UT on 10/08/12. If you scroll over to the right you can see what should be a familiar constellation - "The Plough" or Ursa Major. Some of you might also notice that it's on it's side - sorry about that - I should have rotated the image!

If you look just to the right of the bowl of the Plough, the line of dots is actually a series of flares from a satellite:

Here is the same series of flares caught on another camera that had a slightly overlapping field of view:

Here is a crop from the above image, showing the flares in detail:

With this first example, I've included a screenshot showing just how well the prediction made by the software matches the first image that I posted.

It's not that hard to identify satellites if you know how, and I've outlined how to do so in this thread here.

In this case it turned out that the satellite that caused the flares in question was actually debris from the Chinese A-SAT (anti-satellite) missile test in early 2007.

I narrowed it down to two bits of debris (FENGYUN 1C DEB (33739) and FENGYUN 1C DEB (29774)) out of 2763 pieces that the software was tracking. Both pieces have very similar orbits, but one (33739) was following the other, and matched the time of the photographed flares much better.

For anyone who wants to see for themselves, I've uploaded the settings for the software I used here. All you need to do is open the file using Visual SAT-Flare Tracker 3D (which does not require an install), make sure that the view is correctly positioned with Ursa Major in the center of the screen, and tick the "run time" box (double click the black main view window if you don't have a control panel with that option on the right).

If you click the "-M" button (top right in the control panel) to rewind the time by a minute (to around 23:06:00 on the 10th), you can see the run up to the point where the flares occurred. If you then go to the menu along the top of the GUI and choose "satellites" then "manage satellites", you can try enabling and disabling various satellites on the list.

Example 2

Taken on the same night, but a bit earlier on (22:30:44 was the start of the first exposure), here is much more prolonged flare from what once again turned out to be a piece of debris (35235) from FENGYUN 1C. This time only two 13 sec exposures were used to capture the entire flare (apart from the little gap in the middle in between exposures).

Let's have a look at another post:

Strange Flashes in the night sky ,what are they,and have you seen them?

Originally posted by tarifa37
About a week ago at about 11pm I was looking at the night sky from my garden and out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a flash then another right above at 12 oclock in the sky.I thought this was strange but did not think much more about it as did not get a direct look. That was untill last night 3/07/08 at 11pm very clear sky.I was laying on my back looking at the at stars when it happened again.This time there was no doubt it was directly above .Four distinct flashes of light just like seeing a camera flash from a distance all within a few seconds. They all flashed in the same area of sky but not close enough to be one object . Has anyone else seen this happen? Has anyone got a logical answer. Cheers Tarifa37

This sounds just like what my partner and my self saw, which was also caught by multiple cameras, and posted/identified as orbiting debris in example 1 above.

Later on in the same thread an anonymous poster writes:

Originally posted by Anonymous ATS
Thanks for your photo and info on sat flares.However it says they last from 5 to 20 seconds. This was 4 flashes only lasting as long as a camera flash would last, in 4 seperate places in the same part of the sky. All four seperate flashes ocurred over about 10 seconds. So I don't think they were Iridium flares. The size of the flashes was about twice the size of a big star.So not enormous just very strange.

Well, since some satellites/debris rotate quite rapidly, short duration flares or flashes can be the result. In some cases a glint can last just a fraction of a second, and resemble a "camera flash" going off in the distance.

There is no "set time limit" for the duration of a flare or flash, especially if the satellite is actually a fast rotating bit of debris.

Sometimes even intact satellites will do this, as my next example shows...

Example 3

Sometime between 01:43:52 UT and 01:44:02 UT on 11/08 one of the cameras also caught this flare, which you can see in the center of the above exposure. The photograph is a bit under exposed, but you can clearly see the flare as it's very bright in relation to the stars.

Here's a crop to show a bit of detail:

Again, this time with the brightness increased.

With a bit of enhancing, you can just begin to make out the track of the satellite as the brightness of the satellite decreases either side of the flash.

The same flare was also caught by another camera, which I have cropped to show a bit more detail and posted below:

I was able to positively identify the source of the flash in this case as ERS-2 (European Remote-Sensing Satellite)

Here's a star chart showing the same pass during which the flare was caught courtesy of heavens-above that proves it was ERS-2:

I also confirmed it with Visual SAT-Flare Tracker 3D.

I should also add that I've been photographing meteors (my main interest in astronomy, although the whole subject fascinates me) for close to 15 years now, and have always seen satellites doing these odd things, although perhaps they are a bit more common now in my experience. In the photographs taken on the night I have used examples from (around 34, 500 photographs in all from 7 cameras shooting exposures ranging from 10-15 seconds), I'd be surprised if most did not have at least one faint satellite trail. I've only chosen some of the best (brightest) examples for this thread.

So I think I have quite a strong case for many of the reports of strange flashes and "star like" objects in the sky being satellites, but it's also fairly obvious that some of the reports are not likely to be caused by satellites. and that other phenomena/objects have been thrown in the mix which can also be "star-like" in appearance (eg the aircraft mentioned at the start of this thread).

Meteors can also be star-like and flash, but there are also reports of more powerful flashes that seem to light up a large part of the sky, that may well be due to transformers blowing (they can be seen for many tens of miles around due to their brightness), or indeed meteors in some cases as they can make big as well as small flashes.

I've also shown that most things in the sky can be identified with a little detective work. For more on how to do it for yourself, and lots more info on satellites/a few more examples, go to my other thread here: How to view, track, and identify satellites

Related links

2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test - Wikipedia

Mysterious blinking star-like objects

edit on 28-8-2012 by FireballStorm because: (no reason given)

edit on 28-8-2012 by FireballStorm because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 28 2012 @ 01:37 AM
Kudos man on a great thread!
lets jut hope people use it when they have seen something in the sky
i had to learn the same way
my first vieing of the ISS i didnt know what it was at the time
so i posted about it HERE
so yea this thread is a useful tool!
many thanks

posted on Aug, 28 2012 @ 01:55 AM
reply to post by GezinhoKiko

Kudos man on a great thread! lets jut hope people use it when they have seen something in the sky i had to learn the same way my first vieing of the ISS i didnt know what it was at the time so i posted about it HERE so yea this thread is a useful tool! many thanks

Yes, absolutely. But let's not forget there are still a proportion of sightings that not even pilots and military men can explain. This is good for eliminating other possibilities though. I know I've had the experience of seeing a bright light in the sky only to realize that they were plane headlights. However, I have also seen a triangle UFO hovering above my head close enough that I could distinguish it from other things, and then it just zipped off. My personal belief is that the triangle UFO's are human black-ops made.

posted on Aug, 28 2012 @ 02:50 AM
reply to post by FireballStorm
What an excellent thread

Between this and your Perseids thread, yuou've set a very high bar. It's always good to see subject knowledge and enthusiasm being added to ATS.

Draconids and Orionids are next but (dammit!) they both peak on Sunday nights.

posted on Aug, 28 2012 @ 03:34 AM
reply to post by FireballStorm

The ufo guys will hate you s&f

posted on Aug, 28 2012 @ 03:52 AM
reply to post by wmd_2008

not necessarily
im a believer!
but you also have to look at things rationally first!

posted on Aug, 28 2012 @ 03:55 AM
reply to post by coyotepoet

i have had a sighting aswell
a couple in fact
one i posted on here but no one could see it on the video (poor camera)
another one im convinced was a certain unknown but i will keep that to myself
no point in eplaining it, i have no evidence!

posted on Aug, 28 2012 @ 04:07 AM
Good thread! Interesting images too.

To guy above me: I thought you were a sane person, until I saw the Man Utd avatar. Shame!

edit on 28-8-2012 by AmatuerSkyWatcher because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 28 2012 @ 04:14 AM
reply to post by AmatuerSkyWatcher

i was brainwashed from 3 years old by my old man!
blame him!

edit on 28-8-2012 by GezinhoKiko because: (no reason given)

edit on 28-8-2012 by GezinhoKiko because: spelling

posted on Aug, 28 2012 @ 02:39 PM
thanks for the information

posted on Aug, 28 2012 @ 04:50 PM
Nice thread! I was trying to track down an object back in 2010 that traversed through Cassiopeia, I still have not figured out if it was a rocket booster spinning or what. I had eliminated iridium and other satellites from some software and Jtrack. Even went so far as to post on a Astrophotography site looking for a Satellite tracking nut but to no avail.

posted on Aug, 28 2012 @ 05:05 PM
reply to post by abeverage

It isn't clear from your post but if you are using tracking tools for a sighting 2 years ago you won't have much luck. The ephemerides which tracking tools use change over time, a current ephemeris is good for a few months at best. The farther back or forward in time you go, the less accurate the information.

edit on 8/28/2012 by Phage because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 28 2012 @ 05:49 PM
reply to post by FireballStorm

Congratulations on making an ATS worthy informational thread !!!!

12 Flags 15 Stars ???

Members are on vacation or something ??

Many would gain by reading your OP. And I think it should be stickied to GEL's thread about discerning UFOs.

Big Thumbs Up !!

posted on Aug, 28 2012 @ 06:01 PM
Please explain what I witnesses on a few occasions in Los Angeles about 5 years ago.

I was sitting in my back yard looking at the sky. I noticed a bluish white light on te horizon. Looked exactly like a star or the ISS, maybe even a satellite. So I watch this thing go from over the ocean heading north east inland. It was a hazy evening. Not overcast, but not clear enough to see most of the starts except for the bigger ones. So I'm thinking this thing must be inside our atmosphere.

It travelled quickly across the sky about a third of the way. Then without warning in a blink of an eye it teleported to directly overhead. WHen it reappeared a split second later it was traveling 90 degrees from it's original course at the same speed. It then started to move in a sine wave as it was going east south. At the apex of each sine wave curve it would release a shower of smaller (and the main light its self was pretty small and star like already) darker blue slightly fainter objects 4-5 at a time. It did this about 4 times and then kept going until it went over the horizon. The entire event took maybe 25 seconds. I really doubt the sine wave thing in this instance was because my eyes were tired. I wasn't tired. I observed it before and after flying perfectly straight. It was just for a few seconds it did the sine wave thing. If it was just my eyes being tired then explain the "sparks" I saw it jettisoning briefly.

Obviously satellites don't jump through space, and they don't make instantaneous 90 degree turns while gaining speed. This all occurred around 8PM. later the same evening around 10PM I saw the same object but this time going from east to west back out over the ocean. Every time this thing was traveling fast. even for a satellite or the ISS which I've seen before with my naked eye. So I can compare the two. i really don't think this thing was a satellite or anything similar.

I saw the same object on three consecutive weekdays (every wednesday) and then it never came back.

WTH did I see?
edit on 28-8-2012 by BASSPLYR because: (no reason given)

edit on 28-8-2012 by BASSPLYR because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 28 2012 @ 08:15 PM
Firstly, thanks for all the comments and kind words.

Secondly, a few of you may have noticed some mistakes and typos in my OP (I was in a bit of a rush to get the thread finished and posted, so I could get some sleep!), notably in "example 1", I managed to mess up the order of the photographs: The second photograph should be where the first is, the third photograph should be where the second is, and the first photograph (showing the close-up of the flares) should be in third place.

Perhaps a mod would be kind enough to fix this?

coyotepoet - It's a fair point you made that there are still things that can't (at least at the moment) be explained, but I do wonder in some of these cases if all the conventional possibilities have been comprehensively explored.

I agree that military/black ops are a possibility in some cases, but I have a sneaky suspicion that how advanced their technology actually is has been blown way out of proportion. After all, would it not be in the interest of the military to keep their perceived enemies guessing, and wondering if some kind of super-advanced capability is being developed and tested?

I also have reservations about triangle UFOs. It may well be possible that once again an optical illusion is to blame for some of them, but I think that is a topic for another thread once I have collected together some evidence.

Another thing that I would say here, is that "pilots and military men" are not generally any better trained in identification outside the sphere of their jobs, and many of the phenomena that are well documented to be the cause of some UFO sightings fall into that category. Here (scroll down Arbitrageur's post till you come to the bit about pilots) is one classic case that illustrates this vividly. This thread also has relevant info scattered throughout it.

Kandinsky - Thanks. The Draconids or Orionids (or any other meteor shower) peak is worth observing (as long as you are aware that they are typically not very strong showers), but my advice would be to direct more effort towards the Geminids in December, partly since its more reliable in terms of high rates, but also since the Moon will be out of the way this year. Perhaps ask for a day off on December 14 (the peak is predicted for the13th @ 23h30m UT by the The International Meteor Organization) depending on your location?

wmd_2008 & GezinhoKiko - I have no doubt that some will hate me, but I hope most will see that I am only giving people the tools to narrow down the cases to the ones that might be significant in terms of truly inexplicable phenomena (at least with the knowledge we have today regarding the universe around us) if there indeed is such a thing or things, and not hate me for it.

Either way, it's good to know that at least some of us here on ATS will consider the rational possibilities before jumping to conclusions

edit on 28-8-2012 by FireballStorm because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 29 2012 @ 08:56 AM

Originally posted by Phage
reply to post by abeverage

It isn't clear from your post but if you are using tracking tools for a sighting 2 years ago you won't have much luck. The ephemerides which tracking tools use change over time, a current ephemeris is good for a few months at best. The farther back or forward in time you go, the less accurate the information.

edit on 8/28/2012 by Phage because: (no reason given)

Oh no I gave up a long time ago, I had narrowed it down to either an ATLAS 5 CENTAUR R/B (best candidate) or the NOSS 3-1 (C). But I was hoping it was OTV-1 or a new spy satellite.

posted on Aug, 29 2012 @ 09:22 AM
reply to post by FireballStorm
So, what are the faintly bright objects I see occasionally at night that traverse the skies in a very slow manner? They don't appear to blink or glow, it's just a seemingly solid light moving verrrrry slowly across the sky at a very high altitude (40k + feet?) and they appear to follow a wobbly path.

posted on Aug, 30 2012 @ 01:13 AM
reply to post by Jaellma

almost certainly satelites!
they dont always get brighter and lighter with the sun

posted on Aug, 30 2012 @ 01:20 AM
Great thread OP , its great to see rational observational reports.
The UFO industry is awash with tosh.

posted on Aug, 30 2012 @ 01:39 AM
The "Stacked Aircraft" visual presentation is probably responsible for so many of the reports and videos of "aligned bright objects" in the sky.

If you are fortunate enough to be on the same vector downrange of a stacked flight vector into an airport, you have seen it yourself. No aircraft on approach into a landing zone are allowed to be at the same altitude, so the flight controllers stack them a thousand feet or more as they approach. There can be 2 or 3 vectors into an airport, and all aircraft have to come in that way, no matter which way they are approaching the airport . The controllers put them on pre-determined headings, all in a row, separated by a mile or more, at different altitudes. Their landing lights, head-on, are extremely brilliant, even at great distance.

If you happen to be on one of these headings, you will see 3,4, or more bright lights in a line as you look downrange at all of these aircraft heading your way. Then, as each aircraft gets closer, they get assigned a lower altitude, and when one reaches the turn point for that vector, they drop off from the bottom only to be replaced by another aircraft further away that has turned into this heading at the higher altitude.

If someone does not realize this, then.... its UFO time, and the endless videos of aligned bright lights hit the ranks of youtube videos.....

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