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Seen a swift/very swift moving light (colored or white) in the sky? - *Please Read this first*

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posted on Oct, 27 2008 @ 03:28 PM
Rev 3. 11/08/08
This is a basic guide aiming primarily to assist in identification of meteors, comets and other natural stellar objects as distinct from Unidentified guided or piloted craft.

What is a Meteor?

The Royal Astronomical Society has proposed a new definition where a meteoroid is between 100 µm and 10 m across.[2] The NEO definition includes larger objects, up to 50 m in diameter, in this category.

Objects lighter than a meteor are deemed an asteroid. Smaller is interplanetary dust.

The methods used to distinguish are
Characteristics and Flight Path:
01/ Vector
02/ Speed?
03/ Color
04/ Brightness
05/ Appearance
06/ Direction
07/ Apparent altitude
08/ Sounds
09/ Other behavior
10/ OK, so I saw something, and I've been through this guide - what now?
11/ Meteor activity throughout the year, storms, outbursts, and future predictions
12/ A little ramble from me on Meteors

Characteristics and Flight Path:
1/ Did the object fly straight, without making any turns or changing it's apparent velocity? If you can answer "yes" then the object may well be a meteor... although some experienced observers have on very rare occasions seen meteors that appear to slowly curve, or to wiggle mildly, this is related to the composition of the object, its irregularity and the flight path as it passes though denser parts of the atmosphere.
2/ How fast was the object?
Most meteors are fast and can cross the sky from almost horizon-to-horizon in under 10 seconds. The vast majority last less than a second. At the other end of the spectrum, and very close to the upper speed limit of orbiting man made satellites, are slow meteors.

The slowest meteors can cross most of the sky in about 45-50 seconds, but it's exceptionally rare to see one last that long.

If the brightness of the object changed relatively slowly (or hardly at all), and the object appeared to be white, it may well have been a satellite if it was visible for such a long time. Keep in mind that satellites are only visible for a short while after sunset/before dawn at this time of year since the sun is well below the horizon. During Summer, satellites are visible most of the night since the sun is never really very low below the horizon. You can often work out if what you saw was a satellite by checking Satellite tracking

There are also occasional super-speed meteors that originate from outside our solar system. When you see one, the motion of the meteor is often hard to see - it's as if a line just appears out of nowhere in the sky, and disappears as fast as it appeared. These usually last only a fraction of a second, and are often dim, although bright super-speed meteors are possible too. Since brightness increases with size, and since larger meteoroids with high velocities are more prone to catastrophic failure of structural integrity due to the more intense forces involved during the initial phase of entry, it's likely that if you see one of these, that it will disintegrate in a bright flash of light at the end of its path. This may explain at least some of the "flash in the sky" UFOs that have been reported in recent months here.

The same is also true of meteoroids originating from within our own solar system, even though the upper speed limit is much lower, they may also disintegrate in a bright flash or "terminal burst".
3/ Color
Meteors can be almost any color, although many appear to be white. Common colors seen include: Yellow, Green, Orange, Red, and Blue. Gold and Bronze are also quite common. The brighter the meteor the more chance of seeing color, and it's not unusual to see more than one color in the same meteor.
4/ Brightness
Meteors range in brightness from imperceptible by the naked human eye to being as bright as the sun in some exceptional cases. It's a common misconception that bright meteors are rare - they are not, although exceptionally bright meteors are uncommon. On any given night there is a fair chance of seeing a fireball (brighter than Venus which is -4 magnitude) class meteor or two. If you watch meteors a lot you stand a good chance of seeing meteors around the brightness of the moon.

Given the unusually high activity at the time of writing, bright meteors are even more abundant. Numerous reports attributable to this high activity have been submitted to ATS and other sites/organizations. See below for links to some of the observations posted here on ATS.

The table above shows the brightness of various celestial objects that can help when trying to estimate the brightness of an object you saw. Please note that negative values are brighter than positive values, and that each increment represents 2.5x. So, a 3rd magnitude (+3 mag.) star is 2.5 times dimmer than a 2nd magnitude (+2 mag.) star.

Apparent Magnitude
5/ Appearance
Meteors can appear to be "balls" or "spheres" of light, which is usually associated with slower meteors, but they can also have a tail, making them appear to have a "tear drop" shape (generally faster meteors). A tail or wake will last no longer than a second before fading away, but meteors can also produce much longer lived "Persistent trains", as they are known, which can last for 10's of minutes in extreme cases.
6/ Direction
To a meteor, there is no up or down. Meteors can appear to shoot up from the horizon (Earth grazers) or drop directly down, as well as every other angle in between! If two people separated by a few hundred miles see the same meteor, they will see it fly in completely different directions - one might see it fly up, and the other down. This is possible since we live on a curved surface.

Direction also affects apparent speed - just as a train heading directly towards you will appear to stand still if you see it from some distance, when a fast meteoroid hits the atmosphere it will not appear to move if it heads directly towards you. This is quite rare to see, though - more often the meteor will be just off straight, and will appear to move extremely slowly in the sky for the duration of its short life. See below for example video clips.
7/ Apparent altitude
People will often insist that they saw a meteor land just over the hill, or that it flew only a few hundred feet over head, but in most cases this is physically impossible. In simple terms, it's an optical illusion. Our brains are particularly bad at judging distance and altitude especially when it comes to unfamiliar objects in the sky. See this link for a full explanation:

Meteors can fool our eyes

While the object in question may have looked very close and bright, most meteors are burn up from 100 to 60 miles high. Rare indeed is the meteor that makes it down to even the 20 mile high point, and on the rare occasions this does happen, the would be meteorite completes this last phase (known as the "dark flight" phase) of it's journey at free-fall speed, and unseen since it's too slow to produce any light. The only exception to this rule is if the meteor is made of very dense strong material, and is large enough to keep a significant portion of it's cosmic velocity - an asteroid the size of a small car for example. If you saw one of these, you'd know about it... if you were far enough away to survive!

Some people also mistakenly assume that if is not high above the horizon it can not be a meteor, but this is not true - as long as the object stays above the horizon, and is not seen passing in front of obstructions on the horizon, there is no reason why it could not be a meteor.
8/ Sounds
In rare cases, meteor can produce sounds. These fall into two categories. Sounds heard at the same time as the meteor is visible, often described as a "sizzling" type sound are known as "electrophonic" sounds. Sometimes even dim meteors can produce these sounds. Then there is the possibility of sonic-booms being produced if the meteor is large enough, and penetrates deep into the atmosphere. These would usually be heard 2 or 3 minutes after seeing a bright meteor.
9/ Other behavior
If you are lucky you can see meteors that appear to:
*Sparkle, or trail sparks
*Split or fragment into two or more pieces
*Flare violently along their path
*Explode in a terminal flash of light
*Fade in and out along their path, sometimes remaining invisible for short periods of time
*Come in simultaneous pairs or more

There may well be others that I'm forgetting of have never seen/heard of. Meteors can still surprise even experienced observers with odd and unusual behavior. I'd encourage anyone seeing (or hearing) a very bright meteor (equal to or above the brightness of the moon) or seeing any unusual behavior not listed here to report it to one of the organizations that can be found in the links that I have listed in the Taurid Swarm year thread.
End of Part 1
10/ OK, so I saw something, and I've been through this guide - what now?
If this guide has done it's job, then the chances are you have identified what you saw. If you are still unsure, check the links below for other guides, info and examples, and if you still think you have a UFO, then by all means post a new topic after having done a search to see that there is not already a pre-existing topic relating to what you saw.

If you think what you saw was an unusual astronomical phenomenon, then head over to the Space Exploration forum and tell us about it - we would love to hear your account! All observations are useful including those of misidentified objects, if only because other people will be able to learn from the mistakes of others.
11/ Meteor activity throughout the year, storms, outbursts, and future predictions
I think it's fair to say that in general, most people apart from a few amateur astronomers, meteor observers, and keen sky watchers are not aware of just how much material finds its way to Earth's atmosphere. Although we think of space as empty, it's not really, and Earth's orbit takes us through space that has in the past been crisscrossed by the dusty debris trails left by many comets and asteroids (to a much lesser degree). A good analogy would be the sky in an area surrounding a busy airport (The Sun), on a day when it's full of contrails.

During any given year, there is a background of activity that never ceases, although at certain times of the year the activity is higher. It's when we intersect the orbit of a comet that has been through that particular part of space in the relatively recent past that we get a meteor shower, or if we are lucky, and our orbit takes us through the heart of the dust trail left by the comet soon after the comet produced that trail, a meteor storm can be expected.

See this FAQ for more info on this subject: Meteor FAQ

Although this is not common, it does happen, and more often than most people realize! In the last 10 years alone there have been at least three confirmed storms (if the "ZHR" or "hourly rate under ideal conditions" > 1000), and at least twice this number of confirmed outbursts (when the rate is significantly higher than in a normal/average year).

Not only that, but this year, as I mentioned at the start of this post, has seen significantly above normal activity! We started the year off with a Quadrantids outburst in January, followed by an Eta-Aquarid outburst in May that was twice as strong as most years, followed by strong outbursts from the Perseids in August and the Orionids which is still going now, though it's back down to more or less normal.

We can expect more high activity this year too. The Taurids (which are also expected to be in outburst mode in 2008 - see links below) will be peaking over the next week or so, and by the time they start to wind down the Leonids will be active, and we are could see a strong outburst (ZHR up to 150) at 0:22 UT on the 17th November according to predictions by Mikhail Maslov. Not everyone will get to see the peak although there should still be at least some enhanced activity for those with clear skies before and after the time of the peak.

Although this year (2008) has been busy, "freak" years like this are bound to come along once in a while, and perhaps we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg - there are numerous accounts from the past of strong meteor activity. The Chinese in particular kept detailed records over hundreds of years, and there are many accounts of "stars falling like rain from the heavens". Perhaps, just like sunspots, there are fairly regular long term cycles of maxima and minima, and it's just speculation, but we could be heading for a meteor maxima.

To really put things into perspective, new comets and asteroids are being discovered all the time, so sooner or later we will plough directly into the very core of a newly laid trail of dust. Don't be surprised if that happens sooner rather than later!

We are living in exciting times, and for the first time in recorded history we have the almost godlike ability to predict to within a handful of minutes, the time at which Earth will pass through the most meteoroid rich part of a dust trail that is hundreds of years old. Every year the technology improves, and the models used to simulate dust trails are tweaked, so predictions become even more reliable.
12/ A little ramble from me on Meteors
Our computer models are a great tool, but they would be useless were it not for astronomers around the world who contribute observations on comets and meteor showers, and most of these astronomers are amateurs - ordinary people just like you and me. Anyone can do it once they learn a few simple rules, and the basics of finding your way around the stars. Why not give it a try yourself? Not only will you help to improve our ability to predict future meteor showers, but you may also see some of the most spectacular fireworks nature has to offer, and Natures fireworks are more than capable of making even our artificial displays seem like damp squibs in comparison!

Read some accounts about the outburst that first got me interested in meteors here:

outburst accounts

I remember turning on the TV, after having stayed up the whole night watching meteors exploding all over the sky, and chuckling to myself when the newsreader announced that UFO reports had been coming in since the early hours.

It's fitting that in a little under 3 weeks time will be the 10 year anniversary of this event (also marking a decade of interest in the subject for me
), and perhaps if we are very lucky we might just see a repeat performance!
UFO or meteor?
Meteor shower calender
Another meteor shower calender
Heads up - it's a Taurid Swarm year!
Falling stars..I just saw two
weird green ball with tail
General information vabout meteors
Organizations and mailing lists:
International Meteor Organization
International Meteor Organization
Meteor Observing Mailing List

[edit on 11/8/2008 by Badge01]
Mod Edit: All Caps – Please Review This Link.

[edit on 11/22/2008 by Gools]

posted on Oct, 27 2008 @ 04:10 PM
Good post. I was driving the other night and a great big orange ball fell out of the sky towards the earth at rapid speed. I have no doubt this was an meteor, just pleased that it wasn't a big one or colliding with us!

posted on Oct, 27 2008 @ 05:50 PM
reply to post by Anonymous ATS

You're welcome, and thanks for posting what you saw here.

It actually reminded me of a few important points that I forgot to include in my original post.

posted on Oct, 27 2008 @ 06:15 PM
Great post, starred and flagged!

I actually saw two (not simultaneous), extremely bright, sparking, gold coloured meteors in the early hours of the 24th heading east to west. Taurids methinks.

Edit for typo

[edit on 27/10/08 by Insomniac]

posted on Oct, 27 2008 @ 06:44 PM
reply to post by Insomniac

Thanks Insomniac,

It usually only takes one meteor like you describe to make my night

They are usually random meteors too - not belonging to any known meteor shower. During this time of year the rate of sporadic meteors as they are known is highest in the hours before dawn. It's the best part of the night to see meteors in general usually, unless you are looking for Earth grazers.

posted on Oct, 27 2008 @ 09:56 PM
Meteors can also be so brief that they appear only as a flash of light with no motion.

A streak or flash with no moving body visible is 0.2 to 0.3 second, which constitutes the majority of meteors.


posted on Oct, 27 2008 @ 09:57 PM
Just to demonstrate point No. 6 (Direction), and how the apparent speed and also the appearance of the meteor are affected by perspective, here is a very recent fireball captured on various video cameras from different angles/locations:

Almost head on


Seen "from the side"


Go here for the full story and more footage from the other cameras

CANADIAN FIREBALL: On Oct. 15th, with no warning, a small stony entered Earth's atmosphere over eastern Canada where it exploded some 37 km above the ground. Movies of the fireball from seven different points of view have just been released by the University of Western Ontario. Using the movies to determine the asteroid's trajectory, researchers have figured out where fragments of the asteroid may have landed; the hunt for meteorites is underwayt

Since I'm posting examples, heres an Orionid meteor that was posted on

posted on Oct, 29 2008 @ 11:06 PM
Congratulations, C.H.U.D.: your post has been approved for being made a top post 'stickie'.

Approved by Springer 11/5/08

[edit on 11/5/2008 by Badge01]

posted on Nov, 6 2008 @ 08:44 AM
reply to post by C.H.U.D.

Nice work C.H.U.D!

Yet another important tool for the board members to help deny ignorance. Something like this is well overdue. Kudos for bringing it to us mate!

Star & Flag 4 U


posted on Nov, 6 2008 @ 09:11 AM
So if I'm reading this post right , ALL lights in the sky whether fast, slow straight, curving, wobbling, white, multicoloured , large and small are NOT UFO'S piloted by Aliens but are actually Meteorites and falling space debris?.

Phew for a moment there I thought there was life in outer space. Glad I was wrong.

Now I can go back to being a brainwashed , GOd fearing sheeple.
Thanks for clearing up my confusion. I thought I was becoming enlightened there for a minute.

Flagged and a Star (or is it a slowmoving meteor?) for you C.H.U.D.

[edit on 6/11/08 by DataWraith]

posted on Nov, 6 2008 @ 09:50 AM
Great post CHUD.

I had the pleasure of witnessing 2 meteors on Tuesday night. The first one just list up and then dimmed. It didn't move at all so I'm guessing that it was heading straight towards my line of sight.

The second one was a typical left-to-right downward arc. What was cool though is that I could actually see it's tail illuminated behind it for a second or so.

posted on Nov, 6 2008 @ 12:13 PM
First of all, I'd like to say a big thank you to everyone who has helped me to put this guide together, especially Badge01, and those "behind the scenes" - you know who you are!

We still have a few things to iron out, which should be sorted within the next few days, but if anyone spots and errors after this time, I'd be grateful if you could U2U me and point them out. Thanks!

reply to post by InfaRedMan

Thanks InfaRedMan,

As you say, this is well overdue here. Hopefully it'll allow ATS members to concentrate their efforts on the "real" UFO sightings, as well as raising awareness of this phenomenon.

reply to post by DataWraith


Thanks, and you've brought up a good point...

Meteors can display a very wide range of behavior, much of which is not commonly known about by the vast majority of people - this is why it's so important IMO to tell people on a forum like this what meteors are capable of.

So you can see from the various behaviors that I've listed, that meteors can easily confuse those who don't know much about them. It's not unusual for even the experts to be confused (at least temporarily).

It should also be kept in mind that we probably have not seen it all yet - discoveries are still being made, and new types of meteor behaviors may still be unknown to the scientific community. The same is true of other celestial phenomena. So even if something can't be explained by common phenomena like meteors, it doesn't necessarily mean that it has a connection with ETs.

All I ask is that people at least consider that some mysterious, and seemingly unexplained events might have a slightly more mundane explanation. This guide certainly isn't intended to debunk all possible UFO sightings - just to help people sort the wheat from the chaff so to speak.

reply to post by TXRabbit

Hi TXRabbit,

Glad my guide may have helped you identify a possible "point meteor". Keep in mind that satellites can create the same effect, and it's virtually indistinguishable from a meteor in many cases. It can usually be sorted out by finding out what meteor showers are active at the time, and since a point meteor can only appear in the constellation after which the meteor shower is named, you can usually rule out satellites if this is the case. For example:- A Leonid meteor would only appear as a point in the constellation "Leo".

Technically, point meteors are only seen in the "radiant", which is a small area of sky from where a particular shower's members appear to radiate from - although the radiant moves gradually against the background of stars over time, during the peak of a shower the radiant usually lies in or very close to the constellation after which the shower was named.


For anyone that wants to do a bit of detective work, there is software which shows you where the currently active radiants are in the sky. It's much like a simplified planetarium program, except only enough celestial "land marks" are included to be able to find your way around the sky. You can specify any date or time, so it's possible to plan ahead, or find out where radiants were in the past.

It's a stand-alone program, so theres no install - just extract, click and run, and it's freeware. Please note that the first time you use it, you'll have to enter your location to get any meaningful results, and navigating the interface can be a little confusing at first, although it soon becomes second nature.

The software (MetShow) can be found here:

Here is a direct link to it:


Going back to what you saw TXRabbit - I also love to see a good tail or wake from a meteor! IMO it's one of the amazing aspects of meteors. Seeing one never fails to give me goose pimples

posted on Nov, 9 2008 @ 11:13 PM
Great post, full of useful resources. I sometimes see meteors and I once saw a huge fireball in the daytime, which wasn't even reported later on the news. I didn't know how to report it or to whom. I was so excited at the time, and I was frustrated that I couldn't officially 'tell' anyone what I saw. The info in this thread would have been very helpful. Also this knowledge be helpful in distinguishing a meteor from something else.

posted on Nov, 22 2008 @ 09:36 AM
If ever see one, I hope I have my camera with me so that I can take a really good shot. And I'll be sharing it to you guys!

posted on Nov, 22 2008 @ 10:00 AM
reply to post by hyperjedz

Hi hyperjedz,

Your enthusiasm is admirable, but there is allot more to photographing meteors than just having a camera to hand.

The main problem is that most meteors are so quickly gone, you almost never have a chance to react, except in some very rare cases where the meteor lasts more than a handful of seconds. To catch meteors, you usually need a camera set up and running before hand.

Also, you'll never get a good photo without using a tripod. Without one, the meteor will turn into a "wiggly smudge" since keeping a camera still whilst hand holding it is physically impossible.

Have a look at the following threads for more info and tips:
(see my last post in the thread especially)
(as above)

Let me know if you have any questions

[edit on 22-11-2008 by C.H.U.D.]

posted on Nov, 22 2008 @ 10:25 AM
Very nice work C.H.U.D!

This should help people figure out some of the things they see in the night sky.
star & flag

Also wanted to say that last year i was in P.A. and my friends and i saw about
ten meteors streak by,it was so cool because we could see the milkyway as the back ground to the show.

posted on Dec, 3 2008 @ 10:32 AM
thats all very interesting, what about the ones that stop in the middle of the sky, then go in an entirely different direction. I saw no classification for that

posted on Dec, 3 2008 @ 07:01 PM
reply to post by atsbeliever

In that case it remains unidentified... and you have excluded meteors as a possibility at the very least.

Perhaps they are black ops satellites with maneuvering capabilities... who knows... I've never seen them myself, so I can't say for sure...

Perhaps try this thread: Starlike objects that move strangely in the sky

Sorry I could not help you more.

posted on Sep, 9 2010 @ 04:14 AM
hello new so ill just get right to it in 2008 i was deployed to Afghanistan i remember it like it was yesterday though we had been put on alert we were a artillery unit and were told we might be firring for friendly troops so as we had done many of times before we waited and sat there of in the distance there are some very tall mountains being bored you start to look around bored well then it happened 4 to 6 well the only way i can describe them would be lets see ok imagine looking at the stars and you see mars it looks like a red star just brighter right but these were much closer i would say at least 9 miles away they were very high in the sky but the moved with such grace that it was hard to believe seeing it my self others from my squad took notice to it also they would stay in one place for a while in mid air then all of a sudden they would jolt to the left right up down you could almost tell that they were getting closer some time they moved so fast l mean i have had people tell me that this was just a bomb run my our air force no that cant be military planes in combat zones dont have lights on them and these were a kind of dull but bright red if you can understand what i am getting at so if you have any thoughts let me know

posted on Sep, 9 2010 @ 04:56 AM
Seen shooting rocks and they are nothing but cool. Its crazy that we still are getting hit by crap from space. Nature is beautiful.

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