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Honey, the stars are acting crazy.....
July 10, 2010 10:12 PM   Subscribe

We just saw the stars do the craziest thing in the night sky - what happened?!

Over the space of about five minutes a group of a couple dozen "stars" move at least 80 degrees through the night sky. (They moved from north to south. If we were looking straight up into the night sky and treating it as round with the center directly overhead, they moved about a quarter of the sky, but in a straight line.) They were grouped together about as tightly as a typical constellation. They were very bright, but when they stopped moving they faded from view quickly. I would say that their speed was somewhere between a plane and a fast moving satellite. They were certainly not moving as quickly as normal shooting stars. It's a mildly over cast night and few if any other stars are visible due to light pollution. Besides the slightly unusual brightness and crazy speed, they resembled stars. About 40 people describe seeing the exact same thing and there are no drugs involved. If it makes any difference, this was in New Mexico.
posted by stoneweaver to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Satellites? That explains everything except the "faded from view" part.
posted by slidell at 10:19 PM on July 10, 2010


Military planes flying in formation, the stopped and faded thing is when they went into a steeper climb. Or what b11r0t said.
posted by Some1 at 10:22 PM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, sounds like satellites. There are lots of them up there, and even in an area with lots of light pollution you can still see them regularly.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:22 PM on July 10, 2010


What was the local time? (and time zone; presumably Mountain time in NM?)

About what angle in the sky did they appear and disappear at?

With that information it can be possible to look up other meteor sightings, if it was (for example) a cluster of meteor fragments.

Other possibilities: a formation of aircraft; a single low-flying aircraft whose running lights looked funny from your angle; a handful of satellites disappearing as they entered Earth's shadow (though I think the geometry is wrong for this one); alien spacecraft. If the lights appeared to shimmer or waver they could be a cluster of birds flying in formation and lit from below.
posted by hattifattener at 10:27 PM on July 10, 2010


Have you heard of the Phoenix Lights? Sounds similar. There's a documentary on the subject that I thought was pretty interesting which interviewed people from across the city including the 911 operator who received hundreds of calls about the lights. Plenty of eye-witnesses. No answers.
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:27 PM on July 10, 2010


Local time: about 10:45 through 10:53 (definitely within that zone, although not taking up the whole time). Yes, Mountain.

Angle of sky: Do you mean how far above the horizon? If so, maybe about 60 or 70? Definitely not straight overhead, but you did have to lean your head back a bit to see them. I think they started off lower and disappeared higher, although not a whole lot. If there was any deviation, it was only a few degrees.

Where would one look up meteor sightings? These certainly seemed to move much more slowly than other meteors I have seen. No shimmering or wavering, so I don't think it was birds....

Again, everyone: This was at least a couple dozen. Seriously. Satellites are possible, but I have never seen any so tightly packed before, and I have certainly seen plenty of satellites in my life.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:37 PM on July 10, 2010


From the pictures I've seen, I think the Phoenix Lights were much larger than these were.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:39 PM on July 10, 2010


Try SkyWatch for info on satellite visibility - enter the exact location and time and see if anything comes up.
posted by Paragon at 10:41 PM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Satellites will fade from view when they move into Earth's shadow.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:47 PM on July 10, 2010


This is a meteor shower. I have seen something like this with 100+ discreet elements cross most of the sky over a period of thirty seconds or so. It was very beautiful.
posted by Wolof at 11:22 PM on July 10, 2010


discreet discrete
posted by Wolof at 11:24 PM on July 10, 2010


Hm, the meteor sightings site I was thinking of only records fireballs, not run-of-the-mill meteors. Phooey.

OTOH I found this mention of the "Antihelion" meteor radiant, which I think would have been in your sky and is described as producing "medium-slow speed" meteors. The radiant would be to the south, not to the north, so the direction seems wrong, but I might be misreading this.

The aircraft-in-formation theory is sounding better and better to me.
posted by hattifattener at 11:25 PM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


hattifattener, you've got it! The description of the Antihelion is spot on for what we saw. I guess we were just lucky to see so many meteors at once! You win the internets, sir.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:05 AM on July 11, 2010


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