No moon at night, everyone take flight!
December 31, 2004 1:23 PM   Subscribe

What could obscure the moon temporarily at night? The ghost thread reminded me of this weird event, and I wondered if you clever folk might be able to speculate.. [mi]

Back in the late '80s (or possibly very early '90s), when I was a kid, me, my father, and my uncle were left on our own in a vacation caravan sitting around looking at the moon. Suddenly there was a 'notch' in the left side of the moon. Then, over about 2 minutes, a black square with perfectly straight sides and sharp corners moved across the moon and off the right side. By the time my uncle got his antique camcorder, it was over. We reported it anyway, without incident.

If it wasn't such a perfect square, this wouldn't even be a question. It could have been a cloud or a plane. But a perfect square that took a couple of minutes to cut across the moon seen by three people.. am I missing something, what could it have been? A satellite of some sort? An experimental jet? Or just another one of those inexplicable things? This is certainly not in our imaginations as all three of us saw it, and I even remember it well, despite being a kid at the time.
posted by wackybrit to Science & Nature (8 answers total)
A kite? (Arthur C Clarke relates the story of encountering a group of gawkers staring at two mysterious objects in the sky hovering in formation. Much speculation among the crowd about "alien visitors." A bit later, Clarke finds a young man reeling in an enormous box kite.)
posted by SPrintF at 2:08 PM on December 31, 2004

We used to have a lot of experimental aircraft fly over our acreage until the area got more populated. Never caused any phenomena of any note. They always flew faster than stall speeds for normal aircraft. So, hard to imagine the rich kids/govt caused it.
posted by sled at 2:11 PM on December 31, 2004

Hot Air Balloon.
posted by Yorrick at 2:55 PM on December 31, 2004

The earth rotates 360 degrees in 24 hours, which is 360 degrees in 1440 minutes, which is one degree in four minutes. The moon, meanwhile, has an apparent diameter of half a degree as seen from the Earth. So an object that appeared to take two minutes to "cross" the moon could have just been stationary while the moon moved behind it.

Of course, this doesn't tell you what the heck it was. I think the kite idea might be a good one, even if it is unwholesome.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:56 PM on December 31, 2004

Response by poster: So an object that appeared to take two minutes to "cross" the moon could have just been stationary while the moon moved behind it.

That's actually a great point. I would have never thought of that the moon could have actually been moving. Never did like science class :-)
posted by wackybrit at 3:25 PM on December 31, 2004

My first thought was kite, too. My second thought was a solar cell atop a utility pole; if the moon was out there was probably enough light to notice a utility pole, but if there was a street light in that direction, it might not have been obvious.
posted by planetkyoto at 6:13 AM on January 1, 2005

Aliens. There I said it.
posted by jackofsaxons at 12:36 PM on January 1, 2005

Talk of flying saucers is now old hat; since the 1980s there have been increasing reports of flying black triangles {referenced parascience report}, and even more recently, squares (esp. in Europe, wackybrit). Make of that what you will; I'm inclined to accept that there may be experimental reconnaissance blimps of some sort in use, but why only at night, and why don't we get reports of these from war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan (where, presumably, such a device might be useful)? They do use blimps, but of the aerostat type (or spherical).

A cube, I imagine, would have maneuverability challenges. But electrokinetic aircraft may indeed exist, albeit only in hobbyist form (see NASA skepticism).

As for non-military balloons, it was always my understanding that hot-air balloons or any other non-dirigible (which means steerable, i.e. "directable", not rigid) airship were governed by Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and therefore were illegal to fly at night (cf.). Of course, an advertising balloon of any shape and modest size could have gotten loose.
posted by dhartung at 9:37 PM on January 1, 2005

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