What is that bright, hyper twinkling star-like object in the East now?
September 17, 2015 8:12 PM   Subscribe

I am in mid-coast Maine. In the East, there is what appears to be a very bright star, but it is flashing both blue and red, which I have not known any star to do. However, it has been stationary for many minutes. What is it?
posted by cake vandal to Science & Nature (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
A helicopter?

No celestial object changes colors that way.
posted by Hatashran at 8:15 PM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've been seeing Venus in the east the past few nights.... could the color change be an illusion for you?
posted by HuronBob at 8:15 PM on September 17, 2015


Response by poster: But planets don't twinkle at all, right? Or are there circumstances in which they do, such as some kind of interference in the view? Even the ISS would be moving after 15 minutes, yes?
posted by cake vandal at 8:17 PM on September 17, 2015


Response by poster: On preview, possibly what HuronBob said, but I'm wondering what would cause it to look this way.
posted by cake vandal at 8:18 PM on September 17, 2015


If this is what you're seeing now, it's not Venus since it's not currently in the sky for the east coast US as near as I can tell. How many minutes? the ISS moves across the entire sky within minutes--same as all visible objects orbiting Earth.

Sounds like it could be a helicopter or a slow-moving plane going directly toward you. Or some other optical effect making it possible to see a tower with warning lights from unusually far away.
posted by skynxnex at 8:22 PM on September 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you have a tablet add Starwalk. You can hold it up to the sky and it will show you what you are seeing. It shows satellites and all heavenly bodies.!
posted by ReluctantViking at 8:23 PM on September 17, 2015 [11 favorites]


Best answer: You aren't seeing Venus in the East in the evening. Venus never appears in the eastern sky in the early evening. When it's up in the early evening, it appears in the west. These days it's up in the early morning, anyway.

My guess is Aldeberan or Capella, two bright stars rising in the East right now.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:27 PM on September 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Best answer: Oh. And the color change twinkling like that can happen close to the horizon as the atmosphere distorts the light from the star.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:28 PM on September 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Pleiades are rising about now, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:30 PM on September 17, 2015


Now I'm wondering what I've been assuming is Venus... hmmm..
posted by HuronBob at 8:59 PM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sirius definitely twinkles red/blue/white. Massive stars can have enormous rotational velocity, enough to redshift and blushift their receding and oncoming limbs. If you were near these stars you would see them edged on one side with a blue tinge and red on the other. Even though their light comes to us as a near-perfect point of light (ie having no diameter) even to the largest telescopes, due to their great distance, we can sometimes see these colors as our atmosphere acts as a somewhat gelatinous prism.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:32 PM on September 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


Best answer: Even for massive fast rotators, the rotation speed is nowhere close to enough to result in naked-eye visible shifts in color. All of the color shifting you're seeing is from differential refraction of the (basically purely white) light in our atmosphere.
posted by Betelgeuse at 1:50 AM on September 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think I might have seen this out over lake Michigan last night. It was brighter than any planet I can recall seeing. I kept thinking it was a jet coming in to land at Mitchell Field, but it didn't move at all.

Curious.
posted by transitional procedures at 2:23 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have an android phone and use Google Sky Map to identify stuff in the sky. Stellarium gets good reviews, as well.
posted by theora55 at 5:46 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've seen this the last couple of nights too from the UK. Am a reasonably experienced stargazer - I know what's a star and what's a planet and I couldn't figure this out for the life of me. will have another look tonight with Skymap on, didn't have my phone with me at the time.
posted by Chairboy at 5:52 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


EarthSky says Capella too.
posted by Chairboy at 5:58 AM on September 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


Nice find, Chairboy. That's a great description of what you're seeing and why you're seeing it.
posted by Betelgeuse at 6:36 AM on September 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I saw that same effect a couple weeks ago in Maryland while traveling, a bright star to the northwest flashing red and green. I even managed to get videos of it flashing. It turned out to be the bright star Arcturus. I never knew before that bright stars could twinkle in spectral colors when they are sufficiently low in the sky.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 8:46 AM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are several mobile apps for iOS and Android that let you point your camera at the sky and it will tell you what everything you're seeing is. I use SkyView Free for iOS and it works pretty well. You may need to spin the phone around a bit to orient the compass correctly once you launch it.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:34 AM on September 18, 2015


+1 for Aldebaran and Capella. I checked it with your location and time in Stellarium.
posted by hz37 at 11:41 AM on September 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I grew up in the same area and saw what you are describing a few times. Invariably, even after many minutes of hovering, it would move off to the south headed for Portland or Boston. My dad suggested that the only reason we saw it so infrequently was that transatlantic flights weren't usually low enough at that point in their approach.
posted by qbject at 12:26 AM on September 20, 2015


Sorry, what I mean is that planes heading due-west over the water seem to float in space when you're looking east if they're low enough for you to see their lights.
posted by qbject at 12:31 AM on September 20, 2015


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