Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I report a fireball - or did I see a UFO?

No picture accompanies this report
I wonder if anyone reading this saw the fireball on Friday night, 21st Sept? It appeared over Ireland, and parts of Britain, at about 22.55 BST on Friday 21 September.

It seems to have been space junk, a dead satellite perhaps.  See this Irish Times report (updated Sunday, September 23).

If you did see it you should file a report.  Believe it or not in this day and age, that really is how astronomers work out what's happened. By people sending reports, saying what they saw, how bright, at what elevation in the sky, travelling in which direction and most important of all, your precise location, and what direction which you were looking in.

Here's what I saw. About 11 o’clock I just happened to be admiring a cloudless night sky when the fireball crossed my field of view. Though at the time I had no idea what I was looking at. I actually muttered to myself, only half in jest, Spooky! I've seen a UFO. A string of brightly glowing yellow spots travelling horizontally across the sky.  Much brighter than any Venus I've seen, and definitely yellow. From where I was standing it was only visible for 15 seconds. They appeared to me to be quite near and quite low and travelling quite slowly. Say 100 mph, at about half a mile distant from me. It put me in mind of nothing so much as one of those low-flying biplanes pulling an advertising slogan across the sky that I used to see at the seaside. Or a string of Chinese lanterns a few hundred yards away. The apparition travelled due East to West then passed behind some trees.  That’s what it felt like at the time, but of course it wasn’t half a mile away, nor a few hundred yards, it was, I now know, about 250 km away over County Down.

What baffled me, and still does, was that the thing was travelling horizontally, parallel with the ground. A meteor, I thought to myself, should be falling out of the sky and towards the Earth.  This wasn’t like that at all. That could all be an optical illusion of course, compounded by a faulty memory.  All I can do is send in the report as I recall it.

When I tell them that I was 52 deg N, and 8 deg W, and according to my inexpert estimate the fireball was at an elevation of 10 degrees above the horizon, that information, once combined with reports from elsewhere, will help scientists work out at what height the stuff was actually travelling. You would think there would be radar reports that would answer all that, and maybe there are, maybe there aren’t, it all happened so quickly.

So if you did see it and can file a report, here's Armagh Observatory's Fireball report form.

1 comment:

  1. I say you *did* see a UFO. "It *seems* to have been space junk, a dead satellite *perhaps*." It sounds to me as though it was unidentified, flying and an object.

    It's interesting to learn that such observations is how scientists gather a lot of their evidence. I thought the only benefit of amateur observation of such things would be so that us plebs can watch video footage on YouTube.