I think I saw a supernova last night

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jmarkus

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I am not sure what to make of this. I was staring at a dark area of sky last night, and what looked like a flash bulb went off within this empty area. It was about the size of a nickel held at arms length. The center was bright white which faded to a gradient gray at the perimeter...there were spoke like features that radiated from the center. It lasted about 2 seconds. I have no idea what a supernova would look like to the naked eye...or how long it would last, but I could tell this was very very far away. Are my eyes playing tricks on me? I'm just curious if I witnessed something rare or not.
 
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MeteorWayne

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This is a very common description of a reflection of the sun off of a satellite, most likely the Iridium satellites. A supernova lasts days or weeks. The are very short as well as seconds long flares from satellites. (And even ones that last many minutes from Geosynchronous sats)

If you properly enter your location into this website:

http://www.heavens-above.com

You can see if it was an Iridium.

(This will be moved to Ask the Astronomer)

Wayne
 
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jmarkus

Guest
Thanks for the response Wayne. I feel kind of silly asking to begin with. I took the time to draw an approximate image in photoshop (poorly done) since the post. I thought I had read the 1987a supernova lasted weeks in Scientific American, but that was years and years ago. The thing that gave it depth - or scale for distance was dusty cloud like features between it and me. Of course, it likely was an optical illusion. Well, here is my rendering...I'm off to see your link...



BTW the spokes were not straight lines, but jagged like lightning bolts...
 
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jmarkus

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Well, it must have been something else besides an Iridium flare...there was nothing on the 20th where I live. The previous 48 hours search returned this. This was about 11-11:30 at night.

Search Period Start: 20:37, Monday, 19 April, 2010
Search Period End: 21:37, Wednesday, 21 April, 2010
Observer's Location: Unspecified ( 42.8115°N, 85.7373°W)
Local Time: Eastern Daylight Time (GMT - 4:00)

Date Local
Time Intensity
( Mag) Alt. Azimuth Distance to
flare centre Intensity at
flare centre
(Mag.) Satellite
19 Apr 21:26:40 -2 61° 101° (E ) 19.1 km (E) -8 Iridium 8
19 Apr 21:28:22 -4 63° 102° (ESE) 10.8 km (W) -8 Iridium 36
 
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kg

Guest
The size of a nickle at arms lenght sounds a bit large for a Iridium flair. The Iridium flairs that I've seen are bright and point like. Could this have been a spent rocket engine bleeding off fuel?
 
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jmarkus

Guest
With only a couple seconds to process what I saw...my brain interpreted the clouds as nebulae. It had a magically deep depth of field...like the flash was illuminating dust light years away. There were no discernible clouds that night, and these clouds/dust did not look like they were that close. It was like a lighthouse...when it shines right at you. I waited and waited, but it didn't do it again. The flash of light though...grew from center outward into increasing diameter...then it was gone. I thought the spokes were shadows caused by something opaque that was blocking the light emanating from the center, but they were not straight lines. More like dark lighting bolts. Are Cepheid variable stars known to behave this way? Does any star shine a beam of light that only last a couple seconds from a particular vantage point? I guess I will never know what I saw....
 
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kg

Guest
Stars change brightness over hours or days at least. There are some extreme exceptions such as gama ray bursts that brighten and dim in the course of seconds or pulsars that flash several times a second in radio waves but gamma rays and radio waves are invisible to the naked eye. Objects the size of stars just can't turn on and off that quickly. It's really much more likely you saw something either in low earth orbit or some kind of air traffic.
 
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SpaceTas

Guest
Yes; Supernovae last days to years; e.g. the Crab supernova in 1054 was visible in daylight for 23 days, and only faded from view at night after a year.

The only astronomical source that lasts only seconds are gamma-ray bursts and meteors. I checked the Swift website and there were no gamma-ray bursts detected on 19-21 this month. Any burst strong enough to be seen by eye would have been detected by Swift.

Very rarely people see head-on meteors. A very bright meteor would have been seen side-on by others. Many very bright meteors leave trails of dust, that the wind would have made visible even for a head-on view. I wonder if there are any all sky cameras in the area.

I still opt for a satellite flare.

The halo and rays are probably caused by distortions within your eyes. These are common, nothing to worry about and lead to lots of reports of Venus having spikes etc.
 
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MeteorWayne

Guest
A head on (or point) meteor is a possibility, but they are extremely rare. In several thousand hours of meteor obseving, I have seen exactly 1 out of thousands of meteors. On the other hand I see several flashing satellites or satellite flares per night.

Meteor Wayne
 
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jmarkus

Guest
I suppose it is like a side lit object appearing to be concave, when it actually is convex. I interpreted the bright center to be the furthest away, when it was actually the closest. A meteor straight on sounds plausible, and perhaps the dust was smoke it was creating...spokes maybe were pieces that fell off. Whatever it was - it was dramatic. I have never seen anything like it before. Thanks everyone for your comments.
 
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neilsox

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Indium flares occur every minute, somewhere on the dark portion of Earth (except near one AM local daylight time) but some specific locations are omitted some nights. Indium flares last more than 2 seconds (with very rare exceptions) but a satellite that is out of control = tumbling could produce one flash lasting one or two seconds. Two seconds is common for shooting stars = meteors. Neil
 
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MeteorWayne

Guest
Satellite flashes and flares from out of control objects can last from a tenth of a second to a few seconds, or as I said for Geostationary sats many minutes. They can be sharp square waved blips, or smoothly varying from invisibility to maximum brightness and back.
 
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MrUniverse

Guest
SpaceTas":35x3jmwq said:
The halo and rays are probably caused by distortions within your eyes. These are common, nothing to worry about and lead to lots of reports of Venus having spikes etc.
I've heard that people in sandy regions get a lot of tiny corneal abrasions, making stars appear more pointy than they do to others. I suppose this may be a reason for the tradition of depicting stars as pointy rather than points.
Sorry for straying off the topic.
 
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