Meteor? ...or what?

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222toh

Guest
Perseids shower
Central California at the coast
August 13
10:35pm

Hi there,

I saw something I cannot explain. I was facing south and looking up at the sky when I saw the weirdest thing.

It was a ball of orange light, moving very, very, very fast, and at a very low altitude. It made no noise and had no tail or smoke as far as I could tell. I was quite close to it, it was maybe about a mile or two up (no joke here).

It was visible for about 1 (one) second, during which time it traveled about half the visible sky.

It was so low that it actually went between two cloud layers and actually lit up the clouds.

I don't understand what I saw. Was this a meteor? Could it have been an electrical phenomenon - maybe ball lightening. Can meteor showers electrically charge the atmosphere?

I would appreciate anything that anyone could say about this.


Thanks,

222toh
 
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Archer17

Guest
Welcome to the board 222toh. I don't have the meteoric savvy of some here, MeteorWayne comes to mind, but he's apparently busy and since your question is kinda twisting on the vine here I'll take a stab at it: my 2 cents says what you observed is likely a component of the Perseids and was a fireball. The lack of a tail is non-typical, to this amateur anyway, but seeing this thing during the time-frame of the Perseid meteor shower makes me think it's not a coincidence.
 
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MeteorWayne

Guest
Let me just ask a few questions. What date and time was this? What direction were you facing? What was the altitude?

Without that info, it's pure speculation.

There are plenty of other meteor sources than the Perseids, and if I read the obs date as the 25th or 26th, the Perseids are highly unlikely.
 
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Archer17

Guest
I was going by the data in the upper left-hand corner in his post MW, not the time of post.
 
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MeteorWayne

Guest
LOL, after years of investigating fireball reports, I have learned not to assume anything...that's why I asked :)
 
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Archer17

Guest
MeteorWayne":3qdrifn8 said:
LOL, after years of investigating fireball reports, I have learned not to assume anything...that's why I asked :)
I got a question myself - how common is it for a fireball not to have an observable tail?
 
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222toh

Guest
Thanx for the replies. Here is more detail.



Where: Central California at the coast.
Date: August 13.
Time: 10:35pm.
Event: Perseids meteor shower.
Facing direction: Roughly South.
My altitude at the time: Roughly 300 feet above the ocean.



The meteors that I saw that night were roughly going North-East to South-West. The ball of light was going North-West to South-East.

It was quite low and passed in between two cloud layers. The altitude of the the first cloud layer was maybe 1000-2000 feet above sea level. The altitude of the the second layer was maybe 5000-6000 feet above sea level. So the altitude of the ball of light must have been between 1000-6000.

To me, it appeared as if I had shot it out of some super sonic cannon. My perspective was almost as if I was looking directly at the back, watching it go away. But really I think it was above me and offset west a bit.


Hope this greater detail helps,

222toh
 
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MeteorWayne

Guest
Again, you are assuming...I always try and get to what was actually seen, not what was interpreted.

We don't know how bright it really was...most meteors have no train (tail). Depending upon the shower and the speed of the incoming object, trains (tails) are more or less likely....
 
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Archer17

Guest
MeteorWayne":12ij8ksw said:
Again, you are assuming...I always try and get to what was actually seen, not what was interpreted.

We don't know how bright it really was...most meteors have no train (tail). Depending upon the shower and the speed of the incoming object, trains (tails) are more or less likely....
Spare me the lectures on "assuming" Wayne. I'm not the one here that made a poster repeat himself re:date & time because I assumed he was talking about late August based on his time of post, you did. That's not the first time you replied without focusing on what a post actually says either.

I haven't assumed anything outside of the event being tied in with the Perseids. I still think it's a decent guess and only asked you a question about fireball tails to increase my knowledge about them, nothing more. That won't happen again, trust me.
 
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MeteorWayne

Guest
No archer, you are making assumptions. If you notice, the time supports that his reply had not been seen by me before my reply. While it was possible, that was NOT the case...I replied with what I knew at the time and asked for more details.

In any case, the "The ball of light was going North-West to South-East." precludes a Perseid meteor. At 10:35 PM, the Perseid radiant would have been barely above the eastern horizon. NW to SE says it wasn't a Perseid.

I didn't make him repeat himself, I asked for more details, that is all. The directional details of the actual meteor were not in his original post.
 
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Archer17

Guest
MeteorWayne":3d3moy9i said:
No archer, you are making assumptions. If you notice, the time supports that his reply had not been seen by me before my reply. While it was possible, that was NOT the case...I replied with what I knew at the time and asked for more details.
Save that lame garbage for the stupid Wayne. He had the date/time/location of the event posted right in the upper left-hand corner of his initial post. What did you think it was, a letter-head?!? :roll:
In any case, the "The ball of light was going North-West to South-East." precludes a Perseid meteor. At 10:35 PM, the Perseid radiant would have been barely above the eastern horizon. NW to SE says it wasn't a Perseid.
Ok, that I can accept and was one of the reasons I mentioned your expertise in the first place. Just an FYI - If I see a question here going unanswered like the OP's I'm going to take a stab at it and don't want to see what happened here repeated. We all can learn something in these fora and when I take a stab at something I don't need to be lectured to like I'm some snot-nosed junior high school kid.
I didn't make him repeat himself, I asked for more details, that is all. The directional details of the actual meteor were not in his original post.
You could've handled that better Wayne. I'm not going to put up with condescension from anyone here. I'd like to believe that wasn't your intent but that's the way you came across.
 
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MeteorWayne

Guest
I wasn't being condescending Archer, I was asking for more details. Ineveitable there are not enough in the first post of this type because most who see something like this don't know what is important; like the NW-SE direction. That's why I ask.

The upper left hand corner conflicted with the day of the post, so I wanted to be clear. Also it said perseids, which as we see, this was not a Perseid meteor.... when I got more detail. That's exactly why I ask. On the night of the Perseid peak, there are at least 5 other active meteor showers, and another 6 which are possible.

I was pretty busy last night, so didn't have time to go into much analysis.

Now, to the original poster 222toh; welcome to Space.com by the way :) I know it looked like it was a mile or two away from you, that is a common illusion. I assure you it wasn't. Meteors burn up around 60 miles high in the atmosphere. If you saw it between 2 cloud layers, it was probably low on the horizon, which means it was between 200 and 400 miles away. I know it didn't look like it; it never does :)

It lit up the clouds for the same reason that the sun or moon would if it was in the same position...a bright object lights up the clouds, even though the sun is 93 million miles away and the moon about 250,000. Or a meteor a few hundred miles away.

Can you be a little more specific about your location? California is big, so central california covers a lot of area. If you can give me the nearest large city to where you were observing from, I can see the position of the 5 or 10 other shower radiants to see if any of them fit with what you saw...of course it always could have been a sporadic meteor that did not belong to any shower.

Can you estimate how bright it was? Was it as bright as Jupiter (which was the brightest object in the sky other than the moon, low in the SSW, probably close to the meteor)? Was it as bright as Venus? Was it as bright as the brightest stars?

How high above the horizon was it in degrees. If you hold your fist out at arm's length, it's about 10 degrees wide; so how many fist widths above the horizon was it? Did it pass close enough to Jupiter so you could see if it was above or below the bright planet?

Was the path parallel to the horizon, or did it appear to move upward or downward?

Wayne
 
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222toh

Guest
Hi there, thanx for the replies.


Gosh, lots of questions, but that's a good thing.

I actually wrote a fairly long original message with lot's of detail, but what I have found is that if my messages are too long, they don't get read as often. So I tried to keep it short but to the point. The first message was limited in detail but that was by design.

The largest city I am near is San Francisco.

The brightness of the object is somewhat difficult for me to estimate. The middle was the most bright, and the brightness faded as one moved away from the object (but not much). I would say the middle was as bright as the middle of the meteors I had seen that night. But the outer portions of the object were less bright. The outer portions of the object reminded me of the amber street lights that some cities have. I would say that the brightness in general was brighter than Jupiter but that is a conservative estimate. I would rather compare it's brightness to the moon or another meteor.

The appearent size of the object was way larger than any planet or star or meteor in the sky. It would be more accurate to compare it to a full moon in terms of size. It's size appeared to be maybe half to three quarters the diamater of a full moon high in the sky. I think this is because of it's low altitude though.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that this object WAS as big as the moon or even close to it. The mass of the moon is many orders above the mass of whatever this was. I think it's actual size was quite small, but with it's halo, it appeared much bigger.

The height was 90 degrees (from the horizon) when I first saw it. I lost sight of the object when it was about 30-40 degrees above the horizon.

All this happened in about 1 second so I only had 1 second to gather all this information.

The path was basically parallel to the surface of the earth. Although it may have been climbing a bit.


MeteorWayne wrote:

"I know it looked like it was a mile or two away from you, that is a common illusion. I assure you it wasn't. Meteors burn up around 60 miles high in the atmosphere. If you saw it between 2 cloud layers, it was probably low on the horizon, which means it was between 200 and 400 miles away. I know it didn't look like it; it never does."


I realize the fact that ones perspective can make things look bigger, smaller, brighter, faster, slower etc.

As far as the altitude of the object, the two cloud layers basically define an altitude range of the object. The cloud layers I was looking at were MUCH, MUCH lower than 60 miles. These were not cirrus or high altitude clouds. You can believe this or not, if you like, but I do say the truth.

The object went in between two cloud layers that were LOW in altitude. The first layer was a fog bank off the coast. This cloud layer is VERY LOW in altitude. In fact, this fog layer basically touches the ground and then extends perhaps several thousand feet up.

The upper layer was a layer of cumulus clouds that were above the fog bank.

The object lit up the top of the lower level and the bottom of the upper layer.

The finger of fog and the cumulus cloud layer was only about 5-10 or so miles south of my position. When I was driving home I went under the two cloud layers. It certainly was not 200-400 miles away or 60 miles up, not even close.

MeteorWayne mentioned that some meteors have no tail. If this is true then that might just answer the question right there.

Anyway, here's a bunch more info for you. I hope I answered all questions and gave you sufficient detail. If you want better direction info, me and a compass can do that.


Again, thanx for the replies,

222toh
 
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MeteorWayne

Guest
222toh":l6e5du6z said:
Hi there, thanx for the replies.


Gosh, lots of questions, but that's a good thing.

I actually wrote a fairly long original message with lot's of detail, but what I have found is that if my messages are too long, they don't get read as often. So I tried to keep it short but to the point. The first message was limited in detail but that was by design.
That's OK, that's why I asked for more detail. Believe me, I read evry word of every meteor post.. :)

The largest city I am near is San Francisco.
That's good, then I can recreate your sky.

The brightness of the object is somewhat difficult for me to estimate. The middle was the most bright, and the brightness faded as one moved away from the object (but not much). I would say the middle was as bright as the middle of the meteors I had seen that night. But the outer portions of the object were less bright. The outer portions of the object reminded me of the amber street lights that some cities have. I would say that the brightness in general was brighter than Jupiter but that is a conservative estimate. I would rather compare it's brightness to the moon or another meteor.
The color you describe might be an important clue combined with the direction you gave. I have an idea, but there are some problems with the later statements ;)

The appearent size of the object was way larger than any planet or star or meteor in the sky. It would be more accurate to compare it to a full moon in terms of size. It's size appeared to be maybe half to three quarters the diamater of a full moon high in the sky. I think this is because of it's low altitude though.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that this object WAS as big as the moon or even close to it. The mass of the moon is many orders above the mass of whatever this was. I think it's actual size was quite small, but with it's halo, it appeared much bigger.
This fits with my theoretical ID.

The height was 90 degrees (from the horizon) when I first saw it. I lost sight of the object when it was about 30-40 degrees above the horizon.
Here we have a problem. 90 degrees from the horizon means it was directly overhead. Yet you said it appeared between cloud layers. Either your reported elevation isn't the right number of degrees, or, well that's what it must be :) can you clarify? You desribed the end point as 30-40 degrees, so that's 3-4 first widths above the horizon, right? Please don't be offended by my questions, but something doesn't add up here and I'm trying to get to the root of it.

All this happened in about 1 second so I only had 1 second to gather all this information.
How sure are you of the one second estimate? I find that without training, most lay observers can be very far off in the amount of time they see a meteor. It took me a few years of serious meteor observing to get that stuff as accurate as I liked. Could it be 2 seconds? Could it be half a second? Depending on the clarification of the start and end elevation, this might make a difference.

The path was basically parallel to the surface of the earth. Although it may have been climbing a bit.
This also indicates we have a problem describing what you saw. You said it started at 90 degrees elevation (overhead) and ended at 30-40 degrees elevation. That isn't parallel, that is a sharp downward path. So somwhere here, we are having trouble with how you are describing what you saw in actual elevation measurements. Hope we can clear it up



I realize the fact that ones perspective can make things look bigger, smaller, brighter, faster, slower etc.

As far as the altitude of the object, the two cloud layers basically define an altitude range of the object. The cloud layers I was looking at were MUCH, MUCH lower than 60 miles. These were not cirrus or high altitude clouds. You can believe this or not, if you like, but I do say the truth.
I'm not saying that at all :) Even cirrus clouds are only 7 miles or so up, while meteors are 60 miles up.

The object went in between two cloud layers that were LOW in altitude. The first layer was a fog bank off the coast. This cloud layer is VERY LOW in altitude. In fact, this fog layer basically touches the ground and then extends perhaps several thousand feet up.

The upper layer was a layer of cumulus clouds that were above the fog bank.

The object lit up the top of the lower level and the bottom of the upper layer.

The finger of fog and the cumulus cloud layer was only about 5-10 or so miles south of my position. When I was driving home I went under the two cloud layers. It certainly was not 200-400 miles away or 60 miles up, not even close.
Again, an object, even 60 (or 250,000, or 93 million) miles away can still light up the cloud layers above and below from your perspective if the light source is in between from your viewpoint.

Anyway, here's a bunch more info for you. I hope I answered all questions and gave you sufficient detail. If you want better direction info, me and a compass can do that.
Well, if you could can you give the direction of the start and end point. IIRC, you said NW to SE (IIRC; I'll have to check back but can't do that while I'm writing this reply). Can you be more specific? If you can't that's OK, like I said I have an idea fermenting in my head :)

The other question is getting the starting and end points better defined in degrees. As I said, what you wrote doesn't match your verbal description, so if you have the time to clear that up, it might help.

I love these mysteries :)


Again, thanx for the replies,

222toh
I'm pleased to help; I will also check the fireball reports since by now some from the 13th of Aug should be in the AMS database....then we can see if anyone else reported it.

Meteor Wayne
 
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RichardG

Guest
Great thread. Very interesting question.
I have no explanation for what was seen, but would like to add that the distance to an object is very hard to nearly impossible to judge accurately.
Back in the 60's I saw a meteor come down to the north of my San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles location. I look exactly like an emergency flair show from a gun on it's return to the earth. It appeared to be about 2-300 yards away. It split in to parts just before passing below my horizon of rooftops, about 15 degrees above the natural horizon.
I later heard on a news report of a meteor going into the Pacific ocean a couple hundred miles off the coast from Seattle Wa. That would be over 1200 miles away, not 300 yards. I was shocked.
Oh It did have a very long fire trail and was very very bright yellow-orange.

Could the object in this question have been a Satellite or Space Station? The fact that it had no tail, it appeared and disappeared makes me think it could have been an object in orbit passing out of the earths shadow and back, but I can't picture how it could do that.
 
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MeteorWayne

Guest
The "very very fast" pretty much precludes any satellite or even space debris. Even the lowest sats move at most a degree a second. And space debris is much slower than is even possible for the slowest meteors. "Very very fast" need not apply :)

BTW, checking the AMS fireball database:

http://www.amsmeteors.org/fireball/fire ... ml#loglist

The only fireball reported that night was in Wyoming, nearly 2 hours earlier, so there were no other reports of this object.

Wayne
 
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222toh

Guest
Hi there MeteorWayne (and all else), I hope I can clear up some confusion here.



Direction of the start and end point:

I cannot give you the actual starting point of the ball of light. I do not know when or where this object entered the atmosphere (assuming it did).

I can give you when and where I saw it first, and also where it appeared to go.



When did it first appear:

I see here that there are several questions as to when and where it "began".

I think that "first appear" needs clarifying. What I meant by "first appear" is that I first SAW IT at the time and angle I am specifying. I had always assumed that it was ALREADY in the atmosphere, racing along; I just happened to see it because I was scanning southern sky for meteors. So I actually saw maybe half (or less) of it's total visible time.

I did not say that it FIRST appeared between cloud layers. It did not do this and I have never said it did.

I first saw it for a fraction of a second through my open moon roof in my car and then I followed it through my front windshield. It traveled South-East (approximately), it was low and fast, it went between the clouds, then got super small, super quick until I could not see it anymore.



90 degree issue:

Just to be clear, I first saw it at ~90 degrees (roughly straight up). But it did not enter the atmosphere at this point. I think it was already in the atmosphere, zooming along at low altitudes, before I saw it.

I said, "But really I think it was above me and offset west a bit."

I first saw it at 90 degrees to the southern horizon (roughly), but the angle that it made with respect to the western horizon (roughly) was maybe 80-85 degrees. I felt that it was well approximated by 90 degrees, but that may not be true here.

As far as the angle that it made with the southern horizon when it disappeared, I stick by my previous estimate of 30-40 degrees above the horizon (about four fists). Maybe I will have to check this out though.



1 second estimate:

OK, this is how I am estimating the period of time. I just simply say,

one-one thousand-one
one-one thousand-two
one-one thousand-three

When I get to "one-one thousand-two" it is just too long of a period of time. So 2 seconds is too long. I also feel that 0.5 second is too short. So sure, maybe it's 1 second +/- 0.5 seconds. This range probably captures the actual time that it was visible to me.



Perspective and light source/altitudes and distances:

To me it seems simple. If one knows the altitudes of both cloud layers and one excepts that it went in between the cloud layers, then the altitude of the object is bounded at the time when it passed the clouds. Specifically, the altitudes of the bottom of the top cloud layer and of the top of the bottom layer.

I roughly estimate this span to be 2000 feet (top of fog) up to 20000 feet (bottom of the cumulus). Personally, I think it to be much less, maybe 3000 up to 10000 feet.

So, if you accept these arguments, then we know the altitude range of the object. Clearly not 60 miles up.

I realize that judging distances can be very tricky. I have had experience in judging distances in the desert and at sea, and I'm ok at it. It looks like 2 miles but it's actually 20 miles.

In this case though, again, if one excepts that it went in between the cloud layers, then if one knows the distance of the cloud layers to the car, one can estimate how CLOSE the object is.

I roughly estimate the distance from the car to the clouds to be 5-20 miles. Personally, I think it to be less, maybe 5-10 miles

If you accept these further arguments, then we can bound the distance between the car and the object - somewhere around 5-20 miles away.

So we have an object whose altitude was roughly 6500 feet, and whose distance from my car was roughly 7 miles away. It appeared as a orange ball of light, it traveled South-East (approximately), it was low and fast, it went between the clouds, then got super small, super quick until I could not see it anymore.





In general:

I wish I could CG this. Then you all could see what I'm talking about.

Anyway, it may not be astronomical in origin. I actually think it could be something else but I'm not sure what. I would say that I am near the San Andreas fault and I have heard of fault lines giving light shows prior to, and during earthquakes.




Thanx again,


222toh
 
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RichardG

Guest
Well then, by your definition of what you saw, you saw a U.F.O.
It may or may not be terrestrial in origin. :cool:
 
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222toh

Guest
Hi,

Well, in that I saw something that I can't identify, up in the sky, moving quick, then yes I saw a "UFO".

But I don't believe for one second that I saw a craft that was being controlled by an alien intelligence. So in this way, I did not see a UFO.

What I saw that night I don't know, but I believe it to be some kind of real phenomenon. I just don't know what.


It looks like though, that this conversation has played itself out.



So thanx to all who tried,

222toh
 
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DengarReturns

Guest
Sorry about the confusion everyone. It was me. I was running late and had to fly low to make up time.
 
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