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Odd 'star' whilst viewing Perseids?

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markj_87

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Sorry if this is in the wrong place or anything, but I did a quick search and didn't find anything like this.<br /><br />Anyway, on August 12th, as I'm sure many of you were, me and my younger brother were viewing the Perseid meteor shower. We only became interested in astronomy fairly recently so are still relatively inexperienced, but know some basic things (eg constellations, some stars). This was our first viewed meteor shower.<br /><br />At around 1:30am BST, we happened to notice an extremely bright star high in the night sky. It was easily brighter than anything else in the sky - Mars, Vega, Polaris - certainly brighter than all of those. It was about 2-3 degrees left of the constellation Cepheus, and what we both thought was odd was not only that we had never noticed it before, but that we were fairly sure it hadn't been there even minutes ago. We proceeded to watch it, and strangely, it began to dim slowly. Within about 15-20 seconds, it had disappeared again.<br /><br />I originally thought it could be a head-on meteor, but it lingered far too long for that. We also thought we saw it reappear after it vanished for a couple of seconds, but we could be mistaken. Any ideas? As a budding astronomer I would like to know what this could have been, as it has certainly aroused my suspicion.
 
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CalliArcale

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Did it stay in the same spot, or did it move across the sky?<br /><br />Approximately where are you located, geographically? (Nearest big city is fine, or lat/long. Whatever's easy.) <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p> </p><p><font color="#666699"><em>"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly . . . timey wimey . . . stuff."</em>  -- The Tenth Doctor, "Blink"</font></p> </div>
 
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nexium

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My guess is you saw the landing lights of an aircraft approaching head on. The Navy flies P3 submarine detector aircraft in my community and they have very bright landing lights that use carbon arcs. We often see what looks like a bright star even though it is too far away to hear the airplane motors. A slight turn causes them to dim, then the pilot turns them off. I have not seen them use the lights to signal an other aircraft or the tower, but it is possible. Neil
 
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markj_87

Guest
Thanks for the responses. :)<br /><br />I'm in a rural area in northern England, nearest to Huddersfield and Wakefield (although a good half hour from either). I think my latitude is 53 degrees and my longitude 2 degrees.<br /><br />It certainly stayed in the same place whilst this was happening.
 
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CalliArcale

Guest
Hey, I've actually been to Wakefield! Cool! Very nice part of England. And the rural part sounds grand; all the better for amateur astronomy!<br /><br />Assuming a location in Wakefield, I went to Heavens Above, the definitive page for satellite pass predictions. It also does custom starmaps, but I really want to rule out a bright satellite such as the ISS. I was quickly able to rule out ISS; it was not visible from your location on the 12th. There were a few interesting satellites visible around the time of your sighting: a couple of Lacrosse satellites (US spy sats), a couple of spent Russian rocket stages, AQUA (an Earth-observation sat), and Helios 1B (a French spy sat). None were really bright enough to fit what you saw, and all were moving pretty significantly past your location. The brightest was Lacrosse 2, at mag 2.5, appearing at 1:13 your time and disappearing four minutes later.<br /><br />So next I ran Starry Night to get a good starmap. Having ruled out spacecraft, I need to rule out stars that just might've been behind a really tiny but very dense cloud. (Don't knock that; I've seen it happen and been puzzled by it myself.) Again using Wakefield because a) I've been there and b) it's listed in the database, I set the clock for August 12 at 1:30 in the morning. I didn't see any obvious stars; you've already ruled out the bright ones in that general area. According to Heavens Above, it is remotely possible that you saw an Iridium flare; they had predicted a flare from -0 to -8 magnitude at about 1:45AM your time, with its brightest point predicted as about 32.8 km from Wakefield. However, Iridium flare predictions are not perfect; due to uncertainties in how they are tumbling, the flares can occur quite a ways off of the prediction time. So it's possible you actually saw an Iridium satellite. <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p> </p><p><font color="#666699"><em>"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly . . . timey wimey . . . stuff."</em>  -- The Tenth Doctor, "Blink"</font></p> </div>
 
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jindivik

Guest
i saw a couple flares tonight, i lvoe watching them <img src="/images/icons/laugh.gif" /> bang on time but a nice suprise, their magnitudes were greater than predicted, hopefully some of the same tomorrow <img src="/images/icons/smile.gif" />
 
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markj_87

Guest
Thanks a bunch for taking the time to look into this for me, Calli. Nice to hear you've visited Wakefield too!<br /><br />You could well be right about the iridium flare theory. I'd never heard of them until now so I wouldn't have recognised one if I saw one. And my time estimate was a little approximate - it may well have been closer to 1:45am.<br /><br />I'm going to go with that idea - it does seem a perfect explanation now I've read up on Iridium satellites a bit. Thanks again for solving this for me!
 
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