Strange Mystery Object Reported By UT Readers

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a comet? While it’s still a bit too early to be Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, “Universe Today” readers did an awesome job of reporting a mystery object spotted cruising their skies on December 10.

Thanks to released information, we can confirm their sightings of the upper stage of an Atlas V rocket which dumped its excess fuel. Why didn’t we know it was occurring? The Atlas V’s payload was a classified satellite sent into Earth orbit for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. Folks the world over were stunned by the comet-like cloud! (UPDATE: When permission is received, a photo will be posted with further updates.)

Thanks to UT reader posts, it didn’t take long to pinpoint the source of the sky action. For those who sent in their information, congratulations on using key points for reporting any sky phenomena. Let’s talk about more things you can do when you spot something unusual!

1. Note the time the phenomena is spotted, time it ends and the observer location. If you know your latitude and longitude, please include it! If you’re aware of the universal time, include it as well.

2. When ever possible report sky position such as the constellation where it was seen. By using more detailed instructions you can help others coordinate and confirm your sighting! When an object is on the horizon – north, south, east or west, it is at 0 degrees. Directly overhead is 180 degrees. For quick measurements, the average hand span (at arm’s length) is approximately 20 degrees, a fist width is 10 degrees, a finger width is about 1-2 degrees. For experienced observers, note appropriate RA and Dec.

3. Take note of what the object looked like and how it behaved. What direction is it moving? How bright did it appear to be? Use known object magnitudes around it whenever possible… Such as a bright star, planet or the Moon. Any information helps!

4. Whenever possible, try photographing or sketching the object. Even if you don’t know the constellation, a few key bright stars sketched along with the object can help others pinpoint a location.

5. Write it down… Write it down… Write it down! Even very experienced observers can forget details when excited! Especially me…

6. Report what you see. In this case, the “Universe Today” served as a wonderful resource! We’re very happy to see observers kept a cool head, realizing what they saw might have been comet-like but wasn’t a comet, UFO or atmospheric. They saw something – and they reported it. And their observations are now verified! To make things official, always feel free to submit your reports to the webmaster at, or directly to Dr. Tony Phillips. And keep on reporting right here! All noted observations are good ones…

By coordinating observations around the world, we validate what is seen and stand an above average chance of discovering its nature. Keep up the excellent work, UT readers!!

5 Replies to “Strange Mystery Object Reported By UT Readers”

  1. An ok response to what you avoid calling it — a UFO or unidentified flying object. It is not generally appreciated how good many UFO sighting reports are and have been — reports by pilots, engineers and scientists along with lay people. Your advice is fine, though it would be more honest if you used the “U” word that most people would use. This UFO was apparently resolved into an “IFO” or identified flying…something. Many others are not yet resolved. Good observations and procedures such as you suggest are great, but why not name the unknown thing properly, until all UFOs get known and finally named for certain.

  2. There is one very good reason for not using the term UFO. People will use it to spread nonsense. Nonsense does not need the help. Many objects when they are later identified end up in someones book as proof that aliens are probing us. The truth rarely gets published. The object most reported as a UFO is Venus. A police officer or pilot does not make a good witness because they do not have the required knowledge to rule out the common. They have no training in astronomy, optics, human perceptual flaws or earths atmosphere. These are the skills needed to rule out the mundane causes. Skeptical thinking and the ability to distrust your own eyes takes hard work, and most people are already busy in the hard work of living. Mistakes are made. Someone is making money off these facts, or by obscuring the facts. Sad but true.

  3. I agree with Revmonkeyboy that ‘UFO’ leads to all sorts of unhelpful speculations. Though the term ‘unidentified flying object’ is strickly correct. The impression from popular culture is of course “evil space aliens”. Other examples of highjacked words include ‘organic’ food and vegatables – ????–> a bit upsetting for anyone who know basic chemistry. And the word ‘Gay’ which used ti mean ‘happy’
    But maybe these are all examples of linguistic evolution and I am behind the times.

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