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!
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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 spaceweather.com, 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!!