Strange object in Eastern sky

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Strange object in Eastern sky
Posted by Anonymous on Saturday, August 30, 2008 10:06 AM

Hi everybody, I just joined and hope you can help out a newb with a question. I have observed over the last several days an object in the east/southeastern sky, appx 35-40 degrees above the horizon that appears to "blink", alternating white/red/blue-green. I live in Lancaster, California, about 50 miles north of Los Angeles, and this was observed at 4-5 AM local time. Object is fixed in the sky, and does not move like an aircraft, but does seem to "rise" along with the nearby stars until the morning sunlight washes it out. I thought it was an airplane (it appears just like a plane at first look) but then noticed the lack of movement. Internet searches have not provided any answers, so here I am asking you guys for help. I'm a long-time skywatcher (on the most amateur level) and I have never seen anything like this before. Thanks!

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Posted by Centaur on Saturday, August 30, 2008 10:58 AM

Welcome to the discussion group, Jason. 

Stars when low can appear to be twinkling and alternating colors.  The amount depends on local atmospheric conditions.  At this time of year and that time of night the bright “winter” stars in and around the constellation of Orion would be near the position you described.  No planets would have been near there.  The fact that it’s been there for several days and moved with the other stars indicates that it is also a star.

 

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Posted by chipdatajeffB on Saturday, August 30, 2008 11:00 AM

jasonface

object in the east/southeastern sky, appx 35-40 degrees above the horizon that appears to "blink", alternating white/red/blue-green.

This is most likely the bright star Aldebaran (about 43 degrees altitude at local 4:30 a.m.) or Bellatrix (about 28 degrees altitude at the same time).

Are you familiar with the constellation Orion? It has cleared the horizon by 5 a.m. this time of year and includes several bright stars. Both Bellatrix and Betelgeuse are in the vicinity you mention, though both are lower than Aldebaran.

All three of those stars are bright enough to show what is called atmospheric prismatic dispersion -- an effect of starlight shining through unstable air near the horizon, causing the star to appear something like a flashing ambulance or police cruiser light.

The brighter planets (especially Venus) also display this phenomenon when near the horizon.

The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it's stranger than we CAN imagine. --- JBS Haldane

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Posted by Anonymous on Saturday, August 30, 2008 6:40 PM

Centaur and Chip, Thanks!

It's visible too early to be Orion, but I'll dig up a chart to verify if it's Aldebaran. It almost appears as a "double" light in the sky, it really does look like aircraft landing lights. I've seen the prism effect before, but if that is what this is it would be the most brilliant example I've ever seen. Could this possibly be a geostationary satellite of some kind?  I don't think it's far enough south to be one, since it would have to be over the equator, but just wondering. A couple more observations: The object loses little, if any, of the "blinking" effect as it rises above the horizon, and it is the brightest object in the easterly morning sky. Also, it is the last object visible before the sun brightens the sky, remaining visible long after the other stars have been washed out by the suns light.    

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Posted by chipdatajeffB on Saturday, August 30, 2008 7:09 PM

 

I will check this tomorrow morning, myself.

If rises earlier than Orion by between one and three hours, it's probably Aldebaran --  which should be easy to determine given its proximity to the other stars in the V of Taurus.

Aldebaran is not as bright as Procyon, but that rise much later, along with Orion.

It is possible you're seeing Capella but that is well away from the ESE. It is brighter, and rises earlier, than Aldebaran, so check for that as a possibility.

The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it's stranger than we CAN imagine. --- JBS Haldane

Come visit me at Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus (we're on Google Maps) in Texas.

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Posted by Centaur on Sunday, August 31, 2008 3:01 PM

A geostationary satellite would appear just that:  stationary above a location on Earth.  The stars would appear to be moving past it.  Only an Iridium satellite might appear so bright and only briefly.  You saw a star.  I’m assuming that you reported using Pacific Daylight Time, even though you said local time which would actually be sundial time (when the Sun is out) and closer to standard time.  The constellations Orion, Taurus, Canis Major and Canis Minor would all have appeared in the region you described at that time and place.  Candidate stars are Aldebaran, Beltelgeuse, Rigel, Procyon and Sirius.  All are bright.  Sirius is by far the brightest, but at that time it would not have appeared as high as you indicated.

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Posted by chipdatajeffB on Sunday, August 31, 2008 3:35 PM

Based on what I saw this morning, and going by what Curt has said about local time, I would conclude it's either Aldebaran (if the OP estimate of altitude and azimuth are correct) or Capella if the azimuth is off and the start is north of due east.

It certainly sounds like the OP is describing a star.

The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it's stranger than we CAN imagine. --- JBS Haldane

Come visit me at Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus (we're on Google Maps) in Texas.

www.3rf.org

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Posted by Anonymous on Sunday, August 31, 2008 3:52 PM

Thanks everybody:

I pulled up a chart and will check it in the morning. I wish I had some way to properly video this, as I said it would be the most spectacular prism effect on a star I've ever seen, assuming that's what this is.

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Posted by Anonymous on Sunday, August 31, 2008 3:57 PM

Centaur
A geostationary satellite would appear just that:  stationary above a location on Earth.  The stars would appear to be moving past it.

Thanks Centaur, had a brain fade there. I should've realized that.

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Posted by Anonymous on Monday, September 01, 2008 5:53 PM

Well, I figured it out, with your help. My estimates of height were evidently pretty far off (I plead ignorance, as I said I'm an amatuer) but you guys got me started in the right direction. I went out this morning to observe the star at 5:30 AM local time, and was able to locate Taurus, then Orion below that, and finally the object below that, which was actually Sirius. The prism effect over the last couple of weeks has been quite remarkable, it must have a lot to do with my local atmospheric conditions. One quick observation though. The "twinkling" effect, and the red/blue/green colors were much more subdued this morning. Our local temps have been well over 100* the last couple of weeks, and even the early morning temps were over 80*. Sunday we had a major cool-down, and Monday morning it was in the low 70's. The low temps seem to have toned down the light show I was seeing. Thanks again for all the help, and if you don't mind I'll hang around a whileSmile

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Posted by Centaur on Monday, September 01, 2008 6:16 PM

Thanks for the report, Jason.  I tried to be subtle in suggesting Sirius without making it seem I was questioning your estimate of the star’s altitude.  Keep in mind that the angular distance from the horizon to the zenith is 90°.  The Sun or a Full Moon are about 0.5° wide. 

We seem to get similar posts from newbies every year when Sirius starts reemerging from the glare of the Sun.  For those of us at mid-northern latitudes, it is slow to rise and never gets very high.  That means its light travels through a lot of atmosphere before reaching our eyes and produced the effects you witnessed. 

Now get out there after sunset today and see if you can spot the young and slender crescent Moon near Venus, Mercury and Mars.  I’ve created a graphic that may serve as an aid.  It can be seen at http://www.curtrenz.com/astronomical.html .  Finding those objects after consulting my map may help develop your feel for angular distances in the sky.  Good Luck! 

Below is a picture I took 30 minutes after sunset on 2007 SEP 13.  The Moon will be similarly positioned this evening (September 1). 

 

 

For astronomical graphics, including monthly wallpaper calendar, visit:

www.CurtRenz.com/astronomical


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Posted by Anonymous on Monday, September 01, 2008 6:46 PM

Thanks Curt, I just printed out the map and I'll try it tonight. I'm not sure if I'll be able to see the moon, there's a mountain range just to the west of my position, and if the moon's too low it may be behind the mountains. Looking at that chart, it's obvious the degrees of elevation when I was looking at Sirius was closer to 15*-20*, not the 40* I originally posted. I also realized that what I thought was Mars over the last couple of weeks was actually Beetleguese. Very cool, I never knew how "red" a star could look.

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Posted by tkerr on Tuesday, September 02, 2008 3:33 AM

I just happen to be outside right now (04:30) and I am watching Sirius rise to my East-Southeast and it is flickering like a bright Disco ball.  I just get this feeling what your seeing is Sirius. Its the brightest star in the sky at that time, and as low as it is it will flicker like you described.

 

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Posted by Anonymous on Saturday, September 27, 2008 12:15 PM

Hi. I live in north east Florida. I was up at 4:30 am (Sept. 27) and saw the same exact thing! I am no astronomer but it looked like it was near orion. I dont know if its the same as the little dipper, but if you follow the "Handle" and go past "Orions" belt? you will see this strange blinking light! It is contstant about every five seconds for a long time until it fades out.

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Posted by Centaur on Saturday, September 27, 2008 12:24 PM

johnny

Hi. I live in north east Florida. I was up at 4:30 am (Sept. 27) and saw the same exact thing! I am no astronomer but it looked like it was near orion. I dont know if its the same as the little dipper, but if you follow the "Handle" and go past "Orions" belt? you will see this strange blinking light! It is contstant about every five seconds for a long time until it fades out.

Welcome to the discussion group, Johnny.

You likely saw Sirius, the brightest fixed star.  The blinking on and off and disappearance was probably due to high thin clouds passing by.

For astronomical graphics, including monthly wallpaper calendar, visit:

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Posted by tkerr on Saturday, September 27, 2008 12:27 PM

johnny

Hi. I live in north east Florida. I was up at 4:30 am (Sept. 27) and saw the same exact thing! I am no astronomer but it looked like it was near orion. I dont know if its the same as the little dipper, but if you follow the "Handle" and go past "Orions" belt? you will see this strange blinking light! It is contstant about every five seconds for a long time until it fades out.

Canis Major is just below the Orion Constellation, so that would have been Sirius you saw. It is the brightest star in the night sky.  The blinking may have been clouds, but if it was just scintillation or twinkling it was the effects of our turbulent atmosphere. When it is low in the sky you might also notice some red and blue shimmering on it. That is also caused by the atmosphere and is a phenomenon known as Atmospheric Prismatic Dispersion.  Both effects are more noticeable when bright objects such as Sirius are low in the sky.

The little dipper is in the northern sky and is much larger than what you saw.  What you did see was often confused for the little dipper because the shape the stars make when you look at them. It does look like a miniature version of the little dipper, however, what it really is, is the tail of the bull in the Taurus constellation and is known as the Pleiades Cluster. 
This time of year it is a favorite target for photographers to capture.  There is more to it than meets the naked eye look at it. as you will see in this image I took the beginning of this month.
http://cs.astronomy.com/asycs/forums/t/35364.aspx

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Posted by Puloney on Friday, December 26, 2008 10:56 PM

 This is jonmac0777

12/26/08

This evening I have seen the twinkling light /star.....but it is still up at 9:15 pm. I'm located 30 miles north of  Denver.

With the unaided eye it is bright and the twinkling is very impressive for a star and atmosphere tricks.

I am quite surprised I haven't read something about it.....even if it's a common star.

Hope to read something from my favorite guys at Astronomy MAG,!

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Posted by Centaur on Friday, December 26, 2008 11:09 PM

Puloney

 This is jonmac0777

12/26/08

This evening I have seen the twinkling light /star.....but it is still up at 9:15 pm. I'm located 30 miles north of  Denver.

With the unaided eye it is bright and the twinkling is very impressive for a star and atmosphere tricks.

I am quite surprised I haven't read something about it.....even if it's a common star.

Hope to read something from my favorite guys at Astronomy MAG,!

In which direction were you looking on 2008 DEC 26 at 21:15 MST?  How many degrees was the star above the horizon?  How bright was it compared to other stars?

 

For astronomical graphics, including monthly wallpaper calendar, visit:

www.CurtRenz.com/astronomical


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Posted by petieroman on Wednesday, January 07, 2009 11:20 PM

I too am curious if it is the same star. Here it is jan. 2009 and it appears after the sun has gone down and is just above the horizon. If you look at orion, it is straight down from his belt. east of orion. It is bright and looking through my telescope at it, it is blue, white and red. Looks like a police car with it light on.

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Posted by Centaur on Wednesday, January 07, 2009 11:36 PM

petieroman

I too am curious if it is the same star. Here it is jan. 2009 and it appears after the sun has gone down and is just above the horizon. If you look at orion, it is straight down from his belt. east of orion. It is bright and looking through my telescope at it, it is blue, white and red. Looks like a police car with it light on.

Welcome to the discussion group, petieroman.

 

That is Sirius, easily the brightest of the fixed stars, i.e. not counting the Sun and planets.  Those flashing colors are due to atmospheric turbulence through which the star’s light passes when it is near the horizon.

 

For astronomical graphics, including monthly wallpaper calendar, visit:

www.CurtRenz.com/astronomical


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Posted by petieroman on Wednesday, January 07, 2009 11:49 PM

Thank you. After doing some research and checking out the sky dome on this site, I saw that it was sirius. Looking forward to seeing more out there. I need to get some more powerful lenses.

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Posted by scottyboi on Tuesday, January 27, 2009 9:25 PM

hello everybody,

i have just created an account and have a question that i feel could be answered rather easily by centaur or star geezer. recently, january 17th i noticed a very bright blinking star near orions belt. from my vantage point, truly in the middle of nowhere, there was no light pollution and the sky was incredible, in comparison to the sky that one would get in moab where no one is around for many many miles. the star was blinking from blue to red. since the date of original observation i have done a little bit of research and i am lead to believe, in large part by this discussion, that the star in question is sirius. i have also learned that there may be many reasons for its blinking, such as particles in the atmosphere. its changing color may be attributed to the prismic effect near the horizon. what troubles me, however, is that upon first observation the star was nowhere near the horizon, orions belt was nearly directly above and a little to the south east. the blinking star was, as usual for sirius, below and a little bit more south easternly. also no other star that i looked at was blinking or changing color. since january 17th i have looked to the star almost everynight, sure enough it is there blinking and, when looking through binoculars changing color from blue to red. i realize that an experienced astronomer, which i by no means am, may look at this post and see redundancy in the question asked, especially since jasonface asked such a similar question. i guess that the thing that confuses me most is that is was changing color even when located nowhere near the horizon.

any

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Posted by chipdatajeffB on Tuesday, January 27, 2009 9:39 PM

Sirius is quite bright. I've noticed the effects of atmospheric prismatic dispersion on both Sirius and Venus to altitudes of about 40 degrees above the horizon. In addition, even when Sirius culminates (is on the local meridian, as high as it will get during a given night) "seeing" effects cause it to blink in various colors.

If you look at any star, and especially bright ones, at high magnification through a telescope on a night of poor seeing, the dance they do is quite interesting. Brighter stars show colors better when slightly defocused, and that is one effect that seeing will have.

Hope that helps.

The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it's stranger than we CAN imagine. --- JBS Haldane

Come visit me at Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus (we're on Google Maps) in Texas.

www.3rf.org

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Posted by scottyboi on Wednesday, January 28, 2009 12:04 AM

i believe i was a little less clear than i intended to be, the night that i observed the changing color was phenomenally clear, i could easily see the milky way with my bare eyes, this is indeed why i was ( and am) confused. no other star in the sky was blinking, and with no other aid than our eyes my friend and i observed the star to change from blue to red rather rapidly. if these effects are not uncommon please excuse my ignorance haha.

i very much appreciate the help and hopefully with a little more consultation can get this matter resolved not only for myself but for my epually confused friend

 

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Posted by Centaur on Wednesday, January 28, 2009 12:34 AM

Welcome to the discussion group, Scotty.

 

Even when the sky seems quite clear, the air with varying temperature zones can still be turbulent.  That wouldn’t have much effect on an extended fuzzy object like the Milky Way, but a bright star is still virtually a point and its appearance can be greatly affected by atmospheric turbulence.  The brighter the star, the more obvious is the effect, especially the color fluctuations.  Sirius is the champ, especially for northern hemisphere observers for whom it never gets terribly far above the horizon.  In my youth I marveled as Sirius went through the show you described on cold winter evenings.      

 

For astronomical graphics, including monthly wallpaper calendar, visit:

www.CurtRenz.com/astronomical


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Posted by flwebmistress on Tuesday, September 27, 2011 10:15 PM

I am in Florida on the west coast near Tampa. I have seen this white light also for over a month. Very strange.

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Posted by Centaur on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 11:51 AM

flwebmistress

I am in Florida on the west coast near Tampa. I have seen this white light also for over a month. Very strange.

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

 

Welcome to the discussion group, flwebmistress.

We really need to know the direction you were looking, the elevation above the horizon, the time of night and the relative brightness of the star compared to others.

If it was in the eastern sky during the evening and brighter than any other star at that time, then it was the planet Jupiter.  See my Jupiter webpage for a full description and graphics:  www.CurtRenz.com/jupiter

For astronomical graphics, including monthly wallpaper calendar, visit:

www.CurtRenz.com/astronomical


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Posted by flwebmistress on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 1:56 PM

Facing East, 40-45 degrees elevation and 22:35. Very bright.

 

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Posted by tkerr on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 2:27 PM

flwebmistress

Facing East, 40-45 degrees elevation and 22:35. Very bright.

 

 

Due east at that time the bright object in the sky is Jupiter.   

If you have a pair of binoculars you will be able to see the 4 largest moons/satellites around it. 

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Posted by Centaur on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 2:32 PM

flwebmistress

Facing East, 40-45 degrees elevation and 22:35. Very bright.

 

Jupiter

On my Jupiter webpage I describe what you are seeing and provide graphics:  www.CurtRenz.com/jupiter

One midnight in April of 1958 I thought I spotted a bright UFO midway up in the southern sky.  My 12-year-old heart was racing wildly as I focused my telescope on a mother ship surrounded by four scout ships.  I calmed down after about fifteen seconds when I realized I had discovered Jupiter and its four great Galilean satellites.  If you have a telescope or binoculars, you too will spot those satellites and enjoy their nightly dance around Jupiter.

For astronomical graphics, including monthly wallpaper calendar, visit:

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