Monday, July 15, 2013

Sky Watching: Did you see a UFO or was it just a satellite?

Last Night I was sky watching near Big Bear, CA and I spotted 5 different high altitude flying objects. I spotted one and then about 10 min later, I spotted another and so on and so fourth in the span of an hour. The objects did not blink or change light patterns like airplanes and helicopters and the objects were way higher in the sky compared to the planes I spotted as well. Another thing I observed was that the objects were moving in a continuous path across the sky. They did not stop and did not make any unusual gravity defying turns. This is what lead me to believe they might be artificial satellites, but what do satellites look like to the naked eye exactly? Well, I did some quick research and I discovered, they basically look exactly like what I saw last night. Here's what I learned about how to spot artificial satellites including the International Space Station, with your naked eye.

Apparently there are over 10,000 artificial satellites orbiting the Earth now. About half of them are big enough to reflect the sunlight and this is what allows us to spot them with the naked eye. The only satellite that has lights on it, is the International Space Station which, to the naked eye, looks about as  bright as a planet. It also, at this very moment, is carrying 6 humans aboard it! The best time to spot satellites are 2 to 3 hours after sunset and 2 to 3 hours before sunrise. At these times the satellites are passing over the night sky before the Earth's shadow blocks most of the sunlight that reflects off them. In order to get a good view of artificial satellites, it's best to be in an area where there is not a lot of city or town lights fogging up the night sky. The mountains and deserts are great places to view the clear, dark, sky and also it helps to watch for satellites on nights when the moon is not as bright. Moonlight can also cloud up a dark sky with its moon beams.

One of the objects I spotted gave off a bright light that flashed as it appeared and then quickly dimmed to a softer light as it moved across the sky. Within 4 seconds of the flash, the light dimmed out and the object at that point disappeared. I almost thought this could be a UFO due to its odd light behaviors, but I found it strange that the light still continued to move in a steady straight path. That was too "normal" compared to the "real" UFOs I've seen in the night sky... So this is what I discovered. There are certain artificial Iridium communication satellites that have shinny dish antennas which can give off flashes of reflected sunlight!
Sky watchers can follow Iridium satellite's obits and if they time it right, can see the flashes they give off! If you would like to give it a try, check out

Now that I know for sure what satellites are suppose to look like in the night sky, I can compare that to the other objects I've seen that do not fit the characteristics of artificial satellites. One big characteristic to take note of is that when an object is moving in completely irregular patterns like zigzagging and moving in a circular pattern, it's a strong indication of a genuine UFO! Because satellites DO NOT do this.

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