|Occurred : 6/21/2012 22:00 (Entered as : 06/21/12 22:00)
Reported: 6/22/2012 12:21:49 PM 12:21
Location: Apex, NC
|Satellite "flaring" in the same manner on two different nights two weeks apart.
I'm 44 years old and have been a night sky watcher all my life. I observe the sky every cloudless night as I walk my dog. I'm very familiar with low altitude local air traffic (near RDU) as well as high altitude eastern seaboard traffic. I also know how to spot reflections from low orbit satellites near the daylight terminator in the hours after sunset. In fact looking for them is a casual hobby of mine and I've seen countless.
However over the last couple of weeks I've seen what appeared to be two satellites on two different nights behave in a way I've not seen before. The first time I wrote it off as a fluke. When I saw it a second time it got me questioning that maybe they weren't satellites at all but something very much more peculiar.
The first event was a point of light almost directly overheard in a northerly direction. I've observed that one aspect of satellite sunlight reflections versus aircraft lamp illumination is that reflections tend to have a blueish hue, almost starlight quality, where lamps are more yellowish. I look for almost invisible points of blueish light moving at speeds very much faster than air traffic would be at an altitude where the running lamps would be equally dim. Another aspect I look for is a gradual steady brightening and fading of the light, versus abrupt changes in brightness that would be caused by lamps being masked by the structure of a passing aircraft. In this case the point of light met all of the above qualifications.
However as we (my wife and I) were watching the light over a period of about 15 seconds waiting for it to fade away it suddenly flared with a much brighter yellowish light for about 3 seconds then equally suddenly went completely dark with no trace. During the 3 second period it seemed to stop completely, at least that was my perception. But I dismissed that as just being a side effect of being spellbound by something I hadn't seen before. Convinced it was a satellite from the start we both gasped and even joked that it must've been a flying saucer engaging its hyperdrive and blasting out of sight. We were amused at the spectacle.
But then last night, again while walking our dog, we saw it again. This time it was in a southerly direction but otherwise the circumstance were nearly identical. An almost imperceptible blueish light moving at high speed relative to its apparently altitude just like any other satellite. However we saw it flare again and much the same way. Again it was for about 3 seconds but it seemed to be even brighter this time. This time I realized that it was actually brighter than the forward lights of an approaching airliner. We are in one of the approach paths to RDU so I'm very familiar with that. It was very brilliant. In fact I estimate it was brighter than any other natural or man made night sky object would be except the moon. Unlike the first sighting though it didn't completely disappear after the flare. It returned back to the dim blueish light but then seemed to "skip" across the sky. Instead of fading out gradually in a straight line it seemed to jump ! forward and side to side by small amounts as it faded. I have to confess the skipping was my perception but I'm not 100% sure it was the case. The flare was bright enough that it may have affected my focused night sight. But again it's something I've never witnessed before.
I'm no longer 100% convinced what we saw were satellites due to this flaring behavior. One time, maybe. But twice in such close date proximity just makes it seem very unlikely. If it was a satellite it seems that it must've been the same one to behave in the same way. It would've had to have had some surface area large enough to reflect enough sunlight from 250+ miles away to make it so bright and we would have had to have been lucky enough to see it just when it was overhead and just when it was pointed just right to witness it flare on two different uncoordinated occasions. Again seems unlikely.
I look forward to seeing this thing again or finding an explanation!