|Occurred : 12/21/2019 19:50 (Entered as : 12/21/19 19:50)
Reported: 12/23/2019 4:14:57 AM 04:14
Location: Kansas City, MO
|5 lights in an exact row, resembling stars, then movement by one light, as observed from an aircraft.
Good evening, After some consideration, I have decided to report an incident that occurred on the night of 12/21/2019. I am a 737 Captain at a major US airline. In 21 years of flying with an air carrier I have never seen something that I couldn’t explain in one way or another. This event is my first exception.
Unfortunately, my times and locations for this event are not exact. The First Officer (FO) and I were so taken with what was occurring, discussing what it might have been, that I did not note this information to the degree that I should have. I did take a screen shot of my computer flight plan later in the flight. Time and location have largely been rebuilt using this data and the mutual recollection of myself and the FO.
We were about 2.3 hours in to our flight from JFK to SFO, cruising at 32,000 feet, Mach .79, on a magnetic course of approximately 270. The time was about 1950 central time (0150Z) and we were roughly 50-100 nautical miles north of Kansas City. The sky was very clear. The cockpit overhead light was turned off, but both the FO and I had our map lights on as we ate our crew meals. My point in describing this is to illustrate the moderate amount of light pollution within the cockpit rendering only the brighter stars visible.
While eating dinner, I noticed 5 white lights in the night sky that I initially took to be stars. They were centered within a few degrees of the nose of our aircraft. These 5 “stars” were in an exact diagonal line at approximately a 30 degree angle of tilt relative to the horizon. I would say their distance apart was about the same as the spacing in Orion’s belt. They were approximately 10 to 15 degrees above the horizon. The lowest “star” was on the left, and the highest was on the right. When first observed, they were all the same “medium” relative intensity to other stars. They had zero relative motion with respect to the other stars in the area. What struck me was the linear nature of their formation. I decided to have a look at my iPad star chart after I finished eating and continued to watch the 5 lights.
After about 5 minutes, my FO commented, “Do you see those 5 stars out there?”. The comment was unsolicited. It had struck her as peculiar too. We agreed that we had never seen that star formation in the sky. We put our food away, turned off our interior lights and began watching intently for the next 15 to 20 minutes. During that time period, the light in the middle of the row of five flared twice to a very bright intensity. I would liken it to an Iridium flare. The remaining four did not change in intensity. Towards the end of the time period, the two pairs of lights on either side of the center light quickly faded and were no longer visible. Approximately 10-20 seconds after the outer pairs of lights faded, the center light flared slightly and began moving diagonally up and to the right in our field of view at about a 30 degree angle. It moved at about half of the pace normally observed when viewing the ISS. The movement lasted for less than 10 seconds before it also faded! in intensity until no longer visible. This final light faded in a way similar to when a satellite enters the Earth’s shadow and no longer reflects light in the direction of the observer.
That was the end of it. Not too flashy, and certainly no threat of ever going down in history as significant. I just felt compelled to share the experience since it was so out of the ordinary for me.
The FO and I discussed various hypotheses about the lights in the aftermath. There is no way it was an aircraft. The extended period of zero relative motion to the background and unwavering uniformity of the formation rules it out unequivocally. It was not naturally occurring. The geometry of the formation indicates something man made, or other. My perception of the flaring indicates reflection of sunlight rather than a light bulb of some sort. These were not objects using aerodynamics. I believe they were in space, but did not behave like a craft in orbit unless that orbit was geosynchronous.
There is probably a good explanation for this, but I have no idea what that explanation might be. I would very much appreciate any insight you may have based on your experience. I am hoping that perhaps you have a deeper knowledge regarding near Earth orbital operations being conducted that may explain what I saw. I’m also hoping someone else saw it and reported the same event.
Thank you for your time.