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National UFO Reporting Center Sighting Report
Occurred : 9/4/2006 23:58 (Entered as : 09/04/06 23:58)
Reported: 9/23/2006 9:50:02 PM 21:50
Posted: 10/30/2006
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Shape: Light
Duration: 4-5minutes
birght satellite -like nocturnal light with a distinctly orange color wher no satellite should have been.

I was out walking just a few minutes before midnight, and saw approaching out of the Northeast what looked like an unusually bright and unusually orange satellite. Its motion and appearance were just that, but it was almost midnight, and the light passed nearly overhead and to the southwest until it became invisible behind clouds near the Southwest horizon. Planes nearly always exhibit strobes, are only orange colored when near the horizon, and without exception look a lot different as they change their aspect angle with respect to the observer, and this light didn't. I checked the time on my cell phone, and it was 23:58 - nearly midnight.

The sun was just about at +7 degrees declination. From that, I calculate that altitude would have to have been about 2500 km to be visible overhead at local midnight from my location (about 39 deg N). A large rocket body in transfer orbit might well be at such an altitude, but I don't think it could be that bright at that slant range (roughly 3700 km or more at first), or that consistently orangish/yellow.

Since it moved from northeast to southwest, if what I saw was a satellite, it would have to be in a retrograde orbit. There have been quite a few of these, but nearly all are low orbiters, well below 1000 km altitude.

I tried to find a candidate satellite. It would need an apogee altitude of at least 1000 km (more likely 2000 km), and an inclination greater than 90 degrees. This really cuts the list down to about 20 candidates.

There were several potentially visible birds at about that time, but all would have been in the northwest and would not have passed anywhere near overhead while illuminated by the sun. I used both commercial and software and web-based tools to confirm this.