What Was That Glow in the Sky?

Here’s a time-lapse of the strange glow of light that moved across the northern sky on the night of the Camelopardalid meteor shower.

What I thought was an odd curtain of slow-moving, colourless aurora — and I’ve seen those before — has many people who also saw it suspecting it was a glow from a fuel dump from an orbiting satellite. Perhaps.

This short time-lapse of 22 frames covers about 22 minutes starting at 11:59 pm MDT on May 23 (as logged by the camera’s GPS). Each frame is a 60-second exposure taken at 2 second intervals. I’m playing them back at one frame per second.

The camera was on a tracking platform to follow the stars — thus the ground slowly rotates. This was one of the cameras I had operating the night of May 23-24 to capture meteors from the Camelopardalid meteor shower. The shower was a dud, but …

The most interesting thing my cameras did catch was this odd glow which started large and diffuse and then became more defined as it got smaller and moved off (or so it appears) to the north, then fades away. My photos (and I have it on frames from another camera), and photos taken by other observers across North America, show a faint satellite moving along south to north parallel to the cloud’s long axis. Is this the culprit that caused the cloud? If so, it would have to be very high to be seen from a wide range of longitudes – astronomers in Manitoba and Minnesota also saw and shot it.

But any fuel dumps I’ve seen always have clouds that start small and concentrated then become large and diffuse. This did the opposite.

I’ll await further analysis and explanation.

P.S.: You can watch a better version of the movie here at my Flickr site.

— Alan, May 25, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer




6 Replies to “What Was That Glow in the Sky?”

  1. Thank You Alan for the added information, it’s greatly appreciated.

    Learning something new is always fun & Friday night’s learning curve may now be complete. I would have never considered a fuel dump from a rising space craft.

    Learning this was not an Aroras or possibly part of a comet’s remains was interesting enough, but to find out it was a fuel dump from a rising spacecraft is unique on it’s own merit.

    Once again, Thank You for all the great information you have shared.

    Not only are we now a bit wiser, the shared information from your seminars continue to help guide us towards taking impressive photographs of our little piece of the universe.

    All the best; Marion & Kevin

  2. http://5sgif.me/1ow2YYE

    Same thing Alan but satellite is visible. I observed it offset from the fuel dump and could also see the castoff booster parts following along behind with my binoculars. My exposures were 30 secs at ISO 1600. Polaris is just left of center.

    1. Excellent! Where did you take the images from? I did not see the early part of the sequence and I wonder if that’s because I was farther west.

      1. I’m out on Last Mountain Lake about 45 min North of Regina. I had my DSLR mounted on my CGEM mount just roughly polar aligned. I was using APT to take a sequence of 300 30 sec exposures…supposedly of meteors. The meteors were a bust but seeing that fuel cloud and the dark bits and pieces inside it made my evening! I just had the stock kit lens on my Canon XSi (modded).

        Enjoyed your presentation at the SSSP last year BTW!

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