Well technically it is a UFO, at the moment, by I don’t mean to imply it is alien in origin. After getting home this evening, I walked out in the driveway to look at the stars. It’s the first clear night in a while, and I’m prone to doing this sort-of thing. Anyhow, I looked up and saw this:
“How could a comet that obvious not already be reported?” I was thinking. I monitor all sorts of sites for things like this. Anyhow, I snagged the camera and snapped some quick shots. I’ve learned that sometimes things are best captured quickly and analyzed later!
Eventually I got out my telescope and could clearly see an object moving with the cloud but slightly separated. You can see this object as a track in the images due to the long exposure. Zooming in, multiple objects can be seen. I spotted two for sure, but I swear I saw flashes in the vicinity both naked eye and with the telescope. I’m guessing either a staging event (Geo insertion possibly), a fuel dump, or possibly a collision or break-up event.
I’ve cross posted to SpaceWeather.com for help identifying this apparition.
Update: I’m featured on the front page of SpaceWeather again! The quote and attributions are horribly scrambled, but that is my image (as you can see above). Correct quote below…
I spotted this naked eye object and wondered how such a bright comet could have been missed! Further observing (including these images) shows that this object is moving somewhat rapidly relative to the background stars. The plume was triangular (like a classic comet tail) to the naked eye. The motion has widened it. Two object trails are also visible. Perhaps a satellite explosion or staging event? The motion was basically eastward. With some time I could locate the star field to give somewhat accurate coordinates, but I wanted to get the picture up.
Update 2: SpaceWeather has identified this as:
…fuel dumped from the upper stage of an Atlas rocket that launched a classified satellite into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office earlier this evening. It was a splendid display, now faded away.
Update 3: SpaceWeather has the quotes pretty much repaired now. Kudos to the webmaster for multiple quick response! More images in our Spacecraft Gallery.