Cedar Park Lights in the Sky with Strange Reflection [Police Drone]

Mick West

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Staff member

Source: Nataliee Gamez on Twitter.
I originally thought this was a plane, because of the configuration of lights. The "triangle" shape seemed just to be reflections.

But then I noticed when it emerged from behind the tree, all the lights except the brightest (and possibly some barely visible) all just fade in, in front of the tree.

Now, the object seems clearly to be behind the tree, based of the light in the air, so that means that all these lights are reflections of the bright light on the right.
2023-01-06_00-03-37.jpg

That's strange, but also puzzing is that earlier, on the other side of the tree, there's only one bright light visible.
2023-01-06_00-05-02.jpg

I'd geolocated it to the circled region of Cedar Park )later confirmed by Nataliee), and thought it was possibly a plane coming in to land at the fly-in community of Hank Sassar at Breakaway.

2023-01-05_22-16-48.jpg

But it's a bit confusing. What's going on with the reflections?

UPDATE (2023-01-09): As suggested by @flarkey, and now confirmed by the Cedar Park Police Department, this appears to have been a police drone.

2023-01-09_09-39-23.jpg

The reflections seem to come from the window, which is likely triple paned. Possibly also from a lens protector. Similar reflections are seen in the lights of the police car. Looking In the other direction the reflections go the other way. Notice the second reflection of the light on the right is green (likely due to window coating)

2023-01-06_13-19-48.jpg
 

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flarkey

Senior Member.
Staff member
Can we confirm the Date & Time of this video....?

edit. Found the metadata.... It is Wednesday 3 Jan 2023 05:09 CST = 11:09 UTC

20230106_090753.jpg

Edit: There's no planes visible on FlightRadar24 or ADSB Exchange at this time that would be candidates for an aviation explanation.
 
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Mendel

Senior Member.
I'd geolocated it to the circled region of Cedar Park, and though it was possibly a plane coming in to land at the fly-in community of Hank Sasser at Breakaway.

2023-01-05_22-16-48.jpg
This approach seems unusual for a small general aviation aircraft. Normally, aircraft would either approach straight in from a distance, or they would enter the pattern (a "racetrack", east of the runway in this case), and make sure the pilot-controlled runway lighting is on before landing the aircraft.
 
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flarkey

Senior Member.
Staff member
The red lights and rotation that is observed around the 30s-40s section of the video seems to further cement the likelihood that this is a drone. I've cropped and tried to stabilise the video...

Warning: NSFW! :p



I've emailed the Austin Police Drone Unit and asked them if they had deployed a unit in Cedar Park at the time of the sighting.
 
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FatPhil

Senior Member.
That's strange, but also puzzing is that earlier, on the other side of the tree, there's only one bright light visible.

Fully agree. Definitely strange. The only explanation that springs to mind I am sure is wrong, but it costs nothing to brainstorm.

Left of the tree, the spot is lighting up enough of the misty air that there's a general glow, so you can't see the other 5 reflections against that background glow.
Right of the tree, you can't see that misty glow, as there's a tree in the way, and therefore you can see the other reflections.
Reason I think that's probably wrong - the reflections look brighter than the glow, so they would still remain visible.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Yeah, I was all "plane" based on what looked like "nav lights." Until I saw the reflections, and then I looked closer at the later lights that showed though leaves and branches and it seemed more like a drone. There's other issues with the plane hypothesis - lack of noise (although that's a minor point against drone, drones ar much quieter), and the "searchlight" aspect.

Those reflections are weird, but likely not important in determining what is going on out beyond the trees.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Left of the tree, the spot is lighting up enough of the misty air that there's a general glow, so you can't see the other 5 reflections against that background glow.
Right of the tree, you can't see that misty glow, as there's a tree in the way, and therefore you can see the other reflections.
Reason I think that's probably wrong - the reflections look brighter than the glow, so they would still remain visible.
I think both the the exposure and the light intensity (maybe direction) might change as it traverses the tree.




Hypothesis:
  • Left of tree, brighter (more direct beam?), more fog spreads the light, makes the scene average brighter. So exposure is lower, reflections don't show up.
  • Behind tree, everything is darker, exposure ramps up.
  • Right of tree, less fog, light is is more of a very bright point, less light spread, scene average is low, reflections are made visible.
Another rather speculative hypothesis is that the phone she is using has three lenses and a low-light mode that uses all three to get a combine image, but it's not in focus, so the distant lights get separated into three, with diagonal ones being from the dual pane window.
 

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Mick West

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Staff member
Another rather speculative hypothesis is that the phone she is using has three lenses and a low-light mode that uses all three to get a combine image, but it's not in focus, so the distant lights get separated into three, with diagonal ones being from the dual pane window
Givent the vertical format, that would mean a camera with three lenses horizontally (when held vertically), like the Google Pixel 7 Pro
2023-01-06_11-46-49.jpg

and......

Article:
This year, Google's using a 48MP 5x optical zoom lens, and it's mighty impressive. Between 2x and 5x, the Pixel 7 Pro will combine images from the primary and telephoto sensors, while the telephoto takes over from 5x and beyond.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
@flarkey noted it's an iPhone

Hypothesis: she zooms in slightly when it's hidden by the tree, changing to a lens with a slightly angled lens protector on it, that causes the two horizontal reflections.

Q5YBasbWNrLeoRih57oikd-1200-80.jpg

This gives what I called an "offset lens reflection" a while back:
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxQlr_XSWCU

From: https://www.metabunk.org/threads/ex...causeway-florida-offset-lens-reflection.6932/


The diagonal reflections are from the window - and can be seen in the car headlights (looking at the sensor reflections)
2023-01-06_12-42-03.jpg
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Len protector hypothesis seems plausible. I replicated the triple reflection from a bright light, and it vanishing when changing lens.


No reflections:2023-01-06_13-06-46.jpg

A second later, reflections
2023-01-06_13-07-54.jpg
My temporary "lens protector"

2023-01-06_13-13-26.jpg
 
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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
She posted another video taken at the same time showing a cop car:



This shows similar patterns of reflections, horizontal and diagonal. 2023-01-06_13-19-48.jpg

Although here the horizontal reflections are in a different direction - which suggests maybe it's related to the view angle, and hence the window.
 

Jon Adams

Member
This approach seems unusual for a small general aviation aircraft. Normally, aircraft would either approach straight in from a distance, or they would enter the pattern (a "racetrack", east of the runway in this case), and make sure the pilot-controlled runway lighting is on before landing the aircraft.
This is Breakaway airport (40XS), privately owned, requires permission to use it, and for night operations, uses aircraft-activated runway lights (ACTVT MIRL). While there are no published approaches for it, looks like an a/c approached on a right base for an eventual landing on runway 15. What documentation there is suggests that's not the normal approach; the plate says that runway 15 uses a left traffic pattern. A minor thing, but it is Texas. :D
 
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