Nightime Contrail? [Light Pillar]

Kenton

New Member
I was out looking for a meteorite shower on Friday, May 23, but found a strange path of white across the sky instead. I first noticed it around 11:40 PM. It stretched from the northern horizon, about 10 degrees west, up over my head a bit to the east and disappeared far to the south, south-east.



I was told it might be a light pillar but it was unusual. It was about 11:40 -12:00 at night and completely dark out. No moon and very clear skies. It was not vertical or straight north and south, and it extended far to the south. It looked more like a streak of northern lights but it didn't move. After a few minutes it started to disappear from the south. I wanted to get an overhead picture but my tripod would not let me shoot straight up. The picture I have is near the end when it was already fading. A friend of mine, 120 miles to the south-east, saw the same thing. I was a few miles north of Tisdale, Saskatchewan, Canada, and he was near Norquay. We both saw a light, maybe a satellite, traveling alongside it from the south and all the way to the horizon in the north.

Photos here:
https://plus.google.com/101987429061723342886/posts/4Ej28MUnKZC

[Admin Edit: It does indeed appear to be a very unusual light pillar from the Sun, which is below the horizon below where the column is]

[The above overlay has a slight vertical offset to demonstrate the stars in the photo and the Stellarium recreation all line up]
 
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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
But you say the photo is basically looking north? So that would seem to rule out the moon. It does look VERY like the light pillar on the right above, which is some distant city light.

Can you give the precise time and location of the photo? It should be possible to use the stars to find the direction it is in, and the see what lays along that line.

The big star is Capella, other stars line up in Stellarium from that rough locations and time. [Update: this overlay is incorrect, due to 1 hr time difference]



(Edit) and 10° W of N seems pretty much spot on.
 
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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
If your friend has a heading and location, you could triangulate.

How accurate is the time on your camera? The pic says 11:57, but the field rotation of the stars seems a bit off.
 

Kenton

New Member
It was between 11:43 and 12:03. The images in my Google+ post all have the exact time in the comments. https://plus.google.com/101987429061723342886/posts/4Ej28MUnKZC
I thought it might be a sun pillar because the sun would be over the horizon in that direction at midnight. I wish I had a picture of the overhead because this shot just looks like a light pillar. I thought it might have something to do with the sun and the aurora borealis? The northern lights appeared a few minutes before this happened and then again a few minutes after it disappeared. This one was taken at 12:19 https://www.flickr.com/photos/kanuski/14070501118/in/photostream/
I took these images at these coordinates: 52.900276, -104.070898 It was about 5 miles north of Tisdale, SK, Canada.
 

Kenton

New Member
You are right about the time on my camera. It is about 13 minutes too slow. That means the whole event took place from about 12:00 - 12:15.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
It was between 11:43 and 12:03. The images in my Google+ post all have the exact time in the comments. https://plus.google.com/101987429061723342886/posts/4Ej28MUnKZC
I thought it might be a sun pillar because the sun would be over the horizon in that direction at midnight. I wish I had a picture of the overhead because this shot just looks like a light pillar. I thought it might have something to do with the sun and the aurora borealis? The northern lights appeared a few minutes before this happened and then again a few minutes after it disappeared. This one was taken at 12:19 https://www.flickr.com/photos/kanuski/14070501118/in/photostream/
I took these images at these coordinates: 52.900276, -104.070898 It was about 5 miles north of Tisdale, SK, Canada.

The sun would be more to the east, and (I think) too low to create any kind of visible column, at about 15 degrees below the horizon. Not entirely sure about this though.



I'd think it's probably something a lot closer, if it were not for your friend also seeing it from 120 miles away.
 

Kenton

New Member
Some people get confused about Saskatchewan time. We are UTC -6 all year round. Does this change the position of the sun?
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Some people get confused about Saskatchewan time. We are UTC -6 all year round. Does this change the position of the sun?

Hmm, one hour earlier, the sun would be 10 degrees to the west of north. Stellarium defaults to my the local time zone (UTC-7), so that could possibly be it.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Yes, at that time the star field matches perfectly - here I've just offset it vertically so you can see the stars all line up in pairs (the bright dot on the bottom is from Stellarium, the dim dot on the top is from your photo). The grid square are 5°.


And the sun is in the right position, within a minute. So it seem pretty conclusive that it's a late-night sun column. Very unusual.
 

Hama Neggs

Senior Member.
I have seen the northern lights manifest as multiple white pillars shining up from changing locations on the northern horizon.
 

Kenton

New Member
Any idea why or if this light was related to that? Could the light from the sun reflecting through that layer of the atmosphere account for the lines in the northern lights? Or maybe the activity in the atmosphere caused the refraction of the sunlight?
 
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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Any idea why or if this light was related to that? Could the light from the sun reflecting through that layer of the atmosphere account for the lines in the northern lights? Or maybe the activity in the atmosphere caused the refraction of the sunlight?

Light pillars are caused by billions of horizontally aligned ice crystals, the same thing could stretch out the lights.
 

Kyle Foreman

New Member
I observed this exact phenomenon the same evening at 2:45AM your time (central standard) in Wapinita, Oregon USA.
I was with a group of other amateur astronomers who also viewed it and we could not figure out what it was.
Because of this I submitted a report to nuforc to see if anyone could tell me what it was. Wish I had found this site first.
The strange thing is we also saw a light/satellite? travel alongside it from south to north.

Here is my report:
Occurred : 5/24/2014 00:45 (Entered as : 05/24/14 00:45)
Reported: 5/25/2014 4:26:22 PM 16:26
Posted: 6/4/2014
Location: Wapinitia, OR
Shape: Light
Duration:2 minutes
50 degree long streak of white light seen in sky for two minutes.

50 degree long streak of white light (lighted line) Would be 50% opacity in photoshop for a visual comparison.

Speed would be equivalent to a plane or satellite going across the sky Saw for 2 minutes 25 degrees west of polaris - north or due 335 degrees NW No moon.

Moon came up at 3:30Am

No bright leading object at beginning of contrail.

Satellite (or a white circle) seemed to be following parallel to the line near the beginning.

Another observer next to me said he saw the lead satellite followed by two more object behind it. I did not see the other objects through binoculars and looked at least 10 degrees behind.

No photos/video.
http://www.nuforc.org/webreports/109/S109705.html
 
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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
50 degree long streak of white light (lighted line) Would be 50% opacity in photoshop for a visual comparison.

A satellite appears as a moving dot, not a streak (I'm assuming this is a visual observation, not a long exposure photo?).
 

Kyle Foreman

New Member
A satellite appears as a moving dot, not a streak (I'm assuming this is a visual observation, not a long exposure photo?).
Yes, visual observation. The light streak 50 degree length (what your photo shows is what I saw) then a satellite/moving dot was parallel to it just as you observed.
The 50 degree long lighted line moved from south to north at about the same speed as a jet contrail would moving across the sky. Fading out at the end as it moved. I first viewed the line after I heard some commotion from our group and looked up and saw it. From Zenith where I first saw to the time the line was at horizon was about 2 minutes.
 
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Kyle Foreman

New Member
Here is a representation of the naked eye light streak I made a few days after the event in photoshop against a random night sky image. Not edited for position in sky, but just to show how bright the line was at a dark site. Never seen anything like it. I was also hoping to see a dazzling meteor shower that night which we all know turned out to be a dud. This definitely made up for it.

5-24-14-White-Sky-Line.jpg
 
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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Do you think the light steak is the same thing as in the OP?

You describe it moving across the sky like a contrail? Are you sure it wasn't a contrail?

How did it disappear from view?
 

Kyle Foreman

New Member
I have looked for something similar on the internet to what I saw and found nothing close until I came across this. This part is what really got my attention besides how close the observations were: "We both saw a light, maybe a satellite, traveling alongside it from the south and all the way to the horizon in the north." I saw the exact same thing, a dot of light/satellite moving parallel to the streak at the very front (less than 1/2 a degree away from the streak parallel to it - observed with binoculars). It looks to be the same thing, although my observation happened 2.5 hrs later a couple thousand miles away.

The speed the streak/line moved I would compare to how fast you see an airplane or satellite move across the sky. It was very bright against a dark sky so don't think it could have been a contrail. Official sunset had occurred 4 hours before and moon wouldn't rise for another 3 hours.

2 minutes after first viewing, the front of the streak reached the northern horizon and the approximately 50 degree length of lighted light started fading starting at the back in a similar manner as the light moved. Eventually the whole streak faded out.
 
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WeedWhacker

Senior Member
Could you please explain what this "light-streak" is? Including the exposure settings on the camera, etc?

Thanks in advance.
 

Kyle Foreman

New Member
My observation includes no photos. Just a naked eye account.

It was a streak of light (or beam,line) 50 degrees long in the sky. See above image in reply #26 for representation of what it looked like to me. Similar to what original poster included in his photos.
Reply #25 of what I saw:
The 50 degree long lighted line moved from south to north at about the same speed as a jet contrail would moving across the sky. Fading out at the end as it moved. I first viewed the line after I heard some commotion from our group and looked up and saw it. From Zenith where I first saw to the time the line was at horizon was about 2 minutes.
 

WeedWhacker

Senior Member
A "streak of light in the sky."

I wish I was personally there to observe.

I wasn't.

EDIT: NOT that I "dismiss" your sighting....just...I wish I had been there, is all....
 

Kyle Foreman

New Member
No it was basically straight from zenith to the north horizon as it moved (Just like post #1 Photo). My recreated image is just to show how bright - " Not edited for position in sky, but just to show how bright the line was at a dark site."
 

Kyle Foreman

New Member
To be more accurate lets say it came from 10 degrees west of zenith as it wasn't exactly overhead of me. With me facing exactly north
 

WeedWhacker

Senior Member
No it was basically straight from zenith to the north horizon as it moved (Just like post #1 Photo). My recreated image is just to show how bright - " Not edited for position in sky, but just to show how bright the line was at a dark site."

OK...wow....interesting.
 

derwoodii

Senior Member.
event in photoshop against a random night sky image.


have to ask where was random image from? is it north or southern hemisphere... I see but hold till confirmation silhouette down under OZ gum trees,,,, any good star gazer will also recognizes the night sky
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
To be more accurate lets say it came from 10 degrees west of zenith as it wasn't exactly overhead of me. With me facing exactly north
sounds just like a contrail to me. you wouldn't necessarily see the plane. maybe someone can help you with the flight aware to track planes at that time.

I'm wondering if the 'dot' was the International space station, it seems to fly by Portland pretty often in the a.m. ; although I cant find an archive of its orbit on the 24th. (and youre the astronomy guy, you'd probably have better luck finding it then me) I also don't know what 50 degree means, and I'm bad with directions (North/south). ???

ex.JPG http://spotthestation.nasa.gov/sigh...ates&region=Oregon&city=Portland#.U9Mxv_ldVUY
 
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