Solved: Twinkling red light in the sky [The Star Antares]

Swartdeco

New Member
Sunday night, I was up having a few drinks and enjoying the night sky outdoors with my fiancé. We were mostly watching the moon, but I noticed something in the sky: a bright, sparkly, and stationary red dot. I figured it was a planet, but I've since looked at my sky map app and there are no planets where I saw this object. Anyway, I set my phone on the table so that I could get a steady shot of the distant object, zoomed X100 and captured this photo. Any ideas? Thanks!
 

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That is probably just what points of light look like when zoomed in 100x on your phone.

Try taking the exact same photo again another night, using the brightest star or planet you can see.

And with these things, more info is good. Where were you? What time was it? Where were you looking? What does the wide shot (with stars) look like?

Possibly a star, like Antares, which is reddish and sparkly.
 
A photo I took just now on 6x zoom looking through my curtain window in complete darkness.

A planet? A satellite? A meteorite? A distant star? An alien spaceship?

Nope, just some construction work lights from about half a mile away.

Basically, photos can be very misleading, especially when zoomed in and in darkness.


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zoomed X100
How much of that was optical zoom, and how much was digital zoom? Anything with 100x zoom must be modern, and most modern phones will use sophisticated interpolation algorithms, including ones based on AI learning, to fill the gaps between the actual pixels. In that case, you might just have an image that's a synthesis of a million previously taken photos of small dots of light.

If you post cropped photos, please retain, or enter manually if removed, the EXIF tags from the original image, so the technical data about the sensor, and what post-processing may have been done in-camera, can be deduced.
 
That is probably just what points of light look like when zoomed in 100x on your phone.

Try taking the exact same photo again another night, using the brightest star or planet you can see.

And with these things, more info is good. Where were you? What time was it? Where were you looking? What does the wide shot (with stars) look like?

Possibly a star, like Antares, which is reddish and sparkly.

Thanks, very helpful.

I thought it might be Antares, too, but according to my app it wasn't- maybe I'm using the app wrong.

I was in Locke, NY. It was 9:30 pm, and approximately 45 degrees up, just a tick past south, towards South West. In wide shot with the stars, this just looked like a shinning red dot in the sky, similar to other stars, but a little brighter. I didn't think anything of it until the next day when I looked at the photo and zoomed up on it and it appeared as though there was an object in front of the light. The original picture I posted was cropped to better show the detail. I'll post a couple other shots I got of it later. The phone I used is a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra which is known to take pretty great night shots - I got amazing shots of the milky way with it in the past, though those weren't at 100x zoom.
 
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Here is an additional, un-cropped photo, and a shot of the moon using same camera on the same night just in case it's helpful.
 

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I was in Locke, NY. It was 9:30 pm, and approximately 45 degrees up, just a tick past south, towards South West.

So 8:30pm EST on July 30, is that right?

Here is a sky chart for that time and location, from https://heavens-above.com/skychart2.aspx?lat=42.6606&lng=-76.4308&loc=Town+of+Locke&alt=0&tz=EST (adjust time and date above the chart on that website).

1691060870239.png

The brightest star in the constellation of Boötes is Arcturus. It appears to be in roughly the position you said: although actually just west of southwest, and a bit higher than 45 degrees. Is it possible you were a bit off with your timing? Half an hour or so earlier the direction would have been closer to what you said.

1691060897598.png


Arcturus is the fourth brightest star in the sky, and is quite red in colour. It's also well known for exhibiting scintillation or "twinkling" effects.


Arcturus is quite easy to find - as well as being so bright, you can find it by following the curve of the "handle" of the big dipper (hence the saying "arc to Arcturus"). Maybe have a look for it on another clear night this week and try to reproduce the shot?

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Trailblazer: Thank you so much. So much helpful information!

It was 9:30PM on July 30th. I'm positive of the time because the photo is time stamped.

I'm not quite sure how to use the sky chart and how it works with the approximate angle I think it may have been, but I'm trying to figure it out. I really appreciate you sharing the link and photos.
 
Antares is another possibility (as Mick suggested). I can’t figure out whether Heavens-above accounts for daylight saving time. I think it does, based on the current time it shows, which means I should have shown the chart for 21:30:

1691064149587.png


Arcturus was too far to the west by that time. Antares was in exactly the right direction, but quite a bit lower than 45 degrees - only just over 20 degrees above the horizon.

However in my experience most people tend to overestimate the elevation of objects in the sky: anything over about 60 degrees looks more or less "straight up" and objects 20 degrees can look pretty high in the sky.
 
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That is another possibility. I can;t figure out whether Heavens-above accounts for daylight saving time. I think it does, based on the current time it shows, which means I should have shown the chart for 21:30:
Top right of the HeavensAbove page shows the location and times used in the predictions, including any UTC offset.



1691066010292.png
 
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That is another possibility. I can;t figure out whether Heavens-above accounts for daylight saving time. I think it does, based on the current time it shows, which means I should have shown the chart for 21:30:

Arcturus was too far to the west by that time. Antares was in exactly the right direction, but quite a bit lower than 45 degrees - only just over 20 degrees above the horizon.

However in my experience most people tend to overestimate the elevation of objects in the sky: anything over about 60 degrees looks more or less "straight up" and objects 20 degrees can look pretty high in the sky.
I think you're right on it being Antares. I was looking at 0930 on my map vice 2130. I think you're right on me over-estimating the elevation as well. Mystery solved. Thanks!

Not sure what the dark object is in front of it though.
 
I thought it might be Antares, too, but according to my app it wasn't- maybe I'm using the app wrong.

I was in Locke, NY. It was 9:30 pm, and approximately 45 degrees up, just a tick past south, towards South West.

People are notoriously unreliable at judging angular elevation. 45 degrees is a lot higher than most people think.

Antares...a nice bright red colour... was at 23 degrees...just a tick past south...

Stellarium is superb astronomy sofware...and is free !

antares.jpg
 
People are notoriously unreliable at judging angular elevation. 45 degrees is a lot higher than most people think.
That's very true. In my youth, I recall my dad teaching me about judging elevation. He was a navigator in the Navy and had a strong grasp on stellar navigation. We lived at about 42N, so Polaris is a an eyeballed 45 degrees. I was trying to find Polaris and he said "hold your arm out at 45 degrees to the ground." I put my arm out and he says "that's closer to 30 degrees. 45 feels like overhead."

It really does. I'm pretty sure if you roll your head all the way back, you still only get to like 80 or 85 degrees.
 
People are notoriously unreliable at judging angular elevation. 45 degrees is a lot higher than most people think.

Antares...a nice bright red colour... was at 23 degrees...just a tick past south...

Stellarium is superb astronomy sofware...and is free !

antares.jpg
That's amazing. It's exactly how my view was that night! Even the moon looks exactly the same.
 
That's very true. In my youth, I recall my dad teaching me about judging elevation. He was a navigator in the Navy and had a strong grasp on stellar navigation. We lived at about 42N, so Polaris is a an eyeballed 45 degrees. I was trying to find Polaris and he said "hold your arm out at 45 degrees to the ground." I put my arm out and he says "that's closer to 30 degrees. 45 feels like overhead."

It really does. I'm pretty sure if you roll your head all the way back, you still only get to like 80 or 85 degrees.

I think there's a reason for this. Before I had read your sentence fully, I knew you would aim at 30o. I think that's because it's, when viewed in a certain way, about "half way up".
Mathematically, the line that's at 30o divides the sky into two portions of *equal area* - the cap containing the pole has the same solid angle as the halo between that line and the horizon. Perhaps we're performing that kind of disection in our head? It would be an intersting study.
 
That's amazing. It's exactly how my view was that night! Even the moon looks exactly the same.

Stellarium is amazing ( free ) software....practically photorealistic representation of night sky in 3D. You can even add stuff to it like comets....for example I have already added to it the bright comet C 2023 A3 that will appear later next year around October, and can see in advance its night sky path on each day. Stellarium shows the positions of all the planets, stars down to magnitude 18, galaxies, satellites ( including Starlink ), in fact anything you could want to observe. It was Stellarium that persuaded me that the infamous Japan Airlines UFO in Alaska was actually a conjunction of Mars and Jupiter...which were in the exact spot in the sky the UFO was first seen.

https://stellarium.org/

There is also a mobile phone version, but I do not thing it is anything like as good as the Windows version.

Oh....and here's next year's comet, though of course comets are notoriously unreliable...but this is how bright it is 'expected' to be...

comet.jpg
 
I think there's a reason for this. Before I had read your sentence fully, I knew you would aim at 30o. I think that's because it's, when viewed in a certain way, about "half way up".
Mathematically, the line that's at 30o divides the sky into two portions of *equal area* - the cap containing the pole has the same solid angle as the halo between that line and the horizon. Perhaps we're performing that kind of disection in our head? It would be an intersting study.
This is absolutely incredible and makes perfect sense.
 
I think there's a reason for this. Before I had read your sentence fully, I knew you would aim at 30o. I think that's because it's, when viewed in a certain way, about "half way up".
Mathematically, the line that's at 30o divides the sky into two portions of *equal area* - the cap containing the pole has the same solid angle as the halo between that line and the horizon. Perhaps we're performing that kind of disection in our head? It would be an intersting study.
Sin(30 degrees) = 0.5

Does this have any relationship to your argument?
 
I think there's a reason for this. Before I had read your sentence fully, I knew you would aim at 30o. I think that's because it's, when viewed in a certain way, about "half way up".
Mathematically, the line that's at 30o divides the sky into two portions of *equal area* - the cap containing the pole has the same solid angle as the halo between that line and the horizon. Perhaps we're performing that kind of disection in our head? It would be an intersting study.
I am not sure that is the case. I think that if you are looking at the sky at the 45o angle, then the the 90o point and the 0o point would be equally far from the 45o point, and the same for every complementary pair in-between. It would hold true for whatever your angle of view is. While the projection of the 30o angle is 1/2 on a plane (@AmberRobot, yes, that is relevant), our perception of our surrounding models as a sphere. Keeping it to circles, we'd percieve distances relative to the viewing angle, not to the horizontal axis. I think it was @Scaramanga that said that we tend to underestimate the 90o angle and end up underestimating all estimations due to that and I think that is a likelier explanation.

PS If you were looking at the horizon and trying to estimate the angle of some star above, then the projected view would fall on a line parallel to the Y axis and the sin(30) could potentially trick you, but only if you could see the 90o point at the same time, such that you can place the star at half of that height, and you can't see the 90o point while looking at the horizon. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Field_of_view
The vertical range of the visual field in humans is around 150 degrees.
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Maybe that specifically is the reason for the underestimation. Maybe people assume that the upper limit of their vision while looking at the horizon is 90o, when it's less. 150/2/2 is 32.5 which is quite within the ballpark of the observed phenomenon.

And, @AmberRobot before you ask, tg(45) = 1 is related to my argument, indeed ;).
 
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Sin(30 degrees) = 0.5

Does this have any relationship to your argument?

The equal solid angle part is precisely because of that ratio. However, I don't think humans are doing sines in their head. I think we're more likely to do tangents in our head than sines. The real walkable across and then up just seems more natural than some abstract hypotenuse thing.
 
The equal solid angle part is precisely because of that ratio. However, I don't think humans are doing sines in their head. I think we're more likely to do tangents in our head than sines. The real walkable across and then up just seems more natural than some abstract hypotenuse thing.
Well, tangent of 30 degrees is 0.58 so not that much different. In the small angle approximation sine equals tangent essentially.
 
I think it was @Scaramanga that said that we tend to underestimate the 90o angle and end up underestimating all estimations due to that and I think that is a likelier explanation.

Each human eye sees 90 degrees horizontally but only about 60 degrees vertically....when looking towards the horizon. I think this is why we over-estimate angular elevation. We are just not used to how much more angular elevation of sky there actually is....so we end up judging 30 degrees as 45 degrees.
 
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