Question About Oregon Sighting: Meteor or Iridium Flare
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff
(Manzanita, Oregon) – A little over a month ago, Oregon Coast Beach Connection snapped a pic of what appeared to be a shooting star above the north coast town of Manzanita. Checking in with astronomy expert Jim Todd from OMSI, the initial verdict was that it likely was.
Now, it actually may be something rarer.
The photograph was taken late at night on this north Oregon coast beach, with the Big Dipper floating above the moving object. Todd's first reaction was that the white streak was likely a meteor from a set of meteor showers happening that month.
“It does look like you have a shooting star or meteor from the September Perseid,” Todd said at the time.
But soon after he said it may instead be an iridium flare – the extended gleam of a satellite's metallic surface as it catches the sun. (Above: the Big Dipper is just above the streak).
This phenomenon is also known as a “satellite glint.” According to Wkipedia, it is “the phenomenon caused by the reflective surfaces on satellites (such as antennas or solar panels) reflecting sunlight directly onto the Earth below and appearing as a brief, bright flare.' “
Certain kinds of communication satellites have a distinctive shape and there polished antennas. Periodically, one of these antenna reflect sunlight back down to the Earth, creating a flare that lasts a few seconds.
There are actually many websites that can predict these. Although they are predictable, they are rarer than actual meteors sightings.
Case in point: while Oregon Coast Beach Connection was photographing this nocturnal beach scene, several shooting stars were seen. These were apparently part of the Leonid showers Todd talked about, although it was a few days from the peak. This particular incident came from a 47-second test shot, and it wasn't seen with the naked eye. Staff only saw this particular phenomenon when viewing the photo after it was downloaded onto the computer.
Considering the almost cylindrical shape of this streak, and when comparing it to other iridium flare photographs, this does seem likely it's a flare rather than a meteor.
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