Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

See new, spectacular, or mysterious sky images.

Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby RJN » Fri Jun 24, 2011 1:44 pm

Can you help identify this phenomena? The below video shows a flash of currently unknown origin observed at Mauna Kea Observatory the morning of 2011 March 22. Here is a moving gif of it (note the time stamps):

flashsphere_kpno.gif


Here is an email that APOD received describing it:

My name is Ichi Tanaka, a Support Astrnomer of Subuaru Telescope, Hawaii.

On the early morning of 22 March we, Subaru Telescope observers on
the summit of Mauna Kea, noticed that there is a huge halo of light
above the eastern horizon. It was slowly expanding to
over 45 degrees in 5 minutes or more.

The event was captured by the Subaru Catwalk Night Camera and also by
CHFT's NNW webcam. The animated gif movie of the Subaru webcam is
attached. I also contacted Kanoa Withington in CFHT, and they
made a quite nice movie of the event. The link is below.

http://www.cfht.hawaii.edu/~kanoa/ball/event.mp4

We have absolutely no idea about the nature of this. It
appears that the event happened not on the Summit area, but
much farther away, according to the comparison of the two videos.
This means that the size of the light halo is quite large.
After some discussion, we decided to send this to APOD, in the hopes
that APOD readers can help us to understand the nature of this event.


It seems to me that this is an excellent case for opportunity "Citizen Science" in that I bet the alert readers of APOD and the Asterisk can indeed figure this out. Please have at it!

- RJN
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.
User avatar
RJN
Baffled Boffin
 
Posts: 1241
Joined: Sat Jul 24, 2004 1:58 pm
Location: Michigan Tech

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby Zeke01 » Fri Jun 24, 2011 2:20 pm

Fuel venting from a spacecraft or discarded upper-stage of a rocket is my guess.
Zeke01
 

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby webolife » Fri Jun 24, 2011 3:13 pm

I'm curious how one envisions fuel discharging with a sphere that moves along with its center... wouldn't that produce more of a wake shape or possible a spiral? In order to retain the spherical/circular form, would not the object have to be moving relatively away from or toward the observer? The halo appears to be beyond the cloud bank, making it certainly above the atmosphere... could it be an exploding near earth approaching asteroid/comet?
webolife
Asternaut
 
Posts: 5
Joined: Wed Jan 28, 2009 10:02 pm

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby gmurray618 » Fri Jun 24, 2011 3:29 pm

Venting sounds reasonable. I assume that the time is local time. What direction was the origin of the flash? A satellite tracker should be able to found that can track backwards in time. What was in that direction at that time? Is their a record of the satellite in question venting or some other activity and what direction was it moving relative to the camera?
gmurray618
 

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby Matt Terry » Fri Jun 24, 2011 3:43 pm

It does look like an explosion/rapid de-gassing of a vehicle in low earth orbit (tho east to west orbits are quite unusual), backlit by the sun . The 8 minutes or so seen for propagation of the "wave" would seem to rule out truly violent, nuclear-bomb style, cause, as such ionizing proceeds at light speed. I'm curious why the stars move as expected in the Subaru film, but most of them (!) don't move at all in the other, higher-res CFHT, while the ground and lights there are also stable in the frame. Some few fuzzy "stars" do move upward in the right direction, but the many colored ones don't. What gives there?
Matt Terry
 

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby neufer » Fri Jun 24, 2011 3:44 pm

Zeke01 wrote:
Fuel venting from a spacecraft or discarded upper-stage of a rocket is my guess.

http://www.xairforces.net/newsd.asp?newsid=394&newst=7 wrote:
Air Force’s second hypersonic Waverider
flight set for March 22 [2011]

By John Nolan, Staff Writer - Tuesday, March 15, 2011
WRIGHT- PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Dayton Daily News

<<The Air Force plans a second hypersonic flight test next week of its X-51A Waverider aircraft, hoping that some improvements will avoid a problem that cut short last year’s first flight. The date of the flight over the Pacific Ocean is March 22, if plans don’t change before then, said Charlie Brink, X-51A program manager with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s propulsion directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The 14-foot-long aircraft is called the Waverider because it rides its own shockwave.

Once again, a B-52 from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., is to carry the Waverider aloft under a wing and release the aircraft at about 50,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean. A solid rocket booster will then accelerate the Waverider before its air-breathing scramjet (short for supersonic combustion ramjet) engine kicks in for what the Air Force hopes will be a four-minute flight reaching the speed of Mach 6.

The initial May 2010 flight had to be terminated after slightly more than two minutes, when the Waverider had reached Mach 5, on the way to a hoped-for Mach 6. The military controller intentionally sent the Waverider crashing into the Pacific after controllers lost contact with the high-speed vehicle, Brink said. A failed seal at a nozzle caused hot gases to build up inside the Waverider, rather than go out the back of the nozzle, Brink said. Engineers have made improvements they hope will avoid a repeat, he said.

It is the second of four test flights for the $246.5 million Waverider program, begun in December 2003. It is being done to demonstrate technology the Air Force hopes can eventually be used for more efficient transport of payloads into orbit.

The flights are all to end with crashing the Waveriders into the Pacific. The Air Force determined that, at the speed they fly, the Waveriders would sink before ships could get to where the aircraft hit the water, Brink said. “Of the existing X-51s, there is no plan to modify them to be recoverable,” he said.>>
Art Neuendorffer
User avatar
neufer
Abstruse Allusion Artificer
 
Posts: 11393
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2008 1:57 pm
Location: Alexandria, Virginia

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby Chris Peterson » Fri Jun 24, 2011 3:57 pm

I'd also go with the fuel/gas venting scenario. I've seen them before, and seen images, and although I've never seen one as spherical as this, they look otherwise very similar. The center of the expanding region seems to be tracking at about the right speed for a LEO satellite, as well.

Cassiopeia and Triangulum are apparent in the background stars, so we are looking low to the NE.
Chris

*****************************************
Chris L Peterson
Cloudbait Observatory
http://www.cloudbait.com
User avatar
Chris Peterson
Abominable Snowman
 
Posts: 8696
Joined: Wed Jan 31, 2007 11:13 pm
Location: Colorado, USA

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby Guest » Fri Jun 24, 2011 3:58 pm

Here is what I observe.
1) My first guess was a volcanic vent sending a up a plume of gas from the ocean floor and picking up ambient light. Hovever the plume is moving counter to the prevailing winds, so it appears to be outside the atmosphere. (note the movement of the clouds.)
2) Aditionally, the centroid of the plume rises faster than the rise of the background stars but just about on the same path. If the view is East then it is moving counter to earth's rotation along the equator.

Conclusion: Something may have vaporised that was in an equatorial orbit counter to earth's rotation.
Guest
 

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby licata » Fri Jun 24, 2011 4:09 pm

Sorry, I failed to sign the above comment.
As far as what vaporized... perhaps a small cometary fragment hitting the outer atmosphere and falling towards the observers. We see it get closer, expand and dissapate.

Tony Licata
http://www.tonylicata.org
licata
 

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby Dwright » Fri Jun 24, 2011 5:30 pm

It would appear that this mystery flash being spherical is happening in the vacuum space or near vacuum of very high altitude in the atmosphere. It reminds me of barium rocket releases used to probe the magnetic fields of the ionosphere having witnessed a few of these releases in the 70's. I suspect something gasious entered the earths upper atmosphere, a low density frozen snowball and vaporized and turned into a rapidly expanding spherical cloud of gas and plasma to entirely dissipate. It was a plasma because it emitted light and at the boundary of the spherical shell that light is the brightest where it is concentrated by angle of perspective. This event should have also produced a radio signal which may have been recorded elsewhere and perhaps on radar.
Dwright
 

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby RJN » Fri Jun 24, 2011 6:04 pm

This link indicates that the Waverider mentioned above did not fly in 2011 March: http://milaz.info/en/news.php?id=5712

On June 13, the Waverider was dropped from a B-52 ...
This week’s flight was originally slated for late March but was scrapped at the very last minute due to unknown issues with the test range.


If so, the flash must have been caused by something else.

- RJN
User avatar
RJN
Baffled Boffin
 
Posts: 1241
Joined: Sat Jul 24, 2004 1:58 pm
Location: Michigan Tech

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby neufer » Fri Jun 24, 2011 6:16 pm

RJN wrote:
This link indicates that the Waverider mentioned above did not fly in 2011 March: http://milaz.info/en/news.php?id=5712
On June 13, the Waverider was dropped from a B-52 ...
This week’s flight was originally slated for late March but was scrapped at the very last minute due to unknown issues with the test range.

If so, the flash must have been caused by something else.

"Something else" even more secret that involved "unknown issues with the test range" :?:
Art Neuendorffer
User avatar
neufer
Abstruse Allusion Artificer
 
Posts: 11393
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2008 1:57 pm
Location: Alexandria, Virginia

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby hunts » Fri Jun 24, 2011 6:17 pm

The leading edge of the "bubble" appears to enter the left side of the frame in this video at 3:43:19..
http://timelapsenow.com/movies/00/cloud ... _06_22.mp4
...and expand for three or four frames.
(Sourced from http://timelapsenow.com/cams/00_cloudcam_02.php)
If it wasn't for the astronomer's narrative, I would have said it was a optical artifact of the camera lens.
hunts
 

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby MAGIK MANDI » Fri Jun 24, 2011 6:41 pm

My guess is that it is a time portal opening up so the time travellers could return to whatever time period they came from. Or it could be Aliens warp jumping back to their dimension.... :P
MAGIK MANDI
 

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby Matt Kenworthy » Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:24 pm

it's too symmetrical to be a venting or large scale atmospheric phenomena, my guess is someone walking out of shot with a small flashlight and we're seeing lens flare.
Matt Kenworthy
 

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby Matt Kenworthy » Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:32 pm

Following on from my earlier idea, given that it takes about 4 minutes from start to finish, and that the centre of the circle is close to the horizon, it could easily be coming from a car driving up the mountain road with a light shining up at the camera.
Matt Kenworthy
 

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby calvin737 » Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:46 pm

Vandenburg AFB had a 6:35 AM launch of a minuteman 3 ICBM for reentry around Kwajalein Atoll.... this may be a picture of the burnout of a stage of the rocket?
calvin737
 

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby RJN » Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:49 pm

Matt Kenworthy wrote:Following on from my earlier idea, given that it takes about 4 minutes from start to finish, and that the center of the circle is close to the horizon, it could easily be coming from a car driving up the mountain road with a light shining up at the camera.


Interesting idea, Matt. But more than one camera on Mauna Kea saw it. (See the movie link in the initial post, for example.) If true, though, this transient should not have been seen from the neighboring island on Haleakala. Can someone check to see if it was seen from there as well?

Also, cars drive up to Mauna Kea all of the time, sometimes with their headlights on. For this to work, there must have been some sort of unusual reflection layer, like a cloud of fog that permeated the local air, or the air at some level.
User avatar
RJN
Baffled Boffin
 
Posts: 1241
Joined: Sat Jul 24, 2004 1:58 pm
Location: Michigan Tech

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby C Pletcher » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:02 pm

A scheduled launch from Vandenberg AFB of a Minuteman3 around this same time may offer some explanation basis... The rocket was headed for re-entry at the Kwajalein Atoll so direction and time might fit. I have seen similar bubbles at dusk from launches in Florida back in the 60s but was told then that they were some kind of weather testing.

The following is pasted from the VAFB website:
6/22/2011 - VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A scheduled unarmed operational test Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launch occurred at 6:35 a.m. June 22 from Launch Facility-10 here
C Pletcher
 

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby RJN » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:07 pm

C Pletcher wrote:A scheduled unarmed operational test Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launch occurred at 6:35 a.m. June 22 from Launch Facility-10 here


But the above flash was seen on March 22! Any Minuteman launches during March 21/22?
User avatar
RJN
Baffled Boffin
 
Posts: 1241
Joined: Sat Jul 24, 2004 1:58 pm
Location: Michigan Tech

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby hunts » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:12 pm

The date stamp on the video is 2011-06-22.

http://www.cfht.hawaii.edu/~kanoa/ball/event.mp4

I think the astronomer made a mistake in writing March 22...
hunts
 

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby RJN » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:21 pm

Oh wow, you are right. The mp4 says June 22, and I can't read the time stamp on the moving GIF above. So the email date must have been wrong. That could be a big clue. Good catch!
User avatar
RJN
Baffled Boffin
 
Posts: 1241
Joined: Sat Jul 24, 2004 1:58 pm
Location: Michigan Tech

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby bystander » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:26 pm

The gif says 06/22 also, but Hawaii is only 2 hours earlier than California, unless the time stamps are still "standard time". If so, the times align quite well with the launch time stated in the VAFB PR.
I don't imagine you will dispute the fact that at present the stupid people
are in an absolutely overwhelming majority all the world over.
— Henrik Ibsen
User avatar
bystander
Apathetic Retiree
 
Posts: 11932
Joined: Mon Aug 28, 2006 2:06 pm
Location: Oklahoma

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby Guest 2 » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:54 pm

by bystander » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:26 pm
The gif says 06/22 also, but Hawaii is only 2 hours earlier than California, unless the time stamps are still "standard time". If so, the times align quite well with the launch time stated in the VAFB PR.


At this time of year there is a 3 hour difference between California and Hawaii.
Guest 2
 

Re: Mystery Flash on Mauna Kea

Postby winger » Fri Jun 24, 2011 9:15 pm

The videos are misleading unless you carefully check the time stamps. We're talking 6 minutes for it to move from the horizon to out of focus. I think that rules out venting because it's moving much too slowly. Whatever it is, is somehow managing to reflect light; and more so on its circumference.

To me it looks like the moon (or at least a ghost version of the moon). My guess is that we're seeing a dense mist which is reflecting the moon, in the same way we see a reflection on a lake. Unlike water, a dense mist would give it an opaque/transparent effect and could also explain the movement. The speed would be about right too.
winger
Asternaut
 
Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:41 pm

Next

Return to The Observation Deck: Latest Sky Photography

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: CommonCrawl [Bot], Social Radar [bot] and 14 guests