Strange streak discussion: 2004 Dec 7 APOD

Comments and questions about the APOD on the main view screen.

Post by Gorzo » Tue Dec 07, 2004 5:51 am

It reminds me of a picture I once saw of a space shuttle's launch plume at sunset. The part where it rose out of the shadows left an odd, raylike shadow. If I can find it i'll post a link.


Post by Guest » Tue Dec 07, 2004 5:52 am

I was wondering when the picture was taken? I saw a rather strange object the other night, 12/4/04, at 11:35 pm in Maryland. It appeared to be too quick to be a meterorite, as it flashed for about a sixth of the sky and disappeared; I thought it was unusual that it was white, a rather large streak, and then it disappearing again. It was headed west- southwestward from my area. Donlt know if this could be related?



Post by JAPO » Tue Dec 07, 2004 5:53 am



Lighting/Bird Strike?

Post by eVarmint » Tue Dec 07, 2004 5:58 am

A few observations:

1) The narrowness of the shadow suggests the light source is some distance probably several feet from the pole.

2) The transient blue wavy feature that looks like smoke is probably lightning because there is no sign of it in the "after" picture. I suppose it could be water vapor, but I can think of a good reason to beleive that.

3) The appraent "flash" is yellowish in color compared to the blue "lightning". Perhaps something small is exploding.

My theory is that something happened to by in the air near the pole at the instant of the strike. Perhaps a bird or a large insect, or maybe even a piece of garbage. THis thing was incinerated by the lighting and produced the bright residual flash that in turn produced the shadowy streak.


Type IA supernova?

Post by fireking » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:01 am

I like Kellam Mackenzie's and 's idea the best. The flash appears to be coming from the light. The strange cross and circle artifact might be a lens flare or artifact from the sensor due to being overloaded briefly from the bright "super nova" often associated with bulb death. The shadow is probably the light being blocked by the housing. Experiment in the making?????!!!!!!

APOD Guest

Light Post

Post by APOD Guest » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:03 am

It cleary has to do with the light in the light post.

I like the 6PM night activated burnout theory posted above. The bright light clearly comes from the light bulb in the light post burning out in a bright flash.

- Lighting? Possible, I suppose. But why the shallow angle trail that is absolutely perfectly straight? ... It looks more like a shadow or camera artifact from the bright flash of the bulb burning out.

- An object hitting the light? What are the odds of it striking the light in the lamp post or striking behind where the light bulb would be?... A burning out light bulb makes much more sense.

I can't believe I saw this on the news pretty much reported as fact that it's was meteor.

I say it's the light bulb burning out with camera induced artifacts.


Post by Eventide » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:05 am

Well, we can narrow the search down a bit to what it most likely is not (sometimes the easiest path is to disprove what one can first).

The lighting in the picture is insufficient for it to be a contrail shadow. According to the clouds in the upper right, the light is coming from somewhere behind and slightly to the right of the photographer. Also, contrails mostly occur at high altitudes, and the fact that the dark streak appears to be below the clouds would nullify this prospect.

The streak is also too straight to be ions/afterimage of a bolt of lightning.

I don't see how it could be the bulb exploding either because the other lights do not appear to be on in this picture. Though, the amount of ambient light and shutter time could render the lights unnoticeable in this image (as well as the posts themselves might be in the way).

I find it curious, however, that the upper left portion of the streak appears to go behind a lighter cloud. If that is indeed the case, then it appears whatever caused the streak either came from the sky in the upper left or the shadow was just in the right place as to be angled away from us and behind the cloud.

I would be interested to know if the smoke was there in previous frames. The smoke continues to the lower left, and as such, may not be related to this incident at all.


Post by Guest » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:05 am

I would like to see the photo just before this one, and this photo in higher resolution, if available.

The light pole doesn't look continuous, like there is a cloud in front of the bottom of it.

Is there any way to digitally process the trail so it becomes clearer, and to look for any curve or change in width?

Matthew Lowry

Looking at the pictures like movie frames...

Post by Matthew Lowry » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:06 am

I noticed something interesting when I looked very closely at the light pole in question by going "frame-by-frame".

First I looked at the before picture, then the after picture - I noticed that the top of the pole is different in the two views. Zoom in an see it...

In the after shot, the pole seems to be surrounded by a faint haze like a puff of smoke. Presumably, this is the remains of the flashing explosion which seems to originate from the top of the post. Another observation...

In the flash frame, if you look to the right and below the top of the pole where the flash is located, you will see a white whispy-ness. In the after picture, I noticed - ever so faintly - that there seemed to be a trail of "smoke" off further to the right and lower to the ground than this previous bright whisp. I think these may be the remnants of a lamp blowout, etc falling to the ground.

As for the darkened line extending to the upper left in the flash frame, I can only speculate. But it seems to me that given the available info that it's a shadow cast in humid air from the bright flash.

Hope this helps!


Matthew Lowry
Lake Forest High School
Lake Forest, IL


another thought

Post by Steve » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:06 am

I have zoomed, scrolled, compared, scratched my head.

What it really looks like is a squillion to one shot of a meteor about to hit the water directly behind the pole. Anything slower would have some sort of an arc, not a dead straight line like that.

But a couple of things don't make sense. It would have to be a pretty fast shutter speed to freeze something that has just fallen through the atmosphere at great speed. The flash is pretty sharp.

Also, I like the "bow wave" theory to explain the smoke, but again, look at the size of it, it is almost flat at 90 degrees to the streak. Wouldn't a bow wave be parabolic?

If this isn't fake (aI don't think it is) it certainly is weird.



Post by rokuez » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:07 am

if you assume everything in the photograph to be true . i think its a laser


another thought

Post by Steve » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:07 am

I have zoomed, scrolled, compared, scratched my head.

What it really looks like is a squillion to one shot of a meteor about to hit the water directly behind the pole. Anything slower would have some sort of an arc, not a dead straight line like that.

But a couple of things don't make sense. It would have to be a pretty fast shutter speed to freeze something that has just fallen through the atmosphere at great speed. The photographer has stated that it was only 1/20 sec. For a slow shutter speed the flash is pretty sharp.

Also, I like the "bow wave" theory to explain the smoke, but again, look at the size of it, it is almost flat at 90 degrees to the streak. Wouldn't a bow wave be parabolic?

If this isn't fake (aI don't think it is) it certainly is weird.

Jim Webster

Post by Jim Webster » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:07 am

I also prefer the exploding light bulb theory. Look at the other poles and how the lights hang off to the side, just about where the flash is. This might give the false impression that the flash is not directly connected directly to the pole and off in the distance. An exploding bulb could also create both a smoke burst off to the side and a possible reflection artifact. If the exploding light bulb was near opposite to the photographer, it would create a more observable shadow aimed at the photographer's direction. Note how the smoke artifact is in line with the flash and the perfectly straight shadow. Too much ties in with the pole to make other explanations less probable. To Solve this mystery, the photographer needs to go to that light pole and confirm the burned out or exploded bulb.

reality in MIND

the truth

Post by reality in MIND » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:08 am

lets see here...

its definately not a contrail, cos the earth is curved, and if it was a contrail streaking across the sky, it wouldnt be perfectly straight like the shadow is in this picture.

the shadow is definately not a beam of light or a streak of smoke from something falling out of the sky, or else it wouldnt be as thick at the top corner of the photo and the bottom middle, where the water is.

its definately not the reflection of the street light, cos the white glow on the outside of the bright yellow light covers the tip top of the tree in front of light (which i might add is most likely at least 50 feet away).

looks like a smudge on the film to me.

just a casual observer


Post by just a casual observer » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:09 am

I just can't buy the streak being a shadow... it passes from the far upper left down to the center of the photo without appearing to grow in size as the distance from the pole increases - The flash would have to be at a much greater distance from the pole for it to behave like that. Also, if the flash were out in the bay and that close in line with the pole the shadow would then be a line pointing almost directly toward the camera instead of the extreme side angle it's at


Re: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? I think it's a plane...

Post by Guest » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:11 am

Anonymous wrote:
fireking wrote:I've seen shadow lines very similar to the one in the picture. idea....burn out at startup, ...the line is the shadow of the light housing...
smith @
Cool idea. But I think the shadow would fade much faster. If the light happened inside the housing it would be close to the part of the housing that is making the shadow. Try placing a finger in front of a light bulb and viewing the shadow on a distant wall. Because of relative size and distance the shadow fades vary fast. To have a well defined shadow you must use a point source of light at a distance from the object casting the shadow. That is why the sun can form sharp, hard edge shadows. But even a small light close to an object casts a soft shadow.


artifact on the film?

Post by twocents » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:14 am

Could this be simply an artifiact of an event that affectd the film directly? It sounds as though it was taken on film, not digitally. How was the film handled/processes. It's likely not something that happened while in the film can or other frames would have been affected, but something could have happened at almost any other time in the exposure / development process.

Zooming in on the image, the halo could possibly be a lens flare, but not likely being it's relatively close to the center of the image, and that it's not in the shape any common aperture. It is vertically symetrical implying it's not a splash. If it were a lamp imploding, it would likely be spherical as well.

I'm banking on a film artifact.


Post by Guest » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:17 am

Looks like a hair on the lens.


Post by markus » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:17 am

Geon's hypothesis seems to be the most plausable so far.


Post by thederek » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:17 am

I'm convinced it's a bug!

maybe that sounds too simplistic, but i think it is quite realistic.

1. right coloring for a small gnat or mosquito.
2. that is about the distance a bug could fly in about 1/20th of a second (i think, it kinda depends on the distance from the lense that the bug was flying)
3. that clearly explains why it wasnt in the picture before or after.
4. its easy! and obvious!


Post by Guest » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:17 am

more than likely a moire line on the digital ccd censor, lit at the perfect angle by to cause this effect. If one had a hi res copy, you could probably see that the line extends all the way across the frame.


Streak in the sky... was seen in Calif. on 11/26/04

Post by SauronStomp » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:19 am

Wow. Folks, I was driving my family south from San Jose, CA to Santa Maria, CA the day after Thanksgiving to visit more family members. The same streak captured in the photo from Austrailia appeared in the sky between Salinas and King City around 1:30PM... almost paralell to highway 101. The funny thing was that there were also jetplane trails fading in the same path. However, they were clearly more white and were visibly distorted due to various winds up there. The gray streak was not like that at all. It seemed to be higher and not altered by winds. It was a like a perfect line drawn in the sky. It was simply there to google at for a bit and then simply faded away. It was exciting, I pointed it out to my wife and we guessed at what it might be.... IT WAS NOT something a lightpole or dirty lens created! I wonder if the instance we saw was part of the same captured in Austrailia.

Dick Hodgman

Bulb Burns Out with a Big Flash

Post by Dick Hodgman » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:21 am

The bulb burned out with a flash nearly the size of the housing, offset to the lower right. It cast a shadow up to the left, cylindrical rather than conical implying the size of the flash is the same as the housing that obstructs the light. The shadow is made visible due to a slight haze (assuming there is a slight haze). The arc to the lower right, not symmetric around lamp, also supports the premise that the bulb burned out with a flash to the lower right. The arc is a lens flare.

A burning-out bulb is much more likely than the first-ever photo of a meteorite strike on earth or lightning, which experts in the fields discounted. A meteor or lightning would be unlkikely to arrive from the upper left and create a flash on the lower right - it would strike to the upper left and create the flash there. The photo is consistent with the burned-out bulb.

Therefore, I agree with fireking and earlier posts.

Great photo and great discussion - let's do this again. I first thought it was a meteor - the discussion helped lead me to the above conclusion.

Love a mystery.

Howard Tayler
Posts: 4
Joined: Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:13 am
Location: Wouldn't you rather observe my velocity?

Post by Howard Tayler » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:21 am

The streak is as close to straight as makes no difference when I pull the image into an editor and draw straight lines along it. My first thought was that it could have been some sort of ballistic projectile, but with a line that straight, it came from a LONG way off, and was moving FAST.

"Film artifact" seems the most likely. The line appears to be in FRONT of everything else in the picture, ruling out a shadow (what would it be cast on?) or a contrail (it wouldn't appear on the water).

Cartoonist, Schlock Mercenary
Travel the Galaxy, meet fascinating new life-forms, and then kill them.

contrail shadow photo

Post by » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:22 am

Here's an image I took of the shadow of a contrail for comparison,
It shows the contrail, the shadow on the ground and the shadow on the air.


Paul Doherty
Senior Staff Scientist
The Exploratorium