Strange streak discussion: 2004 Dec 7 APOD

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

Various Observations

Post by DemEnTEd_42 » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:23 am

I took a long look at *the* picture with Photoshop, along with the Before/After pics overlaid. I am an Imagery Analyst professionally, what they used to call Photointerpreters, so I like to imagine that I have some skills here, but adittedly this is a little closer to earth than I am used to.

First of all, the 'flash' is offset from the the pole, which clearly suggests that it did not, in fact, hit the pole or is related to it in any way other than coincidence.

Secondly, the 'trail' looks to be very straight, but slightly widening farther from the 'flash' end, suggesting perhaps a shadow rather than a trail of some sort - although perspective might account for this....

...especially since the only explaination that I might be able to come up with for the indistinct white blur is that of some kind of circular-plate-shaped phenomenon, viewed at an extreme perspective angle. This has the same look as a compression wave, like you'd see on footage of bombs exploding (watch a Vietnam documentary and you'll see what I am talking about.)

Finally, and perhaps MOST importantly (what is probably the only truly significant item :) ) the color of the flash is clearly related to the color of the light reflected off the water. This would make it more akin to a reflection of some sort rather than an actual explosion; the light of any supposed meteor would be different by a more significant factor. Additionally I believe that any 'explosion' would be more of a point source than a blur.

Well? Bunk?


Mysterious streak and flash

Post by gordie » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:24 am

The more I look at this picture, the more I believe the burnout theory. The streak we see is not the shadow of the light pole, but rather that of the light housing. On misty northern nights, we see a similar effect when viewing a streetlight from behind. (Don't confuse this with the "light pillar" which depends on ice crystals falling flat and is best viewed from a fair distance.)
I don't believe the bright phenomenon in front of the flash is anything like a bow shock. Looking closely, I see that it consists of a bright ring with two "handles", which fits neatly across the water. This effect is certainly optical in nature, and I think we can rule out a lens effect, because it's only visible against the water. To me, that seems like a reflection from the waves or, less probably, airborne moisture. I like the wave theory best, because it is so much like the light pillar effect I just mentioned.

Mike Schneider

Strange Streak: Looks like an impact to me....

Post by Mike Schneider » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:25 am

My theory: It's either (a) the metallic inner core of small meteorite, or (b) a similar piece of satellite debris. I'm guessing size at an inch in diameter, give or take a bit; and traveling at or just barely under sound-barrier speed at impact. The photograph in question catches it just as it strikes the water (the "flash" is in fact a splash; it occurs, on the photo, a few pixels to the right of the pole). The short white streak just to the right of the flash/splash is condensation attending the atmospheric shock-wave. The dark-streak is residual smoke trailing the hot fragment. Fifteen seconds later, it has either dispersed or blown off-camera when the next shot is taken (and the small splash, of course, is already lost in random wave-pattern).

The thing to do would be to interview anyone on the dock or boats that day to ask them if they heard a sonic boom or loud "crack!" or "gunshot" at about that time.

PacRim Jim

I know, I know

Post by PacRim Jim » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:29 am

Mass hysteria.

Rob Crouch

Post by Rob Crouch » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:31 am

Exploding mercury lamp and subsequent offset shadow cast bt the flash as some have already speculated.
A lucky shot of a quite common occurrence with some interesting effects due to atmospheric and ambient light conditions would be my quess.
If you examine the after shot you will be able to make out a residual smoke haze around the light fixture as well. A meteor would have left some damage imho even if it "exploded" in close proximity to the pole.

Kurt Simmons

Do we need more information?

Post by Kurt Simmons » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:32 am

And I suppose we can't rule out a hoodlum shooting the light out either?

I think we need some definitive answers to questions to narrow things down.

Is there any broken glass on the street?
Are there glass shields on the other lights?
What kind of lights are they? (Sodium vapor, Fluorescent)
How big is the cowling on that light? (A light burst under the cowling can explain the shadow. (credit to smith@can... for that.)
At 1/20 sec the exposure will capture a time span of an explosion. If the light burst is expanding, we might see less of a taper/conic shadow, than a stationary object in front of a light would cast.
Does the camera lens have a filter? (Try shooting a reflective street sign with a flash, at night, for an interesting effect.)
Got a big flash you can pop off behind the cowling tonight to see what happens?

Don't we all love a good mystery in the middle of the night?


Post by Guest » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:33 am

It probably makes sense to go with the simplest possible explanation unless that can be shown to be false. I think it looks a lot like the shadow of a contrail, and a reflection spot.

Similar image:




Post by reader » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:33 am

I study movie effects and try to see what is real and why in effects. The burned out lightbulb and shadow theory seems plausable. The smoke like trail would be from the base of the pole I guess, meaning the wires were fried from the ground up, why else would their be smoke like that, already in the air and drifting, when the flash appears. the streak in the sky could be a shadow from the housing, and weather the streak is a shadow, or a projectile's trail, the bulb could still fall slightly away from the lightpole the way that it is, to our right.

It seems that if it were a shadow though, it would look different. It would be hazier, cast from that distance and so pinpoint a source, so close to the enclosure. A plane trail seems plausable, but why would it appear and disapear in 15 seconds. It wouldn't. maybe it's shadow, but the sun is behind the clouds we are seeing. and the same argument. IT just doesn't look right either.

I plotted points on the streak and compared them to a straight line as best I could, and the streak seems to have a natural arc. You you could tell me better than I can, but what speed and what trajectory would an object have to have to travel like that? Fast I would say, and launched from a distance greater than any flare or bottle rocket I have ever seen I think. If the smoke and lightpole are the coincedence, and the flash really is out in the water, it is then, far, like 1/2 a mile,a nd making a pretty big splash.

Obviously Aliens have crash landed a small pod and the best solution is to triangulate the position of an underwater metal detection search.


The truth is out there (haha, just pulling your leg)

Post by overs » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:35 am

Firstly, i quite like the idea of the bulb exploding, as it links the two events (the 'shadow' and 'shockwave') quite nicely and is quite plausible, to a certain degree.

My only problem with this explanation is the shape of the 'shadow'. So far, no-one has mentioned that light from a non-point source causes a diverging shadow. Quite clearly in the photo, the 'shadow' never changes width, as would be expected from the bulb blowing. My only suggestion would therefore be that if this in indeed a shadow, then it would have been caused by a much more distant source.

let me know what you think


two words, my friends

Post by bloggs » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:35 am


check this out...

photoshop rules de nearshan... wid veearshan...


Leaning toward the beam weapon.

Post by Lendrick » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:36 am

The shadow across the film is an interesting idea, but a shadow would most likely extend through the light, where the dark streak appears to come out of the sky and stop at the light. Also, it's not likely that something that far away would cast such a sharp shadow over something as tiny as a camera lens.

So if the dark streak isn't a shadow or a lens flare (which would be lighter, not darker), it's either an object moving all the way across the sky in 1/20th of a second (not likely because the light wasn't destroyed) or it's a beam of some kind, natural or artifical. Electromagentism could explain the light overloading and burning out.

Would a beam weapon darken the air? I'm not really up on my physics.

I'd like to know the precise location of the camera on a map, and the precise direction it's facing. If you assume that streak actually does come out of the sky and hit the light, I wonder if it could be traced back to either LEO or geosynchronous orbit.


Re: This is most likely a lightning strike.

Post by ww » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:37 am

paulgitto wrote:I have seen lightning similar to this, where only the top of a utility pole has a bright flash, without any bolt coming down from the clouds.
If you look at the current weather conditions in that photo, we see that the sky is ripe for lightning. I believe you caught an ionization trail, that caused the lightning, which may not have been bright enough to cause a bolt to be seen. This trail would not be visible to the human eye, as the flash would have directed the viewers attention to itself, as well as the brightness would have caused too much glare for the eye to see it.
The odds of lightning hitting a pole are much higher than a meteor doing the same. If a meteor did strike the pole hard enough to cause such a flash,there should be some damage.
This still is a very rare photo, which explains why a pole would seen to explode without a visible bolt hitting it.
Who's to say the lightening bolt wasn't visible? Maybe it's the trail of visible lightening that had struck the pole just before the shot was taken. The flash would be the afterglow of the strike.

Note that the white smokey stuff goes behind the tree. Also note that the streak is dark, not bright, so it wouldn't likely be a meteor. A hot meteor would've appeared as a bright streak on the film.

Jeff in Sacramento

APOD zip bang

Post by Jeff in Sacramento » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:40 am

Of all the posts so far, the most plausible I think is the ball lightning theory. At 1/20th of a second, a shadow cast in humid air by a part of the lamp housing or some other object would be seen as a very straight and narrow line in the exposure. It wouldn't have to be the ionized trail of the lightning. Ambient daylight would mask additional light caused by the lightning strike.

If you enlarge the photo (I took it to 600x in Microsoft Picture It) you see smoke at the base of the pole, too, which would be consistent with a high-energy electrification of the pole, its paint, its wiring, etc. by a lightning strike.

Posts: 1
Joined: Tue Dec 07, 2004 5:49 am

Some empirical testing?

Post by Neurome » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:44 am

Could there be something closer to the camera causing the streak, e.g., an overhead electrical line or tree branch casting a shadow on the lens? As for the lightbulb burnout hypothesis--quite reasonable, except how could a lightbulb burning out generate enough light to cast a shadow that "deep" back into the sky without generating visible shadows associated with other nearby objects? How about returning to the scene to study camera effects at that time of day and sun angle? What does the camera see if a flare (to simulate bulb burnout) is lit at the position of the light in the picture? What does a meteor look like in a 1/20 s exposure (cf. videoimages of fireballs and meteors which have been taken at 1/25 s - 1/30 s depending upon country of origin)--I don't think such a long exposure would give a crisp bowshock image as some have suggested, would it?


Post by Guest » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:50 am

I thought it was a contrail shadow, too.


Looks like "before" and "after" are swap

Post by fillip » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:54 am

Looking at the EXIF info on the photos (note the timestamps):

File name : strangebefore_pryde_big.jpg
File size : 342427 bytes
Camera make : Canon
Camera model : Canon PowerShot G3
Date/Time : 2004:11:22 18:53:07
Resolution : 2272 x 1704
Flash used : Yes
Focal length : 9.1mm (35mm equivalent: 46mm)
CCD width : 7.11mm
Exposure time: 0.050 s (1/20)
Aperture : f/5.6
Metering Mode: matrix
Jpeg process : Baseline

File name : strange_pryde_big.jpg
File size : 341756 bytes
Camera make : Canon
Camera model : Canon PowerShot G3
Date/Time : 2004:11:22 18:52:52
Resolution : 2272 x 1704
Flash used : Yes
Focal length : 9.1mm (35mm equivalent: 46mm)
CCD width : 7.11mm
Exposure time: 0.050 s (1/20)
Aperture : f/5.6
Metering Mode: matrix
Jpeg process : Baseline

File name : strangeafter_pryde_big.jpg
File size : 339061 bytes
Camera make : Canon
Camera model : Canon PowerShot G3
Date/Time : 2004:11:22 18:52:37
Resolution : 2272 x 1704
Flash used : Yes
Focal length : 9.1mm (35mm equivalent: 46mm)
CCD width : 7.11mm
Exposure time: 0.050 s (1/20)
Aperture : f/5.6
Metering Mode: matrix
Jpeg process : Baseline

The one called "strangeafter" was taken first, "strange" was 15 seconds later, and "strangebefore" is 15 seconds after that.


Re: Leaning toward the beam weapon.

Post by Guest » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:54 am

Lendrick wrote:So if the dark streak isn't a shadow or a lens flare (which would be lighter, not darker), it's either an object moving all the way across the sky in 1/20th of a second (not likely because the light wasn't destroyed)....
A meteorite/satellite fragment could easily be traveling that fast. The light(-pole) isn't destroyed because it isn't hit; the "flash" is a splash occuring in the ocean behind it.

Now that I've had a chance to blow the image up, I am even more convinced that the flash is a quite large (about ten feet across) cloud of steam and splash-spray.


Occam's Razor

Post by brodan » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:56 am


heres my theory

Post by erioc » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:58 am

The flash is the light flashing briefly as it shuts off. The streak is a strand of hair that passed by as the pic was taken


Post by Guest » Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:59 am

I don't like the contrail/distrail approach, because this trail goes straight into the lake


try again

Post by brodan » Tue Dec 07, 2004 7:00 am



Re: heres my theory

Post by sffilmstagemusic » Tue Dec 07, 2004 7:02 am

erioc wrote:The flash is the light flashing briefly as it shuts off. The streak is a strand of hair that passed by as the pic was taken
Good Evening: What about detritus from a plane?

j robert dobbson

mediocre balls of fire.

Post by j robert dobbson » Tue Dec 07, 2004 7:03 am

For an explanation to be satisfying, it must explain the bright spot, the dark streak and the small white smudges on the opposite side of the lamp. Notice the hole in the center of the circle rather than the continuation of the line.

The streak is not a shadow of the lamp housing as for this to be true, there would have to be a complementary glow on the atmosphere from the source. This glow would fall off at roughly the inverse square of the distance from the source and would most likely be in evidence throughout the rest of the picture.

Lightning is an intriguing possibliity, possibly explaining the streak. Water droplets would be evaporated and thus not scatter light. Is it possible that the light streak orthogonal to the dark streak and on the opposite side of the lamp was the wake of the ball lightning which stopped at the lamp? However, what about the white smoky circle? It is suggestive of having been blown off the lamp. If the linear part of the bright smudge is the continuing wake off the ball lightning, the circle could be where it went around the lamp.?

However, this doesn't look like the tallest post in the neighborhood... Does that matter with ball lightning? Would ball lighning leave any evidence? Would there be evidence of heating of the earth around the pole?

Arguments about the light coming on are unsatisfying as the after photos don't show any other lights of the same apparent group being lit.
It doesn't seem toe be a very bright light as there isnt' any obvious reflection off nearby objects or the water. No obvious glare off the road...

My first impulse was that it was some ufo hailing the photographer. However, the ball of ice explanation isn't very satisfying as a 1 meter diameter iceball probably has a terminal velocity around 200 meters per second and this object doesn't appear to be moving 10 meters in this picture.


before/after mixup

Post by misti » Tue Dec 07, 2004 7:05 am

I'm not going to speculate on what the streak/flash might be, but after overlaying the before/during/after pics in Photoshop it seems that the links to the before and after pics are mixed up on the main page. If you look at the cloud growth in the background, the link to the "after" pic is the "before" pic and the link to the "before" pic is the "after" pic. Don't know if it makes a difference...just thought I'd throw it in.

nick danger

a real puzzler

Post by nick danger » Tue Dec 07, 2004 7:06 am

I don't buy the exploding bulb theory. For one, sodium vapor bulbs don't really "burn out" the same way incandescents do. They get more and more erratic and finally stop working, like fluorescent lights. They do not normally explode when they stop working. And I don't see how one that did explode due to heat buildup or some such would create such an impossibly bright flash so as to cast a shadow hundreds of feet in the air without reflecting off of any other surface.

Unlikely as it is, I think the most likely explanation is as stated above: a small piece of debris falling out of orbit and striking the water. The black streak is not the object itself, but a column of smoke that remained for a second or two in the air as it burned on its way down. The wispy smoke-looking substance is in fact water vapor from the tiny shock wave (same effect seen here.). The small glow is the object itself, just before hitting the water, possibly combined with the beginnings of a good-slized splash.