October 13, 2016 | 6 comments
Image Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 Andrew Xu
This story was submitted to the site by Wandering Weirdo from United States.
The second of three truly paranormal and fully authentic experiences happened when I lived with my then-girlfriend near a lake on the western coast of the US, about four years ago. I was, by this point, an avid amateur astronomer and frequent star gazer, and had already witnessed some pretty impressive things the Universe has to offer, including a blast of soft light from the heavens which was maybe an apparent centimeter across and was pretty amazing but definitely mundane.
THIS, however, was NOT mundane in the slightest.
I had been out one evening at approximately 10 PM stargazing over the lake with my girlfriend, on a floating bridge over the marshy side on the edge of the lake. We were looking west, gazing on Gemini, so it was probably late autumn to mid winter if I recall my star patterns correctly. I showed her a few constellations, it was a breathtaking, clear view, not a cloud to be seen which is rare for the time of year, and not too cold, also pretty rare. The stargazing went fine enough, we talked for a bit, then turned to leave.
The bridge we were on is a fairly long pedestrian bridge, and it runs north-south, and we were heading north on it.
I glanced up and out of training, as we walked off the bridge toward our home, I searched for the North Star, Polaris. But what I found was much, much more astonishing.
The thing I was looking at was the brightest "star" in the sky in that part and at the right inclination, but I didn't realize that Polaris had been the much dimmer object just below it and to the left.
Maybe five seconds after I looked at this object, assuming it was Polaris, the most amazing thing I've ever seen happened:
The light suddenly flashed suddenly, maybe ten times brighter before returning to it's previous brightness, and shot slightly up and to the right incredibly quickly, dimming rapidly before disappearing about a visible inch later. The experience had the effect of complete confusion on me, and I immediately became excited and asked my girl if she'd just seen what I did. She hadn't, and so I explained, and immediately began to formulate a way to calculate the experience using maths I'd just learned maybe a month prior in my astronomy class at college.
Since I had no instrumentation, and was mostly going on eye observation, I had to approximate with care and really think about what I'd seen. I knew the approximate distance it appeared to travel before vanishing, the apparent brightness, and because of it's proximity to Polaris, the angle at which I was observing it relative to the ground. So I set to work.
My immediate issue was the lack of a distance to the target, which proved difficult at best to achieve something like this, as it had apparently been in orbit, and, knowing full well even a few seconds could mean a great apparent distance traveled, I was astonished it hadn't moved for the first few seconds I looked at it. It's apparent brightness, I then decided, was about the same as the International Space Station, so the figure I used for the distance from the ground was that of the orbital distance of the ISS, which I believed would be a good enough example, as any closer wouldn't be practical and any further would simply yield a greater and more impressive result in the calculation.
I converted the measurement of "an inch" (the distance the object appeared to travel before fading out) into arcseconds, the measurement used for apparent distances which are essentially a further break-down of degrees of angles. I also converted the apparent brightness into arcseconds for use in determining the width of the object itself, shaving off a couple arcseconds for the "glow" from the light emitted from the object interacting with the light from the atmosphere.
Running the numbers, I calculated the angle upward to where I had observed it (inclination), calculated the velocity using the distance observed before fading and the time it took (about a second and a half) to disappear, and it's estimated distance (the ISS as it appeared about as bright) and voila.
I have since lost the calculation itself, but the results I will never forget: I calculated this object to be 22.1 miles long, and traveling at an instantaneous velocity of 1.6 million miles per hour and accelerating. It is possible that perhaps it was further away than the orbital distance of the ISS, but if this were the case, the angles agree it would only have traveled further, faster, and be larger than I calculated at the same brightness.
What did I see, exactly?