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No. 53: Sep-Oct 1987

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The perseus flasher: mystery solved!

So goes the title of an item in Sky and Telescope. Instead of ending with an exclamation point, a question mark would have been more appropriate. The Perseus Flasher, a recurring flash of light in Perseus described in SF#39 and #49, is a topic upon which astronomers also wish to "close the book." So, we must ask ourselves how accurate the above title is.

  1. Photographic records of the Perseus Flasher site show no flashes at all in 3,288 hours of monitoring. In fact, a Harvard plate, which was being exposed at the same time that a 0-magnitude flash was reported by naked-eye observers, revealed nothing!

  2. The passages of some artificial satellites through the Perseus site have been correlated with naked-eye-observed flashes, suggesting that the flashes are only sun glints.

  3. One meteor observer, N. McLeod, claims that there is a background level of flashes from other parts of the sky which can also be attributed to satellite glints.

The Sky and Telescope item concludes: "So the mystery is solved!" (Anonymous; "The Perseus Flasher: Mystery Solved!" Sky and Telescope, 73:604, 1987.)

Comment. So, science in its relentless, inerrant progress has positively solved still another mystery. (Triumphal background music here!) In case you haven't noticed, the three "exhibits" above do not hang together too well.

First, it is implied that the Perseus flashes do not exist at all, since they have not been detected by photographic monitoring. Then, the flashes are said to be only sun glints from satellites, which is an admission that the flashes are real after all. In all probability, the photographic plates may not be capable of recording such brief flashes, but nothing is said on this matter. Further, many Perseus flashes are apparently not correlated with satellite passages. And we have no indication that the guilty satellite had a reflecting surface properly oriented at just the proper moment. There must be more to this story.

From Science Frontiers #53, SEP-OCT 1987. 1987-2000 William R. Corliss