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No. 92: Mar-Apr 1994

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Chilean Astronomer Reports Unidentified Atmospheric Phenomena

F. Noel is an astronomer at the National Astronomical Observatory located on the outskirts of Santiago. He is a veteran of hundreds of nights worth of stellar observations over almost 30 years. In the latest number of the Journal of Sci entific Exploration, he reported some of his more perplexing sightings in the Chilean skies, two of which are related below:

"At approximately 22:30 local time on January 17, 1980, I was in front of my home in the eastern suburbs of Santiago de Chile. The sky was cloudless, although there was some smog, especially in the west in the direction of downtown. Sunset had occurred at 20:55 local time.

"At that time I observed a point-shaped luminous object at an elevation of about 20 degrees; it was moving at a rather slow angular velocity from southwest to west approximately. No noise was heard and it looked like an artificial satellite, except for the direction of its motion. Its brightness, color and angular velocity reminded me of the old Echo artificial satellite from the 1960s. The object disappeared from sight during the few seconds it took me to call two persons to participate in the observation. It was not apparent how the object had disappeared from view since there were no sources of obscuration evident. Having become puzzled by this observation I continued watching that same region of sky from time to time.

"About fifteen minutes later (22:45 local time) and more or less in the same region where the bright light had been observed I spotted a faint luminous object moving slowly toward the zenith. During the first few seconds of observation it had the appearance of a luminous thread, oriented perpendicular to its direction of motion. However, as it approached the zenith, I could see that it was in fact a group of at least 30 lights distributed in a broad, symmetrical V-configuration, reminiscent of a boomerang. Three members of my family who were with me also observed the group of lights.

"Each individual light of the group looked like a star of third or fourth magnitude; the color was a pale white similar to a neon light, with a slight tint of yellow. The brightness was rather steady, with no apparent flicker. The angular width of the group was about 4 degrees, and the central angle of the V was about 150 degrees. It was first visible about 20 degrees above the western horizon and disappeared at about that altitude in the east. The disappearance was gradual, probably as a result of atmospheric extinction. Since the group was in view for approximately two minutes, the mean angular velocity must have been a bit more than one degree per second. All these estimates are approximate of course. No noise was heard during the observation."

Noel added that the lights maintained a rigid V-formation. He ruled out birds as the source of the phenomenon.

(Noel, F.; "Unidentified Atmospheric Phenomena Observed by an Astronomer," Journal of Scientific Exploration, 7:439, 1993. Journal address: ERL 306, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-4055.)

From Science Frontiers #92, MAR-APR 1994. 1994-2000 William R. Corliss