|Occurred : 1/5/2005 21:25 (Entered as : 01/05/2005 21:25)
Reported: 1/7/2005 8:33:50 AM 08:33
Location: Orange, CA
|9 lights in changing formation moving steadily southward
I was at home and decided to check the sky to see if it was clear enough to do a quick look at Comet Machholz. I had learned of the comet recently and knew it was bright enough to see without optical aids in a dark sky area and probably visible from most light-polluted areas. I was pleasantly surprised to see the sky was pretty clear where I live, for it had been raining periodically for what seemed weeks and more rain was due to arrive. There was plenty of moisture in the air causing the sky look terrible for star gazing; this I know because I am an amateur astronomer. I grabbed a pair of 7 x 50 binoculars, knowing they would provide much aid in locating the comet under any conditions. I had looked at a star map on the Internet earlier in the day and knew that I could easily find the right location to look because it would appear near the Pleiades star cluster. Without using the binos I looked up and immediately saw Orion's belt and then used the bioculars to scan upwards from that point to pass what appeared to be Aldebaran, a bright star in Taurus, and then the Pleiades (which were not very apparent with the naked eye that evening). As I moved around from Pleiades it only took a few seconds for me to notice a white, faint fuzz ball that I figured was probably the comet. I only glanced at the object for a second before I decided to mark its position in relation to the other landmarks so I could verify that it was not just a deep sky object like a globular cluster. I scanned upwards and located the Pleiades (very close to the supposed-comet) and then I started back down. As I was going over some stars, something about them caught my attention. I held the binos on an area of sky with what appeared to be quite a few remarkably similar stars close together. As I was looking I thought I was moving the binoculars because it was a strain to look upwards at the very high angle that this part of the sky was in. It turned out that I was moving the binoculars ever so slowly and that I was following these lights I had originally thought to be stars. I was able to discern this because (after a mental double, no, triple-take) I saw the 'regular' stars stationary in the background as these others moved across the sky. Within a few seconds I counted 9 in my field of view (and recounted), it appeared to be 4 in one group and 5 in another group that were so close together they all could have been just one group of 9. These lights appeared to me to be a whitish-yellow color; very much like a typical incandescent light bulb in color. The shape of the light was hard for me to discern, but they could have been a small bar that was perpendicular to their direction of travel. If it was a bar, the bar appeared to be dimmer on each end leading me to also believe they could have had brighter lights towards the middle of the bar and dimmer ones at the outer edge. I couldn't be certain of the shape of the lights but I was absolutely certain that all 9 were identical. And the best part of the whole story is that this 'formation' of 9 lights did not stay in a static array. The lights were moving amongst themselves changing the 'formation' almost constantly. It would be impossible for me to tell how far away they were, but if I guessed I would say if they were smaller objects they were probably about as high, and moving as fast, as a commercial jet. If they were much larger objects I'd say they were about as high, and moving as fast, as a standard orbiting satellite. I watched them for about 2 minutes and that was long enough to see that they were getting slightly dimmer and slightly smaller as they headed in a southern direction. The course never changed but the lights were moving among themselves almost constantly - not all of them at once, but maybe four or five being actively moving at any given time. I put down the binos and went inside to tell my wife and that was that. I would like to say that I've spent hundreds of hours looking at the night sky with and without binoculars and telescopes and I also look at the sky during the day quite often. It is incredible how many individual small balloons I've pointed out to my wife as they traverse the sky, undoubtebly escapees from some poor child's clumsy grip. I also have a habit of noticing aircraft and am particularly joyous when I see military craft as they fascinate me (and I'm fairly good at determining what make they are). I'm very familiar with the sky and I would be very surprised if there are not at least a few more reports that mirror mine. I knew that the closest Comet Machholz was going to get to Earth in its orbit was to occur on this particular evening. Because of that and because of the proximity of my sighting to the comet, I am certain there were other eyes (trained ones, too) looking at that area at that time. I guess I'll find out soon enough when I enter this site. On another not, given my awareness of all environmental factors it would be easy for me to get a pretty close fix on the actual location (Right Ascension and Declination) of these objects by using a star map or planetarium program. Also, I'm checking the box here that says there were aircraft in the vicinity. The sky here is very busy at this time of the evening but I didn't see any aircraft chasing the objects I saw. Clear Skies to all!