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What is in the Night Sky

September 5, 2013; 8:30 AM ET

Fellow Star Gazers,

Too many times we look up into the night sky and we see objects that seem out of place. Tonight, I had my gear set, my Celestron telescope, my Canon eos 60D, one good tripod, a cheap timer and my camera cozy wrapped around my canon to keep it warm. I was shooting at 30 seconds in bulb mode, 100 ASA, aperture wide open. At some point I hit the sack, having faith that my equipment would continue to shoot pictures nonstop all night long.

Before we jump the gun, let's review what we see every night if we look upward into the night sky. There's a lot to see in the night sky. With just your unaided eye, you can see 2,000 to 3,000 stars on a dark night. But there's more than stars to see in the night sky. You can also see...

The Moon. Even a quick look at the Moon shows bright and dark areas that give a clue to the early days of our solar system.

Planets. Five bright planets can be seen in the night sky. While not all are visible all the time, it's a lot of fun to follow the motion of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter against the background stars over the course of weeks and months.

Star Clusters. You can see thousands of star clusters in the night sky with a small telescope. But did you know the Big Dipper is the remnants of a star cluster? And the constellation Taurus contains two star clusters, the Hyades and the Pleiades, which are easily seen without optical aid.

Nebulae. Look along the Milky Way on a dark night, especially in the constellation Sagittarius, and you'll see silver-white misty patches. These are diffuse nebulae, where new stars form.

Galaxies. With a good-sized telescope, you can see hundreds of galaxies beyond our own Milky Way. But even without optics, you can see the Andromeda galaxy, whose light left more than 2 million years ago when our distant human ancestors first began to walk upright.

Meteors. Look up on any night and you might see two or three meteors, or "shooting stars" each hour. Sometimes, on fixed dates throughout the year, as the Earth passes through the trail of a comet, we're treated to a meteor shower during which you may see dozens or even hundreds of meteors each hour.

Manmade Objects. Planes, jets, rockets, satellites and space station can be seen every night. Some are dim others very bright, but all follow a straight line of some sort. They also are easy to identify, jets and planes have blinking lights, satellites move across sky slower than a jet of plane.

Toys Flying RC or quad copters. Today we find a lot of people flying their RC or quad copters around in the night sky, and to the person walking down the street looking upward, they see a quad copter but they think it's a UFO. They fly with no sound, and have green and red led lights on bottom of craft.

Now back to my story. On this night my trustworthy gear was able to capture six pictures, each one 30 seconds long, and we see a double white line, the full trail of light was about three minutes long, kind of slow for a jet or plane, maybe it's a satellite. When I checked the times for known objects overhead, I discovered that there was nothing listed at 2:05 a.m. So now the mystery comes to life - what is this in the night sky? Someone wrote in thinking a spy plane - maybe they fly with no lights and it was reflecting the sun. But, wait, the sun was on the other side of Earth. But then again maybe it was so high that the sun was hitting it, then it should be casting a shadow on the moon (the kind of hard shadow would be so dim and would be hard to see).

So now as I end this segment, only because I will leave the rest up to you to decide, what is this UFO I captured this night in the sky overhead. The facts are it took three minutes to cross the sky, had a double white line and has a constant line of white line fading in and out at various points online.

Written by Ronald J. Shawley

This photo of the night sky was also taken by Ronald J. Shawley.

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About This Blog

Astronomy Blog
The AccuWeather.com astronomy blog, by Dave Samuhel, discusses stargazing, including how weather will affect viewing conditions of astronomical phenomenon.