Wait…What the Heck was That?

“I saw two shooting stars last night. I wished on them, but they were only satellites. It’s wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you cared.”-Billy Bragg

Today, my day off, the skies were mostly clear and it was a balmy minus 11.2F (I think that’s minus 24C or thereabouts). Far more important, there was virtually no wind. It was almost dead calm, even way out by the Vince Cross memorial at the exposed tip of Hut Point, where even on mild days the wind is usually a bit snappy.

The calm weather was a good thing, because Antarctica and I needed to have a talk.

I suited up in my Big Red, wind pants, gaiter, glove liners, gloves and bedroom slippers (without socks, of course. If you read this blog regularly you know how much I love my Fuggs–and how amazingly warm they are), and walked down to Hut Point. I followed the ridge of it up to Vince Cross and laid down on the bare volcanic rock to stare up at the sky.

Yes, bare, black, crumbly volcanic rock. We have had what seems like an amazingly tiny amount of snow this winter, and not a single Con1. Yet.

The auroras were extremely faint, but, after giving my eyes time to adjust, I could follow the long line of the Milky Way across the heavens. I watched as what I guess was an aircraft blinked its way across the sky, and wondered if it was commercial or military, who was on it, where they were heading.

As always in these moments of stillness and silence and feeling very, very small in the universe–and totally okay with that–I started thinking big thoughts. And, as usual, the overwhelming emotion I had was gratitude. No one said it better than Bob Geldof: “I’m thinking about mortality/I’m thinking it’s a cheap price that we pay for existence.” (Yes, a quote I’ve used on this blog before. It’s one of my favorites.)

I thought of what an amazing world we live in, how incredibly fortunate I am to live in this world at a time when technology makes travel and communication to nearly every corner almost effortless–not to mention that I’m grateful to live at a time when people are generally not burned at the stake for being a little “different.”

I thought, as I always think, whenever I have a moment alone with my beloved Antarctica, what fantastic gifts this continent has given me. By the time I leave here late next month, I will have spent a total of 20 months here on Ice Planet Hoth, each one of them different but all of them special to me.

I love you, Antarctica, and I always will.

If you think this sounds like the kind of stuff someone says when breaking up with someone else, well, you’re right. I’ve done a lot of thinking and know in my heart it’s time to move on. As much as I love Antarctica, there are many other places I want to see, and other adventures to be had.

So, as ridiculous as it may sound, I took advantage of the windless weather to go to one of my favorite spots here and say good-bye to the continent I love.

Staring up at its black, midday winter sky, only vaguely away of the mechanical chug and clatter and clink of guys building the ice pier nearby, I actually started singing Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”

Though my version was not like Dolly’s, or Whitney Houston’s better-known rendition, either. It was more like if Iggy Pop sang it, because hey, that’s the range I got.

Just then, a beautiful shooting star blazed across the sky. I took it as a sign that Antarctica understood. But maybe it was just trying to distract me and get me to shut up already.

If that was the case, it didn’t work, because then I started singing Billy Bragg’s “A New England,” quoted above. It also contains the lines “I loved you then as I love you still,” appropriate for the moment as well.

And either it was pure coincidence or Antarctica really did want me to shut up already, because at that moment, well…that was when I saw the UFO.

Note: I would like to remind you the name of this blog is Stories That Are True, not Stories I Made Up or Stories I’m Stretching the Truth to Create. And this is an absolute honest account of what I saw. I know a lot of amateur astronomers and hope some of you have thoughts on this and can explain what it was.

Here’s what I saw, what made me, yes, stop the bloody singing already, sit up and exclaim “wait, what the heck is that?”

Staring at roughly the center of the sky, I saw what first looked like a faint, reddish star. Then I realized it was moving, very quickly, approximately north by northeast to south by southwest, very roughly paralleling the Milky Way.

What attracted my eyes to it was that it was wobbling. No, not just twinkling like stars and satellites and planes do. This thing looked like…well, let’s put it this way. I am one of the world’s worst cyclists, with a high crash rate. Even on a good day I weave all over the place. If I had a giant space bicycle and was up there in the heavens, what I saw would have looked like the rear reflector.

The other strange thing was that it was moving fast. Markedly faster than a plane but way slower than a shooting star. It actually made me nervous because it looked like an alien was drunk-driving his spaceship or something.

It took about 20 seconds for it to go from the center of the sky halfway to the southwest horizon. And then it made a sharp 90 degree turn to the southeast. Yeah, I know. What?? That was my reaction, too.

It continued on that course, still noticeably wobbling, for about five more seconds, and then it sputtered out, sort of like a cheap street firework that busts up into smaller pieces that crackle and pop a bit before dying.

I waited and watched for a long time, hoping to see some sign of it. I saw another plane or satellite or something move across the sky, but it was in a straight line, like every other moving light I’ve seen overhead.

After a long while, a seriously long while, I realized I was damn cold. Like, “I’ve been stretched out on bare ground in winter in Antarctica” cold. I had no choice but to return to my dorm. In the past, I’ve laid out in colder temps, but always on snow, which I believe has some insulating property. I guess the bare volcanic rock, ah, not so much.

I almost ran back up the hill to town and my nice warm room, where I quickly thawed.

If anyone has any thoughts on what I might have seen, please share. I’ve already opened an X-File on it.


9 thoughts on “Wait…What the Heck was That?

  1. I was going to say “spy satellite in a low polar orbit” until the 90 degree turn. I have no idea. How sharp was the turn, and did it change speeds at the turn? Is it possible that your gaze shifted from one object in a polar orbit to another moving in an equatorial orbit as their paths crossed at about 90 degrees? Maybe one was fading due to the sun angle, while the other was brightening? Or maybe a meteor crossed the path of your original satellite and distracted your eye? FWIW, without having seen it and going by your account, the wobbling is not a big concern. I’ve seen satellites appear to wobble as they pass by medium-bright stars. The eye/brain alters their apparent path to put them closer to an object of reference.

    • I know it’s hard to say what it might have been given that you didn’t see it, but I do not think it was possible that my gaze shifted from one object to another–there was nothing else that I could see in that portion of the sky at the time. And it was a sharp 90 degree turn, like a car at an intersection. I did not observe a change in speed following the turn. The wobbling, btw, was constant, not just as it passed by stars. I also looked away and back again a couple times at the beginning to make sure it was not a T3-induced hallucination (about this time of the season I start seeing things from the corner of my eye that are not there, usually, inexplicably, giant black socks). It wasn’t. I can only assume it was a Predator spaceship dropping off another round of young warriors ready to test their kill at the Alien temple.

  2. Aw, that almost tugged a few tears out -you are breaking up with Antarctica who you still love!
    That thing you saw… Most likely some sort of thingy or some such. Almost for certain. Yep.

  3. LOL at your inner Iggy Pop ( ;P ) singing I Will Always Love You. And it was a red comet. And a red comet only means one thing, boy: dragons!”

  4. Somehow my earlier comment went via an email. It is the year of the dragon so I agree with Zeina. Or my other assessment: space debris, red hot from falling and then got caught in a wind, vortex or whatever as it broke apart.

  5. At my age, I’d suggest the UFO was an entoptic phenomenon named “Muscae Volante.” I see ’em all the time, but then I live in California.

    • Bill: you know, the thought occurred to me that it might be my eyes, staring too long at the night sky, etc., so I moved my head all around, looked away, looked back…nope. It was definitely up there in the sky.

      Lucia: I wondered if it could be space debris, too, or maybe some kind of meteor shower, and what I thought was a single object wobbling across the sky was actually hundreds of single flares of meteors/space junk burning up. But the sharp turn near the end remains a puzzle. Maybe it was Laika, the first dog in space, finally returning home. Whatever was driving that ship was doing it about as well as the average dog would.

      Z: No, no, I thought the red comet meant Stannis was the one true heir!! (Sorry everyone else…geek humor)

      Everyone: after thinking this over last night, the curiosity is eating me alive. I see only one option. I need Neil deGrasse Tyson to parachute in and debrief me! Get me NdT, stat!

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