Single Flashes of Light in Night Sky

For a number of years now I have been using a Watec 902H low light CCTV camera for monitoring lightning related phenomena. Over the years I’ve recorded many “single flashes of light” that are NOT airplanes. I’ve purposely setup my capture software to record 30 head frames and 120 tail frames. This is to ensure that when I record a flash, I give the recording long enough to record any subsequent strobe flashes from the airplane, if that’s what it is that I’m capturing. These flashes only occur once during the recordings. Usually they are seen during clear nights. This would imply that they are most likely satellites or space junk. When I record a flash I always check on Stellarium (planetarium software) to see if there were any known satellites at the spot of the flash during the time recorded. In some cases I find a match (usually an Iridium satellite) for the flash confirming that it was a satellite that caused it. Other times though, there is no known satellite near the location of the flash. Of course, this doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be a satellite that isn’t in the NORAD element files used by Stellarium or a piece of space junk.

Here are a number of satellite examples. The first two are Iridium flares and the rest are of other satellites. In every case you can see a trajectory for the object. In other words there is movement evident while it’s visible.

Here is a recording of airplanes flying overhead.

The flashes in question are not cosmic rays hitting the CCD chip. Cosmic rays only last ONE frame as opposed to the hundreds of milliseconds for the flashes. Cosmic Ray example (https://youtu.be/y6gtkJ3s-70).

Cosmic Ray example

Here are a number of flashes that do not fit any of the above examples. On the first clip there is a cosmic ray detected by the CCD as well. Can you spot it?

Sometimes though I record a flash during overcast conditions like this example. (https://youtu.be/8qQJ2g5h9q8):

Flash during overcast evening

I’m not sure what to make of some of these flashes, particularly the ones that occur during overcast conditions. They are most curious indeed.

If anyone has insight into what these might be please leave a comment.

8 thoughts on “Single Flashes of Light in Night Sky”

  1. I have seen these flashes several times the past couple of years. Everyone wants to call them Iridium flares, but what truly boggles my mind, is that sometimes the flashes will be stationary for what seems like several minutes. Other times, they move with almost calculated movements. Mind boggling indeed!

  2. I have been seeing these flashes a lot lately! Sometimes there will be two or three in a row in the same spot. I have seen iridium flares and they usually fade in and out and last a bit longer but these are just quick bright flashes. I though maybe they could be meteors hitting this atmosphere head on but what trows me off about that is when they happen two or three times in the same spot.. I don’t think a meteor head on would produce that effect. I would love to know what they are

  3. Hey Joel, Have you considered Iridium flashes. They are very bright. I have seen them on occasion. As the satellite traverses the sky it spins and the antennae catch the sun light and flash extremely bright in comparison to other satellites.

    1. Hi Nor, I sure have. I have video of Iridium flares. In addition, I’ve been able to correlate the flares I see with the predicted flare on planetarium software. The flashes in question are a lot shorter in duration than your typical Iridium flare. I’m reaching the conclusion that these flashes are from tumbling satellites. Either from the many small cube satellites that are up there nowadays or from older decommissioned satellites or space junk.

      1. I have been seeing these flashes quite often lately. I also have seen iridium flares but they usually fade in and out and last a bit longer. One theory is that they are meteorites hitting the atmosphere head on so it’s just a flash instead of a trail but sometimes the flashes happen two or three times in a row right in or right near the same spot so I’m at a loss. I would love to know what they are. I found this just looking online for an answer to the mystery! Thanks!

        1. I also saw these quick bright flashes a couple of nights ago. I saw a very quick flash like a camera light just to the right of where I was looking. I quickly shifted my focus onto that spot and about 5 seconds later saw another flash in the exact same location. Very mysterious.

    2. Hello. I share your curiosity with these flashes of light in the night sky. I have observed artificial satellites for many years now, including the Iridiums and I’m well aware of how they behave to the observer. My conclusion for many of the pinpoint flashes are that they are the result of space junk burning up, which are on a gravitationally caused trajectory directly towards the observer on Earth relatively speaking, as these pieces reach the required velocity for frictional burning up in oxygenated atmosphere, as opposed to meteor objects burning up as the Earth flies through old comet tales and producing the more sweeping light trails in the sky. I know that the”pinpoint” lights that I see are not satellite reflections because I have seen them at a time when the area of sky that I’m looking at is in the umbral (full shadow) part away from the Suns direction where direct solar reflection to the observer on Earth is not possible. I have continued to observe the area of flash, which can be quite bright and even reaching negative magnitudes, but not seen any further light source from the object within the next two minutes following.

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