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.

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

  1. I was just outside and observed the flash. Ive seen them numerous times over the past 5 or 6 years but this time… it wasn’t in the sky. The first flash was about 20 feet away directly over my car near the woods. A few seconds later it flashed again but it was directly above my car in the sky about 75 feet. Then it flashed again at the same height but to the left then a final flash even further to the left. I have never seen one low to the ground before so now im completely at a loss as to what it may be.

  2. I’ve seen satellites flash before especially the musk star link satellites. BUT tonight I saw something different. I was looking in the clear sky and saw A bright white flash in the form of a dot Approximately the size of what the moon would be at a pretty high azimuth. Or about the size of the fireworks they used to and a fireworks show, the bright white loud explosive ones. Except for there’s absolutely no sound and it appeared that the flash was probably very very high in atmosphere. Crazy. He has any thoughts.

  3. I had such a weird experience with a single flash just now which lead me to finding this. My dad passed away in December and he and I were both space nerds. We’d always stare at the stars together and track the ISS.. I was just outside, staring at the sky and I said, “Dad, if you can hear me.. give me a sign.. show me a shooting star or something. I’ll stop asking for signs so much if you just give me an obvious sign you can hear me.” Less than a minute later, in the exact spot I was looking I saw one of those single flashes. I’d really love to think that was him and not a coincidence! Whatever it was.. that was pretty awesome!

  4. I am glad I am not the only one. 😂. Short, bright flashes like a camera flash. I see at least one every time I am outside for an hour or so. Usually near to the same position in the sky but tonight I saw 2 in different parts of the sky. Not moving satellites. Not Planes. I have watched the sky for many years but only noticed these in the last 2 years.

  5. Tonight there are pale flashes in the clouds. It isn’t lightening, I’ve checked the radars and weather satellites and there is no storm action or lightning around anywhere near here. I’ve seen them before. Sometimes looks like a camera flash going off extremely bright, even on clear nights, other times like tonight just a pale flash that reflects off the clouds and occasionally even lights up or reflects off surrounding surfaces like a tree or house roof. We’ve seen these flashes for years now during all weathers. Some have been close to the ground. Tonight they are approx 1.5 mins apart seen west, north and east of the yard and have been going for at least a couple of hours. Neighbour has watched them and commented on them several times too. I know the Geminids meteor shower peaked last night but I wasn’t aware it would be visible here in Qld Australia tonight at this time, especially with the cloud cover and light pollution. It isn’t air traffic nor satellites. Who knows. It’s very odd but then we often have odd things happening in this area.

  6. All of these comments make sense as far as being satellite sightings, however I have seen these same random flashes deviate from a straight line and ( 1 ) reverse, (2) turn as much as 90 degrees. My first thoughts were it was a drone, albeit very high. I have been seeing them this year in central Texas.

  7. 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!

  8. 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

  9. 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.

      1. I see these flashes all the time. Im so confused about what it is! I’d love to know what it is if someone has a definitive answer

        1. I see these too! I’ve been on the look out ever time…the ones I’ve seen have been flashes of 3 or 4 and in same general area

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