Monday, January 11, 2016

Unusual observation - Adelaide, South Australia - 9 January 2016

Hi all,

This post concerns the observation of an unusual object, made by Matt, an Adelaide man. His account is as follows.

At 3.10am on Saturday, 9 January 2016, he observed an orange coloured star on the eastern horizon, which was getting bigger. It moved from the eastern horizon to the western horizon, over a period of about five minutes.

It appeared as a large, orange ball. At one stage, its angular size was given as a 10 cent piece in the sky. At one point, it was close enough to see detail. The description given, is silver on the bottom, orange on top, with some black banding between the two. It was emitting its own light. It moved against the wind.

Matt took photographs and a video of the object. Here are two stills ( second is a zoom).

The question is, what was it?

1. WebTrak:
I first consulted Air Service Australia's WebTrak secondary radar system website, to ascertain whether or not there were any aircraft in the sky at the time.

Above is an image of the secondary radar system from Adelaide airport for 3:09:24, As can be seen there was only one aircraft visible. An aircraft type PC12, flying between KGL and ADL was on approach to land at Adelaide airport. I ran the program between 0300 and 0330 and no other aircraft appears on the system.
2. Weather:
The weather details for Adelaide at 0300hrs were:
Temp =  18.4degC; 54% relative humidity; wind was calm; pressure 1019.1; no rain in last 24 hours.
The weather details for Adelaide airport at 0300hrs were:
Temp = 17 deg C; 57% relative humidity; wind from SSE at 9 km/hr; pressure 1019.0; no rain.
The weather details for Parafield at 0300hrs were:
Temp = 17.2degC; 54% relative humidity; wind from south at 7km/hr; pressure 1018.8; no rain.
3. Upper air winds:
Wind direction and wind strength at ground level, may of course be different from winds in the upper air. I checked the upper soundings for Adelaide airport for:
a. 1200hrs UTC on 8 January 2016 which equates to 2230hrs 8 January 2016 local Adelaide time, some 5 hours before the observation.

b. I checked for 0000hrs UTC on 9 January 2016 which equates to 1030hrs 9 January 2016, some 7.5 hrs after the observation.

As can be seen from these tables, the winds at the surface are different to those at various heights above the ground.

4. Astronomical sky:

I then went to an Internet based astronomical sky chart to ascertain what was in the sky at the time.

Courtesy Heavens Above website
As can be seen on the above chart, the orange coloured planet Mars was low down on the eastern horizon.

Where were other planets?

The brilliant white coloured planet Jupiter was in the north-eastern sky, higher in elevation than Mars.

The observer kindly answered a number of questions which I posed to him. These were:
Q1. Did the light from the object flicker, or was it steady all the time?
A1 "It was steady the entire time it was visible to me."

Q2. Have you ever seen hot air hoax garbage bag balloons? If so, how did this compare to what you saw on the 9 January?
A2. "Yes I have seen these and even launched one or two in my day. If it were to be one of these it was a very complex one, being spherical in shape with a silver  "undercarriage" attached to a possibly round orange garbag, points against this conclusion. The light was far brighter than emitted from what I have seen of these hoax's before. Steadily bright and visible for many kms, not being a geometry expert but 1km visible from horizon to horizon means many kms of travel. Travel across the prevailing wind direction. These hoax balloons travel on the wind  and with an elevation trajectory. I would launch a hoax balloon at a more reasonable time than 3.10am . Terrible timing if you wanting to start gossip."

Q3. What suburb were you in at the time?
A3 "Glenelg South."

Courtesy Google maps.
Q4. What drew your attention to the object in the first place?
A4. "Outside on a clear night I notice what I called a unique coloured star low in the sky, as it was of the same size as the surrounding stars but the lowest of them all. As I watched, it grew in size as it moved towards me, ultimately not directly overhead but no less than 1 or 2 km south of me. Then continued on the same trajectory heading west."

Q5. How did you loose sight of the object?
A5. "I had clear sight of it right to the horizon, no buildings etc in my line of sight, then it was out of sight."

Q6. Did you see from where you were, the aircraft landing at Adelaide airport? How did it compare to the object?
A6. "No the airport is to the north of me, this object passed  south of me, hence I was between it and the airport. Again I have clear sight of the airport to the north and very familiar with incoming and outgoing flights, routes, trajectories and colours."

1. Could the planet Mars have been the original stimulus?
The orange coloured planet Mars was indeed in the eastern sky, at the time. However, it does not move across to the western horizon in five minutes, and does not have the described structure. It was not the planet Mars.
2. Could it have been the International Space Station?
A check of the "Heavens Above" Internet astronomical website shows that there were no predicted passes of the ISS for that morning.  The size, and described structure does not fit the observation.
3. Could it have been an orange coloured hoax, hot air balloon? For three of my investigation reports which are very suggestive as to these balloons causing sightings, please see:
There are some elements suggestive of such a balloon; orange coloured, steady trajectory; five minutes to go east to west horizon; wind direction which could have caused this at some altitudes; no noise. Against this is the reported silver on bottom, orange on top with some black banding between the two. In addition, the observer in answer to my question about hoax balloons, clearly sets out his reasoning for it not being one of these.
 On the available information and data, I cannot see a mundane explanation which fits all the details of the observation. I would appreciate hearing from any blog readers who might have any suggestions as to what this object was. Of course, if anyone knows of any other observations of this particular object, please contact me via email


  1. I saw something similar to this on my drive to Townsville somewhere on the highway between Mackay and Townsville.. It was a really plain stretch of highway nothing around except the occasional street light at rest stops.. Which brings me to what scared the crap out of me.. As I was driving early in the morning on the highway I noticed a bright orange/red light above the road and around the height of the street lamp which made me not think much of it.. But after a moment of checking my mirror and rear window I realised it wasn't moving into the distance or closer for that matter but seemingly stayed like it was following. At which point I accelerated which made no difference to the distance. I did have a train line next to me for a lot of this drive but it was all I could use to be a possible light source and I doupt I wouldn't have seen or heard train carriages and it was too close to the top off trees for it to have been a train, I thought about the moon but I did note at the time I could see that in the sky. it was definitely not that.. And definitely not the sun . this whole situation lasted well over twenty minutes until I approached service station (truckstop) then the light that was behind me at the time started falling back behind the tree line and by then I was sufficiently worried enough to stay at the truckstop until it was light enough to see something but I didn't see anythong again, I did call my friend I went to see and I was essentially mocked. so I left it be until I saw this

  2. What is it… I don't suppose anybody is any closer to identifying all these oddly shaped flying objects as the day the pictures were taken. At this rate, you're going to have a huge storage full of pictures of unidentified things!