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STS-120 day 2 highlights

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Lights in the sky – observers' reports needed

ON BEHALF OF THE BAA

Posted: 18 June, 2009


Coastguard stations received hundreds of reports of 'lights in the sky' over the English Channel from about 9.30 pm on the evening of Monday, June 15/16.

Fears that the white and green flashes were distress flares fired off by a ship in trouble proved unfounded, but the display prompted calls to coastguard stations from Hampshire down to Brixham in Devon and across to Jersey and France on Monday evening.

Sunset along the South Coast was at around 9.20 pm BST (20:20 UT) last Monday evening, so if the time being quoted by the newspapers for this display really was 9.30 pm BST, then the sky would have been extremely bright at this time with no stars or planets visible.

A Solent Coastguard spokesman was quoted as saying: "There were reports of flares all down the coast which went on for about half an hour, but there was a forecast for a meteor shower."

Apparently the reports came in right along the coast virtually
simultaneously, sweeping along the coastline with one station getting reports after the other. Also, British yachtswoman Dee Caffari and her all-woman crew, who set sail off the Isle of Wight to try to break the round-Britain and Ireland record,
saw the display of 'lights in the sky' and described it as 'amazing'.

Many of the 'official' reports are putting this display down to an
unexpected meteor shower. Such an interpretation is rather surprising because the three meteor showers being cited do not really fit such an explanation. The June Lyrids are active at this time of year, but normally produce only very low observed rates. The June Bootids produced short-lived bursts in activity in 1998 and 2004, but the shower is normally only active
from June 22 until July 2 with a peak on June 27. The Arietids are a daylight stream, with the radiant rising in the east just 45 minutes before sunrise, so members of this shower are few and far between and they tend to be "Earthgrazers" - meteors that skim horizontally through the upper atmosphere from radiants near the horizon. One would not expect to see any Arietids at 9.30 pm in the evening.

What are urgently needed are detailed observers' reports of this phenomenon. If you saw these 'lights' please send details of your location, the date and time (as accurately as you can provide it, and please say whether you are using BST or UT), with a detailed description of what you saw, giving altitude and azimuth information if you can. If you know of people who saw this display, then please interview them as soon as possible and submit a report on their behalf. Please provide a contact number/email address so that we can contact you if we need to.

Please send reports to the undersigned via the 'Contact Us' page on the BAA's website http://britastro.org/baa/

Dr John Mason, Acting Director, BAA Meteor Section

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