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New website aims to identify unknown objects
KEITH COOPER
ASTRONOMY NOW
Posted: October 15, 2009


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A new website was launched today to create a forum for astronomers to submit reports of unknown objects. The aim is to two-fold: to educate the public about natural phenomena in the sky that could be misidentified, and collect data that could reveal previously unknown scientific phenomena.

Mysterious lights in the sky have revealed unknown phenomena before. Airline pilots used to report sightings of strange flashes above thunderstorms, which remained taboo until the space shuttle also imaged them in the early 1990s. These ‘sprites’ and ‘jets’ are electrical phenomena – still poorly understood – that flash upwards above a thundercloud.

The new scheme aims to educate people about objects in the sky that they might mistake for flying saucers. Image: B. Fugate (FASORtronics)/ESO.

The new website, which can be found at www.uapreporting.org/, has been put together by Philippe Ailleris, an amateur astronomer.

“These phenomena are mainly seen in the night sky, a domain that astronomers have long considered their own, and it is important to collect testimonies from members of the population that are trained observers,” says Ailleris. “We aim to approach this controversial field from a professional, rational point of view and without preconceived ideas. Certainly whenever there are unexplained observations, there is the possibility that scientists could learn something new by further study.”

The website also aims to educate the public about objects in the sky that they might mistake for flying saucers. Meteors and fireballs, bright planets, mirages, even manmade objects such as the International Space Station have all been misidentified in the past simply because the public are unaware of what is above their heads. Local astronomical societies can forward curious members of the public who think they have seen something to Ailleris’ website, and in return scientists and larger societies such as the British Astronomical Association can use the website to gather data on reports of fireballs or aurorae, for instance.

The UAP reporting scheme will collect data on curious sky phenomena.

The project is being launched under the auspices of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), and is timed to go alongside the IYA cornerstone project Galilean Nights, which will see astronomers hit the street for ‘sidewalk astronomy’ sessions, where members of the public will be invited to look through telescopes on their way home from work, or on their way out for the night.

“Many IYA 2009 observers will be scanning the skies with all kinds of technical equipment – telescopes, binoculars, video cameras, cameras with spectrographs – which generates an excellent opportunity to obtain supplementary data,” says Ailleris. “This is also a great opportunity to engage with the general public and discuss some of the challenges astronomers face in determining various parameters such as coordinates, altitude, distance, speed and size.”

The Galilean Nights will occur over 22–24 October, which will then be followed up in the UK by the Autumn Moonwatch (24 October–1 November). For more information on these IYA events visit www.astronomy2009.co.uk/.

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Hubble Reborn
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