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Sep 24, 2009 5:04 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Some confuse rocket for UFO

Sep 24, 2009 5:04 PM

Drew Madden saw a silent burst of light shoot from west to east across the sky on Saturday night, and then, whizzing far above his head, hang a hard right up into space.

“Behind it was a huge fluorescent tail,” said Mr. Madden, an East Quogue resident who saw the flash of light at around 9:30 p.m. Saturday while he was camping with three others at Shinnecock East County Park in Southampton. “I never saw anything like it.”

Mr. Madden and many others on the East End thought the burst of white light could have been an unidentified flying object, or a bizarre atmospheric phenomenon. But it turns out the eerie luminescence was just a byproduct of testing by the federal government.

A rocket launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration created the light burst, according to Stephanie Schierholz, a NASA spokesperson. The rocket, a four-stage Black Brant XII suborbital sounding rocket, was launched in Virginia out of Wallops Flight Facility. The exhaust particles from the rocket—what people on the East End and across the Northeast saw—were meant to simulate a noctilucent cloud, Ms. Schierholz said.

Noctilucent clouds are clouds that are 50 miles above the earth’s surface that usually show up after sunset and are lit from below by sunlight, according to Ms. Schierholz.

“There were different observing stations that looked at the clouds that were created,” Ms. Schierholz said, adding that the point of the experiment was to help the U.S. scientists better understand that type of cloud.

Mr. Madden, a chef, and his group of friends were bewildered by the light in the sky Saturday night and figured they had just witnessed extraterrestrials do a supersonic drive-by of the planet.

“I immediately thought it was a UFO, then I had to confirm it,” Mr. Madden said, explaining that he went to talk with the other campers. “We all said, ‘Damn, we just saw something we can’t explain, which is a UFO, an unidentified object in the sky.’

“Who knows what it can be—it’s unexplainable,” he said.

A friend of a friend, whose name he did not know, first pointed out the ray of light to Mr. Madden as they were sitting around the campfire, he said. The friend suggested it was a shooting star. But Mr. Madden said that there was no way the light was a shooting star—it was too intense in brightness.

“If it was a flare, it would have to be 100 flares,” said Mr. Madden, adding that he and his friends had decided to camp out for four days at Shinnecock East to enjoy the Hamptons without the crowds. “It was a big, luminous light.”

Susan Herman of Southampton, who was also camping with Mr. Madden, said that she was awestruck when the light exploded in the sky. “I never saw a UFO before, but I’m believing it now,” Ms. Herman said. “There was no noise.”

She said that she first thought the light was a planet or star that blew up, but said that that explanation did not make sense because nothing fell down to the Atlantic. She added that she is not entirely convinced what she saw was a rocket, explaining that if it was launched from Earth, it would have had a trail behind it leading to land.

Keith Koehler, a spokesman for NASA who was present at the launch in Virginia, explained that what people in the Northeast actually saw was the exhaust from the fourth-stage burn from the rocket. The NASA rocket was a four-stage burn rocket, meaning that each engine burns fuel in a succession of stages.

“Instead of one big rocket motor, it’s four on top of each other,” Mr. Koehler said.

He said that the light was so bright because the rocket was already 182 miles above the Earth, and the sun was reflecting off the exhaust particles.

Saturday’s cloudless conditions helped visibility, as well, he added.

“Since it was a clear night, everyone was able to see it,” Mr. Koehler said.

Mr. Madden, however, is not buying NASA’s explanation, and said he went back to the campsite Monday night to see if the light would return.

“No, I don’t believe them,” Mr. Madden said. “Where was it going? There was no noise, no motor. It wasn’t a jet engine, it was a white light.”

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Interesting. Except I didn't know what a noctilucent cloud was. So off to Google I went and lo and behold I found a most interesting explanation in a capella at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xF2vSKINK0
By Scratch (26), Sag Harbor on Sep 21, 09 6:14 PM
1 member liked this comment
''What some thought to be an unidentified flying object lighting up the sky over Long Island on Saturday night was actually just a by-product of atmospheric testing conducted by the federal government''

yeah right, thats just what they want you to believe. the truth is out there man.
By C Law (354), Water Mill on Sep 21, 09 7:29 PM
I want to see paperwork about this rocket test.
By Oliver Peterson (19), Southampton Press on Sep 22, 09 8:26 AM
Just another great sight on a crystal clear night on the East End. I always love the sky out here.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Sep 22, 09 8:36 AM
I was out with my telescope looking at Jupiter on a really clear night when I saw the rocket with its cloud - which sort of resembled butterfly wings on each side of the bright rocket light. Since the sun had set about 90 minutes earlier I knew what ever it was had to be relatively high in the sky in order to reflect sunlight. I hopped on the internet and e-mailed a group that searches the sky for comets - knowing someone out there will mistake it for a coment and report on it. Sure enough one of ...more
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Sep 22, 09 9:29 AM
2 members liked this comment
Was Linda Kabot flying it?
By littleplains (305), olde england on Sep 22, 09 10:01 AM
2 members liked this comment
Well done, NoH.
By Oliver Peterson (19), Southampton Press on Sep 22, 09 10:43 AM
I saw a meteorite go by last night. I see these pretty often when observing the night sky from my beautiful dock overlooking Weesuck Creek .
By PrivateerMatt (390), Weesuck Creek , EQ on Sep 22, 09 11:10 AM
haha! Let's HOPE Kabot wasn't behind the wheel of THAT! A car is bad enough!
By eastendlocal (28), southampton on Sep 22, 09 11:34 AM

Around October 21st is the Orion meteor shower. This was pretty impressive last year. The down side is that you need to look for these things a few hours before dawn. I'll be out watching. Here's a link

there's a few others throughout th year. The American Meteor Society site has all the info.
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Sep 22, 09 12:24 PM
Spaceweather.com is an excellent resource for all things spacey! they will tell you when the northern lights are out (yes we do get them here) and metor showers etc. I go there everyday!
By EastEndGrl (9), southampton on Sep 22, 09 1:22 PM
On a sky-related note: did anyone happen to notice how incredibly beautiful the moon was last night? Round about 8-9:15 or so, it was HUGE, but only a orangey-red sliver was clearly exposed. out of sight.
By Shannandoah (6), sag harbor on Sep 22, 09 2:02 PM
Yes, I saw it and it was fantastic. Too bad I was in the parking lot of Target in Riverhead when I spotted it.
By William Rodney (561), southampton on Sep 22, 09 2:33 PM
haha! well at least it made something beautiful out of that massive parking lot
By Shannandoah (6), sag harbor on Sep 23, 09 9:03 AM
You probably observed the moon close to the horizon; the atmosphere near the horizon acts as a lens and makes the moon look larger, the orange color comes from dust in the atmosphere scattering light, I think to the lowest frequency, making it red/orange.
I remember one Autumn night in the 1970's driving on the LIE eastbound at around exit 68 when the moon rose right in front of me, just past full, it was so big it looked like I was going to crash into it!
Even though our sky is not as ...more
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Sep 22, 09 3:19 PM
@ North of Highway:

A few years back, my wife and I dragged ourselves out of bed on one clear, chilly October morning at about 3 a.m. for the Orion meteor shower. We went down to the beach in Southampton and, along with a small group of folks, were treated to a sight we will never forget.

I strongly recommend it to anyone who hasn't done it. It's worth the loss of sleep.
By Joseph Shaw, Executive Editor (206), Hampton Bays on Sep 22, 09 3:26 PM

This is usually a minor meteor shower that runs in cycles and for the last few years its generated a lot of bright fireballs - last year was really something - some were so bright they were casting shadows. The American Meteor Society site is a good source of info.
This December the Geminids are lined up for a good show as the moon will not interfere and usually the sky is crystal clear - if you can stand the cold!!!!
The best ever in my experience were the Leoids in November ...more
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Sep 22, 09 3:43 PM
NOH - you are good. You make me want to buy a telescope - i think it is something I will look into.
By William Rodney (561), southampton on Sep 22, 09 3:58 PM
The night sky was been so incredibly clear the past few nights. Man I can see the Milky Way!
By BruceB (142), Sag Harbor on Sep 22, 09 8:30 PM
Thanks WR - kind of you
plenty of good 'scopes out there - try the Meade website for starters
Plenty of good equipment there for under $200 and even $100
Don't get caught up in magnification - look more for light gathering ability
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Sep 23, 09 9:26 AM
Wish I had the time to just stare up at the sky all night, then dream of alien invaders. I miss those quiet moments.
By Mr Suffolk (113), Twin Forks on Sep 23, 09 2:19 PM
This was not some pretty cloud. I saw it. I saw a massive spot light in the sky shining directly down toward the ocean/beach It stay light for 15-30 seconds then when out. All that was left was a triangle shaped somewhat illuminated cloud that lost its shape and color in about 3 minutes. Then the 7-9 goverment planes combed the sky. UFO
By jqqkkaace (1), east hampton on Sep 24, 09 1:15 PM
You and I saw the same thing. See my long comment below. This was not something 50 miles in the air, and it was REAL. Peter J.
By Peter J. (2), Southampton on Sep 26, 09 3:54 PM
Shannandoah... Are you referring to Shinnecock East County Park, the park in Southhampton, as a parking lot?!!!!
By cush870 (31), east quogue on Sep 25, 09 9:37 AM
A Light in the Sky

I was taking a night swim with 2 sisters and my brother as the sky darkened to a clear night; stars were out.

Suddenly my sister said "Wow, look at that!"

And the four of us turned to gaze up at something which appeared to be hovering, stationary, approximately over the ocean (we are about 3/4 of a mile inland) and which emitted a very bright, conical light. The light was shining directly down, through mists / fog-like gasses which the craft itself ...more
By Peter J. (2), Southampton on Sep 25, 09 11:56 AM
1 member liked this comment
Thanks for the links NOH and EEG ! I'm an amateur sky watcher and love watching the different phases of the moon.
By PrivateerMatt (390), Weesuck Creek , EQ on Sep 25, 09 4:03 PM
Has anyone who saw this anomaly persued investigating it further?
By Oliver Peterson (19), Southampton Press on Sep 29, 09 11:07 AM