Alien invasion or flares from satellites in multiple orbits? It depends on your point of view. We also check in on Comet Lemmon, poised to possibly reach binocular-visibility.

Multiple satellites (primarily Starlinks) flare low in the northeastern sky around 65° azimuth in this single 45-second time exposure made around 4 a.m. on October 22, 2023. Appearing one after the other and occasionally two or three at a time, the satellites slowly brightened and then faded while moving eastward near Leo's Tail. Some rose to magnitude 3 while the brightest reached about –2. I counted nine trails with satellites arriving from several different directions.
Bob King

Early last month several of my friends drove to western Oklahoma to observe and photograph under some of the darkest skies in the country. Around 4 a.m. one morning a couple of the guys noticed slow-moving lights low above the horizon in a small patch of sky in the constellation Leo. They watched for about 20 minutes unsure of what they were seeing and then returned to observing, joking about aliens.

The morning after, Mike Brown, an avid astrophotographer from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and member of the group, stayed up to watch Venus rise before heading back to bed.

"I told Don to come get me if the aliens showed up again," he recounted. "I walked back toward the guest house, maybe 20 feet, and Don called out that 'they' were back.  So I turned around and we watched the lights for a good 45 minutes. The experience had a heavy 'freaky' moment to it. They would start dim, get quite bright, and then fade away again. They were moving in a downward direction but never upwards. Each light was visible for up to about a minute."

In this time-lapse video (30-second exposures) multiple "alien spacecraft," a.k.a. Starlink satellites, flare low in the eastern sky around 4:30 a.m. CDT October 12, 2023. The first satellite flare in the sequence occurred at 4:35:08 a.m. CDT. Venus rises at right.
Nick Hartman

The group puzzled out potential explanations for what they saw — a military exercise with paratroopers wearing lights, sky lanterns, fireworks? Tongue firmly in cheek Brown hypothesized a portal in spacetime through which aliens entered. But after getting a close-up view through a telescope of one the lights, satellites seemed a better if prosaic explanation.

"So much for aliens and the portal idea," said Brown.

This cluster of flares from multiple Starlink satellites on various orbits got a visit from a bright meteor (center), possibly an Orionid, around 3:50 a.m. CDT October 22, 2023.
Bob King

But they still had questions: Why at that particular time of morning? Why flares in just one small patch of sky? When I learned of the incident and saw Nick Hartman's amazing time-lapse video (above) one word came to mind: Starlinks. What else could produce multiple flares night after night? As it happened, I had observed a similar display of slow, downward-moving lights low in the northwestern sky after nightfall in northern Boötes about a week prior. I told Mike and the crew I'd look into it.

Orionids vs. Aliens

Then the Orionid meteor shower happened. While watching the show on the peak morning of October 22nd I noticed tiny lights low in the eastern sky just east of Leo's Tail. The aliens had returned! As the shower eked out a handful of zippy meteors, I simultaneously kept an eye on the slow eastern descent of one flaring satellite after another in western Coma Berenices approximately 7–10° high in the northeastern sky. Some grew as bright as magnitude –2 while others only reached 3rd magnitude. Typically, I saw one or two at a time but occasionally three would briefly glow and fade away. I watched this very slow-motion "meteor shower" for at least 40 minutes before turning in.

This map depicts the sky and approximate location of the flaring satellites I observed on October 22nd from Duluth, Minnesota. The Sun's azimuth at the time was 67° with the satellites around 68° azimuth. The near-perfect alignment likely caused specular reflections from the Starlinks to produce brief flares.
Stellarium with additions by Bob King

To confirm my suspicions I got help from members of the Visual Satellite Observer Mailing List (Seesat-l). Indeed, they were flaring Starlinks. Anthony Mallama, who worked as an astronomer on the Hubble Space Telescope and other spacecraft missions at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, confirmed that we all had observed flaring Starlink satellites. You may know Mallama from his tireless work monitoring the brightness of BlueWalker 3, AST-SpaceMobile's prototype for a new satellite constellation.

"The Sun’s azimuths at 3:15 and 4:15 CDT were 52 and 67 degrees respectively [on October 22nd]," he wrote. "Meanwhile the satellites were around 68 degrees. This near alignment suggests that the flaring was due to specular reflection from a flat surface on the nadir side [point directly beneath the satellite] of the various spacecraft. I have seen this occur with Starlink satellites."

Specular Reflections

Antonio Vilchez, another satellite enthusiast, explained that the Starlinks had reached their final orbits and that the zone of Starlink flares "moves during the night from west to east, following a Sun-satellite-observer line." In the Northern Hemisphere that transition occurs across the northern sky; in the southern hemisphere the satellites shift eastward across in the southern sky. Depending on the observer's latitude flares may be visible either throughout the year or only during the summer months.

Various apps will show this clustering of multiple Starlinks such as Orbitrack, available on Google Play for Android phones, and SkySafari Pro. To track the latest Starlink launches check out SpaceX Starlink or Heavens Above.

By now I suspect almost every amateur astronomer has had their fill of Starlink satellites, so consider these observations as a public service message. If you happen to see the slo-mo light parade at least you'll know we still haven't discovered that portal yet. Sorry, Mike.

Give Comet Lemmon a Squeeze

On October 24, 2023, Comet Lemmon displayed a fluffy coma and long, ray-like ion tail. It glowed around magnitude 9.5–10 at the time and may reach magnitude 7.5 in mid-November. A Swan Band filter, tuned to diatomic carbon emissions that color the coma green, will bump up the comet's contrast nicely.
Dan Bartlett

A 21st-magnitude comet discovered on April 23rd this year may reach binocular visibility during the second week of November. Dubbed Comet Lemmon (C/2023 H2), astronomers found it robotically during the Mount Lemmon Survey, which is part of the Catalina Sky Survey based at Stewart Observatory's Catalina Station near Tucson, Arizona.

The map shows Comet Lemmon's nightly position for 0 hours Universal Time (UT). To convert to EDT subtract 4 hours until November 5th (when Daylight Saving Time ends) then 5 hours thereafter. This will have the effect of shifting the date one day back. For example, November 6th at 0h UT converts to November 5th at 7 p.m. EST. Stars are shown to magnitude 7.
Courtesy of Emil Bonanno, MegaStar

Over the past few weeks the diffuse object has slowly ascended the northwestern sky, taking leave of the Big Dipper and climbing into better visibility. During November it will continue to brighten, gaining speed and elevation as it tracks from northern Boötes across Hercules. By good fortune the Moon won't be a bother until after mid-month by which time Lemmon will have begun to fade.

Perihelion occurred on October 29th at 0.9 a.u. Closest approach to Earth of 29 million kilometers (18 million miles) will happen on November 10.9 UT. I last observed the comet on October 11th at magnitude 10.5; current COBS observations peg it at around 9.5 and brightening. Through my 15-inch at 64× Comet Lemmon appeared quite diffuse with a moderately condensed 4′ coma. Although Saturn and Jupiter make fantastic observing targets right now, having a relatively bright comet on the evening stage gives observers yet another reason to comingle with the cosmos.


Image of Anthony-Mallama


November 2, 2023 at 10:08 am

I enjoyed the backstory about the observers in Oklahoma. The video is terrific, too!

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Bob King

November 2, 2023 at 8:20 pm


Thank you! And your contribution was much appreciated.

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November 2, 2023 at 3:24 pm

Many pilots have been seeing these recently and declared that they'd seen a UFO. We've been investigating them on the Metabunk website and detemined that they were Starlink Satellites Flaring. There's a good video explainer here:

Mick West, who set up metabunk, even wrote a Starlink Flare simulator:

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Bob King

November 2, 2023 at 8:21 pm


This is great. Thank you!

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Joe Stieber

November 6, 2023 at 9:01 am

On the evening of November 5, 2023, from the reasonably dark New Jersey Pines, I easily saw C/2023 H2 (Lemmon) with a 130 mm refractor at 6:14 pm EST, nine minutes before the end of astronomical twilight. Shortly after, I was able to spot it with 15x56 and 12x50 binoculars.

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November 9, 2023 at 11:07 am

You have no idea how much this article has helped. I’ve been trying to figure out these lights for months.

I live in the eastern part of Oklahoma. Since August I’ve noticed these exact flares. However, I could see these only to the North. Now, they are visible directly East where the moon and Venus rises.

Very cool and ominous lights.

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Bob King

November 9, 2023 at 12:01 pm

Hi JT,
Glad to be of help! "Ominous" is a fitting description especially when you (me and the others, too) were briefly in the dark as to their nature.

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November 11, 2023 at 11:56 am

Hi Bob,

All day yesterday was clear, and only as I was driving westward toward one of my observing sites near Blaine, Kansas, did I notice that high clouds had appeared on the SW horizon! A look at the satellite loop showed them racing northeastward, and so the question was whether I would I could get there and observe Comet Lemmon before they arrived. It looked too risky, so instead I went to a site further east near Hoyt, north of Topeka.

I arrived as twilight was deepening, and set up the scopes. Comet Lemmon was easily visible in a 7 X 50 binocular just after nautical twilight ended; it was even easy to see in the 7 X 50 finder on the 6-inch scope.

I made estimates of the comet's size and brightness at 7:10 pm (01:10 UT on the 11th) using the mounted 4.25-inch RFT (Richest Field Telescope) at 15 X, yielding a diameter of 16 arcmins and a magnitude of 6.2. I tried in vain to see the comet naked eye, but a diffuse object of this size near the brightness of a 6.2 magnitude star was too faint for these old eyes! Perhaps too faint for anyone's (?).

It is nice that this comet met and exceeded the predictions, and the interesting question is how, if at all, the CME affects it!!


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