Mar 142017

As is undoubtedly the case with most people, I’ve seen lots of strange stuff. Attack hippies on fire off the shoulder of Pearl Street, for instance. But as with most strange stuff, the bulk of such things are readily explained, and are honestly pretty mundane.

From time to time, though, I’ve seen stuff that’s harder to explain. Stuff that other people might ascribe supernatural explanations to. In most of these cases, I assume one of two things:

1: My eyes were just a little “funny.” Not having perfect vision, for instance. And lots of the happen at night, when things are hard to make out anyway.

2: Psychological aberrations. I don’t do mind altering drugs of any sort, don’t drink or asphyxiate myself for kicks, nor do I have psychoses or schizophrenia, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get tired, or that my blood sugar never goes goofy, or that … who knows. Any advanced computational system can get glitchy from time to time.

Still, there are sometimes things that happen that are a bit of a puzzlement. Long ago, well before I started pilot training in my college days, I learned that if you wanted to keep a career as a pilot you didn’t report UFOs. And something I’ve noticed many, many times is that a whole lot of people who report weird stuff promptly expand on the observation into unwarranted speculation. See a UFO? Fine. Assume that its an invasion from Zeta Reticuli? Ahhh, no. Hear a bump in the night? Fine. Declare that your house is haunted? Dude, no.

I live out in the sticks. This has afforded many opportunities to experience some damned strange stuff. Urban areas are swamped with the lights and sounds of people and machines, but out here there’s a level of quiet that you come to expect and anomalies are more readily detected. And so… I’ve detected a lot of anomalies. And… what the hell. I’m getting old, I have no chance of becoming an airline or military pilot, I’ll never be an astronaut. I figure I might as well recount some of these, they may provide some momentary amusement. Most can likely be shrugged off, but in the moment they often make my hair stand on end. I remain a skeptic and a materialist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a good moment of weird. These will be non fiction, recounted as accurately as I can. Some stranger than others. Some might make for useful or interesting plot points in stories if someone wants to use them. If so, let me know.

Ok, the first one to report was Sunday night. Well after sundown I went outside to look at the night sky; it was nearly cloudless, which was great, but there was a full moon that kinda blotted out a lot of the stars. Off to the west are hills often seen in my photos, and they were pretty well lit by moonlight. With snow on them, they showed up pretty well. There was one bright star getting close to setting behind the hills, a minor sight I like to watch. And over the span of two or three seconds, the star faded as it went behind the hill.

Perfectly normal and mundane. Nothing odd about it, just s nice sight.

Then the star came back.

A couple seconds after it disappeared behind the hill, it popped back up. Then, a few seconds later, it disappeared behind the hill again. This all occurred while I was standing still. There are no trees or structures on the hilltop that the star could have been momentarily obscured behind then emerged from, just flat rock. Since the hilltops are several degrees above the horizon, there shouldn’t be issues with the sort of atmospheric effects that can make, say, the sun setting over the ocean eventful


Now, one possibility is… a cow. Or a deer, perhaps, standing on the hilltop. The star went down behind the deer, disappearing from my sight… then the deer walked away, revealing the star again. And then the star finally set behind the hill proper. This could certainly explain it in a perfectly rational, natural way. But in the moment it was really rather startling to see. Once a star sets, it’s supposed to stay the hell down.

Next time: your narrator breaks out the boomstick.

 Posted by at 1:27 am
  • Bob

    Atmospheric lensing?

    • vilhelm_s

      That was my first thought as well. Something like the Green Flash.

      Regarding the cow explanation, I wonder if a cow is big enough. Apparently, astronomical seeing is typically between 1 and a few arc seconds, which is the size of a cow 1 or a few kilometers away. So I guess if the hill is futher away than that, the star should twinkle around the cow?

      • Scottlowther

        I have two issues with atmospheric lensing:
        1) The effect was visually smooth. The star didn’t even seem to twinkle.
        2) The time from when the star first set to when it set again was *something* like six seconds, plus or minus. Can a fluctuation in atmospheric density cause the position of an image to shift as far as a star would move in six seconds? 3600 seconds/hr time 24 hours = 86,400 seconds per 360 degrees. So six seconds = 6/86,400 * 360 = 0.025 degrees (assuming the star was on the celestial equator; I think it was south of that, so somewhat less than 0.025 degrees).

        • Siergen

          Just a thought: Did you see a black cat walk by, followed an identical black cat, around the same time as the star set?

  • Derek

    Maybe it was a helicopter of some sort, but what would make it real bright like a star? Someone might even say it was some sort of experimental aircraft. Or it might of been an aircraft that lost control and crashed.

    It might of been a meteor and you saw it from an angle that would make it’s behavior seem weird.

    • Scottlowther

      I really need to go back out tonight and photograph the right region of the sky to make sure that there is indeed a proper star there. I’ve seen stars set over these hills many times, as well as seen many airplanes pass behind the hills… and the difference between the two is stark. For an aircraft, the light suddenly blinks out, boom, gone. But stars do take around a second to fade out. Stars are far, far smaller in visual diameter than even a simple wingtip lightbulb on an aircraft miles away… but the stars move far, far slowed across the sky. And there’s enough blur that passing behind a sharp ridge of rock takes a definite finite length of time.

      • Herp McDerp

        Also, most stars do not set “straight down,” but will move at an angle to the horizon that depends on their declination (celestial latitude) and your geographic latitude. If the star was in the northwest, it might have declined at a very shallow angle … and perhaps it passed behind several objects before it was out of sight behind the hill.

        • Scottlowther


          • Herp McDerp

            A star in the southwest also could descend at an angle. You’re at 41° or 42° north latitude, so it’s still a plausible explanation, IMHO.

            Did you go out again tonight to try to identify the star?

          • Scottlowther

            Got an excellent view of overcast.

          • Herp McDerp

            If it’s still overcast, try an online planetarium program such as (one of many such).

          • Scottlowther

            Every freakin’ night, clouds just above the hills. According to the sky map, looks like the star would have been one of those of Eridanus.

            Given the nightly clouds, makes me wonder if what I saw was the star passing behind a tiny tendril of cloud that was just coincidentally just slightly above the hilltop… disappears behind the tendril, reappears below it, promptly passes below the hilltop.

          • publiusr

            The only object I ever saw that puzzled me happened when I was a teen. My parents were gone and I had the run of the place. No party–no drinking–just me.

            I liked to walk outside and always like to look at the sky.

            Now…imagine for a moment—that someone got a toilet paper roll core–cut about 1/3rd of the length off–then painted it black–and nailed it to the sky a dozen yards out or so.

            That’s what I saw once. Thing didn’t move at all.

            I went inside got a glass of cola–went back outside.

            It was still there.

            I raised my glass to it–and went back inside.

            No idea of what it was.

            It was around that time that they sold these black balloons that heated up with the air and would rise–and the trade name of them was “UFO”
            Used to be in old magazines. Those were quite long. Apart from this–I don’t see any novelty balloons of the sort being sold:



            I’m at the point now where I wonder if some of my memories are just dreams. In the very early 1970’s when I was very yoing–I seem to remember a comet that was bright yellow moving towards the horizon myself. I seem to remember being out and about with my parents.