Bright “Comet” Seen Over Canada and the Northern US

I received a number of reports of 2 bright objects flying over Canada and the northern United States. All of the sighting occurred around 9:40 pm.

Cynthia reported: Tonight at around 940 I saw a star slowly moving across the sky with what seemed like a trail of very faint white behind it and at first i thought maybe it was a plane but there were no flashes or colors, just looked like a star. Then after about 10 seconds started to move farther away, as it disappeared another star the same size moved across the sky in the same direction and seemly on the same path and did the exact same thing, went across the sky then gradually out and disappeared…What is this I saw? It was pretty amazing to see.

What everyone saw was not a meteor or a comet or any extraterrestrial phenomenon.Rather it was a fly-over of the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle Discovery which has just left the Space Station a day earlier. Now usually the Station and Shuttle appear as nothing more than bright stars. The Station can often rival Venus in brightness and has been known to flare many times brighter than that.

The strange object with the comet-like tail was the Space Shuttle Discovery. Since its mission is almost over (it is scheduled to land today), the astronauts were conducting a number of “water dumps”. This is a process by which excess water is disposed of by venting it into space. The water quickly freezes and creates a cloud of ice particles. These particles caused the brilliant “tail” as they reflected sunlight. Unfortunately, the ice rapidly sublimates so the whole event only lasts for a few minutes.

A few pictures of the water dump can be found at Spaceweather.com.

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About Carl Hergenrother
I am a professional astronomer specializing in the study of comets, asteroids and meteors. This blog will focus on my professional and amateur work in this field

9 Responses to Bright “Comet” Seen Over Canada and the Northern US

  1. Keerthi Kiran M says:

    Wow!!! Interesting phenomenon.

  2. LK says:

    I saw this as it happened, and since I was in a very remote part of North Ontario, an area that has no light pollution what so ever for miles, this tail of water dumping was very large and very visible, with a pale blue haze. It was in the shape of a backwards letter J. It was amazing to watch and neither myself or sister-in-law had a clue what it was as we watched it for as long as it was visible, followed by the ISS.
    I am so glad I found this site to inform me, as my curiosity was getting the better of me. I had never seen anything like this before. I would say we were in the right place at the right time. I am very lucky to have had such a great view of this occurrence. Nothing like no light pollution, what a difference it made. The image is burned into my memory and I was in awe. My only regret was not having my binoculars or camera on the dock at the time.
    One word WOW!!!!!

  3. Jordan H. says:

    My father-in-law and I saw this too. We had just gotten out of the water after a swim in Loon Lake, near Gravenhurst, Ontario when we spotted the first bright object. Standing on the dock, looking up at the stars with the hope of spotting a satelite or meteor, we saw the what was confirmed to be the ISS (similar to the brightness of Venus) sail over head. We suspected that it was the ISS, but when the second object (the shuttle) flew over shortly after and in almost the same trajectory, we were a little baffled at what we saw. It was another bright object with a swoosh around it (as described above) that was white or gray in colour. I thought it may have been a plane flying through some haze until my father-in-law sent me the link to this article. Very neat to think we were looking up at that moment to see this rare event. Thanks for sending me this URL and shedding some light on this mystery Bob!

  4. Marlene says:

    hi, i’m new at this but after hours of research i have yet to find out what it is that we saw.
    We live in Manitoba near the interlake and on Saturday the 12th of September, it was very dark so we went out to star gaze. In a few seconds i spotted a very bright star?? planet?? in the north…north east. It wasnt the brightness that got me, it was the fact that it was kind of pulsating different colors!! Red, blue, green, white, kind of twinkling…i dont know how to describe it….it didnt move either.
    It was there again on Sunday the 13th too!! What is that????

  5. Dan says:

    saw what we thought was a meteor,we saw only one light and one tail very bright and then fizzled out, im in the okanagan valley.did we see the same thing or something else?anyone know?
    anyone from b.c. see it?

    • nicole cassel says:

      was huge size of 2 light post together no deffinate shape circular white with a green hazefell from e to west stood still then vanished but I was not the only one to see this

  6. Renee Alice Anderson says:

    Tuesday Sept 15 we were coming home on highway 10north to Owen Sound from Toronto Airport. We encountered an Comet/Meteor in the north sky moving from the southwest to the northeast. It was very large and had a tail and lasted longer than a shooting star.

  7. Cherie F says:

    On Tuesday September 22nd 09 in Fort Alexander, Manitoba, I saw this very huge bright meteor.. or what I thought was a meteor in the South Western sky. It lasted about ten seconds it looked almost like a firework. It fell directly down and just sort of sparkled away into the darkness. It was the most spectacular thing I have ever seen in the night sky by far, in my entire life.

  8. Cherie F says:

    :)

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