VIDEO: Mystery object seen from Alki, ‘falling’ at sunset – likely a contrail

9:31 PM: Don’t know yet what this was but we’ve received multiple reports, including the text that had the video attached, as seen from Alki Avenue SW. Help us sleuth it! We’ll add whatever we turn up.

9:57 PM: One commenter points to the possibility it was just a contrail. Haven’t found any meteor or rocket reports so that just might be it; still looking just in case.

11:10 PM: Our favorite expert skywatcher Alice Enevoldsen believes it’s a contrail. She writes:

tl;dr–In my expert opinion: contrail.

Longer answer: of course I don’t know for absolutely certain, who could possibly know that, besides the pilot? So let’s run through the main reasonable possibilities.

Space Junk Reentry
As mentioned by the viewers of the video (yay! thank you!) it could be space junk, right? You’re absolutely correct, there’s space junk burning up in our atmosphere all the time. That bright second half of the line sure looks like fire too. The speed is wrong though. Most reentries go a similar speed, since they’re stuff entering our atmosphere from orbit. Controlled reentries have a slightly different speed than uncontrolled ones, but they all tend to be a good bit faster than this is moving.
Here’s a gif of a satellite going about twice as fast as usual.

Again, the speed is wrong. Meteors go much faster, they’re also known as shooting stars. When your friend says “look! A shooting star!” by the time you look, it’s gone. The Chelyabinsk meteor seemed to go a bit slower, because it was huge (as average meteors go) and therefore got deeper into our atmosphere than most. Here’s a gif of a meteor, going about normal speed.

From our point of view looking at the sky on a given day, comets don’t move.

For something long, thin, and cloud-like the first direction to examine is a contrail. The speed of the object is correct for an airplane moving out of our field of view. Also, the direction works, because this “downward” path is consistent with a plane travelling west and eventually disappearing over the horizon. We still have some questions: why do we see it go so far down, and why is the contrail two colors: dark and “fire”?”

Both colors can be explained by the direction of travel and the time. This is around sunset. The end of the plane’s contrail is in the evening sky, in a position that is after sunset and therefore in the Earth’s shadow. The plane’s current position is in sunlight, but as it is sunset, the position is brightly lit with all the colors of the sunset. It is brighter than the clouds it appears near, because it is higher than them and therefore in brighter sunlight than them.

It is potentially possible that the lighting of this contrail makes it so we can see the plane and it’s contrail longer than usual, contributing to the “straight down” appearance of the trail. I’m not certain of that explanation for this part. It could also be as simple as observation bias: this one is so cool, we don’t remember other contrails going this direction.

–Alice Enevoldsen
Alice’s AstroInfo

P.S. Details soon on Alice’s summer-solstice sunset watch!

30 Replies to "VIDEO: Mystery object seen from Alki, 'falling' at sunset - likely a contrail"

  • Tedb310 June 5, 2017 (9:46 pm)

    The alien invasion has begun. 

  • Bb June 5, 2017 (9:51 pm)

    Contrail at sunset. Do a google image search. 

    • WSB June 5, 2017 (9:54 pm)

      I’ve seen a lot of contrails and never one that looked as if it were plunging directly downward. But if that’s all it was, great!

    • Alice June 5, 2017 (11:00 pm)

      BB has nailed it.

  • CE June 5, 2017 (10:03 pm)

    Chemtrails. Wake up, you’re being sprayed. Look up at the sky, and google solar radiation management and geoengineering. People spend most of their time looking down at their phones and don’t even notice. There was massive spraying all afternoon today.

    • Jort June 5, 2017 (10:27 pm)


      • AE June 5, 2017 (11:01 pm)

        Thanks Jort.

      • North of Admiral June 6, 2017 (11:15 am)


    • chemist June 5, 2017 (10:36 pm)

      It’s the soda distributors releasing their mind control nano-bots so we don’t change our habits after  paying an added $2.52 in taxes on a 12 pack of soda.

    • chris June 5, 2017 (10:50 pm)

      That was just the neighbors cat, don’t worry about it.

    • Swede. June 6, 2017 (10:49 am)

      I think it was Obamas fault. Must be since pretty much everything this year have been. 


  • TheKing June 5, 2017 (10:08 pm)

    Great video. I’d be willing to bet secureteam10 on YouTube would be very interested in this 

    • Alice June 5, 2017 (10:55 pm)

      You are not wrong! :)

  • Erithan June 5, 2017 (10:09 pm)

    Any chance this is related to what sounds like a helicopter in the area?

  • justme June 5, 2017 (10:12 pm)

    Space junk?

  • Alice June 5, 2017 (10:22 pm)

    tl;dr–In my expert opinion: contrail.

    I’m writing a longer explanation

    • chris June 5, 2017 (10:52 pm)

      Heading straight towards the sun from West Seattle’s perspective?

  • PE June 5, 2017 (10:31 pm)

    Uhh the space shuttle hasn’t flown since July 2011.

  • Nina June 5, 2017 (10:58 pm)

    Maybe it’s a contrail that’s heading away from the camera, the angle only makes it look like it’s going down. It’s too slow to be a meteor. 

  • Their here June 5, 2017 (11:15 pm)

    Missile from North Korea possibly Russia. Take your pick it’s not like we’d ever be told if it were. 

  • Bill Longabaugh June 5, 2017 (11:48 pm)

    Since it appears to be heading in a westerly direction, it is almost impossible to be space junk. Satellites typically orbit west-to-east, since you usually want to get the free boost from the earth’s rotation while trying to achieve orbital speeds. The exceptions are the many satellites in polar orbits so they can pass over the entire earth’s surface, so you might see a satellite traveling north to south, or south to north. The only westerly-heading satellites are sun-synchronous orbits, inclined ~98 degrees, which will have the satellite traveling *slightly* west of a mostly northerly trajectory. This slightly retrograde orbit allows the plane of the orbit to “precess” in a way that keeps the sun at the same angle underneath the satellite while the earth orbits around the sun during the course of the year.

    So if what you see is heading west, think aircraft, not spacecraft.

    • Smitty June 6, 2017 (6:17 am)

      Cool info, thanks.  I would have thought they would travel East>>>>West(clockwise from the north pole perspective) in order to “cover” more ground in a lesser amount of time.  Traveling opposite the earths rotation.

      Great thread.

  • ts June 6, 2017 (12:23 am)

    Can’t believe some of the comments and names “their here”? but especially on the video: Space Shuttle? Hit a mountain?  The struggle is real.

  • KD June 6, 2017 (12:41 am)

    I don’t care what ‘it’ was..  Just grateful and enjoyed the beautiful capture of the scene of our AMAZING Pacific NW and Puget Sound and two ferries crossing paths! I’ll be the ostrich with my head in the sand about nefarious reasons and happenings, but poke out enough to view and enjoy the beauty! (Thankyou for the video of what I ‘saw!’)

  • ts June 6, 2017 (12:56 am)

    Wish I had video of something I saw around 2006 that was reported here. Much more compelling than this video. It was looking west as well.

  • Community Member June 6, 2017 (5:40 am)

    It is the contrail of an airplane headed west across the ocean. The “straight down” in the picture  means that the plain is actually moving straight west, and the earth is round.  The contrail is a cloud made of ice particles formed from water vapor in the engine’s exhaust. This contrail is higher in the sky than the other clouds in the video, so it is still being lit up by the setting sun after the other clouds and the viewer are in the shade of the earth. Notice the “top” part of the contrail is grey – that part is closer to us, not actually higher in the air.  Above that in the picture, the grey ice cloud is being blown southward by high altitude winds, so it looks more spread-out, cloud-like, and in this picture whispy – more obviously a cloud.

    Thanks to the neighbors who sent in this interesting video! Really cool to have the contrail lit up so perfectly.

    • Swede. June 6, 2017 (10:50 am)

      Are you sure the earth is round? Maybe you just got confused by the ‘massive spraying’ that ‘CE’ knew it was. 


  • TK June 6, 2017 (12:14 pm)

    Could it possibly be Arited meteor showers? It’s just a guess.  
    Every year in early June thousands of meteors streak across the sky. Arietid meteor shower typically peaks on June 7th. If you could turn off the sun, you would see more than 60 meteors per hour, making it one of the most active showers of the year. “

  • Aaron D. June 9, 2017 (7:42 pm)

    I think contrails are the most likely explanation, but I don’t think its the ridiculous chemtrails theory I often hear about.   I did initially think it’d be falling space junk, but I imagine it’d be a bit more of a dramatic sight than what was in the video.  To me it looked like water vapor condensing and not something burning up from falling through the atmosphere.

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