Calgarians looked up to the sky to see something quite mysterious on Saturday, but one man solved the mystery and identified the object as a plane soaring through the night.
Karina MacConnell was at her home in Radisson Heights on Saturday evening when she observed something strange in the sky.
“I noticed something in the sky and I looked up and we started filming because I didn’t know what it was,” MacConnell said. “It was going pretty slow to be a meteor, in my opinion, but it definitely looked like one.”
MacConnell captured the mysterious object as it moved across the sky.
“(It was) super weird, definitely not something you normally see,” she said.
And MacConnell wasn’t the only one looking at the sky on Saturday evening, several other people also described seeing the “bright object.”
Julian Redwood-Henry also took a video of the sky — and the illuminated object — from his home in Thorncliffe.
“The sun had just set and there was a lot of smoke in the atmosphere,” said Robyn Foret who is the past president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He happened to have his telescope out on Saturday evening and saw the object drift by.
Foret said what looked like a fireball was actually an aircraft surrounded by smoke from forest fires.
“The sun was setting and there was an aircraft going overhead and the setting sun was lighting up the contrail in a very unusual way,” Foret said.
“People are familiar with contrails from an aircraft where it’s a white stream in the blue sky. This was really lit up in a way that it was really popping out of the sky and it looked quite unusual, not unlike a fireball.”
He said the giveaway to finding the object’s true identity was that it was slow-moving.
“A fireball of course will streak across the sky very quickly and this object was moving at the pace of a jet aircraft at that altitude,” Foret said.
Foret says the smoke from the burning forest fire is providing redder sunsets and moon rises and added it was easy to mistake the aircraft for a meteor because it was dark enough for the plane to not be easily seen.
“I could see the aircraft in front of it. It wasn’t dark enough that the plane disappeared,” he said. “I imagine if it was a little bit darker and you couldn’t see the aircraft and you only saw the contrail lit up by the setting sun, that could make you think there’s not a plane in front of it.”
Foret said this is a similar phenomenon to the International Space Station.
“A lot of people have seen the space station fly over. When we see that we are seeing it from the sun that has set hours earlier and it’s just catching the space station at that particular altitude as it goes overhead. It’s the same thing with the contrail,” he explained. “If it’s dark enough that you can’t see the plane but you see the contrail, all you are seeing is what looks like a fireball but if it’s going very slowly, it’s not.”
While it might be a disappointment that the mysterious celestial object was just an aircraft, Foret said anything that makes people look up in the sky and wonder at what they are seeing is a good thing.
“Anything that inspires that curiosity of what’s out there,” he said. “Once we see something, we want to understand what it is and as we are trying to understand what it is, we learn more and more and more.
“That’s the wonderful thing about astronomy — every time we find out something new, we come up with 10 new questions that we don’t know the answers to.”