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Updated: Help identify unknown object detected during Venus transit

Jun. 8, 2012, 3:32 PM

UPDATE 7/9/12: A correction and a note from the editor

UPDATE 7/5/12: Winners have been announced! The objects crossing the Sun during the Venus transit were distant aircraft. The explanations of our winners were well thought out and included some great details.

UPDATE: A few extra hints from Rocky Alvey, director of the Dyer Observatory, have been added below.

UFO crossing the Sun
An unidentified object captured by the Dyer Observatory during the Venus transit.

On Tuesday, June 5, Dyer Observatory trained its solar telescope onto the sun to observe the Venus transit. In addition to capturing this once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event for posterity, the telescope caught something else—something that the Dyer staff has yet to identify.

In the video below, a small object slowly crosses the disk of the sun diagonally, beginning at the upper right-hand quadrant and ending at the lower left-hand quadrant. For reference, Venus is the large black dot in the lower right-hand quarter of the sun.

It’s probably not an alien ship, but what is it?

The Dyer staff is calling all science sleuths to help them turn this UFO into an IFO.

Clues:

  1. It took 38 seconds for the object to transit (cross) the Sun.
  2. It appears to have a contrail.
  3. Its apparent diameter is the same as a couple of the visible sunspots. The Sun is 1/2 of a degree in angular diameter. An average sunspot is about the size of Earth if it were juxtaposed on the Sun. The object’s size appears to be similar to a sunspot.
  4. The location of the “sighting” was at Radnor Lake State Park and Dyer Observatory in Brentwood, Tenn. (latitude: 36.052352; longitude: -86.805566).
  5. Celestial north is down and celestial east is to the right.
  6. The Sun was at approximately 3 degrees of altitude at the time of the event.
  7. The elevation of the telescope capturing the event was 1,050 feet above sea level.

Other hints:

  1. It should be fairly easy to determine whether a bug on the telescope lens/objective would be visible and sharp, or out of focus. The telescope used was a Televue 102. The telescope has a 102 mm focal length at f/8.6, and is a refractor. If you have a refractor telescope or even binoculars, can you see something the size of a bug on the surface of the lens?
  2. It is possible to derive a ballpark estimate for the speed of the object, whether you assume it is in the atmosphere or in space.
  3. How distant of an object can we see within Earth’s atmosphere?

Please post your answer in the comments below by July 1.

The best answer will be chosen by Dyer staff and receive a private viewing through the historic Seyfert telescope and a Dyer Observatory T-shirt.

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