Thursday, 5 May 2011

[UPDATED] Two Unidentified Geostationary Objects on May 3 and 4

May 3 was an unusually clear evening, and I decided to target a few classified geostationary satellites, using the Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar MC 2.8/180mm.

While imaging the region of PAN (09-047A) and Mentor 4 (09-001A), I found two unidentified objects. Yes: two.

The first object, UNID-I, was discovered close to the commercial geosats Galaxy 27 (99-052A) and Intelsat 12 (00-068A). It was present on multiple images, and the astrometry shows it is stable in declination. It was about as bright as the two commercial geosats, and stable in brightness.

The plot thickened, when a second unidentified object, UNID-II, was discovered just east of the first, just north of the commercial geostationary Syracuse 3A (05-041B). This object was irregular in brightness, alternating between faint and very bright (comparable to Mentor 4 at peak brightness, i.e. about mag. +8).

Below image shows UNID-I near Galaxy 27 and Intelsat 12:

click image to enlarge

The two images below show UNID-II near Syracuse 3A, and the clear flaring behaviour of the UNID.

click image to enlarge

On May 4th, the sky quality was poorer. Nevertheless I tried to recover the two objects, with partial success: UNID-II was captured again on several images.

It had drifted westwards, closer to Galaxy 27 and Intelsat 12 towards the position of UNID-I. The latter was not visible on the images, most likely due to the poor sky quality (Galaxy 27 and Intelsat 12 were barely visible either).

The object showed a clear variable brightness behaviour, being invisible in one image and very bright in the next one taken 30s later. Together with the slowly changing declination, this shows that the object is likely UNID-II, not UNID-I.

Below images were taken 30 seconds apart: the object is bright in one, and invisible in the other:

click image to enlarge

In the series of images, it is present in the following images:

from - to (UTC, May 4th)
21:03:02.30 - 21:03:12.35
21:04:02.30 - 21:04:12.35 - very bright
21:05:02.30 - 21:05:12.35
21:07:32.30 - 21:07:42.35
21:08:02.30 - 21:08:12.35
21:08:32.30 - 21:08:42.35 - very bright
21:11:02.30 - 21:11:12.35
21:12:02.30 - 21:12:12.35
21:13:02.30 - 21:13:12.35 - very bright
21:14:02.30 - 21:14:12.35 - very bright

As can be seen, there is a clear semi-1 minute periodicity in this.

I have no idea as to the true identity of these two objects. As I could find no trace of PAN (09-047A) near Yamal 202 on my May 3rd images, it is possible that UNID-I is PAN once again relocating.

The presence of a second, tumbling/spinning object, UNID-II, close to it however suggests that more is going on. Finding two UNID's close together is definitely weird and might suggest a connection between the two objects.

UNID-II has a small but clear inclination to it's orbit and appears to be drifting westwards. UNID-I is stable in declination, indicating an inclination close to zero. It might be drifting as well (only more observations will tell, given that I failed to find it on May 4th).

UPDATE 5-5-2011:
Ted Molczan feels UNID-II (the flashing one) could be the Indian commercial geosat Gsat 2 (03-018A) in the act of relocating. UNID-I could indeed well be, as I suggested in my report on Satobs, the classified geosat PAN (09-047A) relocating, according to Mike McCants. I captured the same satellite relocating in December last year: this enigmatic satellite is frequently on the move.

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