JACKSON, Wyo. — Early Sunday morning Buckrail received a video from a reader of a flying object over Jackson Hole that so far no one has been able to identify.
The reader who sent in the video, who wishes to remain anonymous for her job’s sake, was working a night shift and decided to keep an eye on the webcam at Spring Creek Ranch from SeeJH because she knew the Perseid Meteor Shower was active and she might catch a glimpse. Then, at right around 3:41 a.m., she saw something on the screen that caught her eye.
“My coworker thought something was broken on the camera,” she said. It could have been a meteor, but it was moving too slowly and seemingly too close to the ground. A plane, perhaps? “I checked online, there weren’t any flights that I could find at that time.” Buckrail also checked the flight log database on the US Department of Transportation website and no flights are recorded in that airspace at that time.
It was the flash at the end that really threw her off — bright, brief, if you blink you might miss it. It appears to light up the whole sky. “It would totally be a plane in my mind if there weren’t a weird, bright flash in the end.”
In their sleep deprivation, there was only one explanation: “aliens.”
Buckrail sped the video up — the original is three minutes and 35 seconds long and frame-by-frame, the camera only records one image every second.
Sped Up Version ( 11 Seconds )
We have also been monitoring the camera the last two nights between 2:00am and 5:00am and while we did see several meteors from the Perseid Meteor Shower there was nothing like this.
Original Version ( 3:35 )
So what is it, really?
Buckrail reached out to as many space-savvy people as we could think of, and the answer we have today is: no one knows for certain.
Leading up to the meteor shower, a meteor seemed like the logical explanation, but three separate astronomers ruled that out — it’s too bright, it moved way too slowly, and meteors leave a streak in their wake.
Samuel Singer, former Executive Director of Wyoming Stargazing and space enthusiast, guessed it’s a drone. Local photographer and drone pilot Sam Cook agreed that was plausible. FAA rules say drone lights need to be visible for at least three statute miles, which is “pretty bright,” Cook said. And Michael Brotherton, a professor of Astronomy at the University of Wyoming, said a drone is a valid hypothesis.
But the flash at the end has everyone baffled? Webcams are pretty low-light sensitive, so it might not actually be as bright as it looks on camera, Brotherton said.
“There does seem to be a flash of light from the object partway through that is likely artificial,” Brotherton wrote in an email.
Artificial. So, not found in nature.
Another astronomer recommended asking a pilot. So we tracked down a former airforce (now commercial) pilot, who said it could be a single-ship fighter jet with a pilot “showboating over the valley with an afterburner and flares.” There is a jet route that follows almost the exact path captured in the video. But, he added, there’s no military training airspace in the area, and fighters generally fly in pairs unless they’re just transitioning from one base to another. At almost four in the morning it is an unusual time for a single-ship to be flying.
So, the results are inconclusive. A drone is the leading explanation. Fighter jet is another. Drone pilots: was this you?
Even though a meteor has been ruled out, the Perseid Meteor Shower is still at its peak tonight. It’s quite the spectacle if you’re lucky enough to catch it. Send Buckrail your photos for a chance to be featured on “SNAPPED,” and if you see anything… unusual, feel free to share that, too.