Meteor or Satellite?

May 24, 2014: A meteor or satellite streaks above the U.S. Mint Bureau of Printing and Engraving shortly after midnight on May 24, 2014 during the Camelopardalid meteor shower from Comet 209P/LINEAR.

Predictions for a possibly amazing meteor shower were running wild late last week. I wanted to take some photos and my daughter wanted to stay up late. We both thought it would be fun to do something cool with each other, so we headed out in search of something. Since some of the predictions suggested the meteors produced by this shower could be much brighter than normal, we thought it could be cool to set up where a cityscape could be on the horizon in the foreground. Sadly, this is DC, and there is no real distinctive cityscape except that the one shot from the Netherlands Carillon of the Capitol, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial.

Since the Camelopardalids radiant was supposed to be near Polaris, we thought setting up at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial where we could look north across the Tidal Basin at the Washington Monument and U.S. Mint could be an interesting location to start and then based on how things went and what we saw on Twitter, we would try some other locations as the night went on.

By 12:30am, we hadn’t seen anything and we only saw disappointed people on Twitter, so we packed up and headed to the exurbs where, like everyone else, we still didn’t see didn’t see much of anything and then went home.

Checking the few photos I did take, I saw a light streak in a 30 second exposure taken just after midnight that I’m not quite sure about. I couldn’t see any trace of pulsing or flashing lights that airplanes and helicopters have. I think it’s on trajectory that traces through the expected radiant, which suggests meteor, but it doesn’t have the form, shape or color fringing that most meteor photos display. That leaves satellite, but I don’t know enough about them to know it would be possible to see one that close to the northern horizon at that hour…particularly through the urban light conditions.

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