A neighbor called me to ask about drones flying around. I managed to take several pictures and they don't look like any star, planet or other celestial body I have ever seen, but they seem too steady to be drones.

I managed to get one decent picture: Celestial body or drone?

Any advice for figuring out whether that is a real celestial object or man-made?

  • $\begingroup$ see also astronomy.stackexchange.com/questions/18787/… $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2016 at 11:20
  • $\begingroup$ I'll take exception to your "decent" appelation there :-) . There's nothing to convince me that the apparent extended shape is real vs. random blur and turbulence effects. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2016 at 11:21
  • $\begingroup$ Star trails are all short and look to move in the same direction. 30 second exposure? Object track is far longer. That might be an overexposure effect. Or it might be Venus, with a bit of cloud to the lower left. The apparent phase is about right: space.jpl.nasa.gov $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2016 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ For interest in unusual aerial phenomenon, consider nuforc.org, you can report or ask them. While an interesting question, I believe it's wholly off-topic on this particular site. This Q is, quite simply about an aircraft or possibly a spacecraft. SO has outstanding network sites for "aircraft" and indeed "spacecraft". Migrate the question to there. This site is for questions about things like black holes, galaxies, exoplanets etc. $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Oct 21, 2016 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ Camera platform drones can be almost perfectly steady, and with lights can easily look bigger than you think. Racing drones...not so much, but camera drones have gps, ground sensing radar and other tech. $\endgroup$
    – Rory Alsop
    Jun 10, 2017 at 19:31

1 Answer 1


Any advice for figuring out whether that is a real celestial object or man-made?

Yes - in almost all cases, you can readily identify a celestial object by going out the next clear night, and looking for it in the same position. (Very few celestial objects move far over a few days.)

In response to comments about geostationary satellites: I doubt it is a geostationary satellite, answers to this question indicates these are usually too faint to be seen without special equipment. Also they don't move, whereas nearby stars will move a little over the space of half an hour or more.

  • $\begingroup$ Neither do satellites in geostationary orbit. Further, a geostationary satellite remains in position during the night, while stars appear to move due to the earth's rotation. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2016 at 11:20
  • $\begingroup$ Geostationary satellites will move in relation to the background stars though. (They're also quite faint in most cases.) So a few observations will separate them from more distant celestial objects that I think the questioner is asking about. $\endgroup$
    – Andy
    Oct 21, 2016 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ That's what I said :-) . But I understand that the OP didn't pose his question particularly clearly. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2016 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ "Move" has two or more different meanings when used in relation to the sky (all totally obvious and trivially understood from context). The subtlety of the meaning of "move" is irrelevant to this question. Trivially, a drone won't even be in vaguely the same place the next night or even in an hour. This is indeed how a young person or total beginner tells if "something is a drone". $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Oct 21, 2016 at 14:03

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