Sometime in the summer months during the years from 1993 to 1998, my friend and I saw what looked like a gamma-ray burst (or what looked like an artist's impression of it). It looked like a star that got very bright (within a few seconds) and we saw what looked like a line shooting out from the sides of it that spread across our field of vision. All this happened in less than 10 seconds.

I can't confirm when it was any more exactly than that, unfortunately, as we were walking near my friends house at night in the summer, as we did hundreds of times in those years.

According to Wikipedia, the first naked-eye brightness gamma ray burst happened in 2008, so I imagine that's not it.

What could it have been?

  • $\begingroup$ Can you recall the exact year so as to shorten the possibilities, and so that we could search specifically for summer of that year? BTW, in which country was it seen? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 19:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Are you saying the line shooting out crossed the entire sky in about 10 seconds? That couldn't have been a star then. They're too far away. If you could see a gamma ray burst shooting perpendicular from the star in the sky, traveling at the speed of light, it would move very slowly from your point of view, many light years away. $\endgroup$
    – userLTK
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ As user TK said, we can't see the burst as rendered by artist even it is luminous enough. Too much far and to much distances even for light. It could look as ca brightening than vanishing star, I guess. $\endgroup$
    – Alchimista
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 11:34

2 Answers 2


Gamma ray bursts are very rarely bright enough in visible light to be seen with the naked eye. This is why they weren't detected until there was a network of satellites looking for atom bombs. You didn't see a GRB.

If what you saw was Bright, and Fast it was likely to be a bright meteor, sometimes called a fireball. These appear as a very bright, fast-moving "shooting star". They are rare, but not so rare that it would be possible to identify a particular event from the information that you give.

A reflection from a satellite can look like a star that brightens and then fades. The Iridium satellites are well known for this though other satellites can also produce "flares". Iridium flares have been visible since the late 90s.

There are other mundane possibilities, but these would seem to be the most likely. Remember memory is a funny thing. After 20+ years thing that you "remember" might be different.

  • $\begingroup$ I used to watch "Iridium flares" in the late 90s. $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ Mis read, just saw 1993, which would be too early $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! An Iridium flare sounds like the probable cause. $\endgroup$
    – user22340
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 17:04

If what you saw occurred within an hour or so of dawn or dusk, then it sounds like an Iridium flare. This is reflected sunlight off the large, reflective panel-like antennas of one of the Iridium communication satellites. Some of these can be particularly impressive, becoming much brighter than Venus over a few seconds and then smoothly fading away again on a similar timescale.

The link I posted above gives you instructions for how to observe one again if you wish to confirm that this is indeed what you saw, though your opportunity to do so may cease by the end of this year.

The picture below appeared in the "Sky at Night" magazine and was taken by Nikki Young.

However, these satellites first appeared in the sky in the late 90s (1997), so perhaps you saw glints/flares from something else before then, but these would not have been as bright.

An iridium flare


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