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I'm trying to identify something I saw in the sky. This occurred in central Virginia (Louisa county), US on Sunday at around 2:15 AM EST. It started as a ring of what looked like smoke, high in the sky. The ring got gradually larger. Then a small light moved out of it. The light looked like a star but it was moving about the 'relative' speed of an airplane viewed from the ground. I say relative because I think this was higher up than an airplane and so it was probably moving faster. The light had a puff behind it which was much larger than the light (so it was much bigger than the entrails of a jet plane). When I say 'big' or 'small' I mean it relative to the view of someone standing on the ground. I kept observing this light moving across the sky until I lost it in the trees.

I have not seen anything like this before. If I had to guess, I'd say it was possibly a military plane at high altitude moving at high speed. I guess it could also be a meteor that caused the ring when it hit the atmosphere and moved off at a strange angle. However, I have never seen a meteor move that slow. They usually zip fast across the sky. Maybe it's a meteor that hit the atmosphere at an angle that slowed it down? Anyone know what it could have been?

Edit: I saw this photo submitted to the american meteorologic society. It's about the same time and looks exactly like what I saw. It was from someone in PA at 2:30am. sighting

Additional photo: from Wisconsin, this photo shows the ring at an angle. I suppose this could be used to figure out the altitude of the ring: https://fireball.amsmeteors.org/members/imo_photo/view_photo?photo_id=12442

The source is https://fireball.amsmeteors.org/members/imo_view/event/2022/3512#photo_box

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    $\begingroup$ Link has been added. I am curious if the altitude can be figured out by the angle of the ring in the second image and the distance of Tomahawk WI about 1100 miles away. $\endgroup$ Jun 20 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ xkcd.com/2633 $\endgroup$
    – Aaron F
    Jun 20 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ @AaronF the funniest part of an xkcd is often the tooltip. $\endgroup$ Jun 22 at 1:39
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    $\begingroup$ I find it depressing to see so many people staring at their smartphones, everywhere. But at least, when something interesting happens in the sky, there are dozens of people taking pictures, from different angles, and uploading them to fireball.amsmeteors.org . $\endgroup$ Jun 22 at 8:46
  • $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure that's aliens. $\endgroup$
    – Valorum
    Jun 22 at 17:48

1 Answer 1

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This is a rocket starting its engine.

More specifically, this was SpaceX Falcon 9 B1061.9 launching the Globalstar FM15 mission on June 19, 2022 at 4:27 UTC (0:27 EST). The specific event from this launch that you observed was SES-3 (Second stage Engine Startup 3), i.e. the 3rd and final firing of the second stage engine. This is done to boost the sattelite into its final orbit, and indeed occured around 2:15 AM EST.

6 minutes after this event, the sattelite was deployed from the rocket.

The "ring" and "puff" you saw are the exhaust gases of the rocket, and the "small light" is the rocket engine itself. Since at that moment the rocket was slightly over 1000km in altitude, it was high enough for these gases to be illuminated by the sun, even though at ground level it was still the middle of the night.

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