Various news outlets today have run with a story about a supposed UFO spotted on live video streamed from the International Space Station, in which a bright object is visible “descending” into Earth’s atmosphere. The video* was shared on YouTube by a self-proclaimed UFO hunter—which basically means someone who stares at ISS feeds on their computers until their eyes melt and any speck of anything seen moving is instantly circled, copied into a slow-mo edited version, and overlaid with ominous music and/or bold text highlights claiming alien visitation and government cover-ups. (Views ensue.)
To help this particular spotting along is the fact that the feed cut out just as the object nears the edge of the atmosphere. Assured proof of a galactic-scale conspiracy by NASA and the NWO, right???
Please. Here’s my two-and-a-half cents:
There are a lot of objects in near-Earth orbit along with the ISS. I mean, a LOT. There are currently over 1,380 operational satellites in orbit (less than half of which are U.S.-owned), 4,077 inoperable satellites and at least 21,000 pieces of debris and random bits of equipment—space junk—in orbit larger than 10 cm.
Most of these objects are metallic or have metallic external components, and when sunlight hits them they reflect that light. You can see satellites from the ground well into the night, and they are also visible from the Space Station.
(If you’ve ever witnessed an Iridium flare you know how brightly some of these satellites can commonly shine!)
Satellites move at orbital speeds—upwards of 17,200 mph (27,680 km/h)—and as such travel across the night sky pretty quickly. But the ISS is also moving at that speed, so sometimes, depending on their relative orbits (they don’t all go in the same direction or trajectory) satellites appear to move much faster or much slower from the vantage point of the ISS.
Also plenty of objects outside Earth’s orbit are visible from the ISS: the Sun, stars, planets, the Moon…if you can see it from Earth, it can be seen from space—just much, much clearer (and without atmospheric distortion, for the most part.)
Video feed from the ISS also cuts out often. Reception of the signal depends on it being picked up by ground stations and relayed back to the servers, but there are a few places where there’s simply no ground station in range. Earth is a big place and the football field-sized Station is constantly in motion—it makes 16 orbits every day!—so at times it is over some pretty remote areas. Signals get lost.
“The station regularly passes out of range of the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) used to send and receive video, voice and telemetry from the station. For video, whenever we lose signal (video comes down on our higher bandwidth, called KU) the cameras will show a blue screen (indicating no signal) or a preset video slate.”
— NASA spokesperson Daniel Huot, CNET (source)
So what IS that object? It’s clearly something, and not just a reflection in the lens or window (don’t laugh, I’ve seen those accused of being alien spacecraft too.) Some have suggested the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 (which has been suspected of being out of control and on its way down by some) and it certainly appears to be a thing in motion… although I wouldn’t rule out a more distant bright object like Jupiter or Venus—the latter of which just happened to be in such a position to be visible as the Sun is blocked by the Earth.)
(UPDATE July 14: Discovery News space editor Ian O’Neill confirmed in a recent article what I suggested above: the formerly-unidentified bright object in the video is Venus. Read his analysis here.)
It’s not a meteor, though—those move much more quickly and disintegrate.
Whatever it is, it’s very highly most probably NOT (did I stress that enough?) a spacecraft from another planet, and NASA’s not trying to censor their video feeds. (Why bother having live video if they thought they’d have to constantly monitor it?)
As the late Carl Sagan once said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” and when it comes to grand conspiracies and intelligent extraterrestrial tourists in low-Earth orbit, this speck in the sky is far, far from extraordinary.
*I did not link to the video because that would just help promote it with views. You can search for it if you want, but don’t expect many “reputable” sources to show up in the results. As my parents used to say about misbehaved kids looking for attention: don’t encourage them.