Soo... Can anyone guess what this is?

Jun 21, 2004
Omaha, NE

Hi-res version:

Explanation: Meteor experts don't think it's a meteor. Atmospheric scientists don't think it's lightning. The photographer insists that the streak and flash on the above image has not been created digitally. So what is it? Nobody is sure. APOD's editors do not claim to know - one purpose of posting this image is to mine the eclectic brain trust of APOD's readers to help see if some unusual phenomenon was caught serendipitously. The strange features were captured on a series of images intended to monitor cloud changes in the background. Images taken just before and after the above frame show no streak or flash. The light pole near the flash has been inspected and does not show any damage, although the light inside was not working. If you think you know what is going on, instead of sending us email please participate in an online discussion. If a convincing argument or consensus is reached, the answer will be posted on APOD at a later date.

All of the clouds layers look to be beneath 20,000 ft, so this being Australia I think we can rule out a contrail unless some weird gas is being exhausted. However in light of the fact that there is moderate haze it's interesting that there's no dissipation of the trail towards the horizon. If this is even real it looks a lot like a windblown hair (defocused at short range) to me.

The identity and credibility of the photographer, I hate to say, is going to be a key question.

Originally posted by Tim Vasquez
All of the clouds layers look to be beneath 20,000 ft, so this being Australia I think we can rule out a contrail unless some weird gas is being exhausted. However in light of the fact that there is moderate haze it's interesting that there's no dissipation of the trail towards the horizon. If this is even real it looks a lot like a windblown hair (defocused at short range) to me.

Great theory Tim and I would say that's the best one I've seen yet.

However, I'm wondering how breezy it might have been. Looking at the ripples in the water, it doesn't indicate much, if any breeze. Now the ripples I do see arc away from the camera position sort of.

I guess we would have to have one of the ladies out there try to recreate this...however if the hair was in motion at the time I would guess that the tip of the hair was vibrating in the wind giving it that odd position near the water.

What about the small boat out there on the right...what was he doing/thinking? Or was the boat anchored there? It would be interesting to interview that person.
I believe the photograhper is credible and has given his word that the photo has not been digitally edited. I guess we can only go by his word.. He has, however, submitted several other pictures to the picture of the day NASA website where I pulled this from.
Well, the thing that shoots down the hair theory is that the line is perfectly straight. A hair should have a little bit of curvature.

On the other hand it looks fairly definite that because of the haze, the object is either within a few miles or is an optic/electronic artifact.

Do digital cameras do a raster scan of the imaging chip? If that fiery object was strobing somehow, affecting the scene brightness or camera light sensor, then it might produce such an effect if the chip image is not gathered instantaneously.

The best theory I've heard is that it was an insect flying close (and hence out of focus) to the camera.

Examining the exif data, we see the exposure is around 1/19 with an aperature of f/5.6. For some reason, the flash was also enabled and went off.

So here's what possibly happened - an insect was flying across the frame as the exposure began and the flash went off, causing the bright spot, and then the insect continued flying along the same trajectory to the upper left for the remainder of the exposure.

If you take a photoshop difference of the before picture and the image in question, you can get a good idea of what the object in question looks like - and it does resemble a winged insect where the flash illuminates it. The only question is figuring out 1.) how close the object is to the camera and 2.) how fast it is traveling, both of which would be illuminating (pun intended) as to figuring out what the deal is.

What does everyone think?

I also like the contrail explanation a lot, but the clouds are too low as someone dutifully pointed out already...

Also, this couldn't be a lens flare artifact or CCD bleedover from a bright object. CCDs are arranged in horizontal/vertical grids, and so when a very bright object flashes into an exposure the light bleeds over CCD cells vertically, not diagonally. Also, the light bleed makes the exposure brighter, not darker.
I've seen some jet contrail shadows being cast on clouds below them. I imagine that is what it is(only at sunset reflecting/shadowing upward instead. What is that light and smoke? That isn't supposed to be part of the "shot" is it? Anyway it looks like a contrail shadow to me. Though I ain't so sure about that as the sun seems to be setting and I'm having a hard time grasping the image of contrail on the horizon shadowing up like that. Got me. Here is an example of a shadow reflected up. I didn't get any of the contrails being shadowed down.

[Broken External Image]:
At a glance, it personally looks like a faded rainbow at a distance, not allowing the camera to capture all of it's colors properly. Either that or a film flaw...which would definitely be possible with a 35mm, in which case all sorts of stuff could contribute to the anomaly. Same goes for digital, really. I think it's due to the camera and/or film.
At 1/20 of a second that bug had to be moving and magically end at the horizon. Also notice how in the upper left where there are no clouds to reflect upon it's not showing up. It's a shadow before it's a bug imo.
My guess is it's not something produced by nature....the line is perfectly straight and does not show any change in darkness or width.
I think with a bug or camera issue it would have to add some 'coincidence' level that it ends at the horizon and isn't showing up but on the clouds....shadow... :)
Not a camera issue. Not a shadow issue. Just look at the "the big picture" it simply does not look like a shadow. Just thinking of the geometry involved... something to cause a shadow like this is not possible. After reading that thread... there are some completly lost individuals out there. For one, the "shadow" does pass in front of the brighter white cloud.

What we do know:
-The flash did fire
-The "shadow" is between the clouds and the camera
Therefore, it is not a shadow. The darkness is caused by something passing between the cloud and camera leading to a darkness during the 1/20s shutter lapse.

-NOT jpg artifact or camera issue. I've dealt with digital cameras for years... CCDs don't screw up and produce things such as this image.

-"Smoke gas white blurry" area IS in front of the light post. Event probably occurred between dock and camera.

-Digital cameras such as this have LARGE depth of field even at f/5.6 Things in close to lens will show up such as the picture.

I personally like the bug theory.. or some sort of wind blown object like a seed.

Wow, those do look really similar. It's interesting to see those small white puffs (clouds?) that are clearly not just background clouds in the sky, for they're oriented vertically and are right next to the shadow. About how far apart were these pictures taken?
-The \"shadow\" is between the clouds and the camera
Therefore, it is not a shadow.

What does the white cloud and it passing infront of it have to do with calling it not a shadow? Did you see my image? Looks a HELL of alot like the casting in Jr's example if you ask me. What are the odds it's a bug when it looks this much like contrail shadows and it's clearly ending at the horizon? Certainly not a contrail shadow
though, lol.
I'll put in a vote for a bug as well. While there are some striking similarities to the contrail shadow effect - the biggest flaw with this is that the feature is purely transient (only there for one frame). See here:

Contrails would seem unlikely to appear and disappear that fast - and fails to explain the apparent flash and smoke effect. Since it was pointed out by Zach that the flash was used - I really like the bug theory, it even looks like a bug imo.

So, if it is a bug, then why the shadow? The suggestion that it is from the darker bug blocking light, this seems unlikely since the shadow width is constant - so the bug would have to be flying perpindicular and at constant range, speed (and pretty fast at that) and direction ... but not only is that too stringent, the bug, if in fact shown in the image above, is not oriented such tht it would likely be on this flight plane. I'd be very interested to know if there is a pane of glass between the camera and the scene - like this is set up in someone's office window somewhere looking outside. Then, if a bug was captured in the foreground of the scene, illuminated by the flash, then the shadow could come from differential lighting effects on the window pane.

For one, if it was a contrail, why isn't there ANY evidence in the pictures before and after that one... within 2 minutes apart? I know some contrails dissipate quickly, but with the length of the "contrail shadow" there should be some on the other frames. I don't doubt contrails make shadows... I've seen it myself... I just don't believe the geometry (sun position) supports it in this case.

After seeing the contrail shadow pictures, I really want to say that's what it is...but like everyone else...the geometry doesn't add up for me. It looks like the sun is positioned behind the camera (due to how the cu in the upper right is being lit up), so I'm not sure how the angles would work out to cast a shadow like that. The pictures are very very similar, so I'm almost sold except for the splotchy greyness...

Here's a good analysis done in photoshop that hopefully will add some credibility to the bug theory. This is an image that was created by doing the difference of the image in question with either the before or the after picture (doesn't really matter which), then some lines (in red) drawn to see if the line is straight or not (it isn't).

Also, check out this picture to see the types of "trails" flying bugs can leave on exposures...

One more thing...judging from the exif data, it looks like the "before" and "after" pictures have been reversed. The "before" picture has timestamp 2004:11:22 18:53:07 and the "after" picture has timestamp 2004:11:22 18:52:37...
Umm, I guess I should of loaded every image and read more. So now I don't think it'd be a contrail, nor a bug. Anyone load all three? If it's a bug it had to blow the light up. I loaded all three onto one image and turn the layers on and off and it looks like a time sequence for sure and shows the light going pop with it. Someone shot a light out?

The light pole near the flash has been inspected and does not show any damage

Umm, oookk.

I know what it is. It's someone wasting alot of people's time. The light goes POOF, but no damage? That or a meteorite doinging off the top of the light? I imagine you'd see some sort of damage though.
I can believe the bug flying in front of the camera theory. On a small portion of my May 12 tornado video, there are a series of black "thingys" that zig, zag, streak, and buzz in front of the tornado. The first time I saw this I was mortified; I thought there was a flaw in my source tape. Actually, when I finally watched it with the volume cranked to the max, you can hear the buzzing of what I presume is a fly or flies.

When you freeze the image as the fly is streaking by, it looks somewhat similar to that image's anomoli/artifact.
One must assume whatever it was(given we are assuming all is real here) that the shadow has something to do with the light pole flash and smoke. Certainly a bug has nothing to do with that, no?