I can't quite figure out what exactly is appearing in my photo. I was thinking it could be a reflection but I really don't know. This is the full size image, then a crop at 100%. No Photoshop has been applied at this point, just simple Lightroom adjustments for levels, color, etc.

ISO 100, 23mm, f/6.3, 3.2sec

enter image description here enter image description here

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Are we talking about the apparent christmas lights lights above the top wire, or something else? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Sep 25, 2012 at 12:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Elendil will be right - it's plane what it is. Aye. Well done :-). \$\endgroup\$ Sep 25, 2012 at 13:12
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ nice shot, btw :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – Francesco
    Sep 25, 2012 at 14:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just think of it as an eye spy game. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 25, 2012 at 21:34
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Definitely, it is an aircraft. I have made such shots intentionally and that ir the precise result. The same would happen with a long exposure of a moving car that is using it's turn signals! ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Jahaziel
    Sep 27, 2012 at 17:47

3 Answers 3


Considering the relatively long exposure time, I would say this is an airliner flying over. You can see how the lights flash on alternate wings. The central line is likely some other, steady light on the undercarriage.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah. I thought the exact same thing. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 25, 2012 at 13:08
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ That's actually pretty neat. I'd like to see a longer-focal-length shot doing this on purpose. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Sep 25, 2012 at 14:54
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm - How about these? flickr.com/photos/exxonvaldez/sets/72157606064555806 \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Sep 25, 2012 at 15:07
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ This can also happen with insects in flight nearer the camera. The tin foil hat crowd calls them "rods", and imagines them to be beings from some alternate dimension that can somehow be captured on film (or on a digital sensor) while remaining invisible to the naked eye. A fellow could probably make a buck using only "ruined" outdoor portraits and landscapes, a self-publishing website and some time spent in the weirder forums. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Sep 25, 2012 at 22:30
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Aircraft. Red light = flashing beacon on the belly, White strobe light at the top. The long line is probably the lights at the wingtip (red at the port [left] side, green at the starboard [right] side), but could also be the landing lights (must be on below 10000 feet). \$\endgroup\$
    – some
    Sep 25, 2012 at 23:31

It is an aircraft with the green and red navigation lights on the wings blinking alternately for takeoff or landing. When large commercial planes are at cruising altitudes they normally have a single, very bright strobe that blinks on the underside of the plane. The other navigation lights like those on the wing and tail stay on. This can be seen in the lower left of the photo below taken during December's Geminid meteor shower. The line on the right is not a meteor either. The satellite's orbit is consistent with CZ-2D, a rocket booster launched 11/20/2011 from the Peoples Republic of China. It is a spent rocket booster and is probably tumbling, which explains the variation in brightness. Photo was taken 12/14/12 at 05:17CST. Ursa Major (The Big Dipper) is just to the left of the satellite's trail. (If you right click the image and select "view image" the darker back ground makes seeing it easier, then left clicking the image will display it at full resolution)

Plane and satellite

Exposure was 30 seconds at f/4 and ISO 1000. 17mm focal length on a full frame body (5,616 x 3,744 cropped to 3,968 X 2,645, then reduced to 1,536 X 1,024 for web viewing) The plane was visible the entire time the shutter was open, while the tumbling satellite appeared, brightened, and then dimmed out of view during about a 10-15 second span during the exposure.

The picture below is also a satellite passing overhead. Much dimmer, but at constant brightness, than the first and moving slower in a higher orbit. It matches the orbit of one launched from the Soviet Union on 12/14/1982! It was named Meteor 2-9. Isn't that just two weird coincidences? (I caught it during a meteor shower on the 30th anniversary of its launch!) Photo was taken 12/14/12 at 04:35CST pointed at the constellation Leo Minor.To the eye it was brighter compared to the stars. During the 30 second exposure it was moving from left to right so the light it reflected from the Sun (just below the eastern horizon) was spread out along the path it followed during that time.

dim satellite

Exposure was 29 seconds at f/4, ISO 1000. 17mm focal length on a full frame body. (5,616 x 3,744 cropped to 1,282 x 1,282)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I just discovered the right click->view image only works if you are using the Firefox browser. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Feb 3, 2013 at 7:07

If it didn't have colored lights, I would have said it was a satellite in low earth orbit. Those types of things can be tracked via websites such as n2yo. It's probably just an aircraft, as suggested by somebody else.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Huh wouldn't that be something. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 25, 2012 at 21:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.