By Marcelo Zurita*
Strange spot in Ver’s ass, Paran. Credits: Vincius Ceccon
What we will tell is a story that shows how scientific thinking can make a difference in people’s daily lives. What for many would provoke a certain fear or haunting vision of a UFO (Unidentified Flying Object), for the young Vincius Ceccon, 17, aroused a purely scientific interest, recording, researching and seeking a surprising explanation for what he had seen.
Vincius Ceccon, student of the Integrated Technical Course of Medium Level in Surveying, from UTFPR, Campus Pato Branco. Source: GEAstro
It all started on the night of June 22, 2020. Vincius was ending a photo shoot of the starry sky of Ver (PR). Around 11:40 pm, he noticed a strange, faint and diffuse spot in the direction of the Corvo constellation. The student, who is a member of GEAstro, an astronomy research and dissemination group linked to the Pato Branco Campus, of the Federal Technological University of Paran, knew that in that region of the sky there was no nebula or galaxy. So, what could be what you saw?
Explaining what he saw would not be an easy task, but Vincius knew the way. And he knew that, first of all, he would need to register what was before his eyes, and he did so. He took the camera, pointed in the direction of the unknown spot, and began to photograph. He made a sequence of photos that were used to make this little timelapse below.
Timelapse of the stain moving in the sky. Credits: Vincius Ceccon
Sequential images showed that the object was moving in the sky against the stars. They would be enough for the explanations of most of his friends and family: “certainly a UFO”. But something that Vincius had already learned in GEAstro and in the Faculty of Surveying course, which should always be questioned and searched for scientific explanations for natural phenomena.
Soon, he sent the images to the other members of GEAstro. Under the guidance of Professor Dr. Tina Andreolla, who coordinates the group, Vincius analyzed the images by identifying the stars and calculating the celestial coordinates for that strange object. With that, he prepared a scientific report with his observations, containing all the information from the register, such as equipment used, schedules, location and object coordinates.
Initially, they believed it to be a comet. Images and the report were sent to several astronomers and institutions in the area, including Bramon (Brazilian Meteor Observation Network). And that was when the mystery started to be solved.
One of the members of Bramon, who also participates in an international group of satellite observers, and believing it to be a rocket plume, forwarded the images and data collected by Vincius to the group’s discussion list. The suspicion was strengthened by the information that that night, China had launched from the Xichang Space Center, about an hour before the observations made in Ver.
The same suspicion was also shared by Sergio Sacanni, who had broadcast this release on the day, and by Luzardo Jnior do Gedal – Londrina Astronomy Study and Dissemination Group, who was, in fact, the first to raise this possibility.
A few hours later, Michael Thompson, an expert in Orbital Dynamics and Astronutics at Purdue University in the United States, responded to the email confirming that it was the Chinese rocket. More specifically, it would be the vent plume of the upper stage of the Long March 3B rocket.
Launch of the Long March 3B rocket from Xichang, China on 6/22/2020. Credits: Xinhua
Ventilation is a common process performed on rockets after fulfilling their mission. In this process, the vehicle’s pressurized fuel is released into space in order to equal the rocket’s internal pressure, preventing future explosions. And since this process is carried out after the rocket engines are turned off, the fuel can be launched in any direction, including in the opposite direction to its movement, as seems to be the case with the records at Paran.
Thompson confirmed the information using the rocket’s orbital parameters measured 4 hours after Vincius’ observations and, according to him, the object moves exactly in the same orbital plane as the rocket, with a difference of only 40 seconds, which is compatible with the loss of energy in the 4 hours between observation and measurement of the orbital parameters of the propellant.
Graph showing the direction of the observations in See and the position of the object. Credits: Michael Thompson
Thus, the flying object registered by Vincius was properly identified. The young man from Paraná gained a fantastic history and an excellent incentive to continue dedicating himself to studies, science and astronomy.
*Marcelo Zurita president of the Associação Paraibana de Astronomia – APA; member of SAB – Sociedade Astronmica Brasileira; technical director of Bramon – Brazilian Meteor Observation Network – and regional coordinator (Northeast) of Asteroid Day Brasil