Space is both the final frontier and the ultimate mystery. Although from here on Earth, and from our limited ventures off-planet, we have gleaned a large amount of data about the happenings of space even well beyond our solar system, there is much that remains enigmatic and unanswered.
The cosmos still holds some secrets from us, and from time to time something unusual arises that leads us to rethink our old conceptions of celestial mechanics. Among the many eccentricities of the night sky observed by astronomers over the centuries are strange, often hazy, lights that appear where they should not.
Sometimes resembling stars or comets, these objects are separated from more conventional astronomical observations due to their peculiar movements and other atypical behaviors.
There is a long history of such observations, despite a modest number of reports that can be considered genuinely anomalous.
As early as 1612, German astronomer Christopher Scheiner had made numerous observations of Jupiter and its moons. In the sketches of his observations, there is an object beyond the known moons of Jupiter, as recognized today. This object, although included in Scheiner’s drawings, appears to have disappeared throughout the astronomer’s ongoing observations.
According to Scheiner, the object first appeared bright and star-like, just like the other Jovian satellites, but between March 30 and the first weeks of April, the object began to darken and eventually disappeared from view. The object is absent in Scheiner’s later drawings, apparently indicating that the mysterious Jovian ‘moon’ had disappeared.
A similar phenomenon was recorded in the early years of the nineteenth century by astronomer Hofrath Huth, who in 1802 described the sight of a round star that produced “weak reddish light” in the area of Theta and Delta Leonis. The object was not stationary either, and although Huth considered it a ‘moving star’, its path indicated a retrograde motion as opposed to other stars and celestial objects. The object was observed between the first six days of January, whose onset saw the ‘star’ being slightly smaller than Jupiter’s moons. However, on January 6, the strange object disappeared and was no longer seen, except for a single observation the following year by Russian astronomer Cornelius Reissig.
A similar observation of a hazy and unusual object occurred more than three decades later, in May 1835, when Italian astronomer Niccolò Cacciatore observed an unidentified eighth-magnitude star at his observation station in Palermo. He stared at Mayer’s catalog star 503 with a circle of Ramsden (an ancient astronomical instrument designed by mathematician Jesse Ramsden to measure the positions of astronomical objects). On the first night of observation, the new star appeared behind star 503, but the next night seemed to precede it. After that, the mysterious ‘star’ was never detected again.
Most sightings of such objects in the scientific record occurred during or before the nineteenth century, after which most similar objects were classified as probable comets or, in some cases, unusual classes of asteroids, such as the Reinmuth object observed by first time in April 1932.
There have been some notable cases where star-like objects have been seen moving through space most recently. One notable circumstance of this kind involved astronomer Frank Clark, who in September 1956 noticed a starlike object passing near the planet Mars. He was able to briefly trace the object, which had a yellowish color. This sighting is noteworthy because it occurred just over a year before the Soviet Union launched its first orbiting artificial satellite on October 4, 1957, apparently discarding any space objects of artificial origin.
As fleeting as these remarks may have been, their presence in the night sky remains mysterious. “Moving stars” like these serve as reminders that occasionally there are unusual things astronomers see, which, however innocuous, defy simple classification or explanation.