It was a normal night, out under the stars at Gundaroo.
Ari Rex was running one of his usual astrophotography workshops on Friday (14 July), training several clients in the art of capturing the night sky on camera.
At about 8 pm, something peculiar caught the group’s attention. Ari describes it as “an elliptical white object flying towards us”. The object moved west to east for about 10 minutes before disappearing from sight.
As a photographer of Canberra’s skies for more than 10 years, and with many prestigious awards and events under his belt, Ari has encountered plenty of “intriguing phenomena” during his regular astrophotography sessions. But this one was different.
“It didn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Ari had been closely following recent hearings in the US, where a former military intelligence officer claimed Congress had been kept in the dark about “unidentified anomalous phenomena”, known as UAP or “unidentified flying object” (UFO).
In a social media post on 29 July, Ari described the white-ish smear as a UFO, in the hope others might have ideas.
Some commenters compared it to a reflection of sunlight high in the atmosphere or a cloud in the shape of a Tic Tac, liquorice, or even a tampon.
The experts were in disagreement over whether or not it might have been the plume from the rocket Chandrayaan-3, launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) that day and destined for the Moon.
“It would not be the plume from the Chandrayaan-3 mission, as that happened earlier (as people saw), and by this time, it was not over our location,” Dr Brad Tucker from the Australian National University (ANU) wrote.
“It is not astronomical – i.e. something in space. It looks more atmospheric, especially given it seems to be in that thin, light band of clouds.”
Another from Gilmore Space Technologies in Queensland said: “It is far too close timing-wise to not be Chandrayaan”.
“What are the odds of something else entirely, appearing exactly like a rocket blowdown, within half an hour of a sighting confirmed by hundreds of people?”
Since then, Ari has become “99.99 per cent sure” it was, in fact, the “IFO”, or Indian Flying Object.
“After conducting a thorough investigation into the UFO I shared earlier this week I have determined that the mysterious object is actually the fumes from the Chandrayaan-3 rocket launched by India to explore the Moon,” he says.
“Congratulations to ISRO for the successful launch, and let’s keep our fingers crossed for a smooth touchdown in approximately three weeks.”
Mystery solved. Probably.