The Nightshirt Sightings, Portents, Forebodings, Suspicions

Cosmic WTF

A new article in Sky & Telescope magazine reports on a recent discovery of a highly anomalous “optical transient” detected by the Hubble telescope in the constellation Bootes. The object, in the location of no known star or galaxy, appeared and brightened to the 21st magnitude over a span of about 100 days, and then disappeared over the next 100 days. It didn’t behave like any known supernova (which is what the sky survey was looking for), and spectrographic analysis doesn’t match any known type of object. Because they don’t know what the object is, the astronomers can’t even say how distant it is — only that it must be at least 130 light years away because no parallax was observed (which can be used to pinpoint nearer stars). They don’t know if it is (well, was) inside our galaxy or in another galaxy.

The original article is way too technical for me to follow. But I gather that hydrogen is missing from the object’s absorption spectrum. This, according to Robert Zubrin (Entering Space), would be one of the telltale indications of starship exhaust, which could potentially be detectable by our telescopes over very long distances. Could the “optical transient” have been a distant interstellar spacecraft (perhaps propelled by antimatter) accelerating or decelerating? (A number of other exotic suggestions have already been offered by S&T readers.)

If anyone reading this understands spectrography, please enlighten me!


I am a science writer and armchair Fortean based in Washington, DC. Write to me at eric.wargo [at]

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