A strange streak of light across the sky Saturday night erupted a flurry of speculation on a local Durango social media site, with theories of a meteor showers, military rocket testing and a possible Environmental Protection Agency conspiracy.
“That was no comet,” Jola Schraub posted on Durango Says What? around 8 p.m. “It moved super slowly and it lit up the sky in a circular fashion. And long after it was gone (moved further west), the light stayed. What the heck was that???”
Another member said her 10-year-old daughter pointed out the light in the sky, thinking it was a comet.
“I told her I don’t know what it is,” Melissa Parker wrote.
And one Durango resident was more suspicious of foul play now that a federal agency has upped its presence since the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine blowout.
“As long as the EPA is working in the Durango area. …,” mused William Torbett.
It’s unclear what Durango residents were witnessing Saturday night, as there are several reasonings that could explain the mysterious sighting.
One is the fact the Taurid meteor shower was at its peak. The annual fall event brings Earth through a comet’s debris field, and as the dust hits the atmosphere, it produces cosmic fireballs, which can light up the entire sky before burning out. Many reported the flare changed colors from white to blue to red, typical of the phenomenon.
“Meteors can be different colors depending on what elements are in the debris that’s coming down,” said Charlie Hakes, an assistant professor of physics and engineering at Fort Lewis College, and director of the Fort Lewis Observatory.
AccuWeather reported that 2015 is a “notable swarm year, when this shower really impresses,” because it coincides with the new moon, which will limit the amount of light pollution.
However, also on Saturday night, a Navy submarine launched a missile test fire off the coast of California, which dazzled and confused sky gazers as far as Nevada and Arizona, some news outlets reported. Witnesses said that beam started gold and small, and burst into a blue flame before it burned out.
“Usually if something’s big enough to report, it’s not just a meteor shower,” said Dave Miller, owner of Durango Skies. “If people saw it in Arizona, there’s a good a possibility you could see it in Durango.”
The lack of information on the rocket testing caused an uproar of speculation and panicked thousands, with calls going to law-enforcement agencies throughout the Southwest. Not long after the radiant beam lit up the night sky, a hashtag, #UFO, began trending all over social media, with people wondering if Saturday night was the night we learned we are not alone in this universe.
Durango was not immune.
“It’s obviously aliens and the government is covering it up as a missile launch,” Durango resident Bailey Corry posted on Facebook.
“Conspiracy!!!!!” added Durangoan Brian Erickson.
Hakes had a speculation of his own. Around 8 p.m., he was on the FLC rim and saw what he thought to be a helicopter with its spotlight filtered through a haze of fog or smoke, looking for something on the ground. “It was strange,” he said.
Hakes said he fields questions of unknown sightings in the West’s celestial night sky often. The trouble is everyone’s description is different, and that can make it hard to pin down what was actually seen.
“But usually there’s some explanation for most things,” he said.
Durango Fire Protection District and Durango Police Department said there were no helicopter-related emergencies Saturday night. The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office also said it was unaware of any UFO reports.