- The December 1999 issue of Spaceflight magazine carried
two letters from writers looking for explanations of a curious celestial
phenomenon: a triangle of lights crossing the night sky.
- NOSS/Parcae sightings probably do not account for very
many of the flood of "triangle UFO" sightings. The lights are
dim, are visible only for an hour or so before and move in straight lines
across the sky. Still, the phenomenon underscores the richness of prosaic
visual stimuli out there waiting to mislead naive observers, and so would-be
researchers should do well to rule NOSS out as an explanation before leaping
- Satellites are not just steady points of light --they
can flash and can travel "in formation." They can emit clouds
of fuel or waste water or even sport visible thread-like tethers.
- Letter writer Nick Spall described what he saw from Cornwall
at about 10 PM on August 10, 1999. The triangular-shaped formation moved
from north to south passed the star Altair.
- "With the naked eye the formation appeared as one
object," Spall wrote. However, "through binoculars (7x50) the
group was resolved into three steady pinpoints travelling together in formation."
- A second letter from A.R. Thompson in Surrey echoed the
- "On 4 September 1999 I was sitting in my garden
enjoying the cool of late evening," he wrote, "when I noticed
three satellites apparently moving in a triangular 'formation' ... I have
never witnessed satellites moving in the same direction and maintaining
the same position relative to one another."
- He described the lights as about stellar magnitude 4,
dim but easily seen in a dark, clear sky. Thompson reported he first noticed
them at about 21:59 as they moved downwards into the constellation of Pegasus.
- "The 'triangle' was about 2 degrees by 3 degrees
isosceles. They took between one and two minutes to pass through Pegasus,
- Triangles or triplets?
- The two Englishmen hadn't been alone in being perplexed
by "flying triangles" in the sky, but when the unearthly answer
was eventually found, it promised to also account for many other such reports.
- The November/December 1999 issue of Skyviews, edited
by Canadian amateur astronomy guru Terence Dickinson, contained this amazing
account: "On three consecutive nights during the Starfest star party
in August 1996, a formation of 3 unblinking starlike objects in a flattened
triangular configuration was seen cruising across the star fields by dozens
of observers. Veteran stargazers at the meeting had never seen anything
- Consultations with amateur satellite-watchers soon identified
the sighting as another "NOSS triplet" formation. Computer predictions
based on known orbits showed the man-made space objects had indeed been
passing overhead at the time of the sightings.
- But what kind of explanation was that, really? First
of all, what on earth -- or off earth -- is "NOSS"?
- Three watching eyes
- This space project is so secret that even its official
name remains a topic of debate, so observers dubbed it the "Naval
Ocean Surveillance System," or NOSS.
- The US currently operates three sets of spy satellites,
launched consecutively in 1990, 1991 and 1996. These satellites orbit pole-to-pole
in groups of three at an altitude of 1,100 kilometers, monitoring the position,
speed and direction of all military ships at sea by detecting radio and
radar signals and then triangulating the point of origin..
- The components of the trio orbit separately under Newton's
Laws, and are not technically "in formation." However, their
orbits are planned to crisscross during every circuit, being widest apart
over ocean areas of greatest interest.
- The project's Top Secret name is reportedly "Parcae,"
the Roman name for the three somber, all-seeing goddesses who observe human
activity and determine justice for individuals. If so, perhaps they call
the satellites "Clotho," "Lachesis" and "Atropos"
at the top secret Parcae "mission control center."
- The visible secret
- In the case of the two English observers, Ed Cameron,
an amateur astronomer in central Texas, found the precise answer -- NOSS
satellites flying overhead at the time and same direction as in their reports.
- Spall had seen what Cameron calls "the NOSS 2-3
trio," and Thompson had been observing "the NOSS 2-2 trio."
- Amateur spacewatchers have known about these objects
for a long timer. But there was some debate whether the satellites would
be visible to the naked eye.
- Professor Brian Hunter of Queen's University in Kingston,
Ontario has photographed NOSS 2-2 passing through the constellation Lyra
in late 1997.
- "This pass was seen [with the] naked eye by many
in the Northeastern US," he noted when posting the image to the internet.
- Other eyewitness accounts
- Also online, a Kansas amateur astronomer calling himself
"Stosh" reported the trios "can be seen pretty easily, as
I can attest."
- "Stosh" provided details. "While looking
for meteors on the morning of the '99 Leonids, my 7 year old daughter picked
them out, pointed them to me, and even my old eyes caught them right away,"
he reported. "I'd say they were at least a 4 magnitude. "
- He added that there were several reports of others seeing
them that morning.
- And Daniel Deak of Drummondville, Québec, chimed
in, calling naked-eye NOSS sightings "not speculation but ... fact."
- "I saw the NOSS 2-2 trio with 3 other people last
April when the Moon was in the sky," he noted. "They were at
magnitude 3.5, so very easy to see -- in relatively dark skies."