Sunday, January 4, 2015

BML Cam1 Jonas Ridge Camera for December 2014

The Brown Mountain Lights Research Team's BML Cam1 sits atop a house on Jonas Ridge and overlooks Brown Mountain 7 miles to the east. It has been running intermittedntly since February 2013 and has recorded over 4,000 hours of night-time images.
Dr. Dan Caton, Professor and Director of Observatories, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, Appalachian State University (Boone, NC) installed and operates the camera as part of an on-going research project. Dr. Caton also installed and operates another research camera (BML Cam2) located at the southern end of Linville Gorge.   The images from both cameras are compiled into nightly videos and posted on YouTube---just search "Brown Mountain Lights Camera 1" (or Camera 2) for the individual nightly videos. Both cameras are modified digital meteor-hunting cameras with low-light sensitive CCD sensors.

To date, numerous lights have been recorded by Cam1, including: town/city/rural lights in the valleys beyond Brown Mountain, fireworks, communication tower lights, airplanes and helicopters, highway-vehicle lights, off-highway-vehicle lights, stadium lights, back-country user lights, and brush/forest fires.   Natural lights captured by the camera include stars, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, the Moon, meteors, lightning and fireflies.  Disappointingly, Cam1 has yet to record any support for mysterious or unknown lights in the Brown Mountain area.

BML Cam1 recorded 336 hours of nocturnal observation time on 29 seperate nights during December 2014, resulting in 38,569 individual 30-second time-exposure images. This brings the totals over the past 23 months since start up in Feb 2013 to 4,002 hours of nocturnal observation time on 440 seperate nights resulting in 437,273 individual time-exposure images. Each of these images has been examined in detail by members of our research team.

No abnormal, unusual or unexplained nocturnal lights were recorded by BML Cam1 during December 2014. However, the usual distant city/town/rural lights, airplane lights, and Lenoir's Christmas Star atop Hibriten Mtn were visible this month.  In addition staged hiker lights atop Brown Mountain were visible on Dec 11, while a probable hunter's camp was visible on Dec 4, MedEvac helicopters were visible on Dec 13 & 18, and probable ATV lights were visible on Dec 31.  During the staged hiker light test on Dec 11, an airplane was seen flying very low over Brown Mountain and it's lights were captured by BML Cam1.

The following images are selected to show some significant features visible during December 2014. Note that the camera position does not change during this sequence of images. Blurry or out-of-focus distant lights are caused by: 1) over-saturation of the super-sensitive CCD sensor; 2) movemnt of the lights; &/or 3) rising heat currents that distort the incoming light waves during the time exposures.  Bright lights with light rays extending above & below are also due to the CCD sensor.
Dec 11, 2014  Staged hiker lights on Brown Mountain
Dec 11, 2014  Unknown low-flying airplane passes over hiker during staged light test
 Dec 31, 2014  Lights of two southbound ATVs on Brown Mountain
Dec 13, 2014  MedEvac helicopter northbound over Brown Mountain heading for Lenoir

Dec 13, 2014  MedEvac helicopter leaves Lenoir and flys southbound over Brown Mountain

Friday, January 2, 2015

Numerous ATV Lights on Brown Mountain December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve ATV ride captured by our BML Cam1 overlooking Brown Mountain!

The following image shows the lights of two seperate ATVs on Trail #2 atop Brown Mountain between 8:31 pm and 9:02 pm on December 31, 2014.  The ATVs traveled southward (left-to-right) on the rugged one-way trail and stayed fairly close together during the trip.

Two ATVs traveling together on Trail # 2 atop Brown Mountain

The convoluted trace of Trail # 2 is apparent from the line of lights.  Only about 1 mile of Trail # 2 is visible within the field of view of this photo.  Compare this image with earlier posts of similar ATV lights visible along the trail on Aug 16, 2014 & my handheld spotlight as I hiked the trail on Dec 11, 2014.

ATV Trail # 2 is part of the US Forest Service's Brown Mountain Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area (34 miles of maintained ATV trails atop Brown Mountain).  The Recreation Area is open to ATVs from mid-March until Jan 1 each year; thus these were perhaps the last ATVs on the mountian until spring time.  This was not a staged light test and the riders are unknown.

Our BML research team has conducted numerous light tests on Brown Mountain over the past two years and has established that back-country user lights are readily visible at night.  Lights such as these are probably frequently misinterpreted as mystery lights by uninformed and unprepared observers viewing from the popular observation sites like the NC Hwy 181 Overlook and Wiseman's View.

Monday, December 29, 2014

More strange Lights above Brown Mountain Dec 13, 2014

Once again, our BMl Cam 1 camera overlooking Brown Mountain has captured a MedEvac helicopter flying north over the mountain, landing at the Caldwell Memorial Hospital in Lenoir, and then taking off 30 minutes later and flying back south over the mountain.

In this 4-minute sequence, the helicopter is inbound (right-to-left) with it's bright landing light burning. 

The helicopter leaves the heliport at the Caldwell Memorial Hospital in downtown Lenoir 30 minutes later with it's bright landing light burning, but soon turns it off. 
Notice the fainter blinking navigation lights as the helicopter flies south (left-to-right) over Brown Mountain.
Once again, BML Cam 1 has captured unusual and unexpected yet normal manmade lights over Brown Mountain.  Actually such MedEvac helicopter flights have been captured by the camera several times this year (see previous post).

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Strange Lights above Brown Mountain July 4-5, 2014

Low-flying MedEvac helicopters have been seen flying at night above Brown Mountain on several occassions this year.  On the night of July 4, 2014, one was captured landing and then taking off by our BML Cam1.  The helicopter flew south-to-north (right-to-left) above Brown Mountain landing at the Caldwell Memorial Hospital in Lenoir at 11:38 pm on the 4th.  The helicopter left Lenoir approximately 36 minutes later at 12:14 am on the morning of the 5th and flew southward (left-to-right) over Brown Mountain.  For those wondering---yes there is a Heliport at the Caldwell Hospital in downtown Lenoir.

Such low-flying aircraft above Brown Mountain demostrate that unexpected manmade lights do occassionally occur in the area and can lead to misidentifications by uninformed or unprepared observers.

Forest Service Rd 4099 Staged Light Test Apr 9, 2014

A member of our BML research team conducted an unannounced staged light test on the night of April 9, 2014.  His motorcycle lights on Forest Service Rd 4099 along Little Chestnut Mtn Ridge were captured by our BML Cam1 during his out and back round trip.  In addition, Mike's 135-lumen headlight was also visible as he hiked the short trail to the summit of Wildcat Knob.  The following image is a composite stack of 15 separate 30-second time-exposure images taken by BML Cam1 during Mike's ride and hike.  Although the team was not aware of Mike's planned light test, as soon as we saw that night's online video, we correctly guessed that the lights were produced by a motorcycle on road 4099.  This unannounced light test helped establish the actual path of FS Rd 4099 and showed the team's quickly growing expertise in understanding lights observed in the area.

Chestnut Mtn Staged Light Test Nov 4, 2013

This image is a stacked composite of 3 seperate time-exposure images of our Nov 4, 2013 staged light test on Forest Service Rd 198.  Brown Mountain itself lies just beyond the right edge of the image.  The lights are approximately 2.3 miles east of the camera, which was set up at the  Brown Mountain Overlook on NC Hwy 181.  Althought normally gated, FS Rd 198 is temporarily opened during the fall hunting season every year giving hunters and our BML Research Team access to the area of Chestnut Mtn.  As planned, the road was driven on the night of Nov 4, 2013 by one of our team members while I manned the camera.  Such distant lights are occasionally seen and misinterpreted as mysterious BMLs by uninformed and unprepared observers at the Hwy 181 Overlook.  Light tests like this one help demostrate that unexpected manmade lights do occur in the area and that they can be impossible to distinguish from non-manmade lights by most observers.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

31 Lights on Brown Mountain 16Aug14

A probable ATV rider was captured traveling south on Trail # 2 on Brown Mountain on the night of August 16, 2014.  Although leaves were still on the trees at the time, the light was readily visible at many points along the trail.  This is one of the maintained ATV Trails as part of the US Forest Service Brown Mountain Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area (34 miles of trails atop Brown Mountain).  The image was created by stacking 31 seperate 30-second time exposure images taken by our BML Cam1.  The trace of the lights matches the convoluted path of ATV Trail # 2 as shown on the Forest Service map of the recreation area.  The lights in this image also closely match my lights as I hiked the same trail on December 11, 2014 (see earlier post).  The compiled image below shows 36 minutes as the probable ATV traveled south on the trail and 21 minutes as the ATV sat at Bear Rocks with it's headlight pointed toward BML Cam1. 

July 4th Fireworks over Brown Mountain

This composite image clearly shows July 4th sky-rocket fireworks in the valley east of Brown Mountain.  The fireworks were captured by our BMl Cam1 which sits atop a house on Jonas Ridge and looks southeast toward Brown Mountain.  The image was compiled by stacking 4 seperate 30-second time exposure images together.  A MedEvac helicopter on it's way to the Caldwell Memorial Hospital in downtown Lenoir was also captured, first withfaint navigation lights on, then with it's bright landing light burning.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

12 Lights on Pinch-In Trail in Linville Gorge August 13, 2014

This time-lapse photo shows 12 staged hiker lights on the Pinch-In Trail on the west side of Linville Gorge.  The lights were captured by our BML Cam2 camera which sits at a house near the lower end of the gorge.  BML Research Team members Dr. Cato Holler, Chris Holler, & I hiked the trail with 520- and 320-lumen handheld spotlights.  Recent forest fires have created open vistas along the middle portion of the trail where our lights are visible, while dense trees blocked our lights on the upper- and-lower-most parts of the trail.

 12 Staged Hiker Lights on Pinch-In Trail

520-lumen Handheld Spotlight (6" X 6" w/ 2" dia lens)

24 Lights on Shortoff Mtn 14Jul14

This time-lapse photo shows 24 individual staged lights on Shortoff Mtn on the night of July 14, 2014 captured by our BML Cam2 camera which sits at a private residence near the south end of Linville Gorge.  The camera points up the gorge and is 2.5 to 3.0 miles southwest of Shortoff Mtn.  The photo records my round-trip night hike to the summit of Shortoff Mtn with my 520-lumen handheld spotlight.  The cluster of lights at the right end of the line of lights marks the switchbacks on the Wolf Pit Trail.  Forest fires in recent years have created open views along the trail above the switchbacks, while dense woods below the swithbacks block all lights.

Staged Hiker Lights along the Wolf Pit and Mtn-to-Sea Trails on Shortoff Mtn

520-lumen Rechargable Handheld Spotlight (6" X 6" w/ 2: lens)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dangerously Low Flying Airplane over Brown Mountain 11Dec14

During my staged light test hike on Brown Mountain on the night of December 11, 2014, I was shocked to witness a dangerously low-flying twin-engine airplane only about 100 feet off the ground!

Low-Flying Airpalne over Brown Mountain on Dec 11, 2014

It's not easy to get to Lael's Rock (my name)---I had to bushwhack about 20 minutes from Trail #2
through very dense brush on a steep rocky slope to reach the site of what I suspect is Ralph Lael's 1962 encounter with mysterious lights that he interpreted to be aliens.  The large bare rock exposure is clearly visible in the daytime and on moon-lit nights when the monlight reflects off the wet rocks.  Just 3 minutes after I arrived at the rock, and just moments before the end of twilight, a very loud twin-engine airplane about 100 feet off the ground flew overhead!  The plane actually came over the top of BM and stayed at the same 100 feet or so elevation above the ground as it descended into Holly Springs valley, then banked hard to the north as it followed Upper Creek east of Ripshin Ridge.  The plane did not have sufficient altidute to clear Ripshin Ridge so it was forced to make that sharp left turn.

Why the airplane was flying so dangerously low just moments before total darkness is unknown.  Had I not been on Lael's Rock at the exact moment the plane flew overhead and witnessed the event, we would have been hard pressed to explain the light streak.  And had Cam1 not have been purposefully started about 45 minutes early that evening in order to capture my light before nightfall, Cam1 would not have captured the lights of the airplane in the first place---in other words, we almost missed this strang light!  In the 2 years Cam1 has been operating, we've never seem such a low-flying plane.  Just goes to show that strange manmade lights do occur unexpectedly on BM!!

16 Lights on Brown Mountain Dec 11, 2014

The night of December 11, 2014 was cold and clear----perfect for a night hike and some staged light tests on Brown Mountain!  I hit the trail about dark, visited several known bare rock exposures with open views toward our BML Cam1, and hiked a 4-mile loop atop the mountain.  My light was a 520-lumen re-chargeable handheld spotlight that I've used on previous light tests.  The following image is a composite stack of 16 individual 30-second time exposure images taken at various times during the 4.5 hour hike by Cam1, which lies atop a house on Jonas Ridge 7 miles west of Brown Mountain.  This is the same image, with the same field of view, seen in all Cam1 images this year; i.e., the camera has not changed position all year.

16 Lights on Brown Mountain December 11, 2014

520-lumen rechargeable handheld spotlight used for Dec 11, 2014 Light Tests
Light from my handheld spotlight was captured at 16 different places on Brown Mountain by BML Cam1---these are the 16 spots of light on the mountain visible on the composite time-exposure image above.  With the leaves now off the trees, I was able to see the distant Jonas Ridge House lights where Cam1 is located at numerous places along the various trails I hiked that night.  Sure enough, Cam1 caught my spotlight at many places along the trails.  During the same hike back in August when the leaves were still on the trees, my light was only visible at Bear Rocks and along FS Rd 4099 with open views toward Cam1.  The birght lights at Lael's Rock and Bear Rocks seen in the image above are the same 520-lumen spotlight pointed directly toward Cam1 for a full 30-second time exposure.