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One summer evening in the early 1990s (i do not recall the exact month or year), my wife and i were in our back yard just after sunset, lying on chaise lounges and waiting to see how soon we could see the first star in the waning light. this was in erdenheim, pa, a residential suburb just north of philadelphia. to aid in our quest, i had with me a pair of 14×70 astronomical binoculars that i had often used to explore the night sky as an amateur astronomer. the sky was clear and the evening was windless and quiet. while scanning the sky near the zenith, and before any stars became visible, i noticed a tiny dark shape directly overhead, silhouetted against the fading sky. it was semicircular in shape (like a half moon), did not reflect any glint of sunlight despite its apparent great altitude (seemingly high enough to have been still in direct sunlight), and did not exhibit any lights or contrail. there was no sound. as i watched it for a minute or so, i observed that it was moving very slowly southward, in the direction of its curved end. i told my wife what i was seeing and handed the binoculars to her; she had no difficulty finding and tracking it. for the next 10-15 minutes, we continued to pass the binoculars back and forth, watching it. as we watched, it maintained its slow speed in a curving path of constant radius that eventually completed a 90-degree left-hand turn toward the east. it rotated as it flew, such that its curved end was always pointing in the direction of its motion. without nearby reference points, it was difficult to estimate its size, altitude, or speed with any precision. however, assuming it to be of a similar size as conventional aircraft, it was much higher than any commercial airliner, and moving much too slowly to have been sustained aloft by conventional aerodynamic lift. my estimate at the time was that it was well above 40,000 feet and moving less than 50 mph. although distinctly visible as a dark shape at 14x magnification (though with no structural details visible), it was too high to see at all with the unaided eye. after 10-15 minutes, we stopped watching it and turned our attention back to stars that were finally beginning to emerge; it had become increasingly hard to track the object in the darkening sky and its slow consistent flight had become tedious to watch. it was not an unpowered balloon, because of its curved flight path and its shape (squared off at the back and moving in the direction of its short axis). it was not a helicopter, because it was much too high and silent, as well as lacking navigation lights and having the wrong shape for any helicopter. it was not a bird, because there was never any flapping of wings and, again, the shape was wrong for a bird, with no visible head, neck, or tail. it was not a conventional aircraft, because of its extremely slow speed and the lack of any navigation lights, as well as the lack of any sound or contrail. it was not a dirigible, because of its shape and the fact of its motion in the direction of its short axis; also, propeller-driven dirigibles do not cruise in the stratosphere. we assumed it might have been some classified experimental aircraft, especially given our proximity to the willow grove naval air station, and therefore gave it no further thought – although i did always wonder whether experimental aircraft (even those flying well above commercial air lanes) were required to display navigational lights, especially after dark.
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