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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Iridium Flares and other fun things in the sky…..

Several of you either commented on the blog about my last post relating to the stars or you sent me emails.  So I want to share a great resource with you from the web.  Check out http://www.heavens-above.com/ .   This site is full of information about man made objects and naturally occurring  astronomical items.

You can find the expected sightings of the international space station, many other satellites, constellations, etc.  Of special interest are Iridium Flares. 

Iridium Flares are extremely bright lights that will appear in the sky for anywhere from 4 to 10 seconds and then are totally gone.  You have to have a good clear sky to see them.  You can see the schedule for them on that web site.  Just plug in your location and check out the schedule.  Brightness is measured from about a +6 to a –6.  The farther negative you go, the brighter the object.

If you see a flare scheduled in your area, make sure to watch for it.  If you are outside looking up, people will begin to ask what are you looking for.  You can tell them you are looking for a flare and if you time it right, you can really impress them.

In case you are wondering, Iridium flares are actually the set of Iridium satellites (used for sat phones among other things).  These satellites have extremely large solar panels that if the angle is just right, will reflect a large amount of sunlight to a narrow path on earth.  If you are in that path, you see what looks like a flare.

Some math guru figured out the formula for computing the orbit of the various Iridium satellites, the angle of their orbit to the position of the sun at any given day and time and where that reflection would hit the earth.  That formula is used then to make the predictions on the web page which I have found to be very accurate.

Enjoy the web site and happy star gazing!

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