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The Urban Astronomer

Near-Earth Astronomy: Iridium Flares

12 May 2009, 06:04 UTC
Near-Earth Astronomy: Iridium Flares
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For quite a while I have been captivated by the sight of the International Space Station (ISS) whenever it is visible in the evening or morning sky. It is a big object, about 100 meters across and highly reflective. In the sky it looks as bright as Venus but it moves as swiftly as an airplane and in a very beautiful arc across the sky. Last week I was introduced to another near-earth satellite, actually a group of satellites known as Iridium Satellites. These are a collection of 66 communications satellites that circle the globe from a higher orbit than the ISS, but nonetheless light up quite brightly when viewed from just the right orientation. When sunlight glints off the antenna panels they create a very bright beam of light known as an "Iridium Flare." I had never taken the time to look for one of these flares so I consulted a website known as Heavens Above (also permanently linked from this blog). There you can enter your location on a Google map and get a listing of the next 7 days of Iridium Flares. I did this and yesterday saw an amazingly bright flare from my front steps.Iridium Flares ...

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