Astronomy

Iridium Flare Satellite Flare Satellite Glint Iridium Satellite Astronomy Star Gazing Sky



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Iridium Flares: Fascinating Night Sky Viewing

There is such an array of spectacular sights to see in the night sky.  Even without the aid of a telescope it is possible to see some fascinating things if you look in the right place at the right time.  You can pick out stars or planets or constellations or simply stare in wonder at the moon.  Looking for shooting stars can be a favourite too, or simply spotting a satellite passing overhead can be fascinating too.

Unknown to many though, is a spectacular and yet predictable occurrence that is happening on a regular basis in our night sky.  Iridium flares.

A brief burst of intense light, they have disrupted astronomy groups viewing nights, and can occasionally be a real annoyance to professional stargazers and astronomers.  Iridium flares can sometimes be so bright that they can damage sensitive viewing equipment, and are on occasion bright enough to be seen during the day.

What exactly is an Iridium Flare?

An Iridium Flare (sometimes known as a satellite flare or satellite glint) is something that happens when a satellite, typically a communications satellite of a series built by the Iridium Satellite company, reflects sunlight directly to a spot on the earth for a brief moment as it passes over us in its orbit.

These communications satellites have antennae which are large, door-sized, highly polished surfaces.  When they are at the right angle, the flash or glare that these produce when reflecting sunlight can be spectacular to the viewer on Earth.  With many satellites like this in orbit, it’s actually easier than you might imagine to see an Iridium flare.

When and where can I see an Iridium Flare?

Being satellites in predictable orbits, many organisations track their movements across the sky with precision.  It is also possible to predict when the satellites will be in just the right position to reflect light to the Earth.  A website that I personally have come across for detailed timings and directions of these flares is a seven day look ahead at heavensabove.com but I’m sure there are many other astronomy sites out there that will also be able to help.

Once you know when and where to look, the world is your oyster, or perhaps that should be the sky is the limit.  As with any night sky viewing it’s advisable to check weather forecasts too.  You won’t see anything through cloud.  If you want to make the experience even better, it’s best to view the night sky away from the light pollution caused by town street lights and house lights and cars. Somewhere out in the countryside is usually good and dark.  In colder months, make sure you’re wrapped up well too, and if you’re planning on spending any length of time looking upward, I would recommend the use of a garden lounger or such like.  Your neck will thank you in the morning.

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