Iridium Flares

Ever heard of “Iridium Flares”? Me neither, until just recently.

And before you ask, no, it’s not a pair of old fashioned radioactive trousers.

Iridium Flare

Iridium Flare

Here’s the deal. There’s an enormous array of satellites flying around, high above Earth. In particular, I’m talking about the ‘Iridium’ network of communication satellites. Ever seen those clunky looking satellite phones with the big antennae on? Well Iridium satellites in low Earth orbit, just a few hundred miles above us allow those phones to function.

Anyway, there are around 60 or so satellites in their network, with a bunch of others in reserve just in case one of them does something stupid (like crashing into another satellite – whoops). The design of each Iridium satellite features two big solar panels and three highly reflective antennas. You can probably already see where this is going…

Iridium Satellite

An Iridium Satellite

That’s right, as each satellite orbits the Earth, it will occasionally reflect bright sunlight from its antenna panels, causing a flare effect when viewed from a certain spot back on the ground. When the geometry is right, you see a rather brief, shiny phenomenon in the sky – undoubtedly mistaken for UFO sightings all over the world during the last two decades.

It’s actually all pretty logical when you think about it, and maybe it’s just me, but I still think that sounds kinda cool. With a bit of patience and dark enough surroundings, you can spot satellites as they drift over pretty easily, but I’ve never seen any making themselves quite this obvious. Fortunately, the boffins over at Heavens Above have worked out the path of each Iridium satellite and the relative position of the Sun and the Earth. If you pop your location in, you can pretty easily find exactly when and where you need to be standing in order to catch the best glimpse of an Iridium Flare.

They also appear to be pretty common, in fact, there’s one predicted this coming Sunday – very, very close to me indeed. I might just have to go have a looksy. Now if only I could work out which bloomin’ direction I need to be looking…

Comments on: "Iridium Flares" (4)

  1. And if only you knew someone with a telescope and a gadget for identifying the correct location of things in the sky.

    Ah well.

    Seriously what time are we talking here as I’d be up for coming along if you did decide to do anything with this.

  2. Did you see it or way it just as cloudy over your way as it was at mine?

    • Nah, not even a hint of a flare. Way too grey and cloudy. Wouldn’t have helped that it wasn’t totally dark either.

Blogalism - Movie reviews and general geekiness.