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Iridium Flares

Many people have never heard of  “Iridium Flares” let alone seen one. These momentary flashes in the night sky seem almost mystical. Of course, they are simply sunlight reflecting off the solar panels of Iridium satellites. There are 66 of these now active in low orbit forming the backbone of a system facilitating Sat Phone communications worldwide. The name “Iridium” came from the originally planned 77 satellites’ likeness to the 77 electrons of an iridium atom. Impress your uninitiated friends and family by predicting exactly where and when a “star” will appear and then disappear by entering your location on the excellent Heavens Above website (where you can also find the exact location of other satellites and the International Space Station). Be sure to be as exact as possible when specifying your location as the spot of sunlight reflected down to the Earth only covers about 2 kilometers. As an example, follow this link for the flares over Salt Lake City, Utah for the next week. Look for lower-numbered magnitudes (brightnesses) as the lower the number the brighter the flare. Some of these can be quite bright indeed, –8s and –9s are not uncommon — which you can see through light cloud cover as portrayed in the video above.


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  1. I saw this with Thad before…still inspires me to watch the Heavens…in am looking up ! Ethan Tudor W.

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