Not-so-recent Satellite Observations

Winter is definitely the worst time of the year to observe! Many of us are at work or in traffic during the best time to observe, but the total observing time is also less as the sun sets further south than in the summer. Be that as it may, on Dec. 14, 1997 I took a look for Cosmos 2084, object #20663. It was supposed to go almost straight overhead, but at the requisite time I didn't see anything. Binoculars are a viable option for these cases, but I didn't have my binoculars with me.

Suddenly, I saw a very short bright flash, which I thought could even have been a meteor. I followed the imaginary track of the satellite for a minute or so, and then saw it emerge from invisibility as it headed toward the NE. Suddenly I saw another very brief flash, just like the first one. I don't ever recall seeing such short flashes before; If you get a chance, check this one out.

On March 28, 1998 I saw eight satellites, including two sets of three which were visible at the same time! One set of them was in the same binocular field of view. Not bad, considering that I only saw seven satellites total between Christmas and St. Patrick's Day.

On May 24, 1998 the kids and I went out to look for 23907, a bright rocket in a low orbit. My daughter Katherine spotted an extremely bright flash in the other direction. We looked and saw another bright flash near it a few seconds later. A much dimmer and longer flash followed during which we could track the satellite briefly. These flashes were evidently from Iridium 50, which was predicted for that exact track, but no normal antenna flashes were predicted for that time by GSOC. These must have been from some other satellite feature, assuming that the satellite was stable and oriented nominally. We saw a total of nine satellites that night. 23862, 23908, and 23936 were seen in one binocular field of view. 22286 (Cosmos 2228) seemed to be tumbling with about a 20 second period; it was bright for a couple seconds, and then invisible for about 15.

We took our annual vacation to Cape Cod in July (1998). The moon was waning, so we were able to make a few trips to the ocean beach at N. Truro and look for satellites in much darker skies than we have at Bedford. While we were at it, we saw a bunch of meteors, the Milky Way, and various astronomical objects, including the moon rising over the ocean. The whole family went a few times, and I brought some predictions for about the top 60 satellites. Around home, we rarely see much not on this top 60 list, but at the ocean, we can see a lot more. For example, on the first night there, July 12, we saw 15 satellites, of which 10 were on my prediction list. Three of the other ones were identified by checking my more complete list back at home two weeks later.

We made quite a few trips after dark, trudging through the sand down the road to High Head. A few dune-buggy drivers seemed slightly concerned to see us standing by the side of the road with no visible lights. (The August 3 local TV news says that two bodies were found in a car right there, so I guess it's not as safe as we thought!)

We saw a few Iridium flares while we were there; always impressive. The day we got home (July 26), I walked outside and looked for the Mir. I know, big deal. Actually it was about two minutes late, and when it did show up, it made a monster flare of around magnitude -5 (comparing to Iridium flares that I have seen), something that I have never seen before!

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