Monday, 8 August 2005

Needle in a haystack

If you had to go and look for a needle in a haystack, shifting through piles of hay to find the needle you'd probably give up. However, if you were told precisely where to look and went out and picked up that needle without much effort than there may well be a great sense of triumph. Out of all that hay you found the needle.

It was like that the other night. We simply plugged our co-ordinates into Heavens Above* and then it gave us a list of all the satellites that will appear near us over the next week and their level of brightness and where to look in the sky. If we had been in the right part of the world then we might have had the Space Shuttle to see, or the International Space Station.

We opted for an Iridium flare which is a great flash of light from one of the many Iridium satellites encircling the earth. With just a few minutes to spare at the allocated hour, we went outside and looked up into the night sky. An open expanse of sky with stars twinkling. At the allotted minute a bright light began to appear far in the sky, moving on its path, it became brighter and brighter, the intensity was breath taking until it was like a magnificent crescendo of light from far away. In a reverse process it began to fade, and like a shooting star, continued on its journey.

The whole thing lasted seconds, it was just a bright flash of light, but the fact we could easily go and find this needle in the haystack was amazing. It made me think of all the equipment and junk we have up in space, going round and round and we just don't realise. The magnificence of realising that some aspect of this stuff was visible to the naked eye is awe inspiring.

The flare happens as the sun (round the other side of the earth) reflects on the satellite's panels. That's all! It was an incredible experience and I look forward to seeing another.

Look at these Googled images of an Iridium Flare.

* Heavens Above - On this page, click on "Select your location from our huge database" or use your co-ordinates. Go for an Iridium flare of a bright rating for your first view. For example, Gudmundrå, Sweden there is a rating of -8 -8 on 14 August at 23:55:52 hours looking West South West and an Alt. of 47º (The horizon is 0º and straight up is 90º so 47º is about midway up in the sky.) Just before midnight is at least a sociable hour, and of course it has to be a clear sky and it helps if you do not have too many city lights. So it is a bit hit and miss on the actual night.

It has just been announced that the landing of the Shuttle has been delayed for 24 hours due to slightly adverse weather.

Original Comments:

Cheryl said...

Thanks for that, I am going to try and do that for my ten yr old now, during the holidays.

Monday, August 08, 2005 3:02:00 PM

jane said...

that is amazing!

Monday, August 08, 2005 8:13:00 PM

Neutron said...

Well done! I will have to try that out when I am in Liverpool at the end of August...if we get a clear sky!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005 9:40:00 AM

Ghone said...

Cool post! Thanks for sharing.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005 11:54:00 PM

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