Unusually-bright satellite flare forecast on Sunday

2018/03/10 14:30:24 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
File photo

File photo

Taipei, March 10 (CNA) People in Taoyuan City, northern Taiwan could see unusually-bright flashes of light from the Iridium communications satellite on Sunday evening, according to the Taipei Astronomical Museum.

The glint, which will only last a few seconds around 6:31 p.m., is caused by sunlight reflected on the polished door-sized antennas of the Iridium constellation, said museum researcher Wu Tien-yen (吳典諺) on Saturday.

"We would like to give the public a heads-up so the phenomenon is not taken as a UFO," Wu said.


(Forecast in motion. Video courtesy of the Taipei Astronomical Museum)

The Iridium constellation, which comprises 66 active telecommunication satellites in low Earth orbit, are known to cause the brightest flare of all orbiting satellites. However, it is rare for Taiwan to see one with such a high level of brightness because it requires the right track and angle for the satellite.

Weather permitting, the glint could have an apparent magnitude of -8.1, which means it will be 500 times brighter than Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.

The magnitude measures the brightness of a celestial body as seen by an observer on Earth and falls in value the brighter an object becomes.

The flare will be visible to the naked eye if one looks up about 50 degrees to the south, Wu said.

The Iridium satellite constellation, which is owned by Iridium Communications, provides voice and data coverage to satellite phones and pagers over the Earth's entire surface.

The original concept for the constellation was to have 77 satellites, which is where the name Iridium comes from because it is the element with the atomic number 77.

The number of the satellites was later reduced to 66 to be good enough for the coverage.

(By Lee Hsin-Yin)
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