(Update 17 May 2016) To my surprise, there was a second Iridium flare. I rechecked the Heavens-Above.com website and discovered there was a ‘fainter’ Iridium flare predicted that I had not noticed. The brighter flare was from the Iridium 54 satellite and reached magnitude -7.4. The second flare eight seconds later reached ‘only’ magnitude -2.8 (still very bright!) and came from sunlight bouncing off one of the antennas of the Iridium 90 satellite. The telescope in the image is positioned to block the glare of the Moon.
(Posted 15 May 2016) If you live in Southern Canberra, pencil in this Tuesday night (17 May 2016) to step outside to see a dazzling sky show. Firstly, you can look up as soon as the sky is dark and spot three planets without need for any sort of optical aid. Jupiter will be the brightest star to the left of and above the Moon. Mars (only a few days from it’s dazzling opposition) and fainter Saturn will be located low above the Eastern horizon to the right of the Moon. Refer to the below finder chart for more information.
The second part of the dazzling light show will happen when a brilliant Iridium flare appears in the sky and quickly fadse away to the left of and below Jupiter (at 6.31 pm AEST). Unfortunately Iridium flares are very location specific. If you are Northern Canberra, this flare will not be visible. Don’t worry however as the flares happen relatively often.
Iridium flares are caused by sunlight reflecting off one of three highly polished aluminium antenna on an Iridium satellite. More about these communication satellites can be found here on Wikipedia. What is fantastic is that the flares are predictable. I obtain my predictions from the highly recommended Heavens-Above.com site. Go here on my site for bookmarks I have made for various Australian locations.
As an aside, the Iridium flares don’t last very long. I would suggest looking a minute beforehand to confirm you are looking in the right location. Blink and you could miss the flare!