(Posted 15 May 2016) Casual sky watchers on the Gold Coast residents have a double astronomical treat tonight (Sunday 15 May 2016). Firstly, you can look up as soon as the sky is dark and spot the planet Jupiter immediately below the Moon. No telescope or binoculars will be required.
The second ‘treat’ is to be in the know to watch what would otherwise be a mysterious flare of light appear in the sky and quickly fade away below the Moon (at 6.28 pm AEST).
What you will observe is what is called an Iridium flare by amateur astronomers. The flare of light (which will be similar in brightness to the planet Jupiter) is caused by sunlight reflecting off one of three highly polished aluminium antenna on the Iridium satellite. More about these satellites can be found here on Wikipedia. Tonight’s flare isn’t particularly bright. The flares can be hundreds of times brighter than the planet Jupiter. 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 (including the Gold Coast, Australia).
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!