Description of possible new geosynchronous flasher

Robert Sheaffer (
Thu, 20 Feb 1997 20:52:25 -0800

I corresponded with Greg Granville, whose posting to "sci.astro.amateur"
is attached below, with his permission. He believes that they did
not even arrive at their observing site until 8PM EST, so we should
rule out satellites that would have been near the Trapezium before

So, it appears that the most likely Suspect is #21019, Blok-DM2, 
a dead geosynchronous satellite that would have been just north
of the Trapezium at 20:18.

If this supposition is correct, then observers in the northeastern
U.S. might see it flash nightly at approximately that time (01:18 UT).
Here in California, it is not yet dark at that time. 

Because Blok-DM2 is drifting westward at about .84 degrees per day,
that approximates the sidereal rate such that it will line up with
the same stars at the same time daily (i.e., the stars appear to
drift westward one degree per day, if viewed at a particular time).
So it will still be seen near the Trapezium. (IF it flashes!)


        Robert Sheaffer - - Skeptical to the Max!
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From: (Greg Granville)
Newsgroups: sci.astro.amateur
Subject: Flasher ? was Re: Saw a geosynchronous satellite -- but which one?
Date: Mon, 10 Feb 1997 17:34:21 GMT
Organization: Applied Research Lab - PSU

>Last Friday night, January 31, I was at French Camp Mississippi
>observing with friends from the Baton Rouge Astronomical Society and
>SLO from Memphis when I finally got to see something I had long hoped
>to come across.  While looking at the Trapezium in Orion at 450 x with
>my 25" Obsession, somethin drifted across the field of view.  It
>looked like a normal satellite except for two things -- it was moving
>too slowly and it was late at night for a satellite.  I followed the
>object for about 15 minutes with the hand paddle on my drive trying to
>figure out what it could be.  By this time Jim Hill who runs the
>French Camp observatory complex had come over to look.  I realized
>that I might have happened across a geosynchronous satellite.  It is
>much higher above the earth so spends much more time in sulight and
>orbits the earth much more slowly (in angular terms).  


>Neat!  Hope this isn't the last one I see.  Does anyone have or know
>of a program for determining which satellite it was?  The time was
>about 10:15 PM Central Standard Time on January 31, 1997.  Matthew
>Collier with the B.R.A.S. had a GPS box and read out our earthly
>coordinates as N 33d 17m 15.1s   W 89d 23m 05.1s.  The satellite
>passed within 6 or 7 arc minutes north of the trapezium which Megstar
>tells me is at 5h 35m 16s and -5d 23m 22s Epoch 2000.  The magnitude
>was about 12m but this is an estimate from memory and could be off by
>a magnitude or two.

This thread was pointed out to me by a friend, because we saw something very 
interesting last night that we concluded was a geosync satellite of some 
I was also staring at the trapezium last night, with a 6" dob @ approx 50x. 
Out of nowhere I saw this bright flash (about mag 1) - perhaps 20' north of 
the trapezium.My first comment to my friends was - wow! I just saw a gamma 
ray burster :-) Obviuosly, that was kind of silly, but I continued to examine 
the trapezium when a short time later I saw another flash! After a short time 
I saw yet another. By now, my friends were eager to get a look, and within 
a few minutes, all three of us had seen it, both in the 6" and in a pair of 
binoculars. I got the impression that it was moving very slowly to the east, 
and began to suspect a geosync satellite. If this were the case, then perhaps 
the flashes were being caused by a slow rotation of the satellite and sun 
glinting off of it's solar panels or other surface. One of my friends got the 
idea to time the flashes, and after a few measurements, we came up with ~39 
seconds between each flash. We eventually realized that if the object was 
geosyncronus, then we should not have to move the scope to track it. We were 
trying to verify that the object was indeed perfectly stationary when it 
stopped flashing. Perhaps we lost the angle that was allowing us to see the 
solar reflection.
We didn't think to check the exact time that the object flashed in any 
specific location, but it was somewhere around 8PM EST. Our location was 
about 40 deg 44' north, and 77 deg 56' west.
Perhaps this was the same satellite that you saw?