Greetings, and a short-lived mystery

From: Mal Ninnes (meso@iinet.net.au)
Date: Thu Jan 20 2011 - 23:28:43 UTC

  • Next message: George Roberts: "Re: Greetings, and a short-lived mystery"

    Hi all,
    
    I've been following this list for the last 6 months or so after finding the satobs site during a late night web surfing session.   Imagine how surprised I was to learn that I wasn't the only person who likes watching spy satellites.  :-)  Anyhow it's good to be able to introduce myself after following some of the posts of the regulars over the last few months.
    
    Tonight I observed Lacrosse 5 (10:54 UTC - 11:05 UTC, Jan 20) on a NW-ENE-SE pass, the highest point being 84 degrees altitude.  I need a deck chair, because those overhead passes sure do strain the neck. I never want to look away, either, as that'll no doubt be the point when I miss a flash/flare.  Anyhow, just after Lacrosse 5 passed through the zenith, a flash caught my eye to the NNW at about 30-40 degrees above the horizon. I quickly forgot Lacrosse 5 and focused on this new area, catching another flash and getting a basic idea of the track of this new satellite. I'd seen Iridium flares before, but this looked different (more than one flare).  It was travelling at the same speed as Lacrosse 5, but on a different orbital plane.   (NNW-W-SSE)
    
    I estimated the flashes to be 0.25-0.5 sec in duration, occurring every 4 seconds. One flash was quite bright (probably at least mag -3) in comparison to the others (about 0-1).   First observed NNW at about 30-40 deg (11:00:00 UTC), maximum altitude 60-70 degrees (11:02:00 UTC), then disappearing from the naked eye to the SSW at about 30 degrees altitude (approx 11:03:30 UTC).     I ran inside, keen to figure out what this bird was.  I've stumbled across new satellites before, but after firing up heavens above and looking for satellite tracks to match, I came up empty.   I then resorted to some element sets that I'd loaded into heavensat, and found that Iridium 911 seemed to fit the bill.  I couldn't explain the flashing.... until I looked up 24842 in heavens above, and found the note that it was tumbling.  Mystery solved.   I might have to add this sat to my list of ones to watch.   The constant flashing and somewhat unpredictable magnitude of the flashes was cool.
    
    I also finally got to observe USA 215 for the first time on Fri 31 Dec 2010 (after waiting several weeks), which was great.  It definitely won't be the last time I see it.  Finally, I'm also hoping to acquire some binoculars and possibly some new photo & video equipment soon (keen to see more than the mk 1 eyeball can provide) to generate some more accurate observations.
    
    Anyhow, clear skies for NROL-49, and let's hope that Nanosail-D puts on a good show.
    
    
    Regards,
    
    Mal Ninnes
    Sydney, Australia
    -33.727 +150.919
    
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