re: terminology: flare, alt/az, vulgar

Philip Chien (
Sun, 7 Jun 1998 18:54:59 -0400 (Walter Nissen) said:

>> From: (Philip Chien)
>> Date: Tue Mar 31 06:09:47 1998
>> BTW - since such an authorotative source as "Sky & Telescope" (who some
>> SeeSat subscribers have been reading since before I was born) considers
>> "flare" to be the accurate term for describing the Iridiums rapidly
>> increasing in brightness, hopefully that should end the "flare" vs. "glint"
>> debates.
>> but - of course, I may be a bit biased when considering the validity of
>> that particular authority.  ;-)
>Now there's an amusing idea.  Ha-ha.
>True enough, S&T is a _highly_ meritorious mag, consistently packed with
>bunches of juicy stuff, authored and edited by geniuses.  But nomenclature
>has always been a persistent weakness there.

In this particular case I'll go by "Sky & Telescope"s definition of a
flare, for the reasons amplified by others in this thread.  But like I said
- I'm biased in this case.

> A casual brush thru the
>April issue finds both "micron" and "angstrom unit" used within 6 words of
>one another on page 22.  Both of these units have been deprecated for a
>decade or two or three.  "Miles", "yards" and "inch" all appear within 2
>paragraphs on page 17.  On page 20, we find "light-years".  These units
>also are thoroughly obsolete, though "light-year" retains appeal even
>stripped of its status as a unit.

While these are all 'common' units, they're all still in popular use.  None
is obsolete.  Certainly there are units which are *better* for many
reasons, but all of the above are still in use - by the public, engineers,
and even scientists.  I doubt that the world will stop using them as proper
terms just because Walter Nissen expresses the opinion that he thinks that
they've 'been deprecated', 'throughly obsolete', or 'stripped of its

>that's 6 completely
>different units within just 6 pages for a single fundamental quantity.
>This makes for a sickening, frustrating mess.

and it's a complete mess to have six different satellite tracking programs.
But I do, and each one has it's own advantages and disadvantages.

>So, no, I don't think S&T is any kind of authority on nomenclature.  Even
>if it were, I think we observers, communicators and programers here in
>SeeSat-L have much greater authority, and much greater ability, to thrash
>thru the difficult issues and decide what the various terms mean and which
>should be preferred.

You can decide which terms _you_ want to use.  I doubt that anybody outside
of SeeSat could think that SeeSat has 'greater authority' in defining
observational terms, even in regards to visible satellites.

>For a while, I tried using IRIDFLAR's az/el.

I have always used azimuth to indicate the number of degrees clockwise from
true North, or the relative frame of reference.  Elevation indicates the
number of degrees up, with 90 at zenith.  In the context of "A satellite's
elevation is 63 degrees" it's difficult to comprehend how it could be
confused with anything else.

Altitude is a scalar quantity - the height of an object.  I doubt anybody
would desire the confusion of confusing altitude of an aircraft vs. the
elevation of the same aircraft.  Certainly there's potential for confusing
elevation also, but in common practice altitude is height, elevation is an

>Jay, I haven't heard from you on the common vs vulgar issue.  I'd hate to
>think I've prevailed on the rational issues only to saddle you with
>constant "grating".  That's not a pleasant thought.

I'm sorry, but you are being grating - and IMHO you're also being a bit
vulgar yourself.  Vulgar has the additional interpretation of offensive -
and it does offend me that you're using it when refering to a spacecraft's

As far as I'm concerned the only PROPER name for a spacecraft is the name
on the nameplate which I see before the satellite is launched.  (of course
I only see a small percentage of spacecraft before they're launched, and a
slightly higher percentage as they're launched, but the principle still

I have discussed many spacecraft before their launches on SeeSat,
professionally I write about many spacecraft, and hopefully I'll get to
name one particular upcoming spacecraft.  At this point the NORAD,
USSPACEOM, COSPAR, and International ID don't exist (and there's a bunch of
redundant and archaic names!)

Many spacecraft are renamed when they arrive on orbit, in particular many
Japanese spacecraft, amateur radio spacecraft, and even spacecraft which
are known by letter designations on the ground and numeric designations in
orbit.  In some cases spacecraft are renamed to honor somebody.  These are
certainly _common_ names, but I'd hardly call them vulgar.

I'll certainly admit that common names have much potential for confusion
(e.g. when a spacecraft's named OSCAR are you talking about the amateur
radio satellites or the Navy Transit satellites) but they do identify the
spacecraft in terms of who owns it, the program, and often the purpose.
None of these characteristics exist in the serial number or international

My personal preference is to list all of the names possible whenever
there's any potential for confusion.

Philip Chien, KC4YER
Earth News
world (in)famous writer, science fiction fan, ham radio operator,
all-around nice guy, etc.