Iridium Flares

By Malerbo, Dan | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), August 14, 2014 | Go to article overview

Iridium Flares


Malerbo, Dan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Iridium flares are spectacular bright reflections of sunlight from satellites in low-Earth orbit. Out of nowhere, a bright light will appear and grow brighter then become invisible to the naked eye. Flares can last between five and 20 seconds and be as much as 20 times brighter than Venus, the brightest planet. Some flares have even been observed during the daylight, which is very unusual for reflective glares from satellites.

Iridium is the name of a telecommunications company that used a group of small satellites to provide a mobile telephone system anywhere on Earth's surface. The satellites have no association with the element Iridium beyond the name. Originally, the service was aimed at a broad audience, including international business travelers. However, the phone service was too expensive and unreliable to compete with cellular systems. The company went bankrupt in 1999, but new buyers saved the satellites and continue to offer global communications.

The three-sided Iridium satellites are about 12 feet long and three feet wide. …

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