Twinkle, twinkle, Arcturus!


I haven’t seen any more Iridium flares since the last post (and I’ve been watching!) but I have started learn more about the stars in the sky.  Just by reading up a bit more, installing a bunch of apps, and standing out in the driveway and/or backyard, I’m slowly learning.

For instance, I can consistently pick out the star Vega on my own now.  And a couple of others I am already better at finding.  But tonight… wow, tonight, I met Arcturus for the first time.  (I’m starstruck.  I know it.)

It turns out that Arcturus is the brightest star in the northern hemisphere’s sky.  I did think any much of it at first — it was still early enough in the evening and overcast that it was hard seeing any stars.  So any star I could find I looked at with binoculars to find what was around it.  But when I looked at Arcturus one thing stood out immediately – it was yellow.  Nothing else I had looked at seemed to have colour, so this was nothing short of a major discovery to me!  Then, when looking with my unaided eye it was actively twinkling!

With all of this observational info and a little searching on charts and online I learned that I was looking at Arcturus.  Astro Bob explained my observations the best and helped me understand more about the twinkling and the colour.

And the best part?  Arcturus is only going to get better as we get into the Fall.  Wuhhooo…. keep your eyes on the skies!

One last fun fact (at least my idea of fun!) — Arcturus is so bright that it easily shows up as a bright pinpoint of light…. even when taken on a cellphone camera.  Look centrally in the bottom third of the darkness.  You’ll likely need to open the image up to see it…. it’s a bright dot but relatively tiny.

Arcturus in September

Iridium 86 – nice to meet you

satelliteI sought out my first Iridium flare tonight.  It was a successful mission and I even got to share it with my parents.

What’s this all about?  A few weeks ago I didn’t know, so don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of a Iridium flare before.

The Iridium satellites are for data and telecommunications — and they are not made of iridium, interestingly enough.  They orbit the earth and something cool happens every so often:  the sun’s rays hit them and the reflected light is visible to the naked eye.  These moments referred to as Iridium flares, which is really just a class of the more general satellite flare.

So, even on this slightly cloudy evening, just before 8:30pm I was out in my driveway, telling my parents where I *thought* we should be watching, and saying it should visible any time now.  Then for a few brief moments we saw what looked to us like a bright, moving star.  It was just long enough that we all could point and see it together, and then it was gone from our view.  We met Iridium 86 tonight.  There are many more to meet in the future and paths will cross with 86 again sometime.

I’m looking forward to looking again on a clearer night and/or with a closer satellite.  I’ve read about how much more intense and dramatic they can be.  What we saw was pretty cool and definitely intriguing.  Some are so bright that you can see them in the daytime!  Wild.

Are you curious now and want to go find one for yourself?  You can check out the latest schedule online, like at  There are multiple phone apps that can help with the schedule as well as hints on where to look in the sky.  I had few astronomy apps installed which had more features, like tracking Iridium flares and that is what introduced them to me in the first place.  Have fun!