Satellite observations 16.-17.8.2014

During last night (16.-17.8.2014) I was doing some satellite spotting in Turku, Finland. Below you can see a collection of the most interesting observations from last night. Nights are getting darker and darker also her up north. Last night last quarter of Moon was above horizon all night, but still NELM was about 5 and Milky way was visible weakly.

Iridium 21
Picture 1. Iridium 21

A bright Iridium -flare in the constellation of Hercules @ 21:42 UT. The flaring Iridium was iridium 21, and the brightness of the flare was about -8 magnitudes (picture 1).

Picture 2. SL-16 R/B, FIA Radar 2 (USA 234) anf NOSS 2-3 (E).
Picture 3. SL-16 R/B, FIA Radar 2 (USA 234) anf NOSS 2-3 (E).

After the bright Iridium -flare, I observed some other fainter, but still very interesting satellite targets. @ 22:25 there was quite intense traffic in the orbit (pictures 2-3), and I was able to catch three different satellites in one photo! I observed SL-16 R/B and FIA Radar 2 (USA 234) crossing their ways in the sky and also NOSS 2-3 (E) left it’s trail in the same photo.! Although there seems to be quite heavy traffic in the space, no collision happened this time because of the elevation difference of the orbits of the satellties 🙂

FIA Radar 2, aka USA 234 is an American radar imaging reconnaisance satellite of the new generation. The new generation of reconnaisance satellites is called Future Imagery Architechture, FIA. FIA Radar 2 was launched in April 2012 with launch code NROL-25. NOSS 2-3 (E) is a component of NOSS 2-3 (C-D-E) satellite triplet that has started drift apart since 2007. Now NOSS 2-3 (E) seems to be totally separated from it’s companion satellites. SL-16 R/B is a rocket body from a Soviet Zenit -rocket family.

Lacrosse 5
Picture 4. Lacrosse 5 (USA 182).

If you look carefully the picture above (picture 4), you can see a faint satellite trail. This trail was caused by Lacrosse 5. Lacrosse 5, aka USA 182 is an American radar reconnaisance satellite launched in 2005. This satellite has a unique brightness behaviour. Observers have reported, that sometimes it has totally faded away from visibility. This has been called the “disappearance trick” of the satellite. These fadings seem to be unique for Lacrosse 5, it hasn’t been observed with other Lacrosse -satellites. Sometimes it has also been flaring brightly according to some reports. This time Lacrosse 5 was an object of about fifth magnitude, and it’s brightness was even during my observation.


Satellite mystery solved!

Couple of days ago I wrote a post about mysterious satellite triplet, that I observed while trying to cathc a perseid meteors with my camera.

I posted a mail about this satellite to the Seesat -e-mail list, and with the help of Leo Barhorst, Cees Bassa and Björn Gimle I was able to identify this! This satellite was Yaogan 16, a Chinese spy satellite triplet, similar than American NOSS -triplets were. Apparently the use of these satellites is also similar.

Thanks for Leo Barhorst, Cees Bassa and Björn Gimle for identification help!

140812-13_unid_sat_1 140812-13_unid_sat_2



Mystery satellite triplet during Perseid night

I observed this mysterious satellite triplet in the night between 12th and 13th of August 2014 @ 21:26 UT in Turku, Finland, while trying to observe Perseid meteor shower. These satellites were moving upwards in the constellation of Aquila. First two of them were flaring and then fading, then the third one flared and faded away in similar way. When flaring, they were easily rivaling Vega!

So far my attempts to find out the identity of these satellites have not been successfull. I first suspected some NOSS satellite, but I couldn’t find any good match with Heavensat program. So this one remains as a mystery so far! If someone of you would have any idea about this satellite, I would be happy to hear!

Twinkle, twinkle, little Iridium satellite

…how I wonder what you are!

Iridium 66 flaring above Finland.
Iridium 66 flaring above Finland.

So, here it is, my first ever photograph of an Iridium satellite flare! I catched this last night 5.-6. of August 2014 @ 22:21 UT in Turku, Finland. The brightness of the flare was about -8 magnitudes according to Heavens Above site. And I’m not arguing with HA, so bright it was! The satellite that I catched flaring, was iridium 66. Spotting these satellite flares is an extremely exciting past-time activity! I’m so happy and excited about this observation, that I’m sure to try to catch these again also in the future!

Iridium satellites are a constellation of 66 communications satellite, and they have a special antennae -system that is causing these short, but bright flares. The Iridium -company originally failed with the business, but now they are back to business, this time operated by a different company, Iridium Satellite LLC. The satellites are mostly used by the US military for their communications purposes.

It’s not a bird, it’s not an airplane, it’s a double NOSS!


I observed this bright double satellite flare when observing noctilucent clouds in the night between 28th and 29th of July 2014 @ 22:51UT. I only had a Samyang 8mm fish-eye lens attached to my camera, but luckily I was at least able to photograph this phenomena! The satellites were as bright as Vega when I spotted them, but soon they faded to 3rd magnitude objects. They were moving slowly upwards in the constellation of Ophiuchus. Afterwards I did some investigation about these satellites, and I was able to positively identify them as NOSS 3-4 (A) and NOSS 3-4 (C) with help of my hobby friend.

NOSS -satellites are usually triple satellites, but some of them are only double. This might be because of one of the satellites in the triplet has been destroyed. NOSS satellties are American naval surveillance satellites, that has been lounched to space since 1970’s. The satellite programme had several code names, and it was ment to spy strategically interesting Soviet ships during  the Cold war.