Watch Jupiter Get Blasted by an Iridium Flare

Cue the “Space Invaders” sound effects! We’ve shared previously how astrophotographer Thierry Legault will travel anywhere to get a unique shot. He took this impressive but fun video of an Iridium 72 satellite flaring and passing in front of Jupiter, traveling to Oostende Beach at the North Sea in Belgium to capture this transit. He took both a wide angle view as well as the telescopic close-up view of Jupiter, and from the vantage point of Earth, it appears as though Jupiter gets blasted by the flare. In the zoomed-in view, even Jupiter’s moons are part of the scene.

You can almost hear the “pew-pew.”

Legault also shared a another recent video he shot of the Chinese Yaogan 6 satellite. “It is probably out of control, quickly tumbling with very bright and short flashes,” Legault said, and it has been tumbling for about a year. Yaogan 6 is a radar reconnaissance satellite launched by China in 2009. Legault said he did the tracking by hand with professional video tripod with a fluid head.

See more of Legault’s extraordinary astrophotography work at his website.

Flash! Iridium Flares Captured in Real Time by Thierry Legault

There are so many fun sights to see in the sky that are pure astronomical magic. And then there are the spectacular human-created sights. One of those sights is watching satellites from the Iridium constellation that — because of their odd shape — produce spectacular flares that can be brighter than the planet Venus.

Because most of these satellites are still under control by their parent company, their flare timings are easy to predict. And now astrophotographer Thierry Legualt has caught them in action on a video.

“Usually they are photographed in long exposures,” Legault told Universe Today via email. “But last summer I filmed three of them in the Big Dipper and Orion, and they were so bright a pond reflected the flare. In video you can see the real speed of the event.”

The third sequence on the video might look a little odd, but Legault said he rotated the camera 90°. “I found it funny like that,” he said. “Tilt your head or your screen!?”

According to a July Sky & Telescope article, the constellation includes 66 satellites — down from the planned 77 — and is named after element 77 in the periodic table. Normally these machines drift along like a faint star, but when the sunlight catches the side just right, out comes the flash.

“A really bright one can take your breath away,” wrote Bob King, who is also a writer here on Universe Today. “I’ve been lucky enough to witness a few –8 passes and can only describe the experience as alarming. It’s not natural to see a starlike object glow so brilliantly. If you’ve ever wondered what a nearby supernova might look like, treat yourself to one of these.”

One way to track these flares down is to use the Heavens-Above website.

See more of Thierry’s work at his website, and read our review of his wonderful observing and photography primer, “Astrophotography” here.