What is Cosmos 1953?

Leigh Palmer (palmer@sfu.ca)
Sat, 2 Aug 1997 08:44:23 -0700

Last night as I was leaving a restaurant in West Vancouver I happened
to look up to the sky in the northeast. I saw the landing light of a
plane in what I thought a most unlikely direction. It grew brighter,
much brighter (estimates are difficult for objects this bright, but
mag -4 or so) and then faded rapidly and wimped (not winked) out about
a minute later. The object had passed "underneath" Cassiopeia in a
memorable configuration. On arriving home a half hour later I
downloaded the latest TLEs from T. Kelso, fired up Orbitrack search,
and quickly found a likely candidate, Cosmos 1953, in the output. On
pasting the TLE into Starry Night I replicated the apparent trajectory
of the satellite. No coincidence; the evaporating "landing light" was
undoubtedly the satellite, running about a minute late (but I was
using someone else's watch).

Cosmos 1953 is not on the "100 brightest satellites list". I would
appreciate receiving informed opinion about whether my identification
is likely to be erroneous. The fit (except for that late timing) was
excellent in my casual memory. Does Cosmos 1953 have solar panels from
which I might see a sustained (30 seconds or so) glint? The night was
clear, the sky dark down to mag 4 with my unadapted eyes; this was not
an aircraft. I have never seen Mir as bright.