Thoughts on the Upcoming Geosat Flaring Season

From: Brad Young (
Date: Tue Feb 17 2009 - 19:34:43 UTC

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    In anticipation of the upcoming geosat flaring season, I tried to remember
    what mistakes I made the first time I tried to see these objects, in hopes
    of helping others avoid some pratfalls. Once I started seeing these
    wonderful objects, they seemed so obvious I could not believe I missed them
    the first two seasons I tried (one fall and one spring). Sorry if any of
    this is obvious; it wasn't to me...
    1. Don't look in the earth's shadow! For some reason, I was looking in the
    part of the sky at opposition to the sun. You will not see anything, trust
    me on this! Look about 5-10 degrees west of the shadow in the evening, and
    east in the morning. There is also a few objects that flare up at about 60
    degrees "off" the main area; Ed Cannon has described these before, please
    see the See-Sat-L archives.
    2. Identify a good asterism and sit on it, watching the satellites leisurely
    stroll by. In the fall, I use an asterism I call the "Little Box", located
    at about 0h 0m and -5 degrees. It consists of 27, 29, 30, and 33 Pisces. I
    first noticed this box years ago looking for Venus after a morning
    apparition like it's about to go through again this spring (so that would've
    been 3 x 8 or 24 years ago, when I first started the hobby). Spring doesn't
    offer such a neat little marker, but the top of the shape of Crater is
    useful, and Saturn is nearby. Please realize the position will be different
    if you are not at 36 N latitude like me...Jeff Umbarger has produced a
    graphical calculator that will help figure out your exact path of the
    flaring geosats. I believe this is described at
    3. Don't wait till the "best" day, or assume that's the only day. Flares can
    be seen for 2+ weeks before and after the optimum date, and there are some
    satellites in graveyard orbits that will flare up (I saw one Sunday night).
    Besides, there's a better chance you'll see flashing geosats during this
    time, IMO.
    4. Just because you missed seeing a geosat flare up one night doesn't mean
    you won't see it the next. Phase angles and observing conditions change
    rapidly this time of year.
    5. Seeing a geosat means either noticing a "star" that moves (if you're
    tracking the stars using your clock drive or go-to scope) or stays put (if
    you let the stars drift, like with a Dobsonian telescope). Either way, this
    can be a subtle sight if you're observing using low power. E.g., if your
    field of view is 1 degree (typical low power eyepiece), it will take 4
    minutes for the satellite to drift across the field (or the stars, which
    ever applies).
    6. Because of this, I determined I needed to use a telescope to really see
    these objects. It takes 24 minutes for a satellite to drift across the field
    of my binoculars, with a 6 degree field. Now that I have some more
    experience, I can use binoculars or even my eye alone for the bright,
    regular geosats that flare, but I strongly suggest starting with your scope
    if you have one.
    7. IMHO, predictions using the HighEclipse version of HighFly (available on
    Mike McCants site) have helped me, as has Jeff Umbarger's graphical
    calculator (see #2 above). This is not meant to disparage other methods.
    8. I would like to ask that you report anything you see (or don't) or
    forward any questions to me via this list or privately at You can use the format described at or just describe in words
    what you see.
    TULSA 1
    COSPAR 8336: +36.128, -95.988, 650ft ASL 
    ACT Observatory
    COSPAR 8335: +35.8311, -96.1411, 1100ft ASL
    Adams Ranch
    COSPAR 8337: +36.937, -96.65, 700ft ASL
    Kenton, OK
    COSPAR 8338: +36.8978, -102.9522, 4400ft ASL
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