NEWS

Extra-bright Iridium flare will spotlight Sask. town

10/09/2014 02:00 EDT | Updated 12/09/2014 05:59 EST
Stargazers in White City, Sask. — including one of the province's most celebrated amateur astronomers — could be in for a treat Friday morning.

But it's not a star — rather, a human-made space phenomenon known as an "Iridium flare" that's expected to briefly light up the pre-dawn sky.

"It'll be really bright," said Vance Petriew, former president of the Royal Astronomical Society's Regina branch.

Brighter, in fact, than any object in the night sky, with the exception of a full moon, says Petriew, who's well-known in astronomy circles as the discoverer of Comet Petriew in 2001.

Iridium flares are named after the constellation of communication satellites that cause the brief flashes.

There are currently dozens of Iridium satellites whizzing about the globe, each with three shiny, door-sized panels attached.

When the angle of the sun and the orientation of the satellite are just right, sunlight bounces off one of the mirror-like panels and shines on a particular spot below.

On Friday morning at 5:47 CST, it will be White City's turn. 

The centre of the flare runs right through the centre of town close to the local school.

"It's actually the next block over from me," Petriew said. "It's kind of funny."

Iridium flares are actually quite common, but this one will have an "apparent magnitude" of -8, which is considerably brighter than Venus at its brightest, Petriew said.

Unlike lunar eclipses, which occur over several hours, the entire flare event will be less than half a minute.

People in nearby communities, including Regina, 14 kilometres to the west, will also be able to see the flare, although it will be slightly dimmer.

To find it, early risers can look due south in the constellation of Orion. The flare will appear just to right of Betelgeuse in the upper left region of the constellation. The peak of the flare is predicted to occur at 15 seconds after 5:47 a.m.

Here's what an Iridium flare looks like:

On Mobile? Try this link to Iridium flare video

MORE:cbcNews