Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nanosail-D: a spectacular show of bright flashes!

Last night I finally was able to capture Nanosail-D (10-062L), the NASA experimental solar sail. It put on a spectacular show, flashing rapidly, becoming an easy naked-eye object after culmination when it reached magnitude +1.

As it gradually brightened from invisibility to naked-eye brightness while passing at 61 degrees altitude due east, it initially flared rapidly, in an irregular pattern, at a rate of 1 to 3 flashes per second. below is the first image, and two other where the trail runs out of the image frame (in haste, I aimed badly when repositioning the camera):

click images to enlarge

When it descended towards the South-Southeast, it became brighter, reaching mag. +1. The flashing pattern became somewhat more regular and slowed down to about one flash per 1.6 seconds. On the image, the trail is quite saturated and hence the brightness variability on the image below is less apparent than it was visually. Visually, the objet was clearly "winking", very cool to see:

click images to enlarge

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