Sunday, June 05, 2011

NanoSail-D: evolution of the flash pattern during a pass

Yesterday evening at 23:00 CEST I observed a twilight pass of the experimental NASA solar sail NanoSail-D again (see earlier and later observations here).

This pass allowed me to capture a series of brightness curves, which document the evolution of the flash pattern during a single pass, as the looking angle is changing (looking "edge on" aroudn culmination, and then more and more "on the tail"as it is descending) . The change in flash pattern is profound: this is clearly a very complex matter where the flash pattern highly depends on the relative position of the object to the observer.

click images to enlarge

It starts (image and diagram 1) with a lot of irregular flashes, spaced 0.3 - 0.9s apart (average 0.49s but with large standard deviation).

Next (image and diagram 2), a nice semi-regular sinusoid pattern develops, flashes spaced 1.24 - 1.45 s (average 1.33s)

Then (image and diagrams 3 and 4), the period increases, the pattern transforming to a slower sinusoid with peaks first 5.61s apart, then somewhat decreasing again to 4.11s apart (edit: or maybe not: the firts "peak"might be a sub-peak. The valleys seem at similar distance to the previous diagram). Superimposed on this, a shorter cycle of minor subvariation can be suspected, with various periods.

This slower variation in the last two diagrams is why Bram, me and some other observers got the impression, on this and some past passes, of the period almost "disappearing" when NanoSail-D was descending on altitudes of ~35 degrees.

Two of the trail images in a bit more detail: note the difference in flash pattern:

click images to enlarge

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