Wednesday, 1 June 2011

More flashing NanoSail-D, and flaring KH-12 USA 224

A week after my May 24 observations, I observed NanoSail-D (2010-062L) again, the experimental NASA solar sail.

NanoSail-D (image: NASA/MSFC)

As a week ago, it became very bright after culmination, while descending in the south, and was rapidly flashing again. It was easily seen by the naked eye, reaching mag. +1 or possibly +0.5.

In fact it is so bright, that the pixel brightness of the trail reached saturation on two of the three images. The first image (below) did yield brightness information: the resulting curve is shown beneath it. The flash period is irregular, but periods of 0.5s and 1.0s pop up frequently in the diagram (for actual determined flash times, see here. Astrometry on the satellite itself can be found here).

click images to enlarge

As can be seen on the images, the satellite was in a race with an untimely field of clouds (the orangish streaks in the images), staying just ahead of it. Visually, the brightness fluctuation was much more apparent than it is on these images (due to the saturation of the latter): it was very clearly flashing.

Nanosail-D was not the only object flashing. USA 224 (11-002A), the new KH-12 Keyhole launched on January 20 this year, flared too, while passing through the zenith, with flares at 23:48:27.3 and 23:48:31.8 UTC (May 31). The "saddle" and elevated brightness between the two flares is interesting (the trail is notably fainter before the first flash, and subsequent images show it is fainter again after the second flash):

click images to enlarge

This was the second time I imaged USA 224 (The first time was May 24). In addition to USA 224 and NanoSail, I also imaged another KH-12 Keyhole, USA 161 (01-044A), and a Lacrosse SAR, Lacrosse 3 (97-064A).

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