Australian Sky & Telescope

Observing Geo sat Flares

NO-ONE HAS SEEN A NAKED-EYE SUPERNOVA in our galaxy for more than 400 years. So, when I noticed a new, gold-tinted 2nd-magnitude star in 2019, my first thought was, “It’s about time!” As I watched this ‘star out of place,’ I let myself believe I was witnessing a bright galactic supernova, the likes of which no person alive has ever seen.

However, my special moment of discovery didn’t last for long. The new star’s position was shifting subtly against the stellar backdrop, and then it began to dim perceptibly. I let go of the excitement as my ‘supernova’ faded to a reddish point and finally winked out. But what had I seen? In reality it was something much closer than a star — an object only 36,000 kilometres away.

Stars out of place

Since the launch of Sputnik in 1957, skywatchers have witnessed the novelty of starlike apparitions.

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