kinds of reports about strange manifestations of light in the
night sky have become more and more frequent since the summer
of 1997. Observers tell of extremely bright traces of light for
several seconds, often more than ten times as bright as the brightest
stars. Are they falling stars, meteorites or – heaven forbid
– maybe even trendy hip extraterrestrials? Not at all, because
what the mystery involves is about one by four meters in size
and orbits around the earth at an altitude of 780 km: an Iridium
What is that?Attempts
have been made in recent years to complete a network that is to
consist of sixty-six satellites to be used for mobile telephony.
A total of sixty satellites have been launched into outer space.
The Iridium system is intended to avoid the building of radio
systems on the earth, but it requires a remarkable number of satellites,
since every point on earth should always be within the range of
at least one satellite. To put it simply:
The Iridium satellite system was ultimately unaffordable for many
end consumers for exactly this reason. No wonder – it was
not really economical to shoot that many communication satellites
off into space. And no one really wanted to go into the deepest
jungle to call the boss with a slightly-bigger-than-a-cell-phone-sized
Iridium telephone. The Iridium LLC Corporation (a consortium led
by Motorola) went bankrupt. And then again, it didn't. And then
no one wanted to buy the corporation. And then someone did after
all. Now the company just hobbles along.
Personally, I don't really care. The telecommunicative use doesn't
matter much to me.
What I am interested in is the opto-hedonist use.
Each satellite has three silver-coated antennas
for wireless connections, about 88 by 186 cm in size. These are
kept at a fixed angle to the earth. If the satellite is at the
"right" angle to the sun along the course of its orbit,
the antennas reflect the sunlight that falls on them to earth:
this results in an extremely bright illumination of the satellite
in the sky, like a bright falling star. As with all satellite
illuminations, though, the Iridium flares can only be seen in
the evening, just after sundown, and at dawn, just before sunrise.
Since the orbits of the individual satellites can be very precisely
calculated, the light reflections can be exactly predicted. Normally
one would have to go through extremely complicated calculations
to arrive at this information, if one considers the number of
satellites. However, this is not even necessary. On the homepage
of the German Space Operation Center, all you have to do is enter
a city and you get a list of Iridium flashes in the coming week
and their intensity.
Out to the terrace. Or to the park. Or to the balcony.
Tastefully open a bottle of Lambrusco and wait for the flare.
Enjoy the event of the week.
Those interested and specifically interested in doing so in a
circle of like-minded flare fetishists are invited to send an
e-mail to: i-want-to-see-flares-and-have-total-personal-contact-at-the-same-time-i-dont-want-to-end-up-
friend-norbert-who-just-permanently-plays-counterstrike-and-aok at monochrom.at
a) An artificial falling star wish fulfillment
network could be devised. Using precise calculations, everyone
could make x-many wishes. Maybe we could even get rid of right-wing
conservative governments this way.
readers don't normally use expressions like "super fantastic",