At Fifth Star Labs we normally don't blog about personal things but I just had to share this story because it reinforced why I love working on this app.
Long story short? I got married! We had a beautiful seaside ceremony, delicious food at the reception and some pretty spectacular toasts from our friends and family but it was the way the night ended that really put an unforgettable twist on an already perfect evening. It was about 10:55pm and my lovely bride was somewhere on the dance floor when Fifth Star Labs Co-Founder, Chris pulled me aside. His message? He had been looking through the list of upcoming Iridium satellite passes with Sky Guide and saw there would be a magnitude -6.7 flare at 11:09. What?!? How perfect! Plus, our venue was going to kick us out at 11:00 anyway so what better way to clear everybody outside? I had our MC make the announcement about the special event that was about to happen and everybody shuffled outside to stand along the dock for a clear view.
After a few minutes of waiting it began to emerge. The murmurs of "where?" and "do you see it?" were quickly replaced with oooohs, ahhhhhs and cheers as the satellite grew far more bright than any star or planet in the sky. Some were convinced they must have just seen a low-flying airplane. Others had just seen their first satellite. For Chris and I, it was one of our best public demonstrations of Sky Guide ever and it's a moment I'll not soon forget.
So now that I've convinced you this is something you absolutely must see, how do you go about seeing it? Well, we make it pretty easy.
In Sky Guide, tap the Search icon and then the Satellites category. You'll see two subcategories titled Brightest and Iridium. Tap on Iridium and you should see a schedule of upcoming flares listed. If not, be sure you have the flares tab selected near the top.
Now before we go into choosing the perfect pass, what exactly is an Iridium flare? Back in the late 90s, a fleet of satellites were launched by a company called Iridium Communications, providing service to satellite phones, pagers and other gadgets to any surface location on Earth. But their design has a curious side-effect: their highly-reflective antennae reflect sunlight back to Earth at very specific angles. In other words, if you catch those glints at the right time and place, you are in for quite the spectacle.
What makes for the best pass? The brightest one possible, of course! The most intense Iridium flares are at apparent magnitudes of about -8 and are very rare for any given location. Most of the flares you'll see in the Sky Guide list will probably be less bright, at magnitudes of -1 or -2. That's still bright enough to see from any light polluted city, but for a real showstopper you're looking for passes of at least -6. Sky Guide displays these magnitudes in the far right column of each flare listing. Other columns include the N/S/E/W direction and the angle above the horizon so you can predict whether you'll have a clear view. Selecting any of these flares will take you back to the sky view and show you where the satellite is currently located. Make sure you are in automatic pointing mode (either tap the Compass button or simply hold your device up to the sky) so you know where to be looking in the real sky.
You'll probably find that it takes quite a few days—sometimes weeks—to see a really bright flare. If you have opted-in to Satellite Passes (navigate to Sky Guide Main Menu > Notifications > Satellite Passes), Sky Guide will automatically alert you of these super bright flares 3 minutes in advance. Alternatively, if you want to schedule manual reminders for any particular flare, you can always swipe left on a flare listing and tap the Alarm icon.
That's it! Super easy, right? So next time you're out with friends and family, the weather is good and it's getting dark, pull out Sky Guide and treat everybody to an unforgettable experience.