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Satellite flares across Calgary sky

A satellite really confused Calgarians around 6:45a.m. Wednesday morning, with many thinking it was a comet or a meteor.

It turned out to be an iridium flare.

Iridium is the name of a cellphone network of satellites that have a bright, reflective, shiny solar panel, which can often be mistaken for a meteor or a comet when it’s in perfect orientation to the sun.

But Dr. Phil Langill from the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory says there’s a way to tell the difference.

“There’s a very characteristic thing that has to do with the way the sun hits it and this thing is traveling in its orbit, it’ll start to get bright from almost invisibility, you don’t even know a satellites there,” he says. “So, if you see a glint of light get brighter, brighter, brighter, and then fainter, fainter, fainter, it’s probably an iridium flare. If it was a meteor, it would get brighter and brighter and brighter and then burn out.”

Dr. Langill says the flare Wednesday morning lasted for about 10 seconds, which is a lot longer than normal, and it’s brightness always depends on where you are on the ground relative to the satellite.

He adds, the flare Wednesday was almost as bright as Jupiter which made it easy to mistake for a falling star or a meteor.