This article was previously published in print in Parent News magazine…
A friend of mine turned me onto a website that has enabled my family to experience astronomy in a neat and interesting way. It’s at http://www.heavens-above.com/. I’ve never been a huge fan of looking above, except for the days I was looking up for incoming choppers coming to our base, but this site has opened up new opportunities for us.
I haven’t used much of the information available on the site yet, but one item of particular interest for us has been the calendar of Iridium flares. An Iridium flare is caused by the visible reflection of the sun off of communication satellites. If you plug in your latitude and longitude into the website, it will actually give you a calendar of days and times to view the flares from your backyard or wherever you are. The listing also shows the magnitude of the flare, to give you an idea of how bright it will be. The really bright ones can be seen easily during the day. My favorite time for viewing is around dusk. Once you have the information on the flare, all you have to do is watch and wait at the appropriate time. The flare will get really bright for a second and then you can watch it streak across the sky like a shooting star.
If you’re into astronomy or would like to introduce your homeschoolers of any age to it, check out the site. Not only can you find calendars on the flares, but it also gives you details on visible planets and comets and constellations.
A really neat trick you can use the site for is an easy magic trick. When you’re on a trip or with friends, find a flare that matches your time and location. At the appropriate time, tell your friends that the aliens are getting ready to communicate with you. Then point up to the sky and let them watch the flare light up. I don’t know if they’ll believe you or not, but it’s fun to do.