A number of observers are reporting difficulty in spotting Starshine 3 mirror flashes. Some of the reasons are that they are looking for the satellite when it is very low in the sky (and thus very far away) or when the sun is close to sunrise or sunset and causing the sky to be pale blue instead of black (thus decreasing the background contrast), or when the moon is bright (also thus decreasing the background contrast).

Here are some hints for maximizing your chances of a successful sighting: First of all, please remember that what you are looking for are sunlight flashes from one tiny little one inch (25 mm) diameter polished mirror. You're not seeing the whole satellite; just one mirror at a time. At best, these flashes will be about as bright as the North Star (Polaris), and at worst they won't be visible at all, depending on how far the satellite is from you, where it is in the sky and where the Sun and Moon are, and how good a job you and your fellow students did in polishing your mirrors.

The Starshine 3 satellite can be as close to you as 290 miles (460 km), when it is straight overhead, and as far away from you as one thousand miles (1600 km), when it is low on the horizon. So you'll be wise to select passes whose maximum elevation angle is high in the sky and thus as close as possible to you. You'll also have your best luck in selecting passes that occur prior to the start of astronomical twilight in the morning (about one and one-half hours before sunrise) or after the close of astronomical twilight in the evening (about one and one-half hours after sunset).

You can find out when these astronomical twilight periods are each day by going to the heavens-above.com Main Page and clicking on the heading entitled, "Sun data for today." Look for the bold heading entitled Event, and write down when the morning astronomical twilight period begins and when the evening twilight period ends. Also, click on "Moon data for today" and write down when the moon will be full and when it will be at its highest altitude or elevation in the sky.

Then scroll back up that same page to the "Starshine 3" highlighted URL, click on it and select Starshine passes that will cross high in the sky at your location before astronomical twilight in the morning or after astronomical twilight in the evening, and when the moon is not bright and in the path of the pass. It will also help if you choose passes that are in the opposite sky from the sun (in the western sky in the morning and the eastern sky in the evening), so the full face of the mirror, instead of just a little sliver of the mirror, will be reflecting sunlight. You can think of the mirrors going through phases, just like the moon, depending on where the satellite is relative to the sun. The closer they are to full phase, the greater their reflecting surface area and the brighter the flashes will be.

Finally, be sure to print out the star chart that you'll find on heavens-above.com when you click on the time of a selected Stashine pass, and take it with you when you go outside to look for the satellite. That way, you'll be sure to know just exactly when and where to look to see these one-tenth-second-duration, faint flashes. If you're not looking right in the proper location, you'll probably miss them. Try to find a small flashlight and a red rubber balloon or piece of cellophane to put over the flashlight's lens, so you can read the star chart and your synchronized time piece without destroying your night vision.

I hope these hints will be helpful in watching Starshine 3 go across the sky. Remember, this is not a two-football-field-sized International Space Station. It is just one little mirror that you ground and polished with your own hands. If you still have problems seeing the satellite, please send me an email at gilmoore12@aol.com.

Gil Moore
Project Starshine