Thanks, you were the best!

Saying #flarewell is sad, saying the final flarewell is even worse. Saying flarewell to SV 97 nearly breaks my heart. It has been my favorite satellite. Here’s why – you will soon notice that there was always something special about those sightings.

At first, SV 97 was a bit shy and we only met rather late. Although I started Flare watching in May 2012, my first sighting of SV 97 was in January 2017. (It was only slowed out by the last one on the Bingo list, SV 23. That happened in June 2017.)

Our first encounter was love at first sight. I had just finished a meeting with two wonderful women and convinced one of them to join me for Flare watching. We walked out of the building and into the next park on a cold winter evening. Lucky enough to have a clear enough sky, which is quite unusual here in winter. The Flare was only a -1.2mag, but it scored 7 out of 7 on the Flaregasm scale. I was elated and my friend still talks about this experience.

It took another 16 months until we met again in what was one of my most magical and memorable Flare experiences. I wish I had already had the awesome NightCap Camera app to really capture the event, but was only later introduced into shooting Flares with the smartphone by lovely people of the Catch The Iridium community.

So this is what happened: The Flare, a-5.4, flew directly into the crescent of the waxing Moon and then disappeared in its bright light. It was a scene of unprecedented and breath-taking beauty. The meager video that I have can in no way pay it tribute. I earlier tried to describe the experience in an earlier post.

The next one was quite enigmatic in a different way: It was already very late, around 4am and I was getting very tired but still waited this one out. When I watched it flare, it seemed to never end. Not like any other flare. After a very long time I decided something was off and that I was accidentally seeing the ISS, because that thing crossed the sky big time. But I later checked – there was no ISS pass at that time. It may have been ENVISAT which I was not yet familiar with at that time, but I don’t remember it to be orange. I was very glad to have a picture of the regular Flare. The rest will remain a mystery …

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No 4 was barely visible, a faint +2.3. The Flare was photo-bombed by two aggressive planes “attacking” it from above and below:

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No 5 was a blast: I was already a bit more experienced with capturing the Flares and had been scouting for a great location in central Vienna. I chose a monument of Empress Maria Theresia, sitting proudly between two of our greatest museums. It was a quiet night, nothing going on in that place. But at exactly the moment that the Flare was flaring, all of a sudden and out of nowhere, a little green rickshaw showed up, circled the monument just once and disappeared into the dark again. This is how this otherwise rather solemn picture got its trashy green lights at the bottom:

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SV 97 looking down on a monument of Maria Theresia. A cheeky green rickshaw whizzed around the site at exactly the time of the flare.

No 6 was even more bizarre: I had chosen the Vienna Opera House as a backdrop for the Flare. It was a difficult shooting location due to lots of street lamps, traffic lights, overhead wires and of course light pollution. But what I had not reckoned with was the streetcar that – again – showed up at the perfect moment. I was fairly close to it and would have hidden the Flare. But since it has windows and went very fast, the Flare is still visible. The blurry pinkish lines in the photo are the streetcar racing by!

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SV 97 above the Opera House. The pink transparent streaks are actually the windows of a streetcar that passed by exactly at the time of the flare.

No 7 was hard to capture, because the Flare came in at a rather low elevation, so I chose a gap between two buildings, hoping that my compass was guiding me properly (it is very often considerably off due to all the radiation pollution in the city). I was confident that SV 97 wouldn’t let me down. And it didn’t: Although it was only a +0.7mag and despite shooting directly into a street light, the Flare is still visible as a very faint streak between the two buildings – I called it Camouflage Flare.

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No 8 was, as far as I recall, not accompanied by any extraordinary circumstances other than being a whopping -8.0mag in a picture-perfect sky. It luckily turned out as one of my all-time best Flare shots, showcasing the impressive Karlskirche in its full glory:

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SV 97 above Karlskirche

No 9 was kind enough to show up as a +1.4mag at exactly the sweet spot between the beams of two glaring street lights. And as things look, it seems to have been one of those very rare two-antenna Flares – it has two “bellies” (very flat ones).

SV 97 was also kind enough to flare for @IridiumBoss’s birthday. Not an easy task to get some visibility as a +3.8mag. It was by far the least bright Flare I have ever captured.

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No 11 made me get up very early – it flared at 5:42am, the birds were surprisingly already churping, on a cold February morning in a hazy, cloudy sky. But you can’t hide a -6.1mag!

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For no 12 I took another shot at a historic site in my beautiful hometown. Another -8.0 in a hazy, cloudy and not yet completely dark sky:

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SV 97 above the Pestsäule, a 17th century monument erected in gratitude that the Great Plague had ended

No 13 made me get up even earlier – always an adventure for me to leave the house at such time, so I chose a location nearby to catch the Flare at 5:15am:

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SV 97 does not really know what to make of this artwork

We had already entered the era of the mass deorbits, so every single Flare was more precious than the previous one. Which meant I got used to getting up early. No 14 chose to chase me at 4:48am. It was incredibly windy and the sleeve of my tripod was blown away on that occasion and never retrieved. The Flare just about made it into my frame – my compass had tricked me once again. I had chosen a very raw location – a massive construction sight. The trail of the Flare is incredibly long, stretching on the far side of the crane (at least in the original picture which is awfully light-polluted, so I am showing a nicer one here):

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No 15 was another outstanding experience. We have meanwhile arrived at 4:09am and I just stepped outside my building to capture it with little hope to see it: The evening sky was covered in thick clouds, at 1am the sky was clear, at 2am it started raining, at 3am thick clouds again, and at 4am the sky cleared up just in time for the Flare. It was supposed to be my last Flare but it then became clear that SV 97 could stay on for half a year as a spare. It was a -7.6mag and so bright that it visually exploded into a glowing, hazy ball of blueish light. It scored 11 out of 7 on the Flaregasm scale. It had rained before, so there still was a lot of moisture in the air:

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SV 97 big finale before the bonus flares. The humidity in the air gave it a misty halo

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Have I already said that SV 97 never let me down? Look at this cloudy sky, no 16 was only a -2.5mag, but look how wisely it chose its spot between the clouds to make me happy with another tiny, yet precious sighting:

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If you think that nothing unusual happened with no 17, take a look at this beauty of a -7.5mag Flare: What a belly! And it just made it into the frame that I had out of my living room window. Part of the Flare happened behind the next building:

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No 18 was another unlikely one. Since the weather forecast was non-ideal for the place where I was staying, I quickly ventured back to Vienna before the clouds fully hit there. Again, SV 97 didn’t let me down and graced me with another -7.5mag in the evening twilight.

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A beautiful end of May sky, very early evening, still a lot of daylight. This time, SV 97 had mercy on me: No challenges, no craziness, just an easy beautiful catch of a -6.0mag Flare:

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I had to wait nearly half a year for my final one on 21 October 2019. I said my final flarewell at 6:20am. It was tough to capture this -4.9 mag Flare, since it had an elevation of only 12°. I had to look for a “canyon” between all those high buildings. Despite the sky already lighting up and a lot of haze, as you know: SV 97 never let me down. Trust me, I shed quite some tears as I packed up my tripod with the thought “That’s it” and went home, happy and sad at the same time, to have a cosy breakfast.

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Thank you so much, SV 97, for all those beautiful moments. You were truly special to me! Have a good trip home!

 

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