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While out viewing the Perseid shower last night (8/11/20), we saw an interesting object that I'm trying to identify. We're in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon. It appeared to be traveling west->east and would be almost invisible to the naked eye for 10 or so seconds, then flare up to be the brightest object in the sky for ~2 seconds. We saw two passes (or two separate objects) over the course of an hour, the first was a bit to the south (say 1 o'clock), the second was farther north (11 o'clock), it might have been the same object.

I was thinking it might be a Starlink satellite, but I would have expected to see more than just one. Also, I wouldn't think they would be that bright, being as small as they are.

I've not seen anything like that before, and it surely would have been noticeable in my past stargazing.

Anyone know what it might be?

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  • $\begingroup$ There are actually a lot of satellites! It may be possible to figure out which one you saw if you can mention the times. Since satellite passes are pretty common there may end up being more than one possibility. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Aug 11 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ This might be Telkom-3. I will try to confirm it tomorrow from what you said. This Indonesian failed comunications satellite is tumbling and flares brightly. $\endgroup$ – Swike Aug 12 at 1:16
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    $\begingroup$ In general, there are hundreds of satellites visible to the naked eye. Most predictions do not go to the level of detail of which ones tumble and/or will flare as they cross the sky. So to identify 1 object out of hundreds, we would need to know the observing location (given), time of observation, constellations through which the satellite passed or altitude and azimuth of points in the sky. With such information, you might be able to identify the object from heavens-above.com; otherwise, a program to predict passes could be used. $\endgroup$ – JohnHoltz Aug 12 at 1:29
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It sounds like a tumbling satellite and by your description of the different locations in the sky during the second pass, it sounds like you saw the same one over the course of two orbits. Maybe not, though, because it'd (most likely) be 90 mins from one orbit to the next and conditions would have to be just right for the geometry of the Earth/Sun/Satellite angle to make it visible for two orbits so brightly. But not impossible! The Starlink satellites don't vary in brightness that way, so I can safely say it wasn't a Starlink. Tumbling sats can be wild to see, some are spinning very fast and flicker quickly (a couple of times a second) while others are doing a much slower tumble. Sadly, there is a lot of space junk up there launched without a plan to decommission it (bring it down over the Pacific to burn up harmlessly).

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