(Submitted October 16, 2000)
I was in South Carolina last night Oct 15th on a lake
looking at the night sky. I was looking straight up and
slightly to the north and I saw a medium sized star get
really bright and then it disappeared as if it exploded.
This event occurred around 7:00pm. Was this a supernova????
If not what was it????? Please let me know.
What you saw was probably an "Iridium Flare." This is caused by the
satellites of the Iridium mobile phone system, when they happen to
line up just right. The Iridium consortium is now bankrupt
(apparently nobody wanted to carry around a 10 kg mobile phone when
90% of where most business travelers go is served by cell phones),
and the satellites will be deorbited unless a buyer is found. In the
meantime, there are web-based programs to predict when you might see
such a flare in the future (unfortunately, we don't know of one to
tell you if what you saw in the past was a flare).
Anything lasting just a few seconds is much too short a time to be a
supernova, or any other such astronomical event. It could have been
a meteor that happened to be heading directly toward you so that you
didn't see any streak, but your description sounds like an Iridium
One prediction service is at
You can read about the Iridium satellites and why they flare, as well
as look at some photos at
Hope that helps.
-Kevin Boyce and Martin Still,
for "Ask an Astrophysicist"