Three spring sky phenomena you may have never seen

You may have heard or even seen some amazing sky phenomena such as the auroras and eclipses, but here are some you may have never even knew existed.

  1. Geostationary satellite flares

Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 16. Photo credit: NASA, Brian Dunbar, Public Domain.

As you might have guessed, these objects orbit the Earth. They are placed directly over the equator and travel at the same orbital period as Earth. This also makes it a geosynchronous satellite, meaning that it stays synchronized with the Earth. Having a satellite always fixed in the same spot of the sky allows antennas and transmitters on Earth to stay in one position. It also means that since the satellite’s antenna doesn’t have to move, there is less of a chance of it getting broken and causing expensive repairs. These satellites allow us to watch television, communicate with others, track weather and are even used for military applications. As with all satellites, geostationary satellites have very reflective surfaces, such as solar panels. Because geostationary satellites are always on the equator, we don’t need a telescope to see them during the spring equinox. These satellites flare for a few weeks before entering the shadow of the Earth during the equinox. Then, as they emerge, begin flaring again, making an exciting sight for amateur astronomers who get a chance to see these flares. For the rest of the year, the satellites are too dim to be seen.

  1. Zodiacal Light

Zodiacal Light at European Southern Observatory in Chile. Photo credit: European Southern Observatory.

This otherworldly-looking phenomenon is best viewed during the spring. To explain, we should first start with cosmic dust. This dust in our solar system is created by collisions and evaporations of rock in space. It’s what causes zodiacal light, which comes up from the western horizon during early spring. Many people may have seen this phenomenon in action, but just thought it was light coming from a town in the distance. What it actually is, is sunlight reflecting off of dust in our solar system. It creates a spooky glow the shape of a triangle, what some astronomers refer to as a false dawn.

  1. Earthshine

A crescent Moon and earthshine over European Southern Observatory in Chile. Photo credit: European Southern Observatory.

This phenomenon is most likely to be seen during a New Moon, so spring in the Northern Hemisphere, as the Earth’s surface is more reflective due to ice, clouds, and snow. Basically, sunlight hits the extremely reflective surface of the daytime side of the Earth, which reflects back onto the dark side of the moon, which in turn, reflects that light back as a dim illumination. It’s a crescent moon whose dark side is creating a faint glow that is known as earthshine. Centuries ago, Leonardo Da Vinci was the first to describe and draw the phenomenon, giving it the moniker Da Vinci glow.