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Frequently asked questions

Q. Early this evening, I saw this star brighten substantially, and then disappear. Was it a dying star?
A. What you have probably seen is what is called an ``Iridium Flare'' Iridium is a constellation of satellites used for mobile phone communication. Each satellite has huge highly polished aluminium surfaces. Just before sunrise and just after sunset, if the angle between the observer and the Sun is just right - as the sun glints off the surfaces, you see a bright object appear and then disappear. You can find out more about Iridium constellation and Iridium flares (including predictions of when to look for flares) at the ``Heavens Above'' website.

Q. I have heard you can it is possible to purchase a star name, and so name a star after myself or someone in my family. Can you tell me more?
A. There are companies that will offer to name a star, at a price, for you. These are legally consituted companies. However these names are not and will never be used by astronomers. These companies, and the name that they sell, have no standing in the astronomical community. The International Astronomy Union is the internationally recognised body that assigns names to stars, planets and moons. Its rules for naming objects are quite codified, and do not involve payments.

Q. How to I become an astronomer?
A. Australia has a strong core of professional astronomers. In addition to astronomy sections in university physics departments, Australia has two research institutes specifically devoted to astronomy. These are CSIRO's Australia Telescope National Facility, and the Anglo-Australian Observatory. The professional association is the Astronomy Society of Australia. Their website has more information on how to become an astronomer, as well as information on Australian amateur astronomy.

Original: Bob Sault (01-Apr-2003)
Modified: Bob Sault (13-Aug-2005)