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Last night, at 22:51 EDT, I went outside to observe a Tiangong-1 pass (the first Chinese space station). It was expected to peak at a magnitude of 1.5, which is moderately bright. However, I had a big surprise because it actually became very, very bright before it entered the shadow. I'd estimate the magnitude as a negative one (-1 or -2 maybe). There was no expected iridium flare in the area and the space station went eastwards.

How could it become so much brighter than expected?

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Almost certainly it was the glint of the Sun, or possible the Earth. Most likely the solar panels were pointed in just a way to reflect the light towards you. Lining this up would require some work, but it still could be done. The fact it happened right before it entered shadow also indicates this was likely the reason as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ The fact it happened right before it entered shadow also indicates this was likely the reason as well -- could you add a few words explaining why this is true? $\endgroup$ – Chris Jul 1 '16 at 20:32
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    $\begingroup$ The panel's will be perpendicular to the Earth. The geometry lines up best like that $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Jul 1 '16 at 20:57

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