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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Starships that pass in the night

I went outside last night around 10:00 to do a little backyard astronomy, emboldened by the beautiful seeing the previous night. Unfortunately the seeing last night was not quite so good, with fractionally higher humidity and a sky leaning more towards steel gray than black or even midnight blue. I could barely make out Sagittarius, and could only find one of the three Messier objects from the night before.

While I waited for my eyes to fully dark-adapt I did a little satellite hunting. This used to be a more challenging sport, back in the days before satellite launches were commonplace and the sky was littered with launch debris. Once upon a time you needed to focus with all your might to pick out the dim specks gliding through the darkest parts of the sky. Now it's just a matter of looking at the stars and paying attention to which ones are moving.

So I did that last night. I found one in the Southeast, in the general part of the sky that I was observing, and I tracked it as it moved North through the Eastern sky. It was moving at quite a clip and was fairly bright.

Suddenly my eye noticed another moving point of light, equally bright, equally fast, moving in the same track but in the opposite direction.

I didn't expect a collision. Collisions in space happen all the time, given the amount of space junk that's up there, but they generally involve high-velocity paint chips. I did not think I was about to see two satellites crash into each other, and I didn't. They sailed silently along in their orbits, one going North-to-South, the other South-to-North. I followed both of them as best I could.

Someone else might have been convinced they had just seen two UFO's, Unidentified Flying Objects, and I suppose I technically had - until I checked with Heavens-Above.com and was able to look up the satellites visible from Nanticoke between 10:00 and 10:15 last night and check out their tracks across the sky. Now I know that what I saw were the Cosmos 1980 Rocket and the Cosmos 1833 Rocket making their rounds.

Next time I'm going out for some backyard astronomy, I'll be sure to check with Heavens-Above first! At least then I'll have something to look for, even if the seeing isn't all that great.

(A big HELLO to all the folks who have clicked over from The Anomalist. Welcome! Please feel free to look around the rest of the site, click on the links, leave comments, and visit my friends' blogs. And please be sure to come back again for another visit sometime soon! Thanks for visiting!)

3 comments:

Jennifer said...

For heaven's sake! Sounds like someone needs a trip to the planetarium at the State Museum in Harrisburg. Then, you can go to Mars. It's just a couple blocks away and they serve the best martinis!

betz said...

i really need to learn more about the stars, you guys are leaving me in your dust.

D.B. Echo said...

A capital idea, Jennifer! When are you free? Let's go!