After a late Friday night, I awoke at noon on Saturday and walked over for brunch to find around a hundred people standing outside of the Colket Center with two fire trucks near by. Thankfully all was well, save for a minor fire in the kitchen area. Lauren returned from her trip to Boston later in the day and we went on a nice walk to an antique store in downtown Salem. Upon returning to the dorms, I came across an internet article about the International Space Station and thought it might be a good idea to see if it would be flying over anytime soon. Surprisingly, later that night at 8:12pm it would be making a 5 minute fly over from North West to East South East, making tonight a perfect opportunity for my first attempt at viewing the ISS through a telescope!
International Space Station Fly Over:
Around 8:00pm, my friend Andy and I set up the telescope on the back quad of the college. The sun was setting and we had spent about a half hour observing the Moon. A few minutes before the fly over, two men from a music group called Barefoot Truth, who were performing on campus that night, came over and asked what we were looking at. They took some quick views of the Moon and were very interested in seeing the ISS. Around 8:11 the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life appeared from the distance, it was Lauren, who was fashionably late, showing up just seconds before the Space Station. 8:12 swings around and right on schedule a dim star appeared right above the Colket Center sailing across the sky. It began faint but became as bright as Venus it passed over head. Now came the hard part, attempting to view in through the telescope. It can be difficult enough to find and track a slow-moving planet, never mind a football field sized Space Station moving at 17,000 mph and orbiting 200 miles above the Earth. After about 20 seconds of attempts, it finally became visible and flew through the field of view in less than a second, looking like a very bright blur. At this point there were now 5 people hanging around the telescope and all got at least a split second view of the space station through the eye piece while I tracked it through the finder scope. As it continued to move across the sky one more attempt was given to actually try to keep it in the eye piece’s field of view for an extended period of time. This was accomplished just as the Station was near its highest point in the sky and through tracking it for around 5 to 10 seconds the bright blur that had been viewed earlier turned into a detailed object. At 48X magnification, the pods in the middle where the astronauts are located were somewhat visible, but more amazingly and sharp were the two sets of solar panels on both sides of the Space Station. The way is which the Station glowed with brightness, particularly the inner pods, along with the detail that was discerned from its solar panels truly made this one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had in astronomy.
Later in the night, Mars, Saturn and the Moon would be observed, but none of those objects could hold a candle to the couple of seconds spent viewing the Space Station with its inner pods and detailed solar panels. Never before have I observed an object in space that has people working and living on it through a telescope. As we looked up and saw the Space Station sailing across the night sky, I couldn’t help but wonder if one of the astronauts was looking down at us here on Earth. Hundreds of thousands of people have seen the Space Station at night, whether they realized it or not. My guess is that only a few thousand have observed it through a telescope. After tonight you can add Lauren, Andy, two guys from Barefoot Truth (thanks for the free CD’s, by the way), a random college employee whose name I didn’t get and myself to that list.