Star Log: March 20, 2010

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.

Sketch of the ISS as viewed at 48X magnification:

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.

Pictures of the Crescent Moon, taken on this night, complements of Lauren:

6 thoughts on “Star Log: March 20, 2010

  1. Glad I showed up on time! It is really cool to think that we were able to see a station carrying astronauts in space! I wonder if they saw me waving? Thanks for the compliment, by the way 🙂

  2. Very Cool Indeed. March 29th I got my XT8… And tracking the ISS is on the list of things to do. Thursday 4/1 was my “first Light” I got it collimated and out in the daylight got my 9×50 RACI finder scoped in using my 5mm… then the fun came while waiting for the sun to go down, I started try to track high fly airplanes… I have a 24mm stratus with a 68* FOV making it 50x and 1.36*, I can easily track while they are near the horizon, not so much toward zenith, HOWEVER, I can track it through the finder exceptionally well… 95% success rate keeping them in the FOV with the 50x eyepiece and 60% or better while using my 133x eyepiece while some one else is viewing. My kids can’t wait until the next evening fly over… Only problem is I won’t be able to see it. I so want to get a web cam or camera stand to eyepiece holder… so I can try what you did with saturn, but on the ISS. (Though I’ll be doing Saturn as well, Jupiter, the moon… I just wish I was better at seeing the DSO’s.

    Have you checked out any DSO’s yet? I was wondering what you think or if it is me… The Open clusters are stunning, but when it comes to M51, or M3 Globular, or M1 Crab Nebula… man it takes patience. And eyes like a hawk (or should I say an owl?)

    Well Good luck and clear skies and steady seeing.
    Sean (Irish)

  3. I have checked some DSO out. I live in an area that is pretty void of light pollution which helps out a lot. M81 and M82 are pretty amazing (I posted about observing them a few weeks back) M36 and M37 gave me great views on the night I took the pictures of Mars and Saturn. I came across them on accident, they appeared as little clouds in the 9X50 finder scope. M3 is definitely a tough one to resolve, being a glob cluster. Sometimes I can make out pin point stars along the edge, but the center is pretty much a cloud of stars. M1 shows up as a faint circular cloud for me as well. DSO’s are a challenge for sure, but knowing your looking at galaxies and nebula (no matter how faint they are) is what makes them so exciting to hunt.

  4. Pingback: Space Station and Shuttle Flyover’s this Week « Late Night Astronomy

  5. Pingback: Exploring the Early Spring Sky | Late Night Astronomy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s