Saturday, September 29, 2007

Satellite Watching

I've enjoyed watching satellites cruising across the vast Bonaire evening skies for more than 30 years now. One advantage of living on a relatively flat desert island is that one can see the sky from horizon to horizon. So satellites, meteors, low lying planets like Mercury are all readily visible.

Sandra and I saw a very bright Iridium flare last night. The Web sites CalSky and Heavens-Above both can predict all sorts of interesting goings on in the sky, once you enter your location. CalSky even sends customizable email alerts. The web sites also list exactly which satellites are visible on any given night, so we no longer have to resign ourselves to saying, "I wonder what satellite that was?"

The International Space Station will be visible here on Bonaire the next few evenings. The right coordination of orbit and sunlight seems to come in bunches. I may have a chance to see the ISS cross the moon as well as Jupiter if I am lucky.

The picture is from last night. An Iridium satellite flared right in the middle of the constellation Cepheus. Cepheus sort of looks like an upside down stick figure of a house. The five main stars are visible from our back yard, as are a few more in the general area. The three minute exposure shows so many stars that I can't figure out the shape of Cepheus, even though I know right where it should be. If it clear tonight, maybe I'll try a short exposure - because another Iridium satellite is going to be flaring in almost the same spot.

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