June 26, 2010

Last night, June 25th, we were wandering among the stars. Well, actually we were looking at the night sky with a pair of binoculars waiting for a satellite flyby of the Space Station. We knew the direction it was coming from and the exact time it would appear (WSW, 10:08:08pm). We knew that it would be very bright (-3.9 magnitude) rivaling that of Venus (a bit brighter at -4.2 magnitude). While we were waiting for the moment that the satellite would appear, we looked at the stars coming out as the sky darkened. The moon was so bright that its light washes out the dimmer stars, so only the brightest stars appear. Venus was very bright above the western horizon, appearing even before the red colors of the sunset had faded. I took this picture of Venus just to the left of the trees and you can see the last colors of a very beautiful sunset.

As the sky darkened, Liz looked up at the sky with the binoculars at two other bright stars and proclaimed them planets. I looked at them and thought that she was probably right about one of them and maybe not about the other one. The one I thought she was right about turned out to be Mars, the red planet. And indeed, it looked red. The other one she was also right about. It was Saturn. All three planets are visible in the early evening these nights, be sure to take a look!

Then, right on time, the Space Station rose and sped across the sky. It was magnificent, bright and fast moving (much faster than the high-flying ligts of planes that we saw). It took only a few minutes to travel across our viewing area and then sank below the horizon to the the NorthEast. I have to say that I did something silly. I started to cheer and applaud and Liz joined in with me. It is a beautiful sight and not to be missed. You have more chances this weekend to see. Check the times in your local area (look at the preceding blog entry for where to check). 

I cheered not only because the satellite flyby was so beautiful (it is), but because the thought of humans flying by in space made me think of myself as a small boy reading science fiction stories. I always wondered and hoped that we would get to explore in space and we have. Maybe not as far as I wanted (I wanted for us to go to the stars), but at least it’s a first step for humankind.

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Astronomy, International Space Station, Sky Watching, Venus, Sunset   •  Permalink (link to this article)   •  Share: