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Putting the Space Station Where You Want It — 2 Comments

  1. Twenty years ago, give or take, I had my telescope set up for a stargazing program at my local park. Earlier in the day, I had checked to see if there would be any bright satellites passing overhead. Back then, before there were satellite pass web sites like heavens-above.com, I would download the current “Brightest 100 or so” orbital element set text file from celestrak.com and load that into my desktop planetarium program. The brightest satellite that night would be the Ultraviolet Astronomical Research Satellite, or UARS, a school bus-sized object, deployed by the space shuttle in 1991. According to my app, its path took it right across the face of the Moon, right during the middle of the program. I did not know how accurate my planetarium app was at such predictions, but I knew it was good enough to give me the general path UARS would take across the night sky. As the time of the pass arrived, as often happens at public stargazing events, I was distracted speaking to one of the parents, having left my scope tracking on the Moon a few feet away. Suddenly, the voice a 12 year-old loudly cried out, “Oh! Wow!!!” I didn’t need to ask, I immediately knew why: he had just seen UARS cross the face of the Moon in my telescope.

    By the way, if you are unfamiliar with calsky.com, you might want to check it out. It has a bit of a learning curve, but it can be very helpful if you want to pursue ISS transits and conjunctions (or using other satellites). They send me emails alerting me (and anyone else who registers on their web site and requests such) any time the International Space Station will be crossing either the Sun or Moon, or passing close to a bright planet or star. Saturn appears to have been too far from the ISS from your observatory to have triggered them to send you an alert (they max-out at 15°) but they would have sent you an alert for the ISS passing close to Jupiter tonight (which should be actually closer). A click of the “center line” link in their email alert would have given you a map of you where you would need to be to see the ISS pass closest to Jupiter. For example, according to their web site, the ISS will pass right across Jupiter (well, visible in a telescope together at least) as seen from somewhere along a line that passes very near Allegre, KY. Here’s the link for that, but I’m not sure it will work:

    https://www.calsky.com/?Transitline=&showhome=&obs=17057899439624&tdt=2458769.50139230&sat=25544&interval=0.00011574&step=0.00000231&mainbody=5

    Or, if that gets broken up: bit.ly/2MyKKIU

    (A feature request to the webmaster: I really wish there were some way to allow “paid-up members” to upload their own photos, screen shots, etc., when they post a reply. There have been a few times when it would have come in very handy for me. This was one. 😉

    • Thanks for the comments. A funny thing happened at the observatory: the ISS did not show up. A visitor there had an app on his phone, and that app did not show the ISS as passing by Saturn.

      I later went back to Stellarium, and Stellarium did not show the ISS passing Saturn on the night of October 12. So, I figured I must have made some stupid error. But, looking at the images here, I clearly see that the date, time, location, etc. are all correct. So my copy of Stellarium was yielding spurious results at the time I made the images in this post — and multiple spurious results, since I was changing the location and looking at the resulting changes in Stellarium. I do not have any idea of what went wrong.

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