Skies and Stars
Spot 3 (3/3/2019) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 03 March 2019 20:37

ere’s a neat little game. You’ll remember in my last blog how I spotted a booster in orbit and used time and position to figure out what it was. Well, this game can be played backwards.

You can go to this site, Heavens Above, and get all the information about current debris lofting over your rooftop. If you click on a row, you’ll get a nice map that shows exactly when that vehicle will cross, time, location, everything. If you pick an hour or two after sunset, you’ll get a brilliant contrast, the item still in sunlight, the sky black behind it.

To try this, I looked through tonight’s passings and found the Spot 3 rocket booster. As part of a French mission launched out of French Guiana in 1993, this chunk has been floating about for a quarter century now. So I went out with my binoculars, a blanket to lay on and a pillow to prop with, and an battery alarm clock with a glowing face. Sirius (really easy to find) at 8:06. Got focused up about two minutes before go time and settled in.

Unlike plane- and train-spotting, orbitals don’t run late. At 8:06 on the dot, this thing rose into view, bright and unmistakable. I tracked him as he went right overhead, all the way. And that was really cool.

So if you want to put a mission into your astronomy, try to catch orbiting targets as they make their pass. It’s a great deal of fun!


Note - this site is lined up for Orlando. If you are somewhere else, you should be able to click on the Heavens Above icon to return to the main page where you can set your location. Then, click "Greater Predictions for Brighter Satellites" and you should be in business!

Last Updated on Sunday, 03 March 2019 20:45
Geneva and all things stellar (3/2/2019) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 03 March 2019 12:16

oughly twenty years ago. Somewhere in China. A Long March rocket boosted off its pad for whatever mission it was tasked for, assuming an equatorial orbit, forever sailing for the western horizon.

March 2nd, 2019 – 7:02pm. My scope, leveled at Sirius in Canis Major, was undergoing sight calibration testing for club night at the Geneva Gun Range. The sunlight was draining out the sky and I was just focusing in when the leftover rocket booster moved through my sights, just a pinpoint of light flashing by against the royal purple backdrop.

“Just after seven,” I called to my wife. “Crossing Sirius, going west.” My wife jotted that down.

And now, today, I was able to track down which satellite this was, a geeky version of Trainspotting that I like to engage in.

Yeah, the CFAS group was there, lined up with their scopes (and markers out to keep latecomers from blasting us with headlights). JB and I were down on the end of the line, set up with our tiny (by comparison) scope. We traded eyepiece time with Brett (another newbie) (whose scope is a trench mortar) and got some really nice views. Very fun to get out into the night, to line up the usuals (the Orion Nebula, the Pleiades, the Double Cluster). Took in the double star of Cor Caroli. Some exploration down near Sirius got a new one for me, M41 (the Little Beehive) and maybe the pair (M46/47) though I can only say with confidence I saw a single cluster there, even though I looked all over for it. Brett tossed me a nice view of Andromeda.

Overall, it was a good night, just cool enough, not too buggy, with a nice group who shared their toys and chatted amicably.

Good Saturday night.


Sirius, a black cloud behind a white one, and a lot of nothing (2/24/2019) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 24 February 2019 21:35

t’s been since August that I had the scope out. A lot of stuff happened – a trip to Japan, a hernia operation (and the recovery), then two friends in hospitals (with tri-weekly visits) until just recently. And closing out a career. And everything else.

With the dark skies event coming up this Friday/Saturday, I’ve been thinking I need to tune up the scope, to make sure I remembered how to do this from a half-year ago (before I do it out in some field in the dark). And while I dusted my Orion off, I discovered the laser sight was dead. Switching the batteries knocked it off true. Okay, I needed to tune it up.

Got home tonight and it was mostly clear. ranked it as “feh” because of clouds. Yeah, a couple of poofies but I might be able to work around it.

Got everything set up and sighted Sirius – like, how could you miss that one? Got the finder and scope to agree, and a little more work got the laser locked. Got out my astronomy chair and sat down and enjoyed basking in a great bunch of white. Yes, a cloud had rolled over and more were on the way.

Still, it was a nice night. Lined up one where the Orion nebula should be and was finally rewarded with a view through my 24mm eyepiece. And there it was, my favorite spot in the heavens, all ablaze with glowing gasses. Switched over to the 10mm for an even closer view and…

White out.

Pulling back from the eyepiece, I found nothing but clouds overhead. Pretty much a wash out; not even sucker holes.

And that sucked.

But what sucked even more was when I was carrying my stuff back in. Went out for the last of it and the finicky clouds had mostly cleaned again.

No thanks. Enough was enough.


CZ-3 and Coathanger (8/7/3028) PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 07 August 2018 22:39

ust a quick entry, showing that you don’t need to lug the scope out to enjoy astronomy.

I’d gone outside with the binoculars to hunt a couple of things – the night was pretty clear (though a heavy bank briefly obscured the entire sky at one point). Still, I looked around at Polaris and tracked a few stars I liked. At about 9:30, I saw a satellite pass over, west to east, just a little north of due overhead. I used to have a pretty good tool on my old computer setup to follow such things. A little desperate looking and I found a couple of good sites. I did notice that the ISS was inbound but unfortunate it was low to the west and I never saw it. But I did identify the earlier pass as CZ-3, the third stage of a Chinese booster that had lifted satellites into orbit. I used Heavens Above, a site that shows all the current overflights and makes it pretty easy (when you click through the row) to see if what you saw matches the flyby. Starry Night used to do an excellent job marking them but Stellarium, not so well. Unless you can point out the program’s tiny dot moving against the star field, you won’t be able to identify your bird. So Heavens Above it is from now on.

Since the Summer triangle (Deneb, Vega and Aquila) was clear overhead, I ran along the back line and found my favorite formation, the coathanger. Always nice to spot a familiar face in the skies – it will have to do until the Pleiades return (and I’m not desperate enough to get up at 4am to see them, sorry).

Nice to get back into the hobby.



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