By Peter Becker
I wonder how many people who enjoy "looking up" at the night sky, have dreamed of being a space traveler?
The other night it seemed very close. The night sky was clear and I had plans to venture forth onto the deck and "look up" before turning in. My plans were to take out a pair of binoculars. First I checked the TV weather and was surprised to hear that the International Space Station was passing across the sky within 10 minutes. It was due to appear low in the southwest and cross over to the northeast in six minutes' time.
Having seen it several times, I knew it would appear as a brilliant "star", moving fast. It is always a wonder to see it and think of the crew aboard. Binoculars show it still as a very bright point of light.
This time I grabbed the telescope and in record time had it set up and ready to go.
I looked in the finder scope and found it, and using the low power eyepiece (which has the widest field of view and thus easier to catch something like this), I was thrilled to catch the Space Station crossing the view.
It was necessary to keep moving the tube with the rapidly moving Space Station, to keep it "stationary" as possible, as the background stars seemed to sail past. This way I hoped to have some chance at actually seeing the shape of the Station.
Incredibly, even with the eyepiece magnifying only 24X, I was able to resolve it not as a "point of light" but in the shape of the letter "T". One part -the "stem" of the T, was glaring brilliantly; this may have been the main body of the Station. The T's cross piece was likely part of the solar panels extending like wings.
The Station was very small in the view and the glare made it difficult. The whole ship looks more like a capital "H", but the glare may have hid the other solar panels.
It was utterly amazing to glimpse something of the actual Space Station as it would appear from an approaching spacecraft and consider there are fellow humans aboard experiencing the wonder of spaceflight.
Higher magnification would have shown more but it would have been much harder to track the Station. Magnification not only seems to bring the object closer, it magnifies the motion.
It's still amazing just to watch it pass overhead, with eyes alone.
Various web sites can tell you when and where to expect the Space Station to pass overhead. One site is provided by NASA, at spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings.
First quarter Moon is on June 16, on Father's Day.
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Keep looking up!