Friday, May 8, 2009

Two cool things - one night

If you watch the night sky, you know that from time to time cool things are visible. Jupiter and Saturn look amazing through a decent backyard scope or good binoculars. Mars when close, looks cool and if there is not a dust storm, you can even see the frozen poles. (Yes, there are times when we are closer but not ever as close as that bogus e-mail people keep sending me because I teach astronomy) Tomorrow, Saturday May 9th, there will be two cool astronomical happenings visible from the Fresno/Clovis area.

1. There is a fleet of communications satellites called "Iridium" that are highly reflective. Because of this, they act like a mirror in space. If you are in the right place at the right time, they reflect the sun and look really bright. The first time I ever saw one of these, I didn't know what it was and it actually freaked me out a little bit. They are so bright, you can actually see them during the daytime if you know where and when to look. Saturday May 9th at 8:05 and 44 seconds, look to the North Northwest. Look up about 35 degrees from the horizontal and you will see one of these satellites "flare".

2. The International Space Station will fly over, just after sunset. What makes this cool is that for the people on the space station, because they are high above the Earth, it will still be day. For us, it will night so the space station will look very bright. At exactly 9:33 and 31 seconds, look low in the sky to the Southwest. By 9:36 it will move almost directly overhead and pass into earth's shadow and disappear.

Again, these will only be visible if you live in the Fresno/Clovis area.

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