What was this? (fwd)

Larry Klaes (larryk@ns.village.com)
Tue, 20 Aug 1996 11:27:03 -0400 (EDT)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 1996 11:53:04 -0600
To: astro@store-forward.mindspring.com
Subject: What was this?

I had a good observing session Friday night at Elizabeth Ridge (NE Utah,
USA).  I took along my 10"f10 Newtonian on a GEM.  My goal was to
observe all nine planets during the evening.  

I started with Mercury.  It was a bit difficult to find because of the
presence of high but moderately thick cirrus clouds in the west.  After
locating the Moon, I used my finder to scan and locate Mercury.  It was a
small gibbous disk that showed a lot of atmospheric color.  Not much to
see, but then it usually isn't.

Next I turned the scope to Jupiter.  The sky was still blue, the Sun had
only been below the horizon for about fifteen minutes.  I was satisfied to
see that the seeing really was excellent, but with a small amount of
water vapor induced turbulence.  The detail was still incredible.  The
southern region was ornamented with a string of white ovals.  I counted
five of them.  The polar region was not just a mottled grey, but seemed to
have a bunch of small detail that was just at the limit of resolution.  
There was also a great deal of detail visible in the equatorial regions.

While we were observing Jupiter, I saw a somewhat strange satellite. 
This satellite was very bright.  I estimate it to have been at least mag. -2. 
It was also moving VERY fast.  It started in the southwest and moved to
the east.  It went into the earth's shadow about 30 degrees above the
eastern horizon.  The incredible thing was that it did all this in about ten
seconds.  My recollection of the re-entry of the space shuttle tells me
that this satellite was moving faster than the shuttle.  Has anyone else
seen a similar object?

It was now dark enough to try for the most difficult object, Pluto.  As I
swung the scope towards the Libra area of the sky, I saw a flash in
Libra.  It was a bout magnitude 1.  I have seen this before in Libra, and I
assume it is some geostationary satellite that catches the sun and emits
a bright flash.  Still, that makes two fairly unusual satellite 
sightings within one evening.

Pluto took a bit of searching, but I did locate it after about 20 
minutes.  By careful examination of the field, I determined that I could 
see down to mag. 15.  I changed from my 16 mm Nagler to the 9 mm and sure 
enough, Pluto was easier to see.  unfortunately, just as I completed the 
switch, my drive ran out of sector gear.  I had to spend an additional 
five to ten minutes to find Pluto again after I reset my drive.

Next I turned to Neptune.  It is never more than a bluish dot, and it
showed no more on Friday.  Uranus was the same way.  It showed no
more detail although it was larger and slightly greenish to my eye.

Saturn was a beautifully sharp orb.  The rings are open nicely now, but
Cassini's division is still visible only where it is tangent to your line of
sight.  The seeing had improved to the point that it remained sharply
defined at 515X using a 4.8 mm Nagler.  The Crepe ring was easily seen
as well as some detail on the planet itself.  A great site for anyone's
memory.  (I do sketch also, but not very well.)

The final two planets were bagged at about 4 am.  Mars and Venus
were both in Gemini. Clouds were moving in by then, so I caught them
between the clouds.   I did not look at either of them telescopically.  
I was lucky to even open my eyes at that time and waking up for a cloudy
observing session is not my idea of fun.

Saturday the weather turned bad.  We had intermittent heavy thunder
showers with light rain most of the day.  I packed up Saturday night and
headed home with only one night's observing this dark of the Moon.

I hope someone can lend some understanding to the fast satellite.  I am
really puzzled by that one.  I have been observing for more than 30
years and have not yet seen anything like it.

Brent Watson