Shuttle launch and water t

Date: Sun Dec 01 2002 - 21:11:24 EST

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     Hi all -
     It's turning out to be a momentous shuttle mission for me...
     I was visiting relatives in Philadelphia last at the time of the launch, so I
    went to the playground where, as a kid four decades ago, I used to set up my
    3-inch reflector.  I climbed up a play slide to get a better view over the
    trees, carrying a radio to listen to the launch on the local news radio station
    (they carried the countdown live).  Just over seven minutes later, right on
    schedule, the shuttle appeared at magnitude +1, brightening steadily to
    magnitude -1 before suddenly disappearing from sight.  In an 8x25 monocular I
    could see a short double red tail; too bad I didn't have that 3-inch reflector
    with me (it is home in Colorado).  I have never seen a Shuttle launch before,
    although I did catch the 1982 landing in New Mexico.
     After returning to Colorado, I caught a 19-degree pass on Nov. 29 UT.  The
    next evening, at 01:10 UT Nov. 30, the ISS+STS combination made a nearly
    overhead (89 degree) pass.  As it rose out of the southwest, it appeared to be
    moving right along a vertically oriented contrail.  I tracked it with the
    3-inch reflector (the same one), in which the STS+ISS showed a little bit of
    structure (like a bright, distorted double star).  It reddened as it moved into
    eclipse, then I tracked it for another minute as the object shone by its own
    lights at magnitude 7.5.
     After the pass, my wife, who watched without a telescope, noted that the
    "contrail" seemed to disappear at each point as the ISS passed by.  She asked
    if the station had a headlight or something.  Since I was tracking with the
    telescope, I didn't notice this phenomenon.  However, it now appears that the
    "contrail" we both saw was the water dump, still visible one orbit after the
    east coast sightings.  The "contrail" was about 15 degrees long, and quite
    straight (not surprising for an overhead pass, assuming the ice crystals remain
    in the orbital plane).  
     The ISS+STS made two visible passes on Dec. 1 UT, with no unusual phenomena,
    and tonight (0:55 UT Dec. 2) it had a bright (-2 mag.) 45-degree pass.
     Shortly after tonight's ISS pass, at 01:21 UT Dec. 2, there was a spectacular
    double Iridium flare, as Iridiums 59 and 95 made brilliant mag. -7 flares 17
    seconds apart.
     Cheers, Rich Keen, Coal Creek Canyon, Colorado, USA (39.877N, 105.391W, elevation 2728m)
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