The Why and What of My Satellite Viewing?

From: Art Glick (
Date: Sat Sep 10 2011 - 17:39:27 UTC

  • Next message: "Re: Why do people look at satellites?"

    >On 2011/09/09 5:30, Roger wrote:
    > > Just wondering, what's the reason some of you watch satellites, work
    > > related?  Purely hobbiest?
    > >
    I can recall catching the bug as a boy of five years age in 
    Philadelphia, standing out on the front lawn with my much older 
    cousin looking for Sputnik I (which we never saw), and like Joe, we 
    had the Fels Planetarium at the Franklin Institute, which had its own 
    Dial-a-Satellite line (luckily for my parents, Joe, it was a local call!).
    I do recall the tests from Wallops Island in the 1960s, too, but I 
    thought that they were sodium vapor tests.  Imagine, if you will, 
    three huge explosions of bright orange glow, one right after the 
    other, in a row, each perhaps 20 degrees wide!
    If you've been impressed by a fuel dump, you ain't seen nothing 
    compared to the sodium tests from Wallops!
    Perhaps the best manmade apparition I've ever seen was the failed 
    Italian Tether experiment from the Shuttle.  I caught the tether a 
    day or two before its decay, stretched out completely (it was 20 km 
    long), moving eerily across the predawn sky - well longer than the 
    diameter of the full moon!
    In a weird twist of fate, I actually got to know the U.S. Astronaut 
    that launched the experiment from the Shuttle (Dr Jeff Hoffman, who 
    bought a sauna from me!), and ironically, what was perhaps one of the 
    greatest disappointments of his illustrious career (first Astronaut 
    to log 1000 hours in the Shuttle and one of the Astronauts on the 
    first Hubble repair mission) turned out to result in the most amazing 
    thing I've ever seen in the sky.
    What do I look for?
    I try to never miss a -8 Iridium Flare!  Always watch for a "double", 
    as they keep spares in close orbits.  Sometimes you get a double 
    flare from the same satellite (different reflecting surfaces).  My 
    (now grown) firstborn daughter, jaded as you might expect from 
    growing up with her geek father, allowed me to convince her to come 
    outside yet again for a -8 flare, and it turned out to be a "double 
    double" - two satellites each flaring twice.  We're still talking about that.
    I also like to see sats traveling in tandem (NOSS, GRACE).  After 
    watching literally thousands of various satellite transits, it's 
    still seems otherworldly to watch multiple birds flying in formation.
    And then there's the transits notable for what they are.  You 
    mentioned the Hubble, which never gets over about 22 degrees from the 
    38th parallel.  I've seen it a few times.  There's an Agena rocket 
    that's easier to see and might be one of the oldest objects still 
    left in orbit.  There's something special about seeing something 
    that's been up there for nearly half a century!
    Lastly, I like to watch for birds in very low orbit nearing 
    decay.  I've heard (but not seen) that they can leave a plasma trail 
    on orbits just prior to decay as they skim the upper atmosphere, but 
    actually seeing a decay would be almost like a Holy Grail to 
    me.  UARS is poised for just that possibility at the end of the month.
    For a casual observer, I think Heavens-Above is the very best 
    resource.  Keep in mind that you can select a sat from the database, 
    if what you're seeking isn't on the nightly list, usually due to an 
    unknown (or too high) magnitude.
    I hope my advice helps you to enjoy satellite viewing.  Here's hoping 
    for clear skies any time that you try!
    Best Regards,
    Still in our summer home on the mountain...
    Exquisitely dark skies for one more month!
    +38.067, -80.434, 2950' above MSL
    Almost Heaven Group LLC
    Offering direct sales of Saunas, Steamrooms
    and the widest selection of Pool, Spa, Sauna
    and Hot Tub Equipment worldwide.
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