Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Twinkle, twinkle, little star…

Since childhood I’ve had a fascination with the night sky. A trip to the planetarium in 4th grade solidified my interest in star watching – but not to the degree that I chose to make a career out of it, nor did I want to be an astronaut when I grew up. As a kid, I loved lying on a blanket in the grass at night staring up at the sky. It is the mystery of ‘what if?’ that held my curiosity. Of course, that explains why I enjoy reading and writing science fiction (with a romantic twist!). I learned a few planetary and stellar names in grade school and to this day I can find them. The majority, although once learned for school, now elude me. Doesn’t matter, I still enjoy looking at them and wondering: what’s really up there?

Well, how about 10,000 man-made satellites? And they are quite easy to find! If you go outside about 45-90 minutes after sundown, on a clear night, you can easily see one or two every fifteen minutes. Satellites look like stars because their hulls reflect the light from the sun. But they move in straight, steady lines. They can be mistaken for high-flying aircraft unless you look carefully and then you’ll see – they don’t have the blinking lights of aircraft. Quite fascinating, really!

Last night, under a perfectly clear, Illinois night sky, I happened to see a remarkable thing: the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station! They were visible over the Pacific coast sky on Monday (as a single bright object), as two separate objects over the midwest on Tuesday, and will be visible in the southern states tonight. They appeared at 9:40pm as two very bright stars traveling in a straight line one behind the other. Atlantis separated from the ISS on Tuesday morning, and races about 30 seconds ahead of the ISS in preparation for maneuvers back to Earth, landing in Florida on Thursday. Even though the space station is much bigger, it appears less bright than Atlantis. It took about 5 minutes for both to traverse the sky from west to east. I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

It is amazing to think that there are people up there, living and working in both the ISS and the space shuttle. Were they looking down at our planet at the same moment I looked up? I hope so. And I wish them safe journey back to Earth.

~Rita Sable


Cindy Spencer Pape said...

Way cool Rita!
I was in my RWA meeting and missed it.

Anonymous said...

Awesome, what a great thing to know and notice and tell us about. Isn't it wonderful to live in this day and age. Charlene L