austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Shine on, Shine on Harvey Bloom, up in the sky

I've always loved astronomy and space. What I've never been is good at actually observing things in the sky. Maybe it's a lack of adequate attention on my part; the best observing is usually in the most miserably cold part of the year. Maybe it's just bad luck. Maybe it's just my inability to keep references on hand so I know where to look for what I want to see. I'm fairly sure I've seen Halley's Comet with my bare eye, but I'm not really sure and I'm not double-checking because I don't want to know that I'm wrong.

But this evening my mother rushed in the house, yelling for everyone to go out back, because the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle would be visible to the northwest until 7:02. She wasn't exactly sure which way was northwest; I had a good idea the rough idea of North but also know, it's a big sky, and you can miss ... uhm ... well, there was this quite bright thing in the northwest and trucking toward the zenith rather speedily. Maybe ... well ... perhaps it was. At the least we could watch and suppose we were right. It was moving nicely steadily, and though it was fast my mother was sure it'd be visible until past 7:02.

Well, I pointed out, when it falls into the Earth's shadow it'll turn nearly invisible quite rapidly. And I realized I shouldn't have said that since if the object got across the sky without dimming I'd have proven we missed the space station. When would it get into the shadow? It'd have to be right about when it reached the zenith, right? ... and as the object got lost in the branches of a tree, and my father got back from inside with his iPod to try taking pictures, my mother lost the suddenly dim object. It had to be something in the sky, moving into the shadow of the Earth. We could follow the dimmed object the rest of its way, to the point nearby houses obstructed it, but ...

Well, there's the important thing. Beyond any reasonable doubt I saw the International Space Station today, as it passed over my house.

Trivia: Joseph-Louis Lagrange, in Marseilles, observed the moon of Venus on the 10th, 11, and 12th of February 1761, in enough detail he announced the plane of its orbit was vertical to the ecliptic. Source: Watchers Of The Skies: An Informal History of Astronomy From Babylon To The Space Age, Willy Ley.

Currently Reading: Zoo City, Lauren Beukes. This is an interesting one. chefmongoose, one of the supporting cast has a mongoose familiar, though the familiar doesn't do very much beyond chuffling and demanding to be let out.


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