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Monday, April 30, 2012

Starlight, Starbright

My new hobby is taking pictures of the stars and planets.  I recently discovered how to use the night-sky time-lapse function on my camera, and I'm going out just about every night.  Yes, I'm taking many of the same pictures over and over, but it thrills me anyway.

Top Right: Venus
Bottom Left: International Space Station as it passes through Orion, just under the "belt"
Tonight I was taking lovely pictures of the western sky with Orion on the left and Venus on the right.  I noticed one of many airplanes moving through my shot, only the path this aircraft was particularly smooth and the light wasn't blinking.  It dawned on me that it could be a satellite.  It stayed in view for a number of minutes, though, starting in the west, passing through Orion and over bright and sparkly Sirius, finally disappearing suddenly in the south.  It turns out it was the best display of the International Space Station that I've witnessed yet.  (I identified and confirmed the sighting here.)  Then I looked to the east and saw two satellites travelling north to south through Draco.  A third followed them a couple of minutes later.  The last time I saw that many satellites in that short of a time frame was when I was at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff in January of this year.  If you are ever in the area, be sure to stick around for some night viewing.  You can see so many stars and planets (we saw Jupiter in the big telescope!).  It's also dark enough to see the Milky Way, which is a fond memory of Lowell I've carried since childhood.

I discovered a website that lists satellite flybys.  I found it just in time to - in theory - spot the Hubble Space Telescope.  Unfortunately, I either missed it or couldn't see it.  I will be consulting this site in the future, though!

Another great site I found tonight is Tonight's Sky.  I recommend checking it out and discovering what you can see in your sky tonight.

A great resource for monthly viewing is SkyMaps.com.  Here is the May 2012 list.  They also have a free download each month.

On this last day of the month, I learned that April is Global Astronomy Month.  For more information, visit Astronomers Without Borders.

As the midnight hour approaches, I feel inclined to say, "Happy May Day!"

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