Space Station joins morning sky show
It was a beautiful morning in Baltimore for stargazing. With Venus and the crescent moon dominating the predawn sky, the International Space Station made a dramatic appearance. The station, with the shuttle Discovery still too close by to be seen as a separate object from 200 miles below, crossed a planet-filled morning sky.
The photo above was taken from New Mexico by Becky Ramotowski. It shows the ISS passing right to left beneath Saturn, flaring a bit as it reflects moonlight from below. That's the moon and Venus glowing near the horizon. I'm guessing the moon looks full because its crescent is over-exposed to make the relatively dim Saturn and the ISS easier to see.
Station and shuttle rose from the southwestern sky just after 5:50 a.m., passed beneath the bright stars of the Orion constellation, and Sirius, the brightest true star in the sky.
Then it swept just above Saturn at 5:53 a.m., high in the southeastern sky. I had my little ETX telescope tracking Saturn, and the planet's rings were very clear in the morning sky. But the ISS passed too far away from the planet to fall within my narrow field of view. I'm hoping someone, somewhere saw the two objects from a better angle and managed to snap both in the same frame. If so, send me a copy and I'll post it.
At the bottom of this post, there's a picture shot this morning by Baltimore's Streetcorner Astronomer, Herman Heyn. He was at Sherwood Gardens, shooting ISO 400 film with a .25 sec. exposure. That's the ISS crossing from right to left. (If it appears to be a dotted line, that is an artifact of our digitization of a film image, not the original.) Saturn is the "star" just below the streak, Regulus is the (real) star just above the station's path. The moon and Venus were behind the trees at lower left.
After the station and shuttle disappeared into the northeastern sky, I turned the telescope to Venus and the moon. I had never before seen Venus well enough to witness one of its moon-like phases. But there it was, with half its sphere illuminated by the rising sun. The crescent moon was dramatically illuminated, with low sun angles that threw its craters into sharp relief.
Swinging the telescope around, high in the western sky, I found Mars, a reddish disk that promises to get only bigger and brighter as the weeks tick by toward opposition at Christmastime.
Mercury was there, too, somewhere low in the eastern sky, too low for me to see below the houses and trees. It was a fine morning for the sleep-deprived. I hope others, too, got a chance to see at least part of the show. Leave a comment and let us know what you saw.