Fly-By

We’ve been having a string of clear evenings in the Bay Area, perfect for watching the nightly fly-by of the International Space Station and the shuttle Atlantis. When the shuttle and the station are docked, they appear as a single, bright star moving from (roughly) west to east. The Atlantis undocked early this morning and rapidly moved away from the station. This evening one of the ships appeared in the northwest, then the other–the space station trailed by the shuttle, I think. From San Francisco, they seemed to move nearly straight overhead, then rapidly vanished into the Earth’s shadow when they were still high above the horizon.

It always surprises me a little not to see others out staring at these objects as they pass over, or that passers-by don’t ask what I’m looking at. A big-city rule, I guess: avoid the harmless-looking guy staring into the sky just in case he’s a lunatic. One time, a co-worker happened upon me watching the space station go over a nearby park. “What happened?” she asked. “Did a bird shit on you?” I told her about the space station and pointed at it. She glanced toward the sky, gave me a look that said she didn’t quite believe anything like that was up there at the moment, and moved on.

Tonight in Berkeley, meantime: Kate knew the twin apparitions of space station and shuttle would become visible at 6:22. She called several neighbors to alert them. While I watched from the lower western edge of Potrero Hill, she had nearly a dozen people out in the street here in our neighborhood for the three-minute show. That’s just one of the things I love about this block: that people will come out to see a night-time sky display–lunar eclipses, comets, meteor showers, whatever’s on tap–and just hang out for a few minutes.

There’s another double-viewing Thanksgiving night. Check your local listings on NASA’s Satellite Sightings Information page.

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