Cool Satellite Observation

Observation notes from Wednesday, October 18, 1995

I saw such a cool satellite last night that I just had to write you a piece of email and tell you about it. Good fortune seems to be with me lately every time I look at the night sky. I stepped out on my deck last night to do some naked eye star gazing (no, not observing naked...which can be fun at times...but observing without any optical aid....the former would be naked-naked eye observing). The sky was filled with many blazing suns, like brilliant diamonds on black velvet. As I glanced at Altair in Aquila the eagle, I noticed a satellite passing very close to Altair. It was the usually, dim little dot that satellites are, tiny, and barely visible. But, I decided to follow it to see if I could catch it entering the earth's shadow.

Then, suddenly, it brightened to just over 1st magnitude!!! Way cool!!! Then, it dimmed dim that I had to use averted vision to follow it...and even losing it briefly at times. Then, just like clock work, it brightened again...shining briefly at just over 1st magnitude!!! It dimmed again and I lost it (either to the murk toward the southeastern horizon or to earth's shadow). Of course this brightening was due to the satellite tumbling in it's orbit and it's solar panels (or something shiny) catching the sun and reflecting it down. I've heard others describe it, and I've even seen a few due this slightly, but never as dramatic as the one last night. A lot of people follow satellites...after last night, it might be another interesting avenue of astronomy for me to follow as well.

Now the meteors, which I seem to see every time I step outside. After the satellite sighting, I went inside and started preparing my telescope for observing. Then I got lazy and decided to just put the lawn chair on the deck and observe with my 10x50 binoculars. Just as I sit down, a medium brightness meteor flashes overhead. Nice!!! Then I saw a strange meteor (or UFO). I picked up what seemed to be a dim meteor moving VERY FAST from the east (could have been an Orionid). Although it was dim, it appeared quite large....and it was the fasted meteor I believe I've ever seen. It also crossed the ENTIRE sky (or at least what portion of the sky I could see). I actually jumped out of my chair trying to following its path, but lost sight of it behind the tree line. Weird meteor...but interesting. Lastly, I saw a third meteor...dim, small tail...normal.

I finished out my observing session by scanning up and down the Milky Way with my binoculars. I observed a lot around Lyra and Cygnus....picking up the "Coat Hanger" cluster and the Dumbbell Nebula. I also picked up M11, the Wild Duck Cluster just below Aquila. I also observed the star(s) Delta Lyra. I never realized that these were contrasting color stars (similar to the Albireo double). Delta-Lyra is spectral class B3 which makes it blue, and Delta2-Lyra is spectral class M4, which makes it appear orange-red. Pretty neat double to observe in binoculars.

That is all,

Jeff Polston

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