Once Seen Never Forgotten – The ISS

Tonight I was alerted to an event that would be “once seen never forgotten” in the words of my uncle; the International Space Station passing overhead.

The International Space StationA few minutes before it was due to be visible we turned all the house lights off to reduce glare and light pollution, and rushed outside looking due West.

There were a few twinkling stars, and as our eyes adjusted we saw more and more. There was a bright star in the right kind of direction but a consultation with the Starmap app told us we were looking at Arcturus, the brightest star of the Herdsman constellation. We scanned the sky. Dad spotted another potential candidate, but we stared at it a while and it didn’t appear to move. All of a sudden mum uttered a sound of shock and slight fear that is too hard for me to translate into letters. “Is THAT it?!” she shrieked and pointed to the sky. ‘That’ was definitely it. 

A bright light moved fairly rapidly from a Westerly direction. It seemed low, but shone brightly and moved uniformly, ruling out a shooting star or a plane that would have had flashing lights. You could actually see with the naked eye that it was an unusual shape; a longer length than a normal star. Wow. We watched it glide overhead and towards the East, taking three or four minutes. As we were looking up, to our complete surprise, we spotted two other satellites moving uniformly in different directions. I can’t believe I’ve never seen a satellite before! A recent trip to the Science Museum taught me that there are hundreds if not thousands up there, but I’ve never actually stared at the sky long enough to see one before. It was a clear sky but there was a long whisp of what I had thought was cloud. It was a windy night though, and in fifteen minutes the ‘cloud’ didn’t disperse or change shape which seemed unusual. I wondered if it could possibly be a galaxy, and a google once inside made me realise we were probably looking at the Andromeda Galaxy; the most distant object you can see with the naked eye.

What an incredible night. I had no idea all this was visible from our back garden. My uncle says the ISS will appear visible for the next few nights over the UK, and as an added bonus it’s the Perseid Meteor Shower this week too! I can totally see stargazing becoming another hobby.

 

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