A chance sighting

Tonight it was clear. Well, not that clear but good by Manchester standards. With a pleasant outside temperature - not too hot or cold - I thought I would just sit out in the back yard and watch the stars come out with a nice cup of tea. It was very relaxing despite the sound of traffic and the occasional siren in the distance.

My back yard is tiny and I am surrounded by buildings, so my field of view is quite limited. I watched as Arcturus became visible in the west and then found the three stars of the summer triangle - Vega, Deneb and Altair - over in the south-east. I lay on my wooden bench looking up and trying to see how many stars I could make out. As it got darker, the street lights started to kick in and the sky seemed to get a bit brighter again. On top of the man-made light, I was also battling against some thin cirrus and contrails which seemed to be becoming more widespread. Still, it was a warm night and it was great just to lie there watching Arcturus shine 200 million, million miles away.

Suddenly, not far from Arcturus, I spotted a bright light that was moving towards the south. A plane was my first thought, as several had passed overhead already, but there were no flashing wing lights on this one. My next thought was the International Space Station and, sure enough, the front page of Heavens Above showed the ISS over southern England and northern France. I watched it as it passed behind my neighbour's roof and then fade out as it went into the Earth's shadow. It was somehow strange to think that directly below that moving point of light was France. It makes you realise quite how small this planet of ours really is.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Saturday 09th Jul 2005 (23:28 UTC) | Permalink
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