Magnitude predictions

Bart De Pontieu (
Thu, 19 Dec 1996 12:40:03 +0100 (MET)

Just wanted to make a comment about the lack (?) of precise magnitude
predictions in the existing predictions software.

Why do we observe satellites? Because they're there? [I suspect that's
right for some of us]
Or perhaps because they constitute a surprising and dynamic element in
the night sky, which -let's face it- can become quite boring. Always
the same stars, always the same magnitudes, the constellations never
change, etc...

I, for one, am interested in satellites, not because I can predict
exactly where they appear, what they will look like (steady or flashing)
and what magnitude they will have. One of the reasons I observe 
satellites is because they very frequently bring an element of surprise
in an observing session. Sometimes they'll be steady all of a sudden,
or vice versa : flashing with unexpectedly low flash periods. Sometimes
air drag or maneuvering will have made them late or early with respect
to predictions. And, of course, sometimes they will be faint, or fainter
than expected. Or at other times they'll be more brilliant you could
ever imagine them to be. This is part of what makes satellite observing
fun, for me.

Why is it that looking for classified spy satellites is such a popular
branch of our hobby? For the reasons I mentioned in the above: the
observer gets the feeling he helps solving a puzzle, he is playing
amateur-detective! One really should hope that the US military never ever
decide to publish orbital elements for their secret sats, or quite a few
of our colleague satellite observers will have lost a lot of their
enjoyment in this hobby.

Personally, I have no need for a piece of software that tells me what
will happen during my observing session at all times. When I observe, I
use Sat 4.75 (the BWGS software) or Quicksat, and even though both of 
these predict magnitudes, I never take a look at those values; and let
myself be surprised. And no, this is not because I am such an
'experienced' observer. I am not, or at least not anymore. And yes, I
am well aware that new observers may find the hobby frustrating, at first,
since they will miss out on many satellites they try to find. But I
would think the 'detective work' thing makes the satisfaction so much
larger when one *does* find a satellite. And how can one ever get a feel
for satellite observing if the computer always tells you what to expect?

The above is all IMHO (and tongue firmly in cheek :-), of course; but I
suspect there are others who share my opinion. The point I'm trying to
make is that I suspect that many of the people active in this hobby do
not share this need for "instant gratification"; and that this is one the
reasons why Robert's ideal software does not exist yet.

[And no, I'm not that old, nor do I hate computers, I grew up with
them and use them every day :-]

Bart De Pontieu - Max-Planck-Institute for extraterrestrial Physics, Garching - SeeSat-L administrator - (for now) BWGS coordinator
 "Life is like a jigsaw. You get the straight bits, but there's something"
     "missing in the middle." -- XTC, "All Of A Sudden (It's Too Late)"