Watching for surprises

Ed Cannon (
Sat, 21 Dec 1996 05:17:21 -0600

Bart De Pontieu <> wrote:

>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.

I quote him just to report a few of my most surprising (and exciting, to
me) observations (so far).

First, the other morning I dragged myself out of bed (as I'm a "night owl", 
I find morning observing particularly stressful, but I'm almost always 
happy that I did get up) on a beautiful clear morning.  One thing I was 
planning was to see if I could see a bright (pred. mag. 1.4) HST (90-37B, 
20580) pass 25 minutes after Quicksat's 10-degree-twilight time.  Before 
that, though, I saw two objects "playing chase" (09854/77-15B followed 
very closely by 07004/73-107B).  (I always enjoy seeing two [or three!]
objects in the same field of vision; the first time it was unexpected.  By 
the time for the Hubble pass (Dec. 19, 12:59:15 UT; 6:59:15 CST), some thin 
clouds had suddenly moved in, and I was pessimistic but noticed that I could 
still see a few bright stars.  Sure enough, I saw -- through the thin clouds 
and in twilight -- HST and was able to follow it for over two minutes.  As 
it neared and passed culmination (6:59:45), it kept brightening.  Then at 
about 7:00:20, it suddenly brightened into a **magnificent** specular flash 
at or near the -5 that Mike has in a comment in his quicksat.mag file.  
(Thus I will vouch for Mike's comment on HST's brightening!)  The flash 
lasted perhaps 1/2 second.  Then I continued to watch the satellite for 
about 65 seconds after that.

Just a few days before that (Dec. 13, another morning!), after watching a
mag. 0.9 perigee pass of 00694 (63-47A), slowly tumbling (I counted three 
full periods -- over 2 minutes), a couple of minutes later I looked for EUVE 
(21987/92-31A), which I had seen a few times before.  It was predicted to be 
mag. 3.5-3.6, and it appeared just about true to the prediction.  Then right 
at culmination (Dec. 13, 11:56:04 UT, 5:56:04 CST), it displayed a specular 
flash up to approximately mag. 1 or 0!  I didn't expect anything like that, 
and it was neat!  I also observed two "unknowns" (not on my predictions), 
and that's always fun.  Finally, I also saw (not counting some possibles at 
the edge of my peripheral vision) at least 16 Geminid meteors that morning 
in perhaps about an hour of meteor-watching, and that was from a mid-city 

I've also really enjoyed the few very bright flashers I've seen in the last 
several months.  Flash ... (8 or 10 or 12 seconds) ... Flash ... Flash!  
Wow!  And a Cosmos Rk last spring or early summer, flashing twice a second -- 
when I wasn't expecting anything like that.  If I hadn't had predictions, I'd 
have been convinced that it was an airplane.  (But it did the same thing for 
me again the following morning, so I really certain then.)  

Then there's EGP (binoculars or telescope, of course, from this location)!  

Then there was the very bright unknown I saw several months ago, about 10
or 15 minutes after a nearly parallel pass of 00694.  (Probably due to the
less than precise time I provided to Mike, he wasn't able to find a match.  
I've kind of wondered if it could possibly have been the Shuttle, as there 
was a Shuttle pass that morning -- but not for that time.  I think there 
was some problem with the Shuttle's elements on that mission, causing people
to look too late.)

Then there was Cosmos 2053, when Sue Worden and I, while at a star party, 
both saw it turn from white to a bright blue-white and stay that color for
30 seconds or so.

Then there was seeing my first Shuttle re-entry just the other day, Dec. 7.
I didn't have the best vantage point, but it was so beautifully obvious --
a very bright streak stretching across the sky, very low, parallel to the
horizon.  I was EXCITED!  (Much appreciation to Mike for the estimate of 
that event that he put up on his Web page the day before!)

So, please pardon the long message, but I wanted to back up Bart's point
that much of the enjoyment is in the surprises -- although fulfilled
predictions are very satisfying also.

But, no observing this morning....  It's cloudy.

Regards to all,

Ed Cannon
Austin, Texas, USA
30.30N x 97.73W