TSS in the morning

Scott Wilson (wilson@scuch8.psc.sc.edu)
Mon, 11 Mar 1996 16:17:00 -0500 (EST)

I saw TSS this morning: it was amazing.  It was scheduled to come out of
shadow at 5:39am and pass directly south at 5:40 am with max elevation 26.6
deg from our location at 34N 81W.  Thank you Mike McCants for the 
elements.  A friend, Bob, from our astronomy club and I went out to see it, 
despite the cold and wind.  It was right on schedule for us.  With the 
naked eye, it looked like it couldn't have been more than five miles away, 
but its speed as it passed behind clouds told me it was much further.  It 
reminded me of the rope that a hot-air balloon has hanging down from the 
basket, only this balloon was invisible.  It's orientation was almost 
exactly vertical, with the ball at the top.  I could see the ball in my 
11x80 binocs, and Bob saw it too in his 7x50's.  The tail was straight 
except for a slight bend to the right about two-thirds of the way down.  
Its elevation was between one-half to two-thirds the elevation of the 
moon.  I noticed a distinct brightening as it passed under the moon.  Is it 
possible that the brightening was reflected moonlight?  I now have an 
entirely new perspective on size.  I really expected something 12 miles 
long at 200 miles altitude to be much smaller, even with any 
foreshortening.  If you're just thinking about trying to see it, do.  You 
have never seen anything like this, and you won't again after 26 March.  
And tell your friends and neighbors while you're at it.

BTW, how thick is the tether?  It looked from the shuttle pictures that 
it's 6 to 8 inches thick.  It's amazing you can see the tether at all.  
Being covered with white material probably helps.

Scott Wilson
President, Midlands Astronomy Club
Columbia, SC, USA