Observing Report by ASSNE Member Mike McCabe
Last night I went out to observe, and probably started setting up around 7:30 or so. For most of the setup time, I had the driveway lights on to make it easier to put everything together, but for the last few items I shut off the lights to start getting dark adapted. As I walked back to the scope just before 8:00 with the final pieces, I just looked up for a moment to scan the sky and see how things were looking. To my astonishment there were two new “stars” high in the southeastern sky that virtually mimicked Castor and Pollux. Set just a bit lower on the dome than the famous duo, they were both brighter than the familiar pair…and of course they were moving.
At first I was thinking Iridiums, because they both brightened and faded at virtually the same time, but I wasn’t sure because Iridiums travel in a virtually north-south path and this pair was heading SE/NW. Another reason that I initially suspected Iridiums is because they’re in the process of replacing them and I wondered if perhaps they had a couple running in tandem as part of the process. I watched as one faded dramatically but still remained visible and the other brightened again one more time before they both faded out of view somewhere south of Polaris.
I was intrigued now and vowed to try and remember to go on Heavens Above and figure out what they were. Well, I did this morning and BINGO! Got ’em! One was a Russian rocket body from a satellite that was launched in 1994, and the remnant still travels in a virtually perfect circle 640km above earth, and the other was a rocket body from something that Japan launched in 2001 which now travels in a hugely elliptical orbit around earth that varies in distance from 239km to over 31,000km.
Here’s the info on what I saw last night: