June 21, 2007

Mystery Object in the Sky

For the third night in a row, we all went out in the back yard to watch the International Space Station go over. Last night it was there trailing Atlantis by a constellation's worth of distance. Tonight, the shuttle is in a different orbit and not visible here at all.

As predicted by Heavens Above, the ISS appeared above the northern horizon right on schedule at 9:44. We all (the three of us and two friends staying over) ooohed and ahhhed appropriately as it rose up almost directly overhead getting brighter all the time. Before it faded into the earth's shadow at the end of three minutes, someone noticed a second light in the sky. There it was, following the ISS in pretty much the same path about two minutes behind with a magnitude around 1.0, We thought it was going a little slower than the ISS, so I guessed that it must be in a slightly higher orbit and predicted that it would go into shadow at a higher point in the sky than the ISS did. We weren't carefully measuring anything, but I think my prediction held true.

So... back to Heavens Above to see what it was. Nothing was supposed to be passing over that way tonight. I poked around to the various web sites for people who watch satellites like HobbySpace and the Visual Satellite Observer's Home Page and found lots of dead links and stale information. No news on the NASA News page, either, of anything big that was jettisoned either from the ISS or Atlantis.

So what was it? In hopes of attracting someone who might know, let me finish this paragraph with a load of tasty, Googleable phrases: UFO, mysterious object, mystery object, mystery satellite, secret satellite, alien abduction and Paris Hilton. There. That should bring me some hits.

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