Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Light show

For the 4th of July explodathon Yummy and I went up on my roof. From there we have a clear view of DC's main fireworks show. Trees and buildings block everything else, but of that display we have a great view.

Of course, people were exploding stuff on our street, too. We had some rather large debris falling around us. This got the occasional "Woo?" from Gandolf. This is different than the "WOOO!" we'd get when there was a particularly good explosion.

After the main show we stayed up there to sober up and listen to DC celebrate. Someone decided it would be a good time to turn on their spotlight. You know, those four beamed displays that spin around so all the beams keep meeting in the middle? One of them. With all the smoke in the air the spotlight was particularly visible.

Despite being in the middle of DC, despite the smoke, despite the flashes and explosions, and despite the spotlights, we managed to spot seven (7) satellites passing pretty much right overhead. Saturn and Mars were as visible as could be expected, but between 10:00 and 11:00 (ish. We had no watches, only the church bells.) we saw Iridium-25, a few Cosmos rocket bodies, and several others that I can only make educated guesses about.

The Iridium satellites are noteworthy because you can see them during the day. They're so shiny that, if you're standing in a certain area, you get a spotlight for a few seconds. I saw one during the day several years back when I just happened to look over the top of a barn at the right time. This one was similar luck. We saw a dot moving through the sky that got bright enough to shame even the stars, stayed that bright for a couple of seconds, and then faded back to a spark.

Motorola launched them to provide a satellite phone service. When that venture failed they were preparing to deorbit the whole lot when the Navy stepped in to buy them. Now they're used largely for this...
(Stolen from

If you want to satellite spotting, or have seen something you'd like to confirm, check with Tell it where you are and it'll try to tell you where to look and when.

Anyway, for as few stars as we see even on a clear night in DC it was astounding that we saw so many satellites. You other city dwellers should try your luck.

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