Author Topic: Advice for a space novice - ISS viewing from transatlantic aircraft  (Read 3056 times)

Offline boeing767

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Hi all,

 I am an airline pilot and was flying back from the states to the UK in the early hours of this morning (August 15th). At about 5:00 GMT and around 45N 50W. On the left hand side of the aircraft I witnessed the most amazing bright light in quite a linear trajectory moving rapidly away from us. The light was moving much to quickly and much to high to be an aircraft. The other pilot suggested it might be a star/space station hence the forum post. I must apologize for my naivety regarding this subject however I was fascinated by what I saw and wondered if anyone knows what it could have been. Is there is a good website I can use to get an idea of what I am looking at whilst gazing out of the flight deck at that time in the morning.

Many thanks,
« Last Edit: 08/16/2010 01:52 AM by Chris Bergin »

Online dsmillman

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Offline sdsds

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Re: Advice for a space novice
« Reply #2 on: 08/15/2010 10:59 PM »
Are you certain of the time?  Here's the ground track of the International Space Station (ISS) about an hour later:

http://www.heavens-above.com/gtrack.asp?date=40405.2581674884&lat=45&lng=-50&alt=0&loc=Unspecified&TZ=UCT&satid=25544

ISS would have been visible with magnitude -1.5.

http://www.heavens-above.com/PassSummary.aspx?satid=25544&lat=45&lng=-50&loc=Unspecified&alt=0&tz=UCT&Date=55423
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Offline David AF

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Re: Advice for a space novice
« Reply #3 on: 08/15/2010 11:47 PM »
There's a one hour difference between GMT and UK time, which would make this a match for the transatlantic corridor.
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Offline Jim Davis

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Re: Advice for a space novice
« Reply #4 on: 08/15/2010 11:54 PM »
The light was moving much to quickly and much to high to be an aircraft.

How could you tell how high it was and how fast it was moving?

Offline blane

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Re: Advice for a space novice
« Reply #5 on: 08/16/2010 12:27 AM »
The light was moving much to quickly and much to high to be an aircraft.

How could you tell how high it was and how fast it was moving?

I would guess that being several miles above the surface at a known groundspeed would give you a pretty good frame of reference.
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Offline sdsds

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Re: Advice for a space novice
« Reply #6 on: 08/16/2010 12:58 AM »
Somewhat off topic, but do other observers agree that with ISS at its current size, naked eye sightings now make it appear much more like an object at a certain altitude moving at a certain speed, rather than merely being a point of light moving across the star field?  Is this due to increased brightness, or could it really be that ISS has a large enough apparent diameter for the brain to make these distance and speed estimates?
« Last Edit: 08/16/2010 02:34 AM by sdsds »
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Offline Chris Bergin

Probably one for the viewing thread, but this is pretty unique! Welcome to the site's forum Boeing767.

Offline rdale

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Re: Advice for a space novice
« Reply #8 on: 08/16/2010 03:04 AM »
Somewhat off topic, but do other observers agree that with ISS at its current size, naked eye sightings now make it appear much more like an object at a certain altitude moving at a certain speed

No. People can't even judge aircraft heights and speeds as it is (I _love_ FlightAware on my iPad to find out exactly) so they won't have a clue as to the ISS height & velocity.

Offline boeing767

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Thanks to everyone for the reply's and links.
 With regards to the height and speed question as to how could I tell it wasn't an aircraft; The transatlantic tracks run from about 29-45,000ft. At this point in the flight we were at FL360 and M.80 even a 747 travelling at M.86 and 6,000ft above us would be very easy to recognise and remain in our field of vision for a much longer period of time. Also had this been an aircraft we would have had a indication on our traffic collision avoidance system.
 As we were mid-way across the atlantic we had a fantastic view of the sky with no light pollution. We dimmed the flight deck lights and the light we witness was easily the brightest in the sky. It lasted for approximately 1-2 minutes and disappeared almost on the horizon giving us a real appreciation for its speed.
 I'm back in work in a few days and will try and work out our exact time and location.

 Thanks again to everyone for the input and direction to some really interesting websites.

Mods apologies for not posting in the viewing thread. Feel free to move it.
« Last Edit: 08/16/2010 10:15 AM by boeing767 »

Offline Chris Bergin

Deserves its own thread. Sure sounds like you were buzzed by the ISS flying over at 17,500mph :)

Offline kirghizstan

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Deserves its own thread. Sure sounds like you were buzzed by the ISS flying over at 17,500mph :)

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Offline russellis

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Why does ISS appear to speed up when passing overhead?

Offline JAFO

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Airline pilots see lots of interesting things from their cockpits.....

CIA: UFO Sightings in 50s, 60s Were of Spy Planes   http://www.military.com/daily-news/2013/08/26/cia-ufo-sightings-in-50s-60s-were-of-spy-planes.html
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Offline rdale

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Why does ISS appear to speed up when passing overhead?

Because the Earth is curved, so the same reason the moon looks larger on the horizon.

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