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Two For The Show

by Joe Rao on


On Tuesday (Sept. 8, 2009) and Wednesday (Sept. 9, 2009) the New York metro area will have three great opportunities (local weather conditions permitting) to see the Space Shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station flying in tandem across our evening sky.

ISS and Space Shuttle in Sky
Time exposure of the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle by Dr. Marco Langbroek of Leiden, Netherlands. The image shows the Space Shuttle Discovery STS-119 and the ISS on March 17, 2009 about one hour before they docked.
Credit: Dr. Marco Langbroek

Currently, Discovery is docked to the Space Station, but at 3:27 p.m. on Tuesday it will undock from the Station and slowly begin to pull away from it.

On Tuesday, at 7:42 p.m., both Discovery and the Space Station will rise above the SSW horizon and will track toward the ENE. They will appear as two bright moving "stars." Discovery will appear to lead the Space Station across the sky. The Space Station, however, should appear as the brighter of the two objects. They will be separated by roughly 5 or 6 degrees; your clenched fist held at arm's length measures roughly 10-degrees, so the Shuttle and Space Station will be separated by about a "half fist" as they move across the sky. At their highest point, they will stand 33-degrees above the SE horizon and at 7:44:30, as an added bonus, they will pass directly above the planet Jupiter. This pass should take 5 minutes 17-seconds from start to finish.

Also on Tuesday evening, a second pass will begin at 9:18 p.m. Discovery and the Space Station will appear a little farther apart. They will rise above the W horizon and will track toward the NNW. After 2 minutes 29 seconds, however, they will rapidly fade out, 25-degrees above the horizon, as they pass into the Earth's shadow.

On Wednesday, comes the third and final double pass. The two space vehicles will be much farther apart ... the Shuttle will lead the ISS by about one minute. Watch for Discovery at 8:05 p.m. rising above the WSW horizon, moving toward the NE; the Space Station will follow along the same track about a minute later. At their highest point, they will stand 64-degrees above the NW horizon. This pass should take 5 minutes 42-seconds from start to finish.

Discovery is scheduled to return to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday (Sept. 10) at 7:06 p.m.