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Unexpected Victories: Sirus B and a Falcon

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#1 Alex Swartzinski

Alex Swartzinski


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Posted 14 February 2024 - 09:58 PM

You never know what will come from an observing night. The forecast called for mostly cloudy skies rolling in this evening, but the beautiful blue sky was giving way to an explosion of sunset colors. I had just gotten home around 5:00 and was feeling quite tired. With the skies looking good, I figured 45 minutes of uneventful double star splitting was in order.


After letting the scope cool down to 30F for a couple of hours, it was time to get started. Turning east, I saw a familiar but unexpected sight. There was a bright but uneven halo with a comet-like tail trailing behind. At first I thought it was merely a bright star with some high clouds distorting things, but there wasn't anything bright enough in the region to have this effect. This object looked very similar to the countless evening rocket launch photos my buddy in Florida sends me, but this couldn't be, right? 


I turned to the waxing moon. Wow, that sight never gets old. Seeing the crater Theophilus illuminated on one side of the rim gave an excellent sense of scale along the terminator line. Cranking the power up to 200x, the lunar surface looked like a photograph. I've had some great lunar views, but this session was by far my favorite this year. There was so much contrast across the surface! 


It was finally time to move on. Jupiter looked quite nice, but I've had better views. To be fair, it was starting to drift into the tree branches. 


I took a glimpse at a couple of suburban sky-friendly DSOs (M81, M82, M42) and settled into double star observing. In my observing book for Orion, there was only one more pair to split: Alnitak. I've done this split a couple of times, but tonight was different. Both the A and B stars were incredibly tight. The pair didn't have any scatter, and there was an inky blackness between them which make everything look super sharp.  


Where to next? I glimpsed at Sirus A hanging beautifully above the tree line. It didn't look like a spotlight tonight. Without a glimmer, the dog star was still. Why not give it a try? Pointing the 200x eyepiece at this bright star, I saw a clean and even diffraction ring. In my two years of attempts at this split, I'd often been met with a washing machine of diffraction. Not tonight. Glimpsing at the correct position, I waited. After a minute of study, a small stellar spec appeared. It was only a white dot, but I couldn't believe my luck. I spent a good 10 minutes watching Sirus B pop in and out of view. I couldn't believe what I was seeing!


Coming inside around 9:00, I was wideawake again. After excitingly looking at sketches of Sirus B to confirm my observations, I noticed several posts which confirmed the rocket as a deorbiting Falcon second stage which had recently launched a payload into a high inclination orbit. In this simple backyard session, I had seen my first Falcon rocket and a star I'd been hunting for two years. Less than two hours prior to these events, I was debating going out!   


The moral of this story is to get out there. I've seen countless Starlink Trains, bright meteors, space junk deorbiting, cool aircraft, and now a rocket stage deorbiting. Those unassuming nights are some of the best. The more time we spend under the night sky, the more events we get to witness. This night will certainly make me think twice about staying in when I'm tired or the Moon is out. Who knows what awaits us out there! 

Edited by Alex Swartzinski, 14 February 2024 - 10:03 PM.

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#2 therealdmt



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Posted 15 February 2024 - 02:14 AM

Congrats on the great session. Sounds like you definitely picked the right night to not stay in and watch TV :)

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#3 Astroman007



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Posted 15 February 2024 - 10:48 AM

Love the report, a joy to read. Thank you for sharing! waytogo.gif

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