Saturday, April 19, 2014

Streaking through the night-time sky

Almost close enough to touch
Way over London, ON
April 2014
Life is full of simple pleasures. Like when the Heavens Above website tells you that tonight's International Space Station overflight will put on an especially bright show (-3.0 mag in London) for anyone who takes the time to head outside and look up. So you grab your camera and tripod, rustle the kids and wander across the street to the dark spot under the trees that's just right for spotting and shooting.

In the 10 or so minutes before the dot first appears high overhead, they ask endless questions about what they're seeing overhead. Planets? Stars? Why do they twinkle? How far away are they? Are there any other satellites up there that we should be looking for? How will we know we're seeing it when we see it?

We discuss the observational differences between airplanes and satellites, and the optical mess known as the atmosphere. We talk about how big the station is, who lives on it, and why we still wave despite the fact that they can't see us so far below. I listen to their chatter, and realize they know infinitely more at their age than I knew way back when.

Finally they spot the moving dot low on the horizon as it emerges from a stand of trees. It brightens as it silently climbs toward us. The Dragon capsule, which launched from Cape Canaveral yesterday on top of a Falcon 9 (SpaceX page, wiki) rocket and is scheduled for rendez-vous tomorrow at 7:14 a.m. ET, isn't visible here. But we still know it's there, chasing the station through the inky blackness, and we make plans to gather around the laptop in the morning to watch the capture and docking.

I shoot as many 15-second exposures as I possibly can. Not because a smudge of light on a dark background makes for a particularly compelling photo. But because I want them to be able to look at the picture someday and feel what it was like to be outside on this night. Because photos make it easier to relive moments you don't want to forget.

In the overall scheme of things, I realize it's a moment that doesn't necessarily shake the earth. We gathered on a dark sidewalk on a cold, clear night and stared up at a moving white spot of light in the sky for a few fleeting minutes before it flew into the planet's shadow and winked out. But I'd like to think our kids somehow added to their growing list of life experiences. No matter how small they may be, when they all get added up someday, I hope they find them meaningful. And I hope their future is filled many more moments on sidewalks.

Your turn: Got a small memory from your own childhood?


Unknown said...

Carmi, what wonderful memories for your kids, Awesome!
I promise you they'll remember it for life.
I'll be there too this morning watching the docking on NASA TV.

52 years ago, (I was 16), they showed a movie in town about a young couple getting into trouble, not knowing what to do. The movie was for adults over 18 only. My parents who knew the theatre owner convinced him to let me in, they felt that that this was the right age for young people to see this movie. Later that evening my folks sat me down and reminded me, that no matter what happens in my life, they will be always there for me, to offer an open ear and advice... I will not forget that wonderful gesture as long as I live.

Thank again Carmi for all the wisdom you are sharing with us and the world!

Tabor said...

I think the best memories are such as these rather than in front of a game station or TV.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

"Planets? Stars?"


Cloudia said...

Always looking up, eh Carmi!