A maple tree lifts its crown to last night’s clear, starry sky.
The cloudy streak with a bright center at top is the Andromeda
galaxy. Photo: Bob King / Duluth News Tribune
Update 10:35 p.m. — see map below for tonight’s pass of Shenzhou-7
Sweet night yesterday if only for a little while. We had clouds but not before two bright space station passes and one flyover of our friend, Jules Verne (ATV). With a little luck in the weather department, we’ll be treated to evening passes of a brand new satellite, the Chinese manned spaceship Shenzhou-7. The name means "Divine Vessel" and the ship will carry three Chinese astronauts — called taikonauts — into orbit for a three-day journey into space. Tomorrow, one of the astronauts will perform China’s first spacewalk, the mission’s highlight.
Chinese astronauts (left to right), Jing Haipeng, Zhai Zhigang and Liu Boming attend a send-off ceremony before the launch of China’s third manned space mission at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu province on Thursday, Sept. 25. (AP PHOTO)
The ship launched at 6:10 Central time this morning the 25th with great fanfare. On board, the taikonauts will get to choose from a menu of 80 different foods including spicy kung-pao chicken, shrimp and dried fruits. They’ll also use special pencils costing $1470 from a firm in Shanghai to take notes on what they observe in space. The pencils are three times the thickness of regular pencils, made of slip-proof basswood and can be used on both ends. China First Pencil Co. Ltd. will produce an additional 2,008 pencils for general sale at $750 a pop. Sounds like American-style capitalism is alive and well in China.
It’s a great achievement to send humans into space, and the Chinese are justifiably proud. China’s growing space program can only enhance our understanding of the world that begins where our atmosphere ends.
As soon as predictions for evening flyovers are available, I’ll update the blog on when and where to look for Shenzhou-7, so check back later in the day. I hope we’ll all get a chance to see this historic flight. For more information on the mission, you can click here. For a fascinating look into the origin of (ahem) pencils, take a look at this story.
At right, a Long-March II-F rocket blasts the three Chinese astronauts into Earth orbit early this morning. (AP PHOTO)
The path of Shenzhou-7 through Northland skies this evening the 25th. We may also get to see the final rocket stage precede the spacecraft, so watch for two lights to pass across brilliant Jupiter. Shenzhou-7 will be faint this evening so I’d recommend binoculars to catch it. Look left and right of Jupiter at the times shown. After 8:10:45 p.m., the craft will disappear into Earth’s shadow. We’ll have it nailed down much better for the Friday and Saturday passes. You may also want to start viewing a couple minutes early and stick around for a couple minutes after the times on the map. Good luck!
Update 10:35 p.m. — Yes, it was visible! Based on a communication with a satellite prediction expert, it was the spacecraft’s rocket stage that followed the track pictured above, and it appeared about a half-minute early. You wouldn’t call it bright, but it was still easily visible to the naked eye. It moved quickly and faded out just to the left (east) of Jupiter. I hope you saw it. The ship itself passed a few degrees above Jupiter about five minutes later but I did not see it. Please share your observation by leaving a comment below.
Tomorrow’s blog will have the remaining passes listed.