Say Cheese!

Atlantis docked at the Mir space station on July 4, 1995. Credit: NASA

According to Spaceflight Now, when the space shuttle Discovery launches on February 24 and later docks with the International Space Station (ISS), shuttle managers are considering staging the ultimate “photo op”. They’d like to put a crew inside the Russian Soyuz craft, have them back off from the space station and take a photo of the ISS with the shuttle attached.

A similar staged picture was taken on July 4, 1995 by a Russian crew shortly before the shuttle Atlantis undocked from the Mir space station. Back then, two cosmonauts in a Soyuz capsule pulled back some 300 feet to take the photo you see above.

To create the defining image of the space station and shuttle, we’ll need Russian approval and cooperation. Hopefully that will come soon. As a photographer, I’d hate to see a great opportunity go wasted.

When it’s time to touch the shutter button, can’t you just picture the moment? Assuming the photographer has a sense of humor, he or she may call out those familiar words: “Say cheese!” Russians ask their photo subjects to say the same phrase as we do in the U.S., but their word for cheese is сыр and pronounced sir.

While the ISS is currently making daytime passes only for the region, it will return to the evening sky starting on the 20th – just in time to follow the shuttle Discovery when it docks with the station later this month.

The waxing gibbous moon steps into a hexagon of bright company tonight. View facing south around 8 o'clock. Maps created with Stellarium

The weather forecast for the Duluth region looks partly cloudy this evening. Good! Take a look outside at the moon because it will add its own pizzazz to the party of bright stars called the Winter Hexagon. Matter of fact, it’ll be surrounded by them. If you’re looking for an excuse to get out for some fresh air, none is better than a walk in the company of all that celestial sparkle.

The Hexagon is an enormous figure, spanning from near the top of the sky at Capella all the way down to Sirius in the south.

Last night I could easily see the Big Dipper and constellation Leo the Lion even in bright moonlight. Since the weather is warming up a bit, why not pop your head out for a look around 9:30-10 p.m.

Leo is easy to find using the Big Dipper's Bowl. It's composed of two widely-separated halves: the Sickle at top and the triangle-shaped tail below. The view shows the sky facing east around 9:30-10 p.m.

The Dipper stands on its handle in northeastern sky. To find Leo, simply make a fist and thrust it at the Bowl. Three fists to the lower right will take you to the Sickle or ‘Backwards Question Mark’ that forms the head of the lion. Regulus is the bright star at its base. Now drop down about a fist to the lower left of Regulus and you’ll see a triangle of stars that represents the lion’s tail.

What could be easier? Leo, like Hydra the Water Snake, is one of those transitional constellations that straddles two seasons, winter and spring. With the temperature predicted to best 40 degrees today, you might feel inspired to follow the tracks of the lion tonight.

3 Responses


    Hi Bob — Saw this brilliant red pillar of light right at sunset in Valley View TX earlier this week… is this a sun dog? Didn’t know how to send you a jpeg of this…

    1. astrobob

      Hi Jim – If it stood straight up from the sun like a flame or feather, what you saw was a sun pillar. Sundogs are bright, circular patches off to the right and left of the sun.

  2. Saquina

    Bob, thank you for the insight on finding Leo. Found this sight looking for a picture of the Big Dipper tail down. Tonight at approx 7:30 pm sitting on my balcony in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA I witnessed the most beautiful sight in the northern sky: The tail of the Big Dipper low on the horizon and just to the left a Full Moon (still 99% full) with the North Star below, slightly west. Rarely is the sky clear enough to see the full Big Dipper. It is already 8:10 pm and the Big Dipper is gone from view. I was hoping someone had captured such a view in the past. No luck. Love, Saquina ~ The Prosperity Doctor

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