Watch wild-haired ‘Einstein’ orbit the Earth this week

The European Space Agency cargo ship ATV-4 was named after famed physicist Albert Einstein. Credit: ESA

The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-4), fondly christened “Einstein”, after the genius of relativity, is on its way to deliver tasty supplies to the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Launched from a jungle spaceport in French Guiana by the European Space Agency (ESA) on June 5, the craft is chasing the space station in preparation to dock and deliver the goods.


Video of ‘Einstein’ passing between the stars of the Big Dipper last night by Giuseppe Gerbore of Italy

Before it docks on the 15th, we have a great opportunity to see it slicing across the northern sky like a dimmer version of the station. But not too dim. Einstein glows between 1st and 2nd magnitude during a typical 3-4 minute pass. That’s equal to and brighter than any star in the Big Dipper. While you’re out, you might even catch a view of the northern lights, which are in the forecast again this evening.

ATV-4 is about the size of a large bus and will deliver about 7 tons of supplies including everything from experiments to spare parts, water, oxygen and propellant for boosting the ISS’s orbit when necessary. As always, there are a few fun items packed away.

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center last November. Credit: ESA

Luca Parmitano, an Italian astronaut with the ESA, arrived at the station in late May to begin a 5-month-long stint. Parmitano picked out favorite Italian food delicacies to share with the crew. Once ‘Einstein’ arrives, aubergine parmigiana, mushroom and pesto risotto topped off with tiramisu will be on the menu.

I was hoping for pizza just so we could witness the longest distance ever traveled for pizza delivery.

You can find times and exactly where to look by going to Heavens Above and logging in. On the list of passes, simply click on the time link to see a map. Or you can check out Spaceweather’s Flybys page. Put in your zip code and you’ll get viewing times for Einstein and several bright satellites including the ISS.

I’ve included times (CDT) for the next several nights for the Duluth, Minn. region. All the passes listed will be across the northern sky. One fist held at arm’s length equals about 10 degrees. Let us know if you spot the ship.

* Tonight June 7 starting at 10:58 p.m. Max. elevation 37 degrees, magnitude 1.5 (bright). Second pass at 12:32 a.m. Max. elevation 24 degrees, mag. 2.5

* Saturday June 8 at 10:53 p.m. Max. elevation 30 degrees, mag. 2; second pass at 12:27 a.m. Max. elevation 24 degrees, mag. 2

* Sunday June 9 at 10:47 p.m. Max. elevation 26 degrees, mag. 2. Second pass at 12:21 a.m. Max. elevation 27 degrees, mag. 2

4 thoughts on “Watch wild-haired ‘Einstein’ orbit the Earth this week

    • Hi Andrew,
      Yes, it would have been no problem for them to set the record especially with all the time (10 days) spent getting to the space station. Here’s the current one according to the Guinness Book of World Records:
      On Nov. 19, 2004, Lucy Clough of Domino’s Pizza traveled 10,532 miles from London to Melbourne, Australia, to set the record.

  1. Watched the ISS and ATV4 go over tonight..June 13. Also a satelite between those sightings heading north. Finally clear nights and no bugs! Looking forward to the next few nights of watching. Spent a day at FL Space center in April. So much to see and hear! Fascinating!

    • Hi Jan,
      Cool you spotted the ATV-4. It passed over here in Duluth this evening as well. I tracked it a little in the telescope and could see it had a shape, but it was moving so fast I’ll need another look.

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