The International Space Station successfully captured the Japanese cargo ship HTV-4 and docking is still underway as of early this morning. Some of you may have seen the two neck in neck crossing the northern sky last night. We got two passes here in Duluth, Minn. at 9:36 p.m. and 11:14 p.m. HTV-4 tailed the station by only 5 degrees or equal to the distance between the stars at the end of the Big Dipper bowl during the firt pass. On the second, I was ready with a camera to record the duo crossing the Big Dipper. By that time only 2 degrees separated them – the closest I’ve personally ever seen the ISS followed by another craft.
While the space station was nearly as bright as Jupiter, the dog-on-a-leash cargo vessel brightened to 2nd magnitude. Both were easy to see with the naked eye especially when they reached maximum altitude in the northern sky.
It was amazing enough to see this close pair of orbiting satellites, but something wonderful and unexpected happened as they cruised by. Halfway through the pass, the cargo ship suddenly brightened to nearly match the ISS then returning to normal a few seconds later. Sunlight glinting off a flat surface on the ship created a momentary flare much like a window here on Earth does when you’re in the right spot to catch the bright reflection.
You can catch another pair of bright sky objects tonight. Head out just after sunset to watch the returning crescent moon dangle just below the bright planet Venus. They’re paired up in the west anywhere from 10 minutes to 45 minutes after sunset. A beautiful sight!