See It Before It Bursts Into Flames


The sawtooth border of a  cottonwood leaf, yellow with the approaching season, glows in the sunlight this morning. Photo: Bob King / Duluth News Tribune

We’re going to have some fun things to look at tonight. The International Space Station (ISS) is once again making bright passes in the evening sky, and along with it, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV). You might recall that the ATV, better known as Jules Verne, ferried food, clothes, water and more to the astronauts aboard the station last spring. It has since separated from the ISS, and will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere in a fiery blaze over the South Pacific on September 29.

It’s good fortune that observers across the U.S. will be able to watch Jules cross the sky right up to its demise. The space station is almost as bright as Jupiter and very easy to follow. The ATV should be as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper. The table below lists the times through the weekend for viewing both. As always, our unit of measurement for altitude above the horizon is your fist at the end of your outstretched arm.

The times listed are for the start of the passes, which last about two minutes for the ISS and a very brief one minute for Jules Verne, except for Monday’s. Go out a little early to find your directions and get adjusted to the darkness. Good luck and let us know if you spot them.

International Space Station:

Date Time Direction to look Maximum altitude
Friday, Sept. 19 starting 8:33 p.m. south-southwest three fists
Saturday, Sept. 20 starting 8:59 p.m. west-southwest four fists
Sunday, Sept. 21 starting 7:51 p.m. south-soutwest three fists

ATV – Jules Verne:

Friday, Sept. 19 starting 8:59 p.m. southwest two fists (low)
Saturday, Sept. 20 starting 9:12 p.m. west-southwest two fists
Sunday, Sept. 21 starting 9:24 p.m. west two fists
Monday, Sept. 22 starting 8:02 p.m. southwest 7 fists (3-minute pass)


A primary and secondary rainbow formed in the drops of a sprinkler. Photo: Andrew Kirk

Andrew Kirk of California sent me an fascinating photo yesterday of two rainbows he spotted in his sprinkler. "On my morning runs I noticed that little rain-arcs formed in the water from a rotating sprinkler in the first rays of sun. So, I went back on a Saturday to take some pictures while standing in the spray.  To my amazement, the pix revealed a secondary bow fragment and the brightening inside the bow," said Kirk.

I bet a few of us have noticed rainbows while sprinkling or using the hose to water our gardens, but Andrew managed to see and capture a variety of rainbow phenomena lurking there in the droplets. Nice observation Andrew and thanks for the photo!