NORWAY — Residents in Oxford and Androscoggin counties will have a good opportunity to see the International Space Station and shuttle Discovery this coming week as they fly overhead in view for as long as five minutes.

Space Shuttle Discovery-128 launched on Aug. 28 for a 13-day mission to take supplies and cargo to the station, leaving one crew member and taking another home.

Last November, residents in Oxford and Androscoggin counties and the surrounding area had some of the best views in the country of the station and Space Shuttle Endeavor-126 mission as they flew tandem over the night sky.

Rick Chase, a local resident who teaches an adult education course on the use of telescopes at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, said the best pass seems to be at about 8:07 p.m. Sept. 9, when the International Space Station will pass almost directly overhead.

“The pass at about 8:53 p.m. on Sept. 7 is also interesting because the ISS will climb about halfway up the sky and then fade to invisibility as it enters the Earth’s shadow. This dramatically illustrates the fact that satellites shine by reflecting light from the sun,” Chase said.

The sightings of the station and Discovery will be visible on Sept. 8 for five minutes beginning at 7:43 p.m. in both Norway and Lewiston and again on Wednesday for five minutes beginning at 8:07 p.m.

On Tuesday, it will be visible 11 degrees above the south, southwest sky in its approach and departing 10 degrees above the eastern sky in Norway. In Lewiston viewers should look for an approach 11 degrees above the south, southwest sky and departing 11 degrees above the east, northeast sky.

On Wednesday the shuttle will approach the Norway skies at 10 degrees above the west, southwest sky and depart at 14 degrees above east, northeast at a maximum elevation of 86 degrees. Lewiston viewers will also have a similar view.

Other sightings of the space station and the shuttle for the next week are available by viewing a schedule of sightings at www.jsc.nasa.gov/sightings. Once on the site, plug in a local town such as Norway or Lewiston to see the exact coordinates for sightings.

Chase also said a good Web site for tracking satellites is http://www.heavens-above.com/.

“These predictions will be reasonably accurate for anyone who is not terribly far from Lewiston,” Chase said.

Other celestial events

Chase said that people who are out viewing the shuttle and space station should also note the bright “star” in the southeast, to the lower right of the moon, which is the planet Jupiter.

“Jupiter is a huge planet,” Chase said. “Over 1,000 Earths could fit inside it. Viewed through even a small telescope, Jupiter can be seen to be accompanied by four small moons. This year is the 400th anniversary of the discovery of those moons by the Italian astronomer, Galileo.”

Another interesting event in the skies now is the beginning of a rare eclipse of the star Epsilon Aurigae by a mysterious object, Chase said.

“The eclipses occur every 27 years and last for nearly two years,” he said. “The eclipse began in August, but the star will not reach minimum brightness until December and will not return to its normal brightness until 2011.”

Chase said the extremely long duration of the eclipses has puzzled astronomers for years. “Whatever is blocking the light from Epsilon Aurigae must be very large and faint,” he said. “Astronomers hope that observations of the current eclipse will help to clear up some of the mystery surrounding this star.”

The following are two links with more information about Epsilon Aurigae: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epsilon_Aurigae, http://www.aavso.org/vstar/vsots/eps_aur.shtml

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