**October 4, 2011** I saw, but was not able to capture the passage of Tiangong 1 on film Sunday night, but tonight (Tuesday) I was more fortunate. Here is the time exposure of Tiangong 1 passing through the constellation Cephus. The bright star it passes close to 1st (on the upper left) is Alpha Cephei (Alderamin), a star that is about 49 light years away and it will become the north star around the year 7500 AD. The second bright star (to the right of the 1st and closer to the center of the photo) is Mu Cephei (Herschel's Garnet Star). It is a red supergiant star more than a 1,000 light years away.
The photo was created by a 16 second exposure using my Kodak Z950, basically an advanced point and shoot camera.
It was exciting to see a space station overhead, even if it was not built by America. Perhaps the entry of the Chinese will spur our nation into a new space race...one that will last longer and achieve more than the last space race that dead ended in the shuttle program.
The Chinese have launched a space station test module called Tiangong 1 that will serve as a docking target for the upcoming Shenzhou 8, 9 and 10 manned missions, during which they will practice extended stays in orbit to prepare for the construction of more advanced space stations in the near future. Learn more about it at Wikipedia.
The station will be making a series of passes over North America this week that will visible in the evenings. I have a chart below for my location in western North Carolina, cribbed from Heavens Above.
Click on the date to get a star chart and other pass details for Franklin, NC.
The pass tonight will eise from the northeastern horizon up through the tail section of Ursa Major (Big Dipper) to near Ursa Minor (Little Dipper) before disappearing into the earth's shadow. On Tuesday night, it will follow much the same path, only passing through more of the sky and almost a whole magnitude brighter. I will, weather permitting, attempt to get both video and a photographic exposure of the station passing near Ursa Minor tonight and on Tuesday.
Sources for tracking Tiangong 1:
Space Weather (very simple tracker)