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Great Comet McNaught ... and the International Space Station

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  • dfischer@astro.uni-bonn.de
    Remember the Skylab space station and how its crew got by far the best view of comet Kohoutek? Their visual drawings were published in a big Sky & Telescope
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 24, 2011
      Remember the Skylab space station and how its crew got by far the best
      view of comet Kohoutek? Their visual drawings were published in a big Sky
      & Telescope article back then and actually contributed to science. Fast
      forward 30+ years to comet McNaught, growing very bright in late
      2006/early 2007, again close to the Sun. Now wouldn't it have been the
      *obvious* thing to ask the crew of the ISS to observe it and take
      photographs, especially when the dust trail grew so dramatically after
      perihelion when the comet's elongation was still small?

      Alas, McNaught had 'no press' outside of astronomy circles, a grave
      failure of the media system*) - and all attempts of mine to get the news
      into orbit failed; this was before you could just send a personal tweet up
      to a crewmember. But one might at least have hoped that *someone* at NASA
      or ROSKOSMOS had told them. However, it didn't happen - I've just been
      made aware of the report
      http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition15/journal_sunita_williams_8_prt.htm
      (with the fitting title "Taking Out the Trash") in which a crew member
      writes that

      "we also have been seeing the McNaught Comet and it is bright! We, by
      chance, saw it one evening when we were checking out windows for the
      Progress undock/dock. LA and I were squished in the Soyuz, hanging upside
      down when there it was on the horizon. It was going away from us so it
      initially looked like an airplane light, but it was way too bright and way
      too high in the atmosphere. It also had contrails with it, like you see
      from the back of an airplane - in a swirled pattern. It was absolutely
      beautiful and hung in the dusk sky for quite some time!"

      The "by chance" here is just unbelievable! There we have these
      astro(!)nauts in a space station that cost us $100 billion to build and
      maintain, and they don't even know that the brightest and most spectacular
      in ages is in the sky and they are in perhaps the best spot on (or rather
      off) Earth to see and observe it. Now I don't know what the geometrical
      situation was at the time and how well they could e.g. shield the Sun with
      ISS components, but given the quality of sky photography from the station
      (Milky Way, aurora etc.) I am sure that some scientifically valuable
      images could have been obtained, augmenting what was possible from the
      ground. Plus these could have greatly impressed the public at large and
      aided NASA's image. Nothing of that happened - a scandal, if you ask me
      ...

      Daniel (still fuming :-)


      *)I reviewed these (non-)events in the conference proceedings paper
      http://www.communicatingastronomy.org/cap2007/proceedings/cap07026030.pdf
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