Skywatchers can watch the mouse chase the cat tonight, July 28th. Before it docks with the ISS on Thursday morning (July 29) the Russian Nauka module will tail the station by several minutes. For example, tonight in Duluth, Minnesota, the ISS will make a bright pass high in the northern sky starting at 9:34 p.m. CDT. Four minutes later, Nauka will follow along the same track. You might even be able to see them simultaneously, with Nauka climbing the western sky as the space station descends in the east.
Since the module is much smaller than the ISS, it's fainter. For those with high passes, Nauka could shine as brightly as the stars in the Big Dipper (magnitude 2). But if your pass is low, bring binoculars to make sure you catch it. Here are some additional cities and times:
Minneapolis — Start of ISS pass at 9:34 p.m. across the northern sky. Nauka follows at 9:38 p.m.
Chicago — ISS start at 9:35 p.m. across the north. Nauka at 9:39 p.m.
St. Louis — ISS start at 9:36 p.m. low in north. Nauka at 9:40 p.m.
New York — ISS partial pass in the western sky at 10:38 p.m. Nauka at 10:41 p.m.
Denver — ISS start at 10:10 p.m. across the northern sky. Nauka at 10:13 p.m.
Seattle — ISS start at 10:43 p.m. across the southern sky. Nauka at 10:45 p.m.
* For passes for other cities, go to heavens-above.com and select your city, then click on the ISS and Nauka links for times and directions.
Nauka replaces the older Pirs docking module which was recently de-orbited. It burned up safely in the atmosphere over the southern Pacific Ocean on July 26. The new 22-ton unit will be used for docking and research as well as a work and rest area for the crew.
In other news, smoke from Western and Canadian wildfires, primarily near the Ontario-Manitoba border, continues to blanket the sky day and night across vast regions of both countries. Today (July 28) marks the 20th day of smoke cover for northern Minnesota. Most nights, the stars are faint, especially those closer to the horizon. On a couple occasions when the fumes thinned, the brightest portions of the Milky Way weakly glowed across the Summer Triangle. Normally, that section of the galaxy is a bold sight.
No telling when it will let up, but let's hope soon. The best meteor shower of the year, the Perseids, will be here in just two weeks. As a preamble, the Alpha Capricornids are currently active and expected to peak now through the weekend.
This is a minor shower that streams from northwestern Capricornus not far from Saturn's current location. Expect to see no more than 5 meteors per hour (I said it was minor!). Despite weak numbers, the shower's known for producing bright, slow fireballs. They'll appear to come from the southeast if you're out early in the evening. These bits of rock and dust originate from the comet 169P/NEAT.
"Astro" Bob King is a freelance writer for the Duluth News Tribune. Read more of his work at duluthnewstribune.com/astrobob.