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Since You Asked: Star light, star bright ... aw, rats, it's a satellite

From our hot tub each evening shortly after sundown, clear skies permitting, the wife and I always see several satellites move across the sky. On Oct. 17, a really large and bright one crossed from southwest to northeast.

Any chance that was the international space station? And just how many satellites are up there flying around?

— Steve C., Medford

According to Mike Quilty of the astronomy club Southern Oregon Skywatchers, there are hundreds of satellites circling the globe, including dozens visible to the naked eye on any given night.

A great source for tracking satellites and other objects flying overhead is www.Heavens-above.com. You can put in your location for that evening and get a list of the brighter ones available on a given evening and what satellites you can see with the naked eye.

Quilty said he has often equipped himself with a Heavens-above printout when attending star parties.

"Often you can catch satellites with your telescope and track them through your eyepiece as they move across the sky," Quilty said.

The space station is large and well-lighted and easy to see in mid-October.

"Its position changes because of the inclination as it orbits around the earth," Quilty said. "The nights it is visible, you see it two or three times, separated by an hour and a half or so."

The space station and other orbiting objects often disappear before you think they should.

"What you are seeing is reflected light," Quilty said. "As it goes into the shadow of the Earth, it isn't being illuminated by the sun anymore and it fades out."

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com.