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China's stargazers captivated by glimpse of joined Tiangong-1, Shenzhou-8

English.news.cn   2011-11-15 16:34:02 FeedbackPrintRSS

BEIJING, Nov. 15 (Xinhua) -- Although it was not Xu Weiyi's first time seeing satellites or stars through his telescope, he was excited to snap photos of the Tiangong-1 space lab module and Shenzhou-8 unmanned spacecraft when the coupled orbiters flew over Beijing on a full-moon night.

With his IMG132E camera connected to a high-end APO telescope, Xu took 0.4 seconds to shoot nine frames of the two orbiters passing by the moon around midnight on Friday.

He then combined the nine frames of pictures into one, which showed the trace of the orbiters across the bright disc of the moon with visible mountains and craters.

"It was a marvelous experience for me, because this time I could tell, though very vaguely, the shape of the orbiters," the 26-year-old man told reporters at his home/office in Beijing.

Xu said the pair's details, such as the solar panels on Tiangong-1, could be observed through a high-power telescope.

"But with the naked eye, one can only find a star-like object that quickly glides across the sky," he said.

Xu said he usually visits www.heavens-above.com, a website that provides real-time satellite orbital pass information, maps and star charts, to facilitate his skygazing.

On the front page of the website, Tiangong-1 has been ranked as a hot search, second only to the International Space Station (ISS) which is jointly operated by the United States, Russia and other countries.

Xu said his passion for astronomy started 10 years ago when he was a middle school student. After graduating from college in 2008, he opened his own company that sells skygazing equipment, including astronomical telescopes and binoculars.

"It was a good idea to combine my hobbies with my job, and it enabled me to make friends who share the same interest in astronomy," Xu said.

His company, Xiwan Guangdian Science & Technology Company, employs six people, all of whom are amateur astronomers fascinated with astronomy equipment.

The group is also enthusiastic about sharing the photos they take during their skygazing activities with other astronomy fans on the Internet.

Meanwhile, Xu and his employees often head outdoors to organize roadside skygazing activities, offering passersby a free chance to observe stars and satellites.

"By organizing such activities, more people will have an opportunity to have a glimpse of the beautiful sky through high-end equipment that is seldom available to them," Xu said.

Xu is one of China's many amateur astronomers fascinated by the latest Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou-8 missions.

Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou-8 conducted China's first space docking on Nov. 3 and re-docked at about 8 p.m. Monday shortly after disengaging -- a series of maneuvers Chinese space technicians are trying to hone before launching the country's first space station around 2020.

Though Monday's operations were conducted in daylight, the orbiters were difficult to observe from the ground because their positions were not suitable for stargazers, said Zhu Jin, curator of the Beijing Planetarium.

Zhu, however, went to a western suburb of Beijing to observe the orbiters when they passed over the city at about 6:20 p.m., about an hour and a half prior to their second docking.

On a picture he posted to his Weibo, a Twitter-like social website, the trace of Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou-8 is vivid as they moved from right to left.

Meanwhile, Zhu captured another orbiter in the same picture -- the remains of a rocket that China used to send two satellites into space in 2004.

"It is amazing to capture both the Tiangong/Shenzhou combination and a rocket simultaneously," microblog user Chanchan Wei Niubin wrote, commenting on Zhu's photo.

Zhu, a professional astronomer, has made use of the social networking site to promote astronomical science to the public.

His Weibo account is followed by more than 70,000 users who are interested in astronomy.

Web users exchange their experiences on the platform and ask Zhu questions about astronomy.

"By the time China establishes its own planned space station around 2020, I believe there will be more astronomy fans in China, and their skygazing priority will definitely be the space station," Zhu said.

 

Editor: Wang Guanqun
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