Satellites of love in the skies above

Columnist Steve Lange has taken up satellite watching. And he want you to, too.

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Most nights—and it feels cathartic to finally get this off my chest—wife Lindy and I stand in the middle of our cul-de-sac to look for satellites.

Sometimes, we just stare at an area of the sky until we see a satellite.

Or, if we’re in the house and something exciting is expected to happen—say, the International Space Station will be visible in a few minutes!—we have apps on our phones that alert us with exactly the kind of sound that you would expect from an app telling you that ISS is overhead.

Boop boop boop boop bong!

When we hear that, Lindy and I immediately make our way into the cul-de-sac. In summer, I may go out barefoot, with a beer in hand. We bring Finch on her long leash, maybe just to give the impression that we’re walking our dog.


Our apps—we use Sky Guide—also let us point at the sky to track satellites, and get information about them in real time.

Sometimes, a satellite may be rising over the horizon from just behind one of our neighbor’s houses, and there we are, late at night, both pointing our phones at, well, our neighbor’s houses.

I’m just waiting for one of them to post video from their Ring doorbell to the Spotted in Rochester Facebook page. “Does anyone know these people? This was taken AFTER 11 PM ON A TUESDAY NIGHT! Looks like they are VIDEOTAPING OUR HOUSE! And the guy HAS AN OPEN CONTAINER AND DOES NOT APPEAR TO OWN ANY SHOES!”

Still, we are out there. We will spot, on a clear night, maybe a dozen satellites, just with the naked eye. I breathlessly read out the information from the app before the satellite disappears beyond the horizon.

Look! There’s Tiangong, the Chinese Space Station! It is being constructed in low earth orbit as we watch it!

Look! There’s Falcon9! It was launched through a class project at Cornell University!

There are certain hobbies Lindy and I have that, for whatever reason, very few people find interesting. We regularly watch, for example, professional darts on television.

There are other hobbies, too, but I’m sure the darts thing gets the point across.


Oh, I’ve tried to get others interested in the satellite spotting.

On one particular good night—we’d already spotted Envisat1; Cosmos2297 would be in view soon!—I ran inside once again to alert daughter Emma, 15. She has rarely joined us after her first night or two of satellite watching.

ME: Emma! It’s really clear tonight—what your mother and I now call a “satellite sky”—and at least two more satellites will be visible in the next half hour!

EMMA: As tempting as that sounds, I think I’m just going to finish my homework.

ME: If you change your mind, we’ll be standing in the cul-de-sac. And the concrete is warm enough where you don’t even need shoes!

EMMA: Just to be clear, you are talking about those things that look exactly like stars, except they happen to be moving across the sky?


Also, this is an actual text I sent to my entire family:


“The Shijian 6 Rocket will be in view in three minutes! Look NNW at 66 degrees above the horizon!”

The only one to respond was daughter Hadley, 23, who wrote “Are you and mom standing in the road again?”

One last example: A few weeks ago, at a Mayo High School football game, I spotted the International Space Station. Lindy was at the concession stand, and it would be out of view in a few minutes. Why, it seemed like such a shame to not share this magical experience!

I turned around and tapped the foot of the guy behind me. Pointed to the sky. “Look!” I said. “You can see the International Space Station!”

He stared at me very much as you would expect if a random stranger touched you at a high school football game and asked you to stargaze with him.

Here’s something: Lindy and I dove into our satellite spotting about the same time our second oldest child, son Henry, was moving out of the house. (It was about the time oldest daughter Hadley moved out, incidentally, that we started watching televised darts together.)

Hadley lives in Minneapolis; Henry’s now in Milwaukee.

Here’s the thing about satellites: Most everyone can see the same ones, at the same time.

A few weeks ago, on a clear night across the Midwest, I sent out numerous texts to family and friends about the ISS, which would appear brighter than any star and would be passing through the Big Dipper.

At 8:34 p.m. CST, Lindy and I stood in the street and watched the International Space Station—a football field-sized satellite carrying the only seven humans not on earth at 17,000mph at 250 miles above—arc across the sky and through the Big Dipper.

Then, as we walked inside, we started getting the texts (“We saw it!” “Cool!”) from our parents and siblings and nieces and nephews in Michigan and Washington and elsewhere, and from Hadley in Minneapolis and Henry in Milwaukee and even Emma, who watched from her bedroom window.

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

Opinion by Steve Lange
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