Clear skies may offer a bonus to early-bird backyard sky gazers on Friday morning: the first view of ATV Amaldi in flight!
If skies are clear, then backyard astronomers in West-Central Europe who are awake on Friday morning at around 05:56 CET should look towards the West.
At that time, about 22 minutes after lift-off, we may be able to see ATV-3, still attached to the Ariane upper stage, rising in a line over Paris-Luxembourg-Rheinland-Pfalz (see map).
Gerhard Holtkamp, an avid amateur astronomer living in the Darmstadt, Germany, area has sent in a great description (click on ‘continue reading’ for full post).
Around 05:56 CET, folks in the Darmstadt region should be able to see ATV with the naked eye rising in the WSW at about 30° elevation. It will continue to rise in the sky passing a little to the right of the bright star Arcturus at an elevation 40°; ATV should be a little brighter than Arcturus and about as red. The vessel will then pass almost directly overhead half a minute later (depending on your exact position).
It will then fly toward the ENE but because the sky is already quite bright at that time – particularly toward the East (and the illumination phase angle less favourable) – you probably loose sight of ATV quickly.
Gerhard says he thinks it will be possible to spot ATV with the naked eye if skies are clear at the time – and you’ll definitely see it with a pair of binoculars.
Conditions should be better in France and west of the ground track as the sky is a little darker there.
The map of the ground-track over France indicates the estimated position of ATV in minutes after liftoff. In the LeMans area ATV would come out of Earth shadow very close to the bright star Arcturus at an elevation of 45° about 20 min 40 sec after liftoff.
At the same time (of shadow egress) ATV would have an elevation of 22° as viewed from Paris. It will pass Arcturus 21 min after liftoff and pass directly overhead half a minute later with the sky still dark enough to easily see it with the naked eye.
In the days following tomorrow’s launch, it should be possible to observe ATV closing in on the ISS because we currently have a good morning visibility up to early April.
Many thanks to Gerhard Holtkamp