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Space shuttle now visible in our sky


The space shuttle Discovery will be briefly visible early today to observers in the Baltimore region, thanks to an orbit that takes it as far north as Hudson's Bay in Canada.

If you got up too late today, you will have several more opportunities to spot Discovery during its current mission, NASA spokesman Kyle Herring said. The Russian space station Mir also will be visible next week, weather permitting.

Discovery is flying in an orbit with a 57-degree inclination, which means it goes as far as 57 degrees north latitude and as far as 57 degrees south latitude.

That takes it as far north as Moscow and Sitka, Alaska. On the southern end of its orbit, it will fly beyond the southern tip of Chile.

Most shuttle flights fly no farther north than their launch site in Florida, at about 28.5 degrees north latitude.

For those in the Baltimore region, the best time to see Discovery will be just before sunrise. The 120-foot shuttle will appear 218 miles up as a bright, fast-moving star. Here are the best times to look:

* Today at 6:33 a.m. Appearing in the south-southwest, climbing to a maximum elevation of 38 degrees above the horizon before disappearing in the approaching daylight one minute later. The horizon is at zero degrees; 90 degrees is directly overhead.

* Monday at 5:52 a.m. Appearing in the south-southwest and moving toward the south for two minutes, reaching a maximum elevation of 40 degrees.

* Tuesday at 6:18 a.m. Rising in the west-southwest and moving toward the north-northeast. It will be visible for about four minutes, reaching as high as 44 degrees above the horizon.

* Thursday at 5:40 a.m. Rising in the north-northwest and moving toward the north. It will be visible for one minute, reaching a height of 41 degrees.

There also will be opportunities next week to spot the Russian space station Mir, launched in February 1986 to an altitude of about 200 miles. The best times to watch, according to NASA:

* Tuesday at 5:54 a.m. Appearing in the north-northwest and moving toward the north. Mir will be visible for only one minute, and won't fly higher than 15 degrees above the horizon.

* Wednesday at 6:31 a.m. Rising in the northwest and moving toward the north-northeast, it will be visible for three minutes at a maximum 36 degrees above the horizon.

* Friday at 6:12 a.m. Mir will be visible for three minutes, flying from northwest to north-northeast and rising 66 degrees above the horizon.

* Feb. 13 at 5:53 a.m. Mir will fly from the west-northwest and move toward the south, flying to 64 degrees above the horizon. It should be visible about two minutes.

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