Amateur Astronomers from San Antonio Flash the Space Station With a Laser

Why? Because they can. And besides, no one else had ever done it successfully.

groundflash_615.jpg

I love amateur astronomers. Case in point: the San Antonio Astronomical Association members decided it would be fun to calculate when the International Space Station was overhead, find a big laser, and shoot that laser at the ISS when an astronaut was watching. Why? Because no one had ever done it. Because they could. Because they love space. Because they'll always have that picture you see up there, which was snapped by astronaut Don Pettit, to prove that they touched space, at least with some photons.

While it might seem easy to send a laser signal to the space station as it passes overhead, it's actually surprisingly difficult. Pettit explains:

This took a number of engineering calculations. Projected beam diameters (assuming the propagation of a Gaussian wave for the laser) and intensity at the target had to be calculated. Tracking space station's path as it streaked across the sky was another challenge. I used email to communicate with Robert Reeves, one of the association's members. Considering that it takes a day, maybe more, for a simple exchange of messages (on space station we receive email drops two to three times a day), the whole event took weeks to plan.
The setup that eventually worked required precise timing, a one-watt blue laser, and a white spotlight.

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In