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Pitcairn Islands Study Center

News - May 13, 2009

Contact Study Center:

PHONE: 707-965-6244
TEXT:   707-229-1340

Contact Herb Ford:
PHONE: 559-592-0980 or

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  [California Study Center]


PITCAIRN ISLANDS STUDY CENTER, Pacific Union College, Angwin, California USA.

Herbert Ford, 559-592-0980, 559-732-0313.


                        PITCAIRN ISLAND, SOUTH PACIFIC OCEAN, May 13, 2009—In the early morning of Friday, May 15, several people on this small island will begin photographing a unique space event that will be visible to the unaided eye only from Pitcairn and Easter islands.

In cooperation with a request by NASA, at shortly after 5 a.m., on May 15 the Pitcairners will begin photographing a man-made, fish-hook-shaped cloud in the eastern sky created by the venting of a large amount of ammonia into space from the International Space Station (ISS).

The ISS transiting above earth, along with its surrounding ammonia cloud, as photographed from Pitcairn Island

The possibly glowing, fish-hook-shaped cloud will appear to be attached to a bright point of light which will be the ISS, according to a NASA spokesman.

The photographic study of the unusual, scientifically important cloud may allow scientists to get significant fundamental knowledge of the processes of freezing and evaporation of the ammonia ice in space, and its interactions with the highest reaches of Earth's atmosphere.

The whole scene will be somewhat larger than the moon, and will move quickly across the sky. The ISS will be clearly visible during this transit because at that time of day the Pitcairn region of the Pacific will be still in darkness, in shadow of the limb of the Earth, while the ISS will be bathed in bright sunlight as it flies 350 kilometers high, up above the shadow.

"Your video and still photos will tell us a lot about what to expect in the future," said Dr. Jack Bacon, a space station program integration officer at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas, in asking for photographic help from the Pitcairners.

According to Bacon, scientists will not have another opportunity to get the data from such a venting for many years.

The ISS will pass between Pitcairn and Easter islands about 14 minutes after it starts the ammonia venting over Hawaii. Special telescopes there will record the beginning of the operation which will not be visible to the unaided eye.

Later in the ISS's orbit, special telescopes in Siberia, Russia will also contribute to the observations, recording the re-entry of the ammonia ice into the atmosphere.

Soliciting Pitcairn's help in the experiment, Bacon said, "You have a unique chance to be part of this world-wide observation campaign, recording how the plume has evolved after the pass over Hawaii. You, and Easter Island, will be the only two places on Earth that will have a chance to see the plume with standard personal video equipment, so we especially seek your help and involvement."

On Pitcairn Island Mrs. Kari Young said, "A number of people here have video motion picture and digital still cameras, so if the phenomenon is visible here it will be recorded for NASA's use."

"The ISS is the culmination of a decade of cooperative work by 15 countries, and is currently the size of a football stadium. It houses a permanent international crew in rotating missions lasting up to six months for each crew member. The crew will soon double from three to six, and scientific operations will greatly increase in the next few months," Bacon told the Pitcairners in his appeal for their help.

"Thank you for your participation in this international science event."