Space Oddity: Searching the Night Sky for the International Space Station

International_Space_Station_after_undocking_of_STS-132Image credit: NASA/Crew of STS-132 (Public Domain)

One of the joys of a hot, summer evening for me is the opportunity to have a swim after the sun goes down, before hopping into bed.  I always make sure that there are no outside lights shining from the house and, because we live in the countryside where there is virtually no light pollution, on a clear night it’s a great place for star-gazing. 

The most awe-inspiring sight has to be the Milky Way, the luminescent band of light made up entirely of stars, clearly visible in the Andalucían night sky.

There are other cosmic masterpieces to be seen at certain times of the year when our planet Earth passes through bands of dust and debris that circle the Sun.  We see these as meteor showers, and a perfect example is the Perseids (a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle), which occurs around the 12th August each year.    Once again, I will be floating in the pool, watching these tiny fragments of space dust hurtling into our atmosphere at enormous speed, before burning up, to provide magnificent celestial fireworks.  

Much slower are our own Earth-launched satellites which drift lazily by.   There are so many satellites circling the planet these days, that you can usually spot one within a few minutes.  Their speed is deceptive though, because the satellites are very high, they actually have to maintain about 18,000 miles per hour to remain in orbit.

640px-STS-116_spacewalk_1Image credit: STS-116 spacewalk 1 by NASA (Public Domain)

But the object I’m always fascinated to see tracking overhead is the International Space Station - a man-made habitable satellite which serves as a microgravity research laboratory.

Flying at 27500 kilometres per hour (that’s an average speed of 7.65 kilometres per second), the ISS maintains its orbit at an altitude of between 330 km and 435 km.  With an approximate size of 110 x 70 x 20 metres, the International Space Station (ISS) reflects plenty of sunlight and is usually the second brightest object in the night sky (after the moon), so is easily visible with the naked eye.  

14797031062_180d1002fe_zImage credit: NASA Flickr CC

Just look at the amazing view from the ISS!

One of the six crew members aboard the International Space Station recorded the above amazing photograph of the entire Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) on July 26, 2014.  Part of France can be seen at the top of the image and the Strait of Gibraltar is visible at bottom, with a very small portion of Morocco visible near the lower right corner.

I’d LOVE to take photos through this window!

640px-STS130_cupola_view1Image credit: NASA STS130 cupola view (Public Domain)

How can you get a good view of the International Space Station as it passes overhead?

Well, the first thing you should do is try to get away from the light pollution of a town or city, on a clear night.  If there is cloud cover you are unlikely to see anything.

The ISS looks like an incredibly bright, fast-moving star which can easily be mistaken for an aircraft.  What distinguishes it from an aircraft is that it has no flashing lights.  The light we see from the ISS is reflected sunlight, meaning that the best time to observe the craft is in the evening, not long after sunset or in the early morning, before sunrise.  

The next thing you should know is that the ISS always passes overhead starting from a westerly part of the sky, but not always from the same point.  It can be low on the horizon for some passes and very high for others.

640px-STS-129_Zvezda_sunriseImage credit: NASA STS-129 Zvezda sunrise

When can you observe the International Space Station from where you are?

To see the current position of the International Space Station click HERE.  Once you click through to that page, not only can you see what the astronauts can see, you can also view the ground track of the next orbit of the ISS.

Next, you need to click HERE and at the top right of the upcoming page you will see a box that says “Your location” and underneath that the default location is shown as New York City.  

Type YOUR location in the box, hit SEARCH and you’ll get something like the image below.  (This is the image I found last night when I did the same thing – that’s why it shows Spain).

ISS visible pass over Spain

So now you can see a list of the next sighting opportunities for YOUR location (on the left of the page), with the green bars indicating the brightness of the ISS on its pass.  The list contains all visible passes of the ISS during the next ten days.  If you select a particular pass, you can get more information about it.

In the photo above, you can see that for my location in Cómpeta, Spain there was an ISS pass last night (Friday August 8th) at 9.44pm lasting 5 minutes and 29 seconds with 2 green bars for brightness.  My next best chance to view the ISS is next Saturday night (16th August) at 11.19pm.

Let me know if you’ve ever seen the ISS.  Do you watch for it regularly?  I know I do!

 

WARNING: Malaga’s Atarazanas market will EXPLODE your sensory perception

 Fruit and veg in Atarazanas market, Malaga

I’m a HUGE fan of food markets.  They are something I seek out, wherever I am in the world – from Barcelona’s Boqueria and Melbourne’s Queen Victoria to local street-markets in Cambodia and Thailand, I’ve visited them all.  So, a trip around Malaga’s Mercado Central de Atarazanas is always a pleasure, every time I’m in Malaga city, as well as featuring high on the list of places to take visitors to.

The Moorish arched entrance blends seamlessly with 19th century industrial design and the huge, colourful stained-glass window, to create not only a beautiful back drop but also to tell the history of the origins of this bustling market-place.


Stained glass window of Atarazanas market, Malaga

Set near the heart of the city, Atarazanas has undergone many transformations since it was originally built in the 14th century as a shipyard, when the waves of the Mediterranean Sea lapped at its entrance.  Over the years, changes have seen the building used as a convent, military arsenal, hospital and medical school before finally being demolished in 1868 and re-built using the current iron structure, as the city food market, in 1879.  Further renovation took place from 2008 to 2010, when Málaga’s Atarazanas market was once again restored to its former glory.

Wild mushrooms for sale in Atarazanas market, Malaga

You might not expect to be given a warning when you visit a city food market, but as you walk through the main entrance, which is the only remaining marble archway of what was once a seven-arched shipyard, I can guarantee your senses will explode!

Taste, sight, smell, hearing and touch – the clean interior of Mercado Central de Atarazanas has it all, from pig’s ears to pink Himalayan salt!

The market is structured into three navesfish, meat and fruit and vegetables, and with more than 250 stalls there is surely something to tickle your tastebuds.

Fresh fish for sale in Atarazanas market

As you wander around, take in the dazzling displays of freshly-caught fish with their scarlet gills and scales glistening under the spotlights.   Marvel at the kaleidoscope of colours in the artistically displayed fresh fruit and vegetables that smell like they’ve been picked only that morning.  And savour the counters of aromatic cheeses, spices, bread, olives, dried fruits, nuts, sausages and hams, where the stall-holders are usually happy to let you taste before you buy.

Fresh seafood for sale in Atarazanas market

A cacophony of sound fills the market, as the competing stall-holders call out to prospective customers and in turn are interrogated by discerning shoppers, eager to discover where the produce is from and how it should be prepared.

I love to watch the locals, who are not only trying to buy the freshest seasonal produce but also socializing with their neighbours as they block the aisles with their roller-trollies, discussing the latest gossip.

Shopping is a much more personal experience in Atarazanas market and, with so many stalls to choose from, cheaper than most supermarkets, too.

Tapas of skewered tuna and prawns

If you have time and are ready for some lunch after feasting your senses on all the wonderful produce, then make your way to one of the tapas bars at either end of the market, El Yerno or Cafe-Bar Atarazanas – they are both equally good.  Stand near to the bar and you will soon be noticed by one of the staff who will make a space for you.  It’s standing room only and always crowded, but well worth it to taste the freshly-cooked, mouth-watering pinchos de gambas, atun o cerdo (skewered prawns, tuna or seasoned pork), boquerones al limón (deep-fried whitebait with lemon) or frito de verduras (tempura-battered vegetables), which you can wash down with a caña (small beer) or vino tinto (red wine).

Tapas of freshly cooked mushrooms

Whether you are a foodie visiting Málaga or a local living nearby,  you won’t want to miss a visit to this authentic food market.

Where is YOUR favourite food market?

 

Mercado Central de Atarazanas
Calle Atarazanas 10
Malaga

Open: Monday to Saturday, 8am – 2pm.

 

 

Wildfires in Spain: What you should do

Competa fire June 29th 2014

Those of you who follow my Facebook page will already know about the devastating wildfire which spread throughout the Cómpeta countryside last Sunday.

At the height of the blaze there were more than 200 fire-fighters on the ground, assisted by up to 19 fire-fighting aircraft, including helicopters, water-carrying planes, and spotter aircraft.  Personnel were drafted in from the whole of Málaga province and beyond, to the blaze which started around 1pm, but quickly spread over an area of 100 hectares (250 acres) into the Sierras de Tejeda, Alhama and Almijara Natural Park.

Five houses were damaged and the local football pitch destroyed during the day, as well as 500 people being required to evacuate their homes overnight.  

Fortunately there were no injuries reported.

Competa fire June 29th 2014

Rumours are rife that the fire was started either maliciously or as a result of “bad agricultural practices”, but whatever the truth, it was a frightening experience for many local residents and visitors, alike.

You can read Maggie’s account of being caught up with the evacuation HERE or see Adrian’s photos of the aftermath of the fire around Cruz del Monte area, where residents were evacuated, HERE. 

Below is a collage of some of the photographs I took throughout the day.

If you live in a forest in Spain or within 500 metres of one, you are required by law to have a fire prevention and self protection plan in place, just in case a fire should occur.

It’s a sad fact of life, that only around one quarter of all forest fires are started by natural causes, such as lightning.  The rest are as a result of negligent practices or intent.   So, it makes perfect sense that if you are visiting or living in the Andalucían countryside, you should be in a position to consider your options, if you are caught near a wildfire.

Many of the local people have been aware of fires in the countryside all of their lives, but wildfires are not something that many visitors or expats have ever had to deal with, coming as many of us do, from wet, northern European countries.  We are unprepared. 

So what should we do?

Helicopter fighting the Competa fire, 29th June 2014 Fire prevention: 

  •  Have a safe zone around your house, where there is less vegetation.  Keep that area free of dried grass, weeds or other flammable materials.
  • Cut back any branches of trees that overhang your house.
  • Pay particular attention to discarded garden prunings and wood stores, making sure they are a safe distance from the house.
  • Keep gas bottles either within the house or in a safe place some distance away.
  • Don’t allow dead leaves to accumulate on your roof or gutters.
  • When outside,  ensure that all lit cigarettes are completely extinguished before you leave them.
  • Never BBQ near to trees or flammable materials, and always have the garden hose nearby.

Self protection:

BE PREPARED!   Prepare an advance plan with your family, considering what you will each do in the event of fire and how you will communicate with each other.  Also think about how your pets fit into your plans.

  • Review all your possible emergency escape routes, making sure they are never blocked.
  • Always have at least one quarter of a tank of fuel in your vehicle.
  • Prepare a list of items to be taken in an Evacuation Pack.

Competa fire June 29th 2014

In the event of FIRE:

  • Call the TOLL-FREE Emergency telephone number 112.  DO NOT ASSUME THAT SOMEONE ELSE HAS ALREADY CALLED.  They may be thinking the same thing.
  • Close all doors and windows in your house.
  • Bring all flammable outdoor chair cushions inside the house.
  • Make safe any exterior gas bottles.
  • STAY CALM and follow your escape plan (if necessary), taking with you your Evacuation Pack.

 What should be in an Evacuation Pack?

Everyone’s will be different, but here are some items you might consider important enough to include:

  • Personal papers – such as passports, birth and marriage certificates, house deeds or rental contract, medical cards, insurance policies.
  • Photographs – either in albums, on flash drives, external hard drives or portable computers.  Also take any charging cables you may require.
  • Medication - paper prescriptions (if you have them), pills, or items kept in the refrigerator such as insulin.
  • Money – enough to tide you over until you can visit an ATM.
  • Emergency food, water and clothing – including snacks, pet food, baby formula, nappies, sanitary items, bottled water.
  • Battery-powered radio – to listen to emergency bulletins on local radio station.
  • Mobile telephone (and charging cable) - complete with contact telephone numbers and addresses.
  • Irreplaceable precious items – but only small ones that will not hinder your escape.

Fire in the campo, Competa

If you live in Málaga province, you might also consider joining the excellent Local Fire and Weather watch group on Facebookcovering the Costa del Sol and inland areas.  

I do not hold myself out as an expert on fire prevention and consider many of the above points to be common sense.  If you can think of anything I have missed that you consider important enough to be included on this list, please let me know in the comment section.

Please follow East of Malaga on Facebook - there are many more photos and posts on there each day that never appear on this blog.  Look in the footer at the bottom of this page to “Like”.

 

A Sailing Weekend in Torre del Mar

Catamarans at Torre del Mar, Spain

I had great fun over the weekend photographing the 1st Copa de Andalucía de Catamaranes (Andalucía Cup for Catamarans) hosted by the sailing club in Torre del Mar.

The sun was shining and the sky blue, with just a breath of wind.

What a perfect place to while away a few hours taking photos, and sitting in the outdoor bar of the club-house watching the proceedings, chatting with friends, sipping chilled wine and eating delicious tapas :)