Satellite Rivals Sirius Over City

November 8, 1957

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New Yorkers Note Brilliance as They Get First View of an Artificial Moon

New York had its first view of a man-made earth satellite yesterday morning.

For two minutes, across a pale-blue pre-dawn sky that was almost starless, the second Soviet satellite rode swiftly, a tiny spot of yellow-white brilliance.

Teams of "moonwatchers," night workers singly or in groups, youngsters out of bed before their time and curious adults gathered at vantage points throughout the city. What they saw repaid them for any discomfort from the cold, windy morning.

Many of those who rose early to look for the satellite watched for it in the southwest, knowing that its path was from southwest to northeast.

But the satellite passed far enough to the east of the city so that its first appearance was to the southeast. It arched upward from the horizon, then descended to vanish in the northeast.

Arrives a Minute Early

Prior calculations of the satellite's orbit set the time for its appearance over New York at 5:13 A.M.

The space vehicle bearing its dog passenger and load of scientific equipment arrived a minute early.

It burst in view at 5:12, when it was about a third of the way above the southern horizon. From atop the R.C.A. Building it seemed to be over the East River south of the Chrysler Building at Forty-second Street and Lexington Avenue.

Viewers on the R.C.A. Building at the Avenue of the Americas, from Forty-ninth to Fiftieth Streets, had their eyes turned southwest.

Suddenly, William Grant, supervisor of protection at Rockefeller Center, shouted: "There it is!"

He pointed to the southeast, and there the new satellite could be seen. It had been over the metropolitan area perhaps half a minute before it was spotted, but it was so low in the sky that it could not catch the rays of the sun, which had not yet risen. The satellite is visible not because of illumination from itself, but because, like the moon, it reflects the light of the sun.

While waiting for the satellite, watchers at the R.C.A. Building watched the lights of the city and the harbor against the darkened surface of the earth. A low-lying full moon cast cold white light over the scene.

Twice during the two minutes it took the satellite to traverse the visible sky it faded and reappeared. Then, low in the northeastern sky, it faded and disappeared.

Satellite Rivals Sirius

The satellite shone with about the brilliance of the star Sirius, also called the Dog Star. Sirius, which at the time appeared almost above the Empire State Building, is the brightest star, with a magnitude of -1.6.

While Sirius seemed to be the size of the head of a small nail, the satellite looked as if it were no larger than the head of a pin. This was about the apparent size of Procyon, the little dog star, which stood in the sky somewhat lower than Sirius and to the west.

An observer remarked that the satellite might also be considered a dog star.

The momentary disappearances of the satellite were explained as the result of tumbling by the artificial moon as it traveled along its orbit.

In tumbling, the reflecting surface shifts its aspect to the sun, so that a greater or lesser area is reflecting the sun's rays at different times.

Many persons in the metropolitan area had reported seeing the first Soviet satellite in its passage over New York. However, scientists say that what had been seen was not the satellite itself, but the third-stage rocket shell that had lifted the man-made moon to its orbit. This was seen many times after its first sighting at 6:21 A.M., Oct. 13.

Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company