Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Watching Rocket Launches From Toronto

It's not very often that we get a chance to see a space launch from Toronto, but it does happen from time to time.  A number of variables come in to play, including day versus night time launches (we can only see night from this distance), weather cooperation, and the type of launch.

If a rocket takes off and straight away banks over the Atlantic rather than gaining initial height, then we don't see it for the same reason that when you stand at Niagara Falls and look at Toronto, we're half hidden under the curvature of the earth which is clearly visible looking across Lake Ontario.

The other big variable is where it's taking off from.  If it's Cape Canaveral, you've no chance of seeing it.  Wallops Island on the other hand can (and does) provide Toronto with visible launches.  In the case of tonights, it's theoretically possibly to see it almost as far north as Manatoulin Island.

Here's a map showing the Toronto to Wallops Island facility.  You can see it's a fair distance, but don't use this map to find the launch.  The reason is this map is flat, and the earth is round.  That straight line is over 3 degrees different at the bottom than it is at the top.

Assuming a known location - the CN Tower - You need to look in the direction of 151º 39' 03" (in decimal that's 151.65º).

Visibility is unknown.  At present, the exact launch time is unknown (the window is 7:30pm EST to 9:30pm EST).  Also, bear in mind that it will take about two minutes after launch for Toronto to see it, as it has to get higher than the curvature of the earth - and at our distance that may be only 5 to 10 deg above the horizon anyway.  You'll likely want to use binoculars for this.

Full observation maps are here: