Iridium Satellite This Morning

A few seconds of an Iridium Satellite Flare.

A few seconds of an Iridium Satellite Flare.

   This morning I caught an Iridium satellite going through its ‘flare’ as it re-positioned itself reflecting light from the rising Sun in my direction. Part of the view toward the south included Mars, Saturn, and the bluish-white star Spica, and the reddish star Antares.

   
   
   
Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Tracking Satellites: An App

   As a followup to my posting from yesterday I thought it would be worthwhile to do sort of a review of the things I use for planning photo opportunities for the ISS and Iridium Satellites. You have seen some of what is possible with them so the review will be more of a description and how I use it. So watch for these reviews over the next week or so.

ISS Detector Pro

ISS Detector Pro

   My posting yesterday included the App ISS Detector Pro, one of the programs I use for setting up a photo opportunity for the International Space Station, or Iridium Satellites specifically. This particular App is available for Android phones and Android devices such as what I use, a Kindle Fire HD. With that in mind I can only describe how it works on my ‘handheld’ device. (By handheld I mean web enabled and capable of running Apps or software – like cell phones, tablets, or other small screen device held in the hand as opposed to the typical laptop or notebook type of computer.)

bottom bar   An additional couple of features are located at the bottom of the locator display screens. Tap or click on the left button to go online with your default web browser to a web site describing the particular Iridium satellite or the ISS. The button on the right side brings up a map showing the current location for the satellite or the ISS and a plot of the orbital path relative to the Earth’s surface as the banner picture on the top of the page shows.
Top Bar   At the top of the locator display are some other things you could do with the information shown on the display. The 3 dots icon takes you where you could share by e-mail, or by social media sites, for example. You could add the event to your Google Calendar; the 3 vertical dots take to a configuration page where you have control over a variety of things.

   The slideshow below cycles through 3 screen shots from the ISS Detector Pro App: The Home page showing any sighting opportunities for the ISS and Iridium satellites; a locator for the Iridium flare; and a locator and path for the ISS.

   Click here to read about and see additional pictures of the ISS and Iridium flares.

   
                              Move the cursor over any picture to bring up the controls.

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   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Catching an Iridium Flare – Part 2

From the Starry Night Program

From the Starry Night Program

   This morning was another opportunity to catch an Iridium Flare and this one involved Iridium Satellite # 77. Using the Starry Night program I noted that the path it would follow would be a little west of south and would be below the area of the Pleiades and the Hyades.
   So with that information I aimed my camera and set the exposure time for 2.5 seconds, opened the aperture to 4.0, and set the ISO to 800. Raising the ISO to 800 or 1600 allows me to use either a faster shutter speed and or a less open aperture. By doing this it sometimes eliminates the need to digitally enhance the picture by adjusting brightness and contrast levels for example. And it probably goes without saying that taking a time exposure picture requires a tripod and of course a camera with manual settings allowed.

   Click here to see a full screen size labeled picture of the area. Notice the airplane in the lower right. This picture is actually 25% of the original. Click here for the original picture (5184 x 3456).

Light Paths: Satellite - Airplane

Light Paths: Satellite – Airplane

   The slideshow below is from the pictures taken just before and after the maximum brightness. Watch the airplane as it moves from right to left. Compare the light trail it leaves behind with the light trail from the satellite before and after maximum brightness. The satellite is a solid line from reflecting sunlight while the airplane light trail is like a series of dots on a line – from the blinking and flashing lights on the plane.

   Click here to read about and see additional pictures of the ISS and Iridium flares.

   To pause the slideshow move the cursor over the pictures to bring up the controls.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


   
   
   
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Catching an Iridium Flare

Click on this image to see it full size.

Click on this image to see it full size.

   Last night and this morning brought clear skies, again thanks to the influence of a high pressure system that has lowered the air and dew point temperatures. “Photo op!” I thought. So using ISS Detector Pro, an App on my Kindle Fire HD (7″) I was able to see when and where to look for the next Iridium Flare that would become visible to me. This App, obviously by its name, also tracks the International Space Station and shows where and when to look for the ISS to become visible as it orbits above your location. The App uses data from the Heavens-Above web site, one of the best online resources for star maps, ISS and other satellite flyby events.
   What is an Iridium Flare? Iridium is the name for a series of around 60-70 numbered communication satellites orbiting the Earth. The ‘flare’ is simply the reflection of sunlight off the satellite’s solar panels. You see this reflection as a sudden burst of light, a flare, as the satellite re-positions its orientation to the Earth to keep its antenna aimed at ground-based antennas.
A 'Bonus' Satellite Flyby

A ‘Bonus’ Satellite Flyby

   Given the time, direction, and altitude for Iridium Satellite #3 and the Starry Night Pro program I was able to see what the satellite’s path would look like. For this particular satellite it would travel toward the southwest below the length of the summer triangle asterism from near the star Deneb toward the small constellation of Delphinus the Dolphin, as the labeled picture at the top of the page shows. Then it was simply a matter of setting up my trusty Canon Rebel T3i on a tripod and doing a series of test pictures trying to find the best settings.
   For the satellite flyby – which was totally unexpected – I was using 3.5 second time exposures at F4.0, with an ISO setting of 1600. These are also the settings I used for the flare sequence of pictures. Some of the pictures have additionally been enhanced using Photoshop and Image Enhancement/Auto Levels settings.

   Click here to read about and see additional pictures of the ISS and Iridium flares.

   To pause the slideshow move the cursor over the pictures to bring up the controls.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


   
   
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.