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.

Morning Sky Views

Click on picture to see it full size.

Click on picture to see it full size.

   Didn’t work today so while waiting for the phone to ring, just in case a sub position opened up, I started making arrangements to do some more photo experimentation of various constellations and planets, and then ending with an Iridium Satellite Flare just before 7 am CDT. For the flare I knew where to look, just slightly northeast and at an altitude of 57 degrees. This would put the flare above and to the right of the North Star Polaris as I face north looking over the roof of my house. This picture used a 3-second shutter speed with the 18mm lens set to F5.7 and the ISO at 1600.
   So I aimed my camera and took a few test shots hoping to be able to frame the stars of the Big Dipper and Little Dipper – which I was able to do as the picture above shows. However by the time the Iridium Satellite did its thing the sky was too bright for the ‘dipper’ stars to be visible as the (banner picture) shows. This picture used a 1-second shutter speed with the 18mm lens set to F8, and the ISO 200.

The Pleiades

The Pleiades

   Before my encounter with the Iridium 3 Satellite I spent about an hour taking pictures of Mars and the backward question mark shape of Leo; Jupiter and the Gemini Twins stars; Orion, and the Orion Nebula. These pictures were taken with a 55mm lens set to various exposure times and ISO settings. I was curious about how long of an exposure or shutter speed I could use without getting ‘star trails’, or a streak of light from each star as the Earth rotates. The picture of the Pleiades used a 55mm lens set for an 8-second shutter speed and there are noticeable ‘star trails’. This more or less confirmed what I had suspected and that a 6-second shutter speed was probably ideal – at least for my camera. So, while I was changing the shutter speed I also played around with the ISO setting and the aperture setting. Each of these had an effect that bears looking into further. Somewhere I’ll find the right mix of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. But then the sky transparency is never the same so that right mix setting may be an elusive thing.

Orion

Orion: 43mm; 4-Sec.; F5.6; ISO 1600

   
Mars and Leo

Mars and Leo: 55mm; 6-Sec.; F5.6; ISO 3200

Jupiter

Jupiter and Twins: 55mm; 6-Sec.; F5.6; ISO 1600

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

               Click on each of these thumbnails to see it full size.

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

Tracking Satellites – Online

   In planning for a photo opportunity with either or both the International Space Station and an Iridium Satellite flare I use each of the 3 web sites displayed in the slideshow below in addition to the information provided by the Kindle App, ISS Detector Pro. If my Knidle is not available I go online to the NASA Spot the Station web site for important viewing information including where and when the ISS is visible, and the duration of its visibility. The link here takes you to where you choose a location. Once selected the sighting opportunities will be calculated for that location.
iss-ani   Another online resource is the SATVIEW web site. Your ISP will be detected and used to determine your general location like latitude, longitude, and timezone. This information is then used by the web site to calculate satellite visibilities and other data for your location. You may select from a list of satellites to track and then watch its orbital path on a larger Mercator projection type map of the Earth. Superimposed on top of this map is an animated graphic that shows the satellite from above in motion as it orbits the Earth’s surface below. Below these maps is a data stream display of location information, speed, altitude and so on, and is constantly updating.
   The AstroViewer web site shows an animated graphic as if looking down from the ISS as it orbits above the Earth’s surface. It also displays a data stream of information about the ISS as well as the orbital path plotted on a world map. The ‘ground track’ shows the path the ISS is following and is updated every second. Clicking on the snapshot button opens a new browser window with a larger and more detailed graphic of what the ISS was orbiting above. Additionally you may get a visibility listing for a location similar to the list from the NASA web site.
   This particular web site, AstroViewer, requires the use of Java and if you have heeded any of the cautionary reports about using Java then your computer should either not allow Java and subsequently not show the animated graphics, or you will be prompted to allow the use of Java.

   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.

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.

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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

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.