Right Place | Right Time

Sometimes things work out just right. The Sun was high about 2pm in very clear blue sky. The Space Station passed over me and did a very brief transit of the Sun lasting only 0.63 sec. I drove 2 miles and put myself as close to the centerline as possible. The path of visibility was only about 3 miles wide. I needed to be in the right place at the right time. The video is slowed to 10% normal speed so you don’t blink and miss the transit.

Frame grab of the ISS in transit. Solar panels easily visible.

Of course, it is easy to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the wrong place at the right time. One of my favorite performers, Dr. John, captured the situation of being in the right place at the wrong time. Enjoy.

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ISS Passes Arcturus & Jupiter

After admiring Jupiter, Saturn, Albireo, and Mizar-Alcor, I packed up the Celestron 8 and waited a few minutes. Right on time, the ISS rose from the horizon in the northwest passing just over the thin crescent new moon. The iPad was on the roof of the car with the NightCap app running and pointed high in the southwest. A passenger plane flew west with blinking lights. Then came ISS going right-to-left just below Arcturus. It brightened as it passed over Jupiter before dimming abruptly before reaching Saturn. A lot of ground is covered traveling 5 miles per second.

Policing the Skies

Many years ago I tried to view the Trifid Nebula with a 5″ diameter telescope. A dark sky was needed. My back yard in town was not dark enough. I scouted the neighborhood and found a dark place behind the local elementary school. An electrical outlet was also available to run the drive mechanism on the scope. As a precaution, I called the local police station and let them know my plan to be behind the school that night. They said ok to that.

Trifid Nebula M20 | Wikipedia | Hunter Wilson

Darkness approached. I drove to the school and set up and aligned my telescope. My eyes were dark-adapted after 20 minutes. I saw someone across the school yard walking their dog in the very dim light. I didn’t think they saw me.

The views of M20 were excellent. I could just make out the dark dust lanes visible in the reddish part of the image above. The image above is a time exposure revealing many details. It is not mine.

I was intent on pointing the scope to another nearby object when I heard footsteps behind me. I turned to see who it was. A bright flashlight was pointed directly into my face. My dark-adaptation was over. The person with the bright light in my face asked who I was and what I was doing. It was a policeman. That dog-walker had called to report a suspicious person behind the school.

I explained who I was. He put down his light from my face. I told him I had called that afternoon to let them know I was going to be here. He said I should have called just before I came over. The day shift doesn’t usually talk to the night shift about stuff like this.

I was reminded of this story when I read the Focal Point story on the last page of the August 2019 Sky & Telescope magazine. It was titled Encounters With Police by Dennis Kelly. He is an amateur astronomer and holds two criminal justice degrees. He encouraged amateurs to be careful and very transparent about what you are doing in the dark with weird looking apparatus. Bad things could happen and much of it by accident.

Saturn Moon Jupiter | 5 Nights

It is rare to have five consecutive nights of clear skies for star gazing. And, even more rare when those nights coincide with a special event I hope to photograph. The gods must have looked favorably on me. It started on 11 July 2019 with this view to the south-southeast at 9:44pm CDT. Far lower left was Saturn emerging from behind the bushes. Jupiter was proud above the trees. The overexposed Moon hovered at the right. I photographed this scene at 9:44pm over the course of the next four nights. The Moon tracked down to the left. Click for a better view.

ISO 800, Exposure 1 sec | Click to embiggen.

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Metop-A Flare & Fireflies

I photographed a satellite flare the evening of 10 June 2019. As the exposure was being recorded, a low flying airplane moved through the frame with lights blinking . It was fun to see. I had another opportunity to photograph a flare on 7 July. This time something else flew through the frame with lights blinking.

First, what I expected to see in shown in this chart from CalSky. The site emails me with alerts about coming events such as ISS passes or satellite flares. The field of view is toward the north and pointing almost straight up. The North Star, Polaris, is not visible but just off the chart at the bottom. The Big Dipper is at the left with the two pointer stars of the dipper pointing to Polaris. Satellite Metop-A was to pass through this field at a specific time. A reflective panel on the weather satellite was to direct a beam of sunlight down to my location for a few seconds. The grey circles show the pattern of bright-to-dark of the beam. It was to last a few seconds.

As the time of the pass neared, I set my iPad so it was pointed north and tilted up above Polaris. I opened the NightCap app and set it for a long exposure. I watched the sky during the 212 sec exposure and never saw the satellite flare. It must have been more dim than predicted. I went inside to see if anything was visible on the image.

The Big Dipper was easily visible. Short star trails were obvious during the 2.5 minute exposure. The flare was barely visible so I enhanced it with software (top center). Also visible were a few trails and spots of light that didn’t fit the pattern of the stars. Those were fireflies. Two of them were fairly close to the iPad and left bright long streaks (small squares). One was far away and blinked several times as it made a looping pattern (lower right). Click the image for a bigger view.