Betelgeuse Dims in Orion

The star Betelgeuse has been in the news since December 2019. It is called a Red Giant due to its color and size. It is the upper left shoulder of Orion seen in this chart from Wikipedia Commons.

Orion_constellation_map.png: Torsten Bronger

It has a slight reddish hue visually and a diameter estimated to be nearly as large as the orbit of Jupiter. Betelgeuse is a variable star meaning its brightness changes over time. The time period is quite long on the order of 2000 days. In December 2019, variable star observers reported it had rapidly reached its lowest level ever observed. Speculation is widespread over whether it will soon become a Supernova. More on that later.

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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.