Star Trails | Ursa Major and Minor

I was inspired by a recent post in the blog Cosmic Focus by fellow amateur astronomy Ggreybeard in Australia. He put his DSLR camera on a tripod facing north and attached an intervalometer. The result was a series of 100 images each 45 sec long stitched together showing the star trails across the northern sky. I encourage you to go visit his blog to see the beautiful image.

I noticed Ursa Major and Minor, the Big and Little Dippers to most people, in the northwest sky in recent summer evenings when I was out with my telescope or binoculars. That post by Ggreybeard made me want to try the same thing. I decided to try to get the star trails using two different camera setups.

NightCap Camera

My iPad has the app NightCap Camera on it. It can capture many varied low-light scenes including one called Light Trails. I set the iPad on a stable base and started the exposure. It lasted for 1 h 7 m 46 s. Some scattered clouds glided in that were lit up by ground lighting. Airplanes flew over in various directions with blinking lights. The resulting image showed it all. I added some yellow lines highlighting Ursa Major and Ursa Minor as well as Polaris the North Star. It was a messy yet interesting image.

25 Aug 2022 | NightCap | Light Trails mode | ISO 3072 | 4066.23 sec | 0.5 sec per exposure
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ISS Pass Segments

The International Space Station passed over my part of the world recently. I like to watch it when the conditions are right. Sometimes, I set up the iPad for a time exposure. This time I recorded the event with a different camera setup. My Canon was on a tripod pointed at the west-northwest sky. Six exposures were made. Each was 15 sec in duration. Each was started 40 sec after the start of the previous one. The first two images were combined with software into this one image. It was a little after 8:08 pm local time. Other objects of interest in the image are Taurus in upper left, Pleiades a little below right from Taurus, Perseus in top center, and Cassiopeia right center.

Looking west-northwest

During the intervening seconds before the third image, I turned the camera on the tripod to face northwest above Cassiopeia. I moved the camera and missed the fourth image.

Looking northwest

Images five and six were with the camera pointing north-northeast toward the Big Dipper. The dipper points to Polaris. The Little Dipper is barely visible.

Looking north-northeast

This was the first time I captured images from nearly horizon-to-horizon by moving the camera during the sequence. If you are viewing by phone or a tablet device, the details in the images might not show. A full-screen desktop view works best.

Metop-C Flare & Airplane

If you have followed my blog long enough, you might recall that I like to photograph Iridium flares. Link to examples. The constellation of 66 communications satellites provides a worldwide phone system. I get email notices when a flare, sunlight reflecting off an antenna, is visible at my location.

Recently, I have received notices about flares from three weather satellites of the European Union (EUMETSAT). They are known as Metop A, B, and C. Their polar orbits and altitude allow weather to be monitored continuously. Antennae sometimes reflect bright sunlight down to Earth causing a flare. I was notified of one at 9:54pm local time on 9 Jun 2019.

Using the NightCap app on my iPad, I set it on the sidewalk, angled it toward the correct part of the sky and let it capture a time exposure for a couple of minutes. A small plane flew over at low altitude just after I started the exposure. Right after that, the Metop-C satellite passed over leaving a faint flare trail. Both were going north, lower left. Notice the handle of the Big Dipper drawn in the top left. The two pointer stars of the dipper are not visible. I like when serendipity happens.

Sirius in the Daytime

The brightest star in the night sky is Sirius in the constellation Canis Major to the lower left of Orion. It is bright in the southeast evening sky at this time of year. Follow the three bright stars of Orion’s belt to the lower left and find Sirius.

I wondered if I could see Sirius in the daytime. On two occasions this week, I looked for Sirius with my 15x binoculars. They binoculars are heavy but steadied with my custom support. Both times I was able to see it shining brightly in bright daylight. This is a first for me.

If you are interested in trying this yourself, here are some details. Sunset is just after 7:15 pm locally. The time of viewing Sirius was about 6:15 pm CDT with very clear sky. It was at 150˚ azimuth (east is 90˚ south is 180˚) and was about 26˚ altitude. I have a small app on my Android phone called Protractor that helped determine the altitude. Give it a try.


Viewing Heavenly Bodies | 2019

🔭  Updates an earlier post to include recent changes and new information.  🔭  

Desktop planetarium software helps plan viewing sessions and keep track of the planets and Moon. Many products are available for all computer platforms and smartphones. A Google search yields links to many sources. Open source and free Stellarium is on my desktop computer. It can be customized to your location and has a nice look and feel. For Android and Mac phones and tablets, I like SkySafari. It isn’t free but is inexpensive.

Online planetarium sites are popular and offer many features. Below are highlights of a few I like. With multiple features, a unique look and feel, and different levels of detail, they can help satisfy your curiosity about astronomical events. I welcome reader questions or reviews about using these tools or others you find helpful.



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