On 13 June 2020, SpaceX launched 58 Starlink and 3 Planet SkySats into orbit atop Falcon 9. Many photos and video of the launch are available here and satellite details here.
Early in the morning of 17 June, that same set of satellites passed directly over my location. It was 4:45 am. Twilight was beginning to brighten the sky. I set my iPad on a stable surface and started a long 200 sec exposure with the NightCap app in ISS mode. Within a minute the train of satellites appeared in the southwest (lower left) heading northeast (upper right). The constellation Cygnus was directly in their path. You might recognize Cygnus as a set of short star trails in the center of the image.
Starlink 8 | NightCap ISS mode | 200 sec | 1/2s shutter speed
In the weeks and months ahead, the Starlink satellites will use their ion engines to move apart to higher altitudes of 341 miles (550 km) and become part of the constellation of about 12,000 when all are launched and deployed. More are planned. Since May 2019, about 538 have been launched in sets of 60 at a time. Another 1000 are expected in multiple launches this year. Details of the plan to deliver internet service can be found in a Wikipedia article here.
The last time American astronauts were launched to the International Space Station from U.S. soil was in 2011. Since then, we have relied on launches from Russian soil. NASA and SpaceX are targeting 4:33 p.m. EDT Wednesday, May 27, for the launch from Florida of a two astronaut crew to the ISS. Crew Dragon Demo-2 is scheduled to dock to the ISS at 11:29 a.m. Thursday, May 28. More details of the timeline are here. Check NASA-TV for coverage. A successful flight of the unmanned Crew Dragon Demo-1 to the ISS was conducted in March 2020.
NASA-SpaceX Demo-2 crew Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. Credits: NASA
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Two nights ago the Starlink 6 train of satellites launched by SpaceX passed directly over our location at magnitude 0.8. Clouds were a problem. We were able to see about 10 of them briefly in a small gap between the clouds. Last night they passed again, but farther to the south and only 36˚ up from the horizon. The sky conditions were better but worsening. They were to be at magnitude 3.2 which is not very bright in our urban setting.
NightCap on the iPad does a good job capturing night time events. I set it for ISS passes and hoped for the best. We stood in a relatively dark place down the street while the iPad recorded a 6 min time exposure. We watched in amazement as the entire train of 60 Starlink satellites passed right-to-left across the part of the sky still clear. They were quite dim but we easily saw them pass. The clouds were steadily encroaching from the right.
The photographic results were a disappointment. The satellites passed under the Moon and barely under Canis Minor in the center before they became visible to us. Their trails are hidden behind the narrow cloud streak the goes from below Canis Minor and off the left side of the frame. Perfect placement for not being visible in the photo. I tried everything in Photoshop to adjust the image and make them visible. Nothing worked. But, we did escape from house confinement for a while and enjoyed the warm spring evening.
Taken with NightCap | ISS mode | 356 sec exposure
Fellow blogger and astronomer Roger in Australia treats us to some beautiful images seen in his southern skies within Cosmic Focus. Give it a look. Today, he explained how government limits on travel have made it difficult and maybe costly for him to venture out to dark viewing locations. He was confused by how we Americans seem more casual about the COVID outbreak and restrictions given we are being hit very hard. I commented how I was not happy with our ‘leadership’ from the high offices. We should do better.
In his post he spoke of astronomers and campers who gathered at a remote site in a US desert to observe Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS). No such choices are available for me in the middle of the country. We’ve suffered many clouds and now late winter weather. The forecast for tonight calls for several inches of snow in a winter storm. Fortunately, I can request images from a telescope at a desert site run by the University of Iowa Astronomy and Physics dept.
C/2019 Y4 was on track to be at its brightest here in May. Recent observations show it breaking up and won’t turn out as predicted. About the time that news was unfolding, I got five images from the Iowa telescope on April 8, 11, 15, 17 and 18. Each was a 90 sec exposure with a luminance filter.
Gemini | U of IA Dept of Astronomy and Physics | 8 April 2020
Gemini | U of IA Dept of Astronomy and Physics | 11 April 2020
Gemini | U of IA Dept of Astronomy and Physics | 15 April 2020
Gemini | U of IA Dept of Astronomy and Physics | 17 April 2020
Gemini | U of IA Dept of Astronomy and Physics | 18 April 2020
Gemini | U of IA Dept of Astronomy and Physics | 19 April 2020
What will the Moon look like on any date in 2020? What will it look like on your birthday? Find out at NASA Dial-a-Moon. Go here to see views for northern hemisphere and for southern hemisphere readers. Scan down that web page for much additional information about the Moon’s motions and appearance.
Enter any month and day to see a high definition image. The composite images of Dial-a-Moon are made from those of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in low altitude orbit around the Moon since 2009.
You may leave the universal time (UT) at the default value. If you wish, your local-to-Universal time conversion can be done at this link. Or, type ‘universal time’ into Google. Go back to Dial-a-Moon to enter the UT.
NASA | Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter | 1 Jan 2020
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