ISS Flyover May 29th, 2021

Taken with NightCap. ISS mode, 128.12 second exposure, 1/1s shutter speed.

May 29th, 2021, 09:29 p.m. local time

I have been receiving alerts of ISS flyovers in my area for several weeks, but cloud cover has been intense for well over a week. With finally a completely clear night, I set up my iPhone with NightCap to record the ISS traveling overhead.

This exposure was taken facing North. Most notable is how the ISS flew just under Polaris. You can also make out The Little Dipper as it arches up and to the right.

Here are the approximate stats from this flyover:

Sat May 29, 9:29 PM6 min44°10° above NW13° above E

ISS Under the Dipper

Click for full-sized image.

July 16th, 2020, 10:04 p.m. local time

Tonight I took many pictures of comet Neowise.  I will get to processing and posting them either later today or over the weekend.  In the meantime, here was a quick observation of the International Space Station flying over later in the evening.  It went from West to Northwest and disappearing in the North.  It passed just below The Big Dipper, i.e. the well-known asterism of Ursa Major.

Not the best of images (quickly taken with iPhone), and I used PaintShop Pro to accentuate the stars and space station a bit.

In hindsight, this may have been a nice long-exposure NightCap image.  But the problem is the continual aircraft coming in the from west to land at O’Hare.  It would likely have made for a confusing mess of streaks.

Unidentified flying objects in night sky? What were these?

Click for full-sized image.

April 26th, 2020, 9:10 p.m. local time

Tonight I saw something truly bizarre.  On this clear Spring night, I took my camera out to take pictures of the Moon and Venus together, around 9 p.m. local time.  I started with a wide lens to get both objects together, then quickly switched to my long 300mm lens for a closeup of the Moon in its early Crescent phase.

I had planned to take a number of image sets while refining the focus.  In the middle of this exercise, above the Moon and Venus, and still higher than Castor and Pollux of Gemini above them, I saw appear a trail of light points moving from W-NW to SW, right to left from my vantage and on a gradual incline towards the South.  They were in perfect unison motion and if I had to guess, there were about 30 of them.  They were in no uniform pattern, with some bunched and others alone.  They moved at about the speed of a typical visible satellite, stretching and moving from above Gemini and then disappearing somewhere past Regulus.

I knew I had to act quickly to photograph them, as they were moving fast and I didn’t know how long they would be visible or if more were coming.  Unfortunately, I had my long lens on the camera, so the field of view was far too narrow to appreciate the size and spectacle of this train of moving light points.

If I had had my wider lens on from just a few minutes prior, I know I would have easily gotten a much better perspective shot.  Instead, my best snap of about five is show here, with the light points artificially enhanced so you can see the line.  It’s important to note that this grouping is just a small fraction of the entire visible line I saw high above.

I have no idea what these were.  My first thought was drones, but they were obviously far too high and their motion was akin to any random satellite, except of course that there were dozens of them, moving in a line.  My only other idea was some sort of debris just above the atmosphere that was in perfect position to reflect the light of the Sun (which had set over an hour prior).

The only event I can remotely compare this to was when I saw the ISS and a Space Shuttle, some 15-20 years ago, fly over in perfect unison.  But they were only two points of light, and if I remember, they were more side-by-side, whereas these lights tonight were in a straight line.

Do you have any idea what these light points could have been?  Have you ever seen anything similar?

Edit: It appears I saw the SpaceX satellites.  See this post and its accompanying video:

How To See A ‘Starlink Train’ From Your Home This Week As SpaceX Satellites Swarm The Night Sky

Tracking the International Space Station, August 2019

Taken with NightCap. ISS mode, 68.38 second exposure, 1/1s shutter speed. Click for full-sized image.

August 1st, 2019, 10:04 p.m. local time

What a difference a day makes!

After last night’s attempt to photograph the International Space Station, I wanted to give NightCap another try, this time in a darker environment.  Having my bearings, it was much easier to choose a setup location, now in my backyard.

The ISS was going to appear NNW again tonight, so I had a good idea of where to point the iPhone on tripod.

The above photo is the result.  The ISS moved very slowly “up.”  I was surprised by the speed.  It eventually reached near Zenith, and was very bright.  Curiously, it abruptly disappeared as it started falling into the SE.  This evening’s event was logged at 2 minutes on NASA’s website, so I guess it made sense.

This shot was pointing Northward.  Notably, you can easily see Ursa Minor and Ursa Major.  I have outlined the dipper asterisms below.  Also, I live near O’Hare International Airport, and two planes on a landing approach from the West were captured as well.

Taken with NightCap. ISS mode, 68.38 second exposure, 1/1s shutter speed. Click for full-sized image.

This evening I also brought out my telescope, to look at and photograph Jupiter (hopefully more on that later).

One final note.  Recently, I converted a number of my house light switches to smart switches, which I can now control with my iPhone and Apple Watch.  This was the first night that I utilized the watch & smart switches working together.  Previously, I would have to frequently go back and forth into the house and across rooms to turn on or off lights, depending on the current situation.  Now, I can use the Apple Watch to adjust the house lights as I need them, instantly.

I also utilized the watch to control NightCap’s shutter.

It may not seem like a big deal, but it was a noticeable time saver.  Walking back & forth to turn on and off lights is not a value-add activity to stargazing.  The less time I have to spend on it, the more I can spend with the equipment and the core activities of watching the sky and photographing it.

Tracking the International Space Station, July 2019

Taken with NightCap. ISS mode, 109.49 second exposure, 1/1s shutter speed. Click for full-sized image.

July 31st, 2019, 09:18 p.m. local time

Last night I finally got around to trying out the NightCap app for iPhone to track the International Space Station.  I considered this more of a test, given the conditions and frankly because I did not know how or if it would work.

Given the rise from NNW and descension into East, the best location for the camera was the worst location on my property.  I set the tripod up near my road, facing one streetlight and in the direction of occasional oncoming traffic.  One does not have to know anything about light pollution to know this was a bad location for a long exposure.

The problems of the matter were capped by an automobile with bright headlights driving towards me, and slowly, just as the ISS started to ascend into view.  No, it was not the cops.  But I had to make a command decision: keep tracking for the most visible part of the orbit, or stop/reposition/restart to cut out the blinding headlight glare.

I chose the former, to keep filming.  I tried my best afterward to remove the surface light pollution, at least to the point where you are able to see the ISS’s path.

Next time, I will choose a much better location, now that I know how ISS mode within NightCap works, and that it does work.  Despite the photon assault, I was very impressed with how the 100+ second exposure kept the lights from totally blinding the image; if there were no obtrusive lights, the picture would have been great.  Next time, hopefully.

Hunting the International Space Station

ISS on June 7th, 2017

During this past week I made an effort to track and photograph the International Space Station.  First, on the night of June 5th, I waited for it with my binoculars at the scheduled time for my location.  It did appear in my sky at the appointed time, going from NNW to E.  It was bright and of course moved quickly.  The binoculars did not reveal any additional details that I could not already see with my eyes alone (in other words, nothing).

Now trusting the Interweb’s timekeeping for the ISS and having a general idea of where to look for it relative to coordinates, two nights later I set up my camera on tripod to take what pictures I could.  Because the ISS is so fast, I had to leave my alt-azimuth tripod knobs loose.  This was not too big a deal, as I was able to typically get three to four pictures with my IR remote before the station moved out of view.

In reading NASA’s recommended camera setup for photographing the ISS, I immediately knew my long 300mm lens was about half their suggestion.  They essentially say you need a nice long telegraphic lens.  Still, I was undeterred.  Of the images I took in those brief three minutes, the above I consider the best.  This is a highly magnified section of the original, taken at f/8, 1/1000 seconds, and ISO 3200.

On Sunday night yesterday, I attempted more pictures during the ISS’s even longer four-minute flyby.  But all of these were either blurry or at a bad angle, as all I got were blobs.

To see something really interesting about the ISS, I recommend checking out Jim R’s cool capture of the ISS transiting the Sun.