Artificial Satellite Observations


It is very rare you go out in the night sky to observe, and you fail to see a small star like object beating a path across the sky. These small stars are in fact man made satellites orbiting our Earth and reflecting the sunlight as they pass overhead. Whilst they have been know to ruin many a fine deep sky photograph by the trail left through a long exposure, they can be quite an interesting distraction. The trails they leave should be in no way mistaken for aircraft trails.



Aircraft trails on short and long exposure static camera shots. Note the vignetting due to the lens being left wide open on the long exposure.

In addition to the 'run of the mill' satellites up there, you can also witness Iridium Flares. These are caused by the reflections of the Iridium Solar Panels as they reflect the Sun at your location. These can be quite spectacular, and often shine to a magnitude of -8 - for comparison Venus gets to its brightest at -4.5 ish, and the Moon is -12.5 ish.


Two Iridium Flares - A wide angle and a 50mm shot using static cameras, the magnitudes were in the region of -5 ish from memory.


Watching these events is not difficult. Go to the Heavens Above web site, input your location, and hey presto - a list of satellite passages for your area is displayed. Other useful satellite data is also available there.


Specials sometimes visible from the UK include the International Space Station, sometimes connected to the Space Shuttle. So keep a check on Heavens Above, and keep your eyes peeled. Using a static camera setup as described in the 35mm imaging page can get some interesting results. Some amateurs have actually managed to image the ISS and the Shuttle in their telescopes - it is actually possible to see the bay doors open! Quite incredible.


Watch this page. I have a few small intended projects associated with satellites to get started.


Astronomy Main . Astronomical Imaging.. Home