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Eyes up Canberra—super bright Space Station passes starting tonight

By 5 January 2013 13

iss over gungahlin

It’s that time again when we get to look up and see the only place where humans live other than on Earth zipping across our skies. The International Space Station has a number of very bright passes coming up over the next few days—some at fairly family-friendly times (given it’s school holidays anyway).

For Canberra people there is a very bright, high and long pass each of the next five nights, including tonight. Anything from this table above -1.5 is quite bright (above being a larger negative number).

It’s great fun to try to catch the ISS in a photograph. Set your photo quality to the highest possible (RAW if you have it), your lens to a wide zoom, your aperture small, shutter to 30 seconds or more, prefocus on something as far away as possible and then turn autofocus off. Set your camera on a tripod pointing towards where the ISS pass will appear. Use a wired or wireless remote if you have it, otherwise set the self-timer to two seconds to give any button-pressing vibration time to settle before the shutter opens.

I also like to frame up a foreground object as long as it isn’t lit too much. Conversely, if the foreground is very dark, you can ‘paint’ it during your exposure with a second of light from a torch. Photoshop will also allow you to brighten ‘shadows’ afterwards to highlight your foreground.

To really nail down where the ISS will appear in your sky, iThing users can download the great little app ISS Spotter.

For added interest, try to catch yourself an Iridium flare. These are extremely bright but very short flashes of sunlight off the very shiny Iridium satellite telephone network satellites:

Wondering what all these brightness figures mean? As they explain on www.heavens-above.com:

The lower the value, the brighter the object, so magnitude -4 is brighter than magnitude 0, which is in turn brighter than magnitude +4. The scale is logarithmic, and a difference of 5 magnitudes means a brightness difference of exactly 100 times. Examples of magnitude values for well-known objects are:

Sun -26.7 (about 400,000 times brighter than full Moon!)
Full Moon -12.7
Brightest Iridium flares -8
Venus (at brightest) -4.4
International Space Station -2
Sirius (brightest star) -1.44
Limit of human eye +6 to +7
Limit of 10×50 binoculars +9
Pluto +14
Limit of Hubble Space Telescope +30

So those flares going as bright as -7.0 should be something to see…

Clear skies!

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13 Responses to Eyes up Canberra—super bright Space Station passes starting tonight
#1
breda7:10 pm, 05 Jan 13

Thanks Al. Will definitely have a look.

#2
Dazzlar10:55 pm, 05 Jan 13

Anyone get any photos or was it too cloudy? I saw this post only a few minutes ago and missed it.

#3
Gungahlin Al11:07 am, 06 Jan 13

Try tonight Dazzlar. Clear skies (jinx?), bright pass and an Iridium flare later too.

I actually wrote this on Friday but the browser I was using wouldn’t allow me to attach the graphics. Then I forgot for a while and by the time I uploaded it, JB had packed it in for the night. How dare he have a life… And the Friday pass was a bottler too! I did get it up on my blog in time for a few people to see it though… :)

Unfortunately my photos didn’t work out. It’s tricky guessing the balance between ISO/aperture size and ambient light pollution blowing out a 30 second shot. So I got nothing but hot pixels… Going back to Canon shortly.

#4
snoopydoc10:08 pm, 06 Jan 13

Thanks for the reminder. :-)

Just watched the ISS cruising overhead from my back deck. I’m fortunately heading off for a few days, or I’d have a crack at getting my scope to track it and snap a few photos…

#5
Dazzlar12:00 am, 07 Jan 13

I saw the it!! I had forgotten how fascinating the night sky is, thanks Al!!

#6
Deref11:51 am, 07 Jan 13

Thanks Al! Most informative!

#7
gazket1:45 pm, 07 Jan 13

maybe Labour can put a tax on it passing over our skies

#8
Gungahlin Al3:33 pm, 07 Jan 13

Another ISS pass tonight at 9:03.

#9
Gungahlin Al9:01 pm, 07 Jan 13

Your friendly 9:03 pm ISS pass reminder. Look to the west-south-west.

#10
Dork9:14 pm, 07 Jan 13

Tonight was by far the best night (of a reasonable time)
Now to figure out a way to get there and find the geocache on board.
Thanks for the info Al!

#11
Girt_Hindrance11:20 pm, 07 Jan 13

Missed the ISS, but luckily just got to see the Iridium- missed the flare but got to see the light on it fade off into black.
Awesome, Cheers Al.

#12
Gungahlin Al11:33 pm, 07 Jan 13

Dork said :

Tonight was by far the best night (of a reasonable time)
Now to figure out a way to get there and find the geocache on board.
Thanks for the info Al!

Cheers! (I must try geocaching…)

I just snagged the Iridium flare—my first. Wow! At Mag -6.5 that was WAY brighter than Venus at it’s brightest. Like a airliner headlight coming in.
There are two more on Tuesday night only 9 minutes apart.

#13
Gungahlin Al11:34 pm, 07 Jan 13

Oh and I was tracking the ISS tonight in ISS Spotter—it was just off the southern tip of New Zealand when it finally blinked out of view here!

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