July 27, 2015

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Two Satellites

Originally published July 26, 2004


Image Credit: Sean Blumenthal

Two Satellites

I was taking images of the Moon with my Celestron 8" SCT, a 25mm plossl, and my Canon G1 digital camera, held afocally in front of the eyepiece by hand. Just playing around, not intending to image anything of importance. I had been taking images of the Moon for quite a while that night, and had perhaps 30-40 on the memory card. While I was taking these images, people from my apartment complex were coming over to see what I was looking at. I told them I was just photographing the Moon, and offered them a look. Since the majority of the people in my complex have never seen through a telescope, let alone an 8 inch one, most were blown away by an object they take for granted. So after a few hours of talking to neighbors, and letting them observe, I got back to imaging. I took a series of images, while trying to get the best distance and angle from the eyepiece with my camera. I decided I would take just a few more, and pack it in. So I took the camera away from the eyepiece to check the focus, and make sure my mirror hadn't shifted. As I peered through the eyepiece, I noticed a small insect crawling at a steady pace across my eyepiece, easily illuminated against a bright Moonscape. I tried to blow it off but it didn't even quaver. So I looked closer to see if the "bug" was really dust or something else inside the optics. That's when I realized I was looking at a satellite floating across the nighttime sky between myself and the Moon. I stared in amazement as I watched the object spin on one axis as it traversed the face of the Moon. It was mesmerized by the 3D nature of it's spin as it was silhouetted against the bright moonlight. I quickly looked around to share this awesome sight with one of my neighbors, but they were all gone! I had been crowded around all night--what timing to have no one around to share what I'm looking at! With the satellite almost leaving the face of the Moon, it finally occured to me that I should take a picture. As I struggled to get the alignment and distance from the eyepiece with my camera, I watched the object slip out of view on my Camera's LCD display. ARG! But then I recalled that just before I discovered the "bug" on my eyepiece, I had taken a series of images. I put my Canon G1 into review mode, and sure enough--I got it! So there you have it, the story of how I accidentally took the best moon picture of my life :)

Sean Blumenthal</b>

Technical Details:
I was lucky enough to capture a picture of a satellite traversing the face of the Moon. Attached is a small version of the full 2048x1536 image. I have the date and time the image was taken too, thanks to EXIF information stored in modern digital cameras: 09/4/2003 09:44pm at Sherman Oaks, Ca. Note by Chuck Wood: I have tweaked the image to improve contrast and made the enlargement of the satellite - its shape identifies it as the International Space Station.

Experienced observers of the ISS and other satellites have pointed out that it takes on the order of one second for a low Earth orbit satellite to transit the Moon. Thus Sean's object caught in profile on the Moon is not likely to be a satellite. A more mundane possibility is a tied together group of balloons, perhaps escapees from a birthday party! The photo is interesting and has provoked considerable discussion of what it isn't!

Chuck Wood

Related Links:
Space Station predictions

Yesterday's LPOD: Pre-History of the Triesnecker Area

Tomorrow's LPOD: What is a Dome?

Author & Editor:
Charles A. Wood



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