Wednesday 31 August 2011

Rush hour on the Sagitta-Vulpecula border

Yesterday, while preparing the series of images on comet 2009 P1 Garrad (see previous post), I captured below 10 second exposure using the Samyang 1.4/85 mm lens. The telescope mount was not yet adequately following that time.

It shows satellite rush hour on the Sagitta-Vulpecula border: as much as four objects in this single image measuring less than 10 degrees!

11-037B is related to the SPEKTR R (Radioastron) launch. Kosmos 530 (72-087C) is clearly slowly flashing.

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Later that evening, I captured the FIA Radar 1 (10-046A) passing through Cygnus amidst whisps of clouds, making for this eerie picture (made using the Canon EF 2.5/50mm Macro):

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OT: comet 2009 P1 Garradd with the new 1.4/85 mm lens (updated)

Yesterday evening (30 Aug 2011) started reasonably clear, so I set up the small Meade ETX-70, put the Canon EOS 450D with the new Samyang 1.4/85 mm lens piggyback on it, and made a series of images of the Sagitta-Vulpecula border area, where comet 2009 P1 Garradd is currently located.

Sky conditions were variable. Out of 97 images (of 10 seconds exposure each), I selected the 34 best for the stack below. The comet (small, but with a clear tail) is in the center, parts of Sagitta with M71 are at left, the "coathanger" cluster is at right:

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A detail of the image at full pixel resolution:

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Tuesday 30 August 2011

NOSS 2-1 (C) very bright

In the evening of August 28, during a short clearing, I was testing a new lens, the very fine Samyang F1.4/85 mm Aspherical IF.

The EOS 450D with the lens was mounted piggyback on my Meade ETX-70, with the ETX following the movement of the stars.

While making a series of images of the Deneb area, situated near the zenith, a bright naked eye satellite of mag. +1.5 passed through Cygnus and the camera field.

On the image, it turned out to be accompanied by two other satellites, much fainter. It actually was the NOSS 2-1 trio, and the bright one was the (C) component (1990-050C). Below is the image:

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NOSS-es usually do not get this bright in the zenith and I have never seen 1990-050C this bright before. Scott Tilley from the USA has recently observed the same unusual brightness of NOSS 2-1(C), and so did Brad Young.

The lens I was testing, the Samyang F1.4/85 mm Aspherical IF which gets raving reviews on the internet, turns out to be an extremely fine F1.4 lens. The optical quality is astounding, and this at a cost of only €269,- !

Friday 26 August 2011

KH-12 USA 161 de-orbited? [updated 02/09/2011]

UPDATE 2 Sept 2011: USA 161 is Still Alive! It has not been deorbitted but made a large manoeuvre. Read more about the recovery here.

Negative observations on Wednesday and Thursday 24-25 and 25-26 August reported by Russell Eberst from Scotland on SeeSat-L and Pierre Neirinck from France (priv. com) suggest that the KH-12 Keyhole USA 161 (2001-044A), an advanced high resolution optical reconnaisance satellite launched on 5 October 2001, has either undergone a large manoeuvre or (more likely) has been de-orbited last week.

Earlier this year (January 20, 2011), USA 224 (2011-002A) was launched as NROL-49 and put in the same orbital plane as USA 161, probably as a replacement for the latter.

Below are two archive pictures I shot of USA 161 brightly flaring twice on 30 July 2009:

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The remaining KH-12 constellation (if indeed USA 161 has been de-orbitted last week) now consists of three satellites: USA 129 (96-072A), USA 186 (05-042A) and USA 224 (2011-002A), the oldest of which (USA 129) is now 15 years in service.

USA 224 which replaced USA 161 represents the noon and midnight plane. USA 129 and USA 186 represent the morning and evening plane. Below diagram shows the satellite constellation as it is now USA 161 has presumably been de-orbitted:

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Tuesday 23 August 2011

Progress M-11M, and a spectacular flare by IGS 1B

At 9:35 UTC on 23rd August 2011, the Progress M-11M spacecraft (2011-027A) which had been attached to the International Space Station (ISS) since June was decoupled from the latter. It will orbit earth on its own for 9 days and will do various measurements, before being de-orbited to burn up over the Pacific.

On the evening of the 23rd near 20:29 UTC (22:29 local time) I watched them both during a fine near-zenith pass. The Progress spacecraft was about 1 minute ahead of the ISS in time, and attained a maximum brightness of mag. +0.5. Below two images show the Progress (top image) and the ISS a minute later(bottom image), both in Lyra:

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Next I observed the IGS 5 rocket (09-066B), and IGS 1B (a malfunctioned Japanese spy satellite that is up for an uncontrolled re-entry in 2012-2013, see here). Both objects flared.

The IGS 5 rocket stage flared to mag. -0.5 at about 20:35:55 UTC. But IGS 1B (03-009B) flared much more spectacularly, to at least mag. -3 at 20:43:01 UTC, while passing through the zenith! An image of this splendid flare (captured close to the edge of the image) is the top image below, while the bottom image shows it while ascending in the south, just west of Altair:

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Sunday 21 August 2011

Satellites far and near

Both Friday and Saturday evening were very clear, and the moon not yet a nuisance untill midnight.

On Friday I targetted both a few LEO and HEO objects. The KH-12 Keyhole USA 129 (96-072A), the SAR Lacrosse 3 (97-064A) and the FIA Radar 1 (10-046A) were observed, although a misalignment of the camera in the case of FIA R1 resulted in only one point on the latter. As I was waiting for FIA R1 to pass, the International Space Station (ISS) made a majestic, very bright zenith pass.

Next I changed the EF 2.5/50mm lens for the Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar MC 2.8/180mm, and targetted two faint and distant HEO objects, The Trumpet ELINT and SBIRS platform USA 200 (08-010A) and the SDS 3-4 data communications satellite USA 179 (04-034A). Two images of both are shown below.
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While sleeping, the G68 Sierra Stars Observatory Telescope in California made images for me that resulted in a position on the enigmatic Prowler (90-097E).

Saturday evening was clear as well. This time, I only targetted LEO objects: the Japanese malfunctioned satellite IGS 1B (03-009B), and both the KH-12 USA 129 and the FIA Radar 1 again.

As I was observing, a group of people attending a birthday party of one of the neighbours came onto the courtyard for a smoke. Curious, they asked me what I was doing, and after a short explanation from my part, the group of six watched in an excited state when IGS 1B made a very bright pass. It was easily visible naked eye, and they all saw it.

Below is one of the images from this evening: the FIA Radar 1 (10-046A) passing through Lyra (brightest star is Vega).

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Thursday 18 August 2011

Nanosail-D: a pattern in the Chaos

Earlier I reported on my August 14 observations of the experimental Solar sail Nanosail-D (2010-062L), including a brightness variation diagram derived from one of the images.

Initially, I could not see any clear pattern in it, so I called it "irregular". Next, Alain Figer from France pointed out it was not so irregular after all. His own images from August 16th (URL's here) show a very neat pattern of one major flash, then two secondary flashes, then a major flash again. On his images, the major flashes are 0.73 seconds apart.

Going back to my observations, it turns out it is indeed possible to find a similar periodicity of 0.73 +/- 0.03 seconds. The secondary flashes appear to be 0.73/3 = ~0.24 from these main peaks: in other words, main and secondary peaks fit a ~0.24s pattern.

Below diagram shows it. the lowest line gives the observed peaks, with the red triangles representing the main 0.73s cycle. The yellow tringles point out several secondary maxima at ~0.24s after the main cycle peak; the grey/white triangles point at a hint of a similar pattern ~0.24s before he main cycle peaks.
The upper line shows the modelled behaviour: a main peak (black triangle) each 0.73s, with secondary and tertiary peaks at ~0.24s intervals.

click diagram to enlarge

Monday 15 August 2011

Nanosail-D flashing rapidly and brightly

As in late May and early June, Nanosail-D (2010-062L), the experimental NASA Solar Sail is making favourable passes again and under favourable conditions becomes bright and is flashing rapidly.

Yesterday evening around 22:50 local time (20:50 UTC) I observed it when it made a near-zenith pass, from SW to NE. While ascending and going through the zenith it was quite bright and an easy naked-eye object, reaching mag. +1.5. It was rapidly and very irregularly, rather nervously flashing.

I shot four images, two of which are shown below: in the first image, the brightness variation is photographically less apparent than it was visually, because the trail is near saturation. It shows the Solar sail passing just below Lyra (Vega in top left) along with a stray, the French Optical Remote Sensing satellite Spot 4 (98-017A, the fainter of the two trails).

The second image, shot while Nanosail-D was getting fainter, shows the sharp flashes more readily.

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From the latter image, I could derive this brightness variation diagram:

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A large number of sharp brightness peaks can be seen: I count some 26 peaks in a 10.05 seconds time span, the one more prominent than the other. No regularity in the pattern is apparent.Link

Wednesday 10 August 2011


Yesterday evening saw very dynamic weather conditions, with the sky going from overcast to cklear to overcast in a matter of minutes. I managed to photograph the FIA Radar 1 (10-046A) and IGS 1B (03-009B).

Then I set up my camera with an Aputure automatic timer and let it take 20 second pictures all night. I did this earlier, to construct a time-lapse showing sky rotation. This time, it was also meant to capture some early Perseid meteors.

I captured one (below), low in the west.

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