Sunday 24 June 2012

30 (mostly) geostationary objects in one image

Click image to enlarge

The image above was made by me just after midnight of June 18-19, 2012. It is a single image taken with my new Canon EOS 60D and a SamYang 1.4/85mm lens (800 ISO, 10s exposure). It was shot from the center of Leiden town.

The image shows a 11 x 14 degrees wide field low in the south-southeastern sky, between 20 and 30 degrees elevation above the horizon. Diagonally over the image runs a part of the geostationary belt, at declination -7.4 deg for my location.

In this single image, as much as 30 mostly geostationary satellites are visible: 23 commercial geostationary satellites, 1 classified military geostationary satellite (Milstar 5, 2002-001A), and 6 rocket boosters.

I did a poor job with the focus of this image, resulting in a slight unsharpness (especially near the edges of the image). Yet, the number of  objects nevertheless visible in this small piece of low southern sky is amazing!

This is just one of several images I took that night. Apart from Milstar 5, a number of other classified (military) geostationary satellites were imaged and astrometry on them obtained.

PAN in it's new position at 37.9 E

One of these objects is PAN (2009-047A), an enigmatic satellite I have written about before. Here is an image from June 18-19:

click image to enlarge

One of the curious aspects of this strange classified geostationary satellite operated by an undisclosed agency (see Dwayne Day's article in The Space Review), is that it is very frequently repositioned. It recently did so again (see my imagery of May 16, when it was still on the move). It has now stopped drifting and taken up position at 37.9 deg E (a position it has occupied before) not far from Paksat 1R, as can be seen in the image above. A stray Atlas Centaur rocket booster passed the area as well when the image was taken.

Vortex 4 and Mercury 2

Other classified objects imaged include  the older geostationary satellites Vortex 4 (1984-009A) and Mercury 2 (96-026A), the latter of which currently also is on the move (it is probably being sent to a disposal orbit after reaching the end of its operational mission):

click image to enlarge

Vortex 4  (launched on 31 January 1984) and Mercury 2 (USA 118, launched on 24 April 1996) both are SIGINT (eaves-dropping) satellites, with the Mercury being a further advanced version of the Vortex.

In addition, a newer SIGINT satellite was imaged as well,  Mentor 4 (2009-001A, one that frequently features in this observational blog, as it is bright and easy to observe), and the object designated by our amateur network as  UNK 060616 (probably an old r/b).

Prowler, AEHF 1 and DSP F15 imaged from Winer observatory, USA

While the above imaging was all done from my home in the Netherlands, I also imaged a few objects 'remotely' using the UoI Rigel (MPC 857) 37-cm Cassegrain telescope at Winer Observatory, Sonoita, Arizona, USA.

The enigmatic Prowler (1990-097E), a clandestine launch from Space Shuttle mission STS-38 which has featured on this blog more often (read the intriguing story of Prowler here; plenty of suspense!) was imaged on June 19 and 22. On June 19 I also imaged the military communications satellite AEHF 1 (2010-039A), and on June 22 the old DSP Infra-red early-warning satellite DSP F15 (1990-095A). Images of these objects below:

click images to enlarge

Comet 185P/Petriew

In addition to all these satellites, two  Solar System Minor Bodies were imaged: 2012 LZ1 and 185P/Petriew.

I posted imagery of the June 15 fly-by of Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) 2012 LZ1 here before in my previous post, and obtained more astrometry on this object on subsequent nights. In addition, I obtained some imagery on the faint periodic comet 185P/ Petriew on June 22. Below is a stack of 5 images of 45s exposure each:

click image to enlarge

Not a pretty picture, but the comet was near magnitude +17 to +18! My astrometry has been included in MPEC 2012-M33 (22 June).

New camera: a Canon EOS 60D

I had completely forgotten to mention this: during the second half of May, my EOS 450D camera broke down. During a macro-session on Dragonflies, the shutter broke. Much to my regret.

I had the choice between having the shutter repaired (expensive), or buying a new camera. I choose the latter option, as the new generation of EOS cameras performs notably better than the 450D, especially in performance at high ISO (less noise). So I decided to upgrade.

The choice I made was for the Canon EOS 60D, an 18 MP DSLR with Digic IV processor. So far (and having mostly used it for "normal" photography for now) I very much like it!

Before I can use it on satellites in Low Earth Orbit, I'll first have to complete a calibration program with the camera. This calibration entails the delay between the moment you press the shutter button and the exposure is actually taken; and the real duration of exposures (a "10 second" exposure is not exactly 10.00 seconds). I have some preliminary calibration results by now, but it will take some time before I have final results and can start to use the camera regularly on satellites. For geostationary satellites (where the timing accuracy isn't that much of a factor; rather the astrometry is) the preliminary results I have mean I can already use it (as has been done, see this post).


Doug said...
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Doug said...

As an amateur astronomer, I always enjoy stepping outside to view a pass of the ISS, or to see an Iridium flare, but I must say the images you've captured are extremely impressive! My compliments!