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Iridium Flares - Watching and Photographing

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Offline The Scorpion

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Iridium Flares - Watching and Photographing
« on: March 02, 2007, 09:16:58 PM »
Capturing Iridium flares can be fun to do and it can be very easy to do, from anywhere..

What do you need:
Any camera will work where you can have an exposure setting of about 30 seconds.
Many of todays Digital Point n Shoot cameras can do this and Digital SLR cameras can as well.

You will need a tripod of some sort to hold the camera steady during the exposure.
If you have a remote shutter release cable this will be great. If not you can use the camera's built in 2 second self timer to avoid camera shake while you click the shutter button.

Manual Focus- The Ability of your camera to let you manually focus to infinity is the main key factor. Many Digital Point n Shoot cameras do not have this ability. if yours does not, I'm not sure how well this will work out for you.

Setup: Once you get the time and date of the flare you want to capture, allow your self 10 minutes prior to this time to set up your camera and make sure the settings are correct. I usually fire off a few test shots to make sure the focus, ISO, shutter speed and aperture are all set to where I want them as you only get 1 shot at this a night usually.

When to start the exposure:  If you have a GPS time source or a very accurate watch start the exposure maybe 2 seconds before the time of the flare. Or simply watch for the satellite and once you notice it getting slightly brighter start the exposure and  end it when ever you want (after it ahs gotten fully bright of course).

What is an Iridium Flare? It is a small telecommunications satellite in low orbit around the earth. The "Flare" is the result of the sun light reflecting off of the satellites solar panels. You will see the satellite traveling across the night sky just like an ordinary satellite does, but if the conditions are right for where you are standing, you will see it get MUCH brighter for roughly 10 to 20 seconds.

Finding an  Iridium Satellite -  Someone wrote a very precise program to predict when an Iridium flare will occur based on your physical location. You must be a registered member of the http://www.heavens-above.com/ web site (registration is free and they do not send you junk mail) to get this information.
I have been a member of this site for about 6 years now.

Once you enter in your location (come on use all that GPS gear you have to get precise locations) where you will be viewing at you can view the satellites for the next 24 hours or the next 7 days. So if you are planning a trip somewhere and have the lat and long info, set up that location and see if you will get to see one. Sometimes you wont have any for a few weeks, then you have some just about every day. for a week or so. You can set up multiple viewing locations in your profile so you can easily check your favorite places just before heading out.

Understanding the data on the heavens-above web site can be tricky so I have explained some of the data fields below. You can also click on many objects (in blue) on this web site to get more data than what I can go into here

Date: the day the flare will pass over
Local Time: This time is very accurate (-/+ 1 second) and is the time where you will be standing.
Intensity (MAG) this is how bright it gets ( the smaller the number, the brighter it is, more info below)
Atl.: Altitude above the horizon. 10 degrees is roughly the same size as your fist at arms length away from your eyes
Azimuth:  direction in which the Satellite  will come from (compass directions in degrees)
Distance to Flare Center: this is the MOST critical data. this is the distance from you to where halfway point of the flare will occur (flare center). if the distance is greater than 12 km away it will not appear very bright. if you get one that is between 1 and 10 km away it will be very bright. anything over 20 km away you may not eve notice the change in brightness.
Intensity at Flare Center (MAG): this is how bright it will PEAK at around half way thought its brightening.
Satellite: this is a name of the satellite passing over.

here is the location data I use for the Chisos Basin: Big Bend (Chisos), 29.328N, 103.313W

Iridium help page
http://www.heavens-above.com/iridiumhelp.asp?lat=0&lng=0&alt=0&loc=Unspecified&TZ=CET

Intensity (MAG): this is the intensity magnitude or how bright an object in the night sky is. Ancient Astronomers started to catalog stars and other objects in the night sky by brightness. a star with a MAG 1 was very bright, a star with a MAG 10 was very dim. Some objects were later discovered to be much brighter than a MAG 1 and instead of  changing thousands of stars "rating" they went with negative numbers. The Sun has a brightness of -27 the moon is a -12, Venus is a -4.7 and very faint stars are +24, +30. The Star Sirius is the brightest night time star at a -1.5.

The unaided night adapted human eye can see down to Mag +6.

this is my web site page for Iridium Flares.

http://www.nightshooter.com/gallery/Astro/WideField/flares/index.html

Now go have some fun......

James

edit: forgot to mention that the flares occur just after sunset and just before sunrise, some even happen an housr or so before sun rise or sunset.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2008, 09:26:46 PM by jamesb »
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Offline tjavery

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Iridium Flares - Watching and Photographing
« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2007, 07:45:57 AM »
Cool stuff, James. Thanks!

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Offline homerboy2u

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Iridium Flares - Watching and Photographing
« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2007, 08:10:34 AM »
Let me tell you JamesB...you are not new to the neighborhood...6 years as a mamber?

 I love how you set up your telescope with the computer,camera, electronic gadgets on the back of your Equinox, looks like you are also a perfectionist....re al cool :!:
Stay thirsty, my friends.

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Offline The Scorpion

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Iridium Flares - Watching and Photographing
« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2007, 11:20:18 AM »
TJ, hopefully we will get to see some cool stuff when we are out in the Bend as I will have my scope with me.

homerboy2u2, thanks for all the comments.
I have had an interest in Astronomy for about 7 years. I used to get out a lot with the scope trying to learn all this stuff, but lately I dont nearly have as much time wiht the scope. I am still trying to get this astrophotography stuff to where i want it, but due to lower quality equipment its harder to do. Dont get me wrong I still enjoy doing it.

In april I will be out in Ft. Davis for the Texas Star Party at the Prude ranch for a week.

James
everything is better with bacon!!!

http://jamesb.smugmug.com/BigBendNationalPark/

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Offline astrofizz

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Iridium Flares - Watching and Photographing
« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2007, 04:14:33 PM »
The Texas Star Party is a kick. It's not only a great place to look at the sky, shoot the breeze with others who enjoy astronomy, and snag views thru large telescopes, it's also a great place to purchase eyepieces and other observing hardware, books, etc.  I bought a marvelous 7mm focal length Nagler eyepiece from Al Nagler himself at TSP several yrs ago.  For a very reasonable price. Nagler eyepieces have a wide field-of-view and particularly high image quality, ie, crisp images, so they're expensive.

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Offline The Scorpion

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Iridium Flares - Watching and Photographing
« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2007, 08:40:54 PM »
this will be my 5th TSP. Have met Al Nagler a few times as well as a lot of really nice folks. I sold a bunch of stuff one year and usually buy something every year. Met the guy from Canada who wrote the Clear Sky Clock program. His truss dob became a victim to the West Texas Winds. Luckily he was able to fix it and have it working that night.

James
everything is better with bacon!!!

http://jamesb.smugmug.com/BigBendNationalPark/

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Offline RichardM

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Re: Iridium Flares - Watching and Photographing
« Reply #6 on: July 08, 2008, 02:20:55 PM »
I have yet to photograph one, but I was finally able to watch an Iridium flare last night from my backyard. My daughter delayed me enough so that I didn't have time to get the camera set up. Mine will only do a 15 second exposure, so I'm not sure how well that'll work, especially in the bright skies here in Houston. Still, it was nice to finally verify that I could see one. Next I'll have to see if I can spot one during the day.  :icon_cool:

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Offline Roy

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Re: Iridium Flares - Watching and Photographing
« Reply #7 on: July 08, 2008, 04:13:25 PM »
Yo James, only the first link in your post takes me to an active page;  the other two take me the "page not found", which is kind of boring place to be.

I've never tried to phot one of these, only seen it once.  Looks like quite a challenge.

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Offline The Scorpion

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Re: Iridium Flares - Watching and Photographing
« Reply #8 on: July 08, 2008, 09:29:11 PM »
Yo James, only the first link in your post takes me to an active page;  the other two take me the "page not found", which is kind of boring place to be.

I've never tried to phot one of these, only seen it once.  Looks like quite a challenge.

ahhh.... you waited too long to visit those pages..... the links have been changed since then. I do this to my site form time to time to keep everyone confused. The Heaven's above site must ahve changed something also.

I have put the updated links in the original post so now they should all work.

James

everything is better with bacon!!!

http://jamesb.smugmug.com/BigBendNationalPark/

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Offline Roy

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Re: Iridium Flares - Watching and Photographing
« Reply #9 on: July 08, 2008, 09:35:16 PM »
Didn't realize it was an old post, must have missed it the first time around.
Thanks, James.

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Offline RichardM

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Re: Iridium Flares - Watching and Photographing
« Reply #10 on: July 25, 2008, 10:18:44 PM »
Got one (I think), although it's not a particularly artful shot. Didn't have time to grab the tripod, so just went with a hand-held 6 second shot. Hardly any stars visible at the time, and my neighbors across the bayou didn't help by leaving their porch lights on.  :icon_rolleyes:


Oops, looks like the attachment got lost during one of our moves...
« Last Edit: May 16, 2012, 02:21:02 PM by RichardM »

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Offline homerboy2u

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Re: Iridium Flares - Watching and Photographing
« Reply #11 on: July 25, 2008, 10:34:59 PM »
Dang , RicardoM...you have been persistent. :eusa_clap:.... :high5: :high5:, very good !!
Stay thirsty, my friends.

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Offline RichardM

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Re: Iridium Flares - Watching and Photographing
« Reply #12 on: September 28, 2010, 08:48:53 PM »
Got another one. This one was super-bright and lasted about 5 times longer than I expected. In fact, until it faded from view with a gradual redshift, I thought it might have been a plane. I could've easily gotten a full 15 seconds worth had I known. As it was, I just got 6 seconds, hand-held. I didn't have time to set up the tripod, as I barely made it outside in time. The heavens-above.com site had it pegged as magnitude -7, which is the brightest I've ever seen. That's Polaris to the lower left between the power lines.

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Offline SA Bill

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Re: Iridium Flares - Watching and Photographing
« Reply #13 on: September 28, 2010, 09:50:59 PM »
Good catch Richard! -7 is a very bright one. You must have been close to the center line for this one.
  Bill
Bill - In San Antonio

Growing old is mandatory.
Growing up is optional.

 


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