Christmas Lights On The Ground & Things In The Sky

Christmas Night, 2014. We don’t have quite as many lights up this year as we have in a couple of previous years — but we still have more up than everyone else on the block combined, so we’ll call that a win.

Going out to take pictures, it is not lost on me that given a bit of  checking and planning on the timing, there might be other objects to get into the picture with the lights on the house.

Like an ISS pass overhead.

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I was hoping that it would be an “ascending” pass, going from southwest to northeast, so that I could see it rising over the house. No such luck. It’s a “descending” pass, going from northwest to southeast, which my my house means it’s right up in a whole block of street lights.

Here you can see it heading up from left to right. Obviously, trying to “hide” from the nearest streetlight in the shadow of a tree doesn’t help if the tree is covered in Christmas lights…

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But once it got overhead a bit more (and I moved to a spot with slightly less exposure to the street lights) it was nice and clear. Again, heading from left to right, you can see it passing into darkness just as it gets to the top of that tree. See how the streak of the ISS’s reflection suddenly starts to get thinner and lighter just before the tree? It never came out into view behind the tree, having gone into the Earth’s shadow. (Click on the image to see it full sized.)

But even better, there was another satellite passing from the upper right (due south) to the lower left (due north)! That’s a polar orbit. This satellite was also clearly visible to the naked eye.

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Back to looking at the lights, low in the west was a four-day-old crescent moon, high above the house.

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From across the street…

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…at which point I saw a third satellite going overhead, seen here from just below center heading due east (bottom left).

If you’re out in the country on a clear night just after sunset and know what to look for, you can see dozens of satellites. Here in LA, with the haze and light pollution, it’s rare to see two unless something’s docking or just leaving ISS and you see them both chasing each other. To see three independent objects in one night — that’s lucky!

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IMG_6736Finally, using the iPhone’s “panorama” mode while standing in the middle of the yard, it looks like this.

I hope all of you had a great holiday, whatever it is that you might be celebrating!

(Note for the next few nights — ISS passes are expected in the evenings over much of Europe and the US. Check the NASA site or Heavens Above to enter your location and see if you have any sightings possible in your area!)

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Filed under Astronomy, Christmas Lights, Panorama, Photography, Space

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