Category Archives: Space

ISS Pass – June 07th

The last good pass of this cycle over SoCal – but tonight we get to see the moon!

Image from

Rising in the northwest again but this time swinging due west and then to the south, passing right by the moon at about 21:10:20!

Five second exposures, combined with StarStax.

That’s a nice photo. Enough twilight and house lights to illuminate the trees and hills along with a five day old moon that’s about 27% illuminated.

But as I’m thinking about what’s coming next, I realize that I need to make a quick change as I move the camera. I’m going to be shooting right above a street light that’s only about twenty feet away…

…I quickly switched to 2.5 second exposures so the frames wouldn’t be over exposed by that street light. (Station starting from middle right, west southwest, and going to the lower left, due south.)

But in the end, with the ISS heading toward the horizon in the south, the street light had to be dealt with directly.

I don’t want to get rid of the street light – I would just like to be able to turn it off for a few minutes now and then. I’ll remember to turn it back on when I’m done – promise!

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ISS Pass – June 05th

The skies cooperated!

Image from

Rising from about the same spot as last night, but instead of coming straight up toward the zenith, the ISS looped a little to the north, passing above the Little Dipper and below the Big Dipper, through Hercules (wouldn’t it be fantastic to get a picture of the globular cluster M13 with the ISS passing by?!), before finally heading toward the very bright and just rising Jupiter and disappearing into the Earth’s shadow.


I had originally set up in the back yard again tonight (for the lack of street lights) since the station was rising in a similar spot to last night. But I realized with about three minutes to go before it rose that after rising, the humongous tree in the back yard would block about 2/3 of the ISS’s path across the sky. So I quickly moved to the street by the driveway in the front yard. (I’m giving you the full resolution images tonight, so click to view full screen or download.)

ISS rose from the lower left and went between the Dippers, which you probably could have seen if not for the neighbor who stopped and had his brake lights on as he was wondering what I was doing… Pro tip – if you see someone in the dark with a camera and/or telescope pointed at the sky, try not to have a really freakin’ bright light with you.

The good news about being where I was in the front was that I knew that the telephone pole defined the right side of my field of view. So as soon as the ISS cleared it, I swung the camera around to catch another part of the long path across the sky.

You might note that these streaks are longer but fewer than last night’s – tonight I went with five-second exposures instead of one-second exposures, hoping that they wouldn’t be over exposed in the LA light pollution. With the moon just setting as the ISS came up, it worked! (Except of course for those brake lights.) Combining the exposures into one was again done with StarStax.

Before the ISS could get too far toward the horizon I swung the camera around one more time to catch it going down behind the trees and house. Also present to the east was the obligatory LA air traffic, in this case sounding like a Cessna 150 or a Piper.

Heavens-Above says there’s a so-so pass tomorrow night, but another pretty good one on Friday night. On the other hand, WunderGround says tomorrow will be nice and clear but Friday will probably be cloudy. Guys! Can we talk among ourselves and get on the same page?


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ISS Pass – June 4th

There have been some really great ISS passes over Los Angeles recently, but we’ve usually been clouded out. The one time it was clear I saw a fantastic pass, horizon to horizon – but I messed up the camera settings and got garbage.

Tonight the ISS was rising from a spot where I could easily see it from the back yard, and rising straight up instead of off at an angle. The back yard is MUCH darker than the front, with big areas where all of the street lights in the front are hidden behind the house and garage. So all I had to do was not screw up the camera settings!

(Image from

One second exposures (with a couple of gaps where I lost my rhythm) combined into a single image with StarStax software. You can see how it appeared orange as it came up, the light being filtered sideways through many hundreds of miles of atmosphere, then gradually getting brighter and whiter. The yellowish dot in the far lower right corner is a light on a transformer at the top of a power pole across the street. If you turn up the contrast and flip to view it as a photographic negative:

Now you can clearly see the cypress trees along the driveway on the left and the neighbor’s hedge along the fence at the bottom. It does make me wish I had aimed the camera just a little bit higher and then kept taking pictures just a little bit longer.

But I thought that the ISS had already passed out of the field of view. So I reset the tripod because I wanted to catch the end of the pass. As you can see from the Heavens-Above diagram, just about the time the ISS got to the zenith, 89ยฐ overhead, it “vanished,” passing into the Earth’s shadow.

I just caught the last few seconds as it faded. Blue, dimming rapidly to red and then dark. That happens when you’re travelling at 17,150 miles per hour. Sixteen times a day, along with sixteen magnificent sunrises a day.

Another good pass tomorrow, and another on Thursday. Let’s hope for clear skies!

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Again. Only better.

Launch at the 19:56 mark, which is phenomenal.

But holy shit – check out the twin side boosters landing side by side at 27:29!!!

Then they landed the center booster first stage on the barge at 29:21 – the first time they’ve recovered all three boosters. (This is the second Falcon Heavy launch – on the first launch they ONLY recovered the two side boosters. ONLY!!)

And now I see that they recovered both fairing halves as well and they’ll be re-used.

If you aren’t just moved to tears of joy watching this, we probably can’t be friends.

But I found even better.

All of the professional video feeds and views live from space are truly amazing. But here’s why I want to see a launch live:

There are a bunch of things not going so well these days – thank god we have people like SpaceX doing the “impossible” things like this!

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No Context For You – April 01st

I have no clue – it’s on my phone and was taken at 19:07 tonight. All I know is that my personal Rorschach Test sees that big thing on the left with a decidedly Georgia O’Keeffe vibe going on.

I’ve been enjoying my Bose wireless headphones quite a bit, pretty much on a daily basis for at least an hour or two once I get home from the office. The batteries will hold a full charge for close to a week at that rate (about 20 hours total is what they say, and I’m finding that to be pretty accurate) but I usually charge them overnight before they get too depleted.

Until last night.

One feature of these headphones is a little robot voice that will tell you what the battery status is when they’re turned on. (I think the little voice will tell you a couple dozen other things, like if there’s an incoming phone call and so on.) Last night, I found that when the battery starts to get low, you’ll get spoken warnings once the battery is down to about 10%.

I kept going since I was on a roll with a project. I got another warning. Or two.

Then I heard, “My battery’s low, please recharge me now.”

And all I could think of was Opportunity’s last message. “My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”

A headphone’s simple warning about battery status shouldn’t leave you wanting a pillow fort, hot chocolate, and some alone time.

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“My Battery Is Low And It’s Getting Dark”

To the cold hearted pragmatists it was probably just two small bits of telemetry, numbers, indicating the level of battery charge and the transparency of the Martian atmosphere. A machine, built by humans, launched to Mars by humans, guided by humans, running a program written by humans.

Two numbers.

But humans put it in context and translated it into our languages, in the process adding context and massive amounts of emotion.

I hope when my time comes I’m lucid enough to remember those words. They wouldn’t be the worst final words to use if you get to pick.

I also hope that I say them on Mars in about 200 years…

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Good Night, Opportunity

I know we’re not supposed to cry over robots, especially after we send them into hostile environments a billion miles away, and especially after they run for fourteen years in their ninety-day missions.

But I’m going to anyway.

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