Category Archives: Space

ISS Pass With Lightning!

That was a first!

I hope that some of you in LA got to see the nice ISS pass that I talked about last night. It was bright, it was long, it went almost from horizon to horizon, fairly near the zenith.

It was behind this:

(Image from NOAA Hi-Def Radar app)

But the green stuff hadn’t covered the blue dot yet, so hope springs infernal! Out I went with my tripod & gear!

Much as in the radar, clouds covered most of the sky. But not ALL of it – there was that little slice to the west-northwest where the ISS would be rising. And the lighting wasn’t continuous, nor was it close enough to actually hear the thunder yet, so standing out there in the open on top of the hill next to the trees and telephone poles wasn’t the stupidest thing I had done today!

And there it was!

I tried shooting this in portrait mode this time instead of landscape mode since the ISS was rising pretty much straight up. That part worked. I even remembered to focus! I still need to work on getting a slightly more stable tripod setup, since you can see where there was a slight shift twice.

But given the circumstances, I’m not unhappy with this result. I’ve seen (and photographed, for better or for worse) the ISS three times in two days. (No visible pass tomorrow, but there’s a so-so one on Sunday night, then nothing for a while.) And I didn’t get hit by lightning!

Now it sounds like the storm is here and that big orangish, reddish, angry looking blob is headed right towards us in the next fifteen to twenty minutes, so I’m going to go out on my front porch and enjoy (in safety) a bit of rogue Southern California weather. I might even do another Facebook Live if it gets to hopping and booming!

Leave a comment

Filed under Photography, Space, Weather

Double ISS Pass

First of all, if you’re in LA, I’m showing you this tonight because there’s an EXCELLENT pass of the ISS tomorrow!

Rise at 17:32 in the northwest, highest point at 19:35:58 in the southwest 62° above the horizon, sets at 19:37:54 in the south-southeast. (Map here on

Which brings us back to this evening.

The ISS goes around the Earth in about 90 minutes. If you happen to have a long twilight at a particular time of year and you get a pass early enough in the evening (but still after it’s dark enough to see the ISS in the dusk) you might get another one 90 minutes later before it’s full dark. That happened tonight in LA with passes at 18:48:35 and 20:24:56.

Here’s what I learned trying to photograph it (I’ve mentioned in the past that it’s a learning process):

(Image created using StarStaX 0.7)

For that early dusk pass, when it’s still fairly bright but you can see the ISS just fine with the naked eye, a one-second exposure isn’t going to work. The sky’s too bright and each frame will be way, way over-exposed. I had a feeling that might happen and was tempted to cut it to like 3/4 second – should have cut it to like 1/8 second or less and then just shot a LOT of frames to stack.

Secondly, when you realize the ISS is over there when you thought it was going to rise over there and you grab the tripod and scramble to reposition, take a second to make sure that the camera’s still in focus. (It probably isn’t any more – duh!)

For the second pass when it’s much later and darker, those 1-second exposures work well! The ISS here is the upper track, passing from the lower right to the upper left. The lower tracks are aircraft over the California coast on the long arc into LAX from Asia.

You’ll note that the ISS fades out in the top (upper left) of its arc. This was when it moved into shadow. Being the second pass of the night you’re probably not going to see it get too high or travel too far across the sky. It’ll still be there! But the Earth’s shadow will catch it, it will fly into orbital night, and you won’t see it any more. But watch for it – it will dim and turn red and orange as it goes through it’s ten-second orbital sunset.



In between the wires after the first pass there was a two-day old moon and Jupiter down on the western horizon. (They’ll be there tomorrow too when you go out to see that ISS pass that I told you about at the top – right?) This photo brought to you by the fact that I remembered to focus!

Leave a comment

Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Spectacular SpaceX Launch

Tonight SpaceX launched a large weather satellite out of Vandenberg just after sunset. We know from experience that this can lead to some truly spectacular views in the Los Angeles area.

Since we’re now in a home at the top of a hill with a decent view to the west (Vandenberg is to our northwest and they’re launching to the south, so the rocket goes directly to the west of us) instead of one at the bottom of a hill (this hill, in fact) with the hill blocking the horizon to the west, I was hoping we would get some decent views. I was not disappointed.

With advance warning of the launch, I decided to try my first FaceBook Live streaming video of the launch. There were lessons learned and things to do better next time, but I think that it turned out pretty well all in all. You can watch it:


It starts as we’re about a minute or so before launch and in the background you can hear the audio from the SpaceX webcast. You’ll also hear the dulcet tones of me and my gravelly, nasal voice trying to give some sort of running commentary, and occasionally going a bit ape. Did I say that we had “decent” views? Try “spectacular” views!

You can fast forward to about 3:45 to when I first see the rocket coming up over the hill. At 5:05 the first stage shuts down, the stages separate, the second stage lights off and heads south to deliver the satellite to orbit, and the first stage starts puffing clouds of gas from the cold gas control thrusters as it maneuvers. (This whole thing is utterly amazing and colorful and freaked out more than a few people in LA who didn’t know what was going on.)

At 08:20 the first stage re-entry burn starts as the first stage slows and aims for landing back at Vandenberg. (It fell below the hill again after the burn ended so I couldn’t see the landing, but it did occur and was perfect.) From there on I follow the second stage and satellite, which was visible all the way to second stage engine cutoff!

That’s freaking amazing, just astonishing.

Enjoy the video, and if you’re in the LA area, keep an eye on the SpaceX feed (or on my FaceBook and/or Twitter feed) for the next dusk launch.

In ten years I would love to see these things be weekly events. In twenty I would love to see them daily.

We’re spreading off of this planet and becoming a multi-planetary species!

Leave a comment

Filed under Space, Video

Anti-Soul Crushing Sunset Pictures

Someone who I follow on Twitter because they attended a recent NASA Social (and I’ve found that most people who attend NASA Socials are pretty decent human beings) tweeted today: “I need something inspiring to happen. Today has been soul crushing in countless ways.”

My response was: “I know the feeling. ISS pass in your area tonight? Colorful sunset? Thunderstorm you can watch from a safe place? Look at the new pictures from Hayabusa 2 rovers? Look for Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars after sunset if it’s clear?”

Just in case they weren’t able to get any of those things or any acceptable substitutes (and without having a clue if they read this site) or just for any of you who might have had similar thoughts today, here’s the fair-to-middlin’ sunset we had tonight.

One of the problems I’ve found with the “new” house (jeez louise, we’re coming up on five months here!!) is all of the power lines and telephone poles directly to the west which show up in my sunset pictures.

Today I decided to wander down the hill a few houses (I need to get out more – five freakin’ months!) and found that a few houses down on the other side of the street there’s a much better, less obstructed view.

On the other hand, looking back to the north from there (the tall trees (Spartan Junipers maybe?) on the far right are next to our driveway) where it was darker and pinker and purple-er there was a jungle of silhouetted wires, which I found curiously compelling as an image.

As for Hyabusa 2…

For those of you with your souls being crushed tonight by those who no longer have a soul – I believe you. I see you. I will listen to you. I want to help.

For those of you still intact – join me.

For those of you who no longer have a soul – my Catholic school teachers wanted to impress me with the concept of redemption. I’m pretty sure that it was total bullshit, but I’m open minded still to having you prove me wrong.

1 Comment

Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Like Pearls On A String

Today was Day Two of the Wings Over Camarillo airshow – I was really busy and it’s been a really long weekend.

I’m not going to post pictures of the airplanes today. (I shot mostly video today when I was able to get out at all.)

But when I was leaving there was the most wonderful spectacle across the southern sky. I wish I could have gotten some really excellent pictures of it – but I couldn’t, I had only my cell phone and it doesn’t do particularly well in low light.

But I’ll give you what I got.

Almost due south, the first quarter moon was high. To the east, Mars was bright and red, with Saturn shining between the two.

To the right of that, Jupiter was high bright with Venus setting toward the horizon.

Like pearls on a string, follow the line from Venus to Jupiter to the moon to Saturn to Mars. There’s your ecliptic, the plane in which the planets all revolve around the sun.


1 Comment

Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Forty-One Hour Old Moon

I don’t know that I’ve kept strict records, but this has got to be about the earliest I’ve ever seen the new moon. One day, sixteen hours, fifty-nine minutes as of the middle of this series of photos – forty-one hours, give or take.

I saw it first through binoculars – it was so faint in the still illuminated sunset sky that it was another ten minutes before I could see it with the naked eye.

As light as the sky was and as dim as the moon was, there was very little contrast between them.

In a minute though, Venus popped out, still fairly high in the sky. (Remember Venus?) I ran to get the other camera, since they were still fairly far apart.

Venus in the upper left, the moon just above the tree tops at the lower right. (Click to enlarge.)

Contrast got a touch better as it got darker, but the moon was still very close to the sun, which meant it was setting soon after the sun, before it could get very dark.

Tomorrow night it will be higher, closer to Venus, still up when it’s darker. And we start the cycle over again.

Go check it out!

1 Comment

Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Mars At Closest Approach

Yep, there it is!

(Click to embiggenate!)

Looking very bright, very red. Beautiful, along with Venus (which set about an our after sunset), Jupiter (still up fairly high and bright), Saturn (about halfway between Mars and Jupiter), and the moon (rising an hour or so after Mars tonight).

This was the biggie tonight, the closest Mars will be to Earth in decades! If you missed it, if it was cloudy, if you just had to work, well…

…it will all (except for the moon) look about 99.99% EXACTLY THE SAME tomorrow night. And the night after that, and the night after that, and the night after that…

So if you missed it, if it was cloudy, if you just had to work, then go look tomorrow, or next week, or whenever it’s clear and you’re free. The moon’s position in the sky moves significantly from night to night (28 days to go all the way from full to new back to full, so 360°/28 = 12.8° a day, or roughly 1/14th of the distance from horizon to horizon per day) but while the planets move, it’s really rare for them to move very quickly.

Enjoy. Take the time to find someone like me with a telescope and ask nice if they can take a look. Get even a decent pair of binoculars to see Mars’ disk and the Galilean moons of Jupiter.

Don’t do clickbait. Ignore the websites that say “TODAY!” is the day like Mars suddenly appears out of a dark sky for 24 hours and then vanishes.

T’ain’t so. Be smarter than clickbait. Spread the word!


Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space