Entries tagged as satellite

Tiangong Space Station seen in day and night

Tiangong Space Station in front of the Moon on February 8, 2022 (Click for full size)

Tiangong is a Chinese space station which was initially launched on April 29, 2021. It is built upon the experience gained from its preceding prototypes, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2. It only has the core module (Tianhe) at the moment, but two additional modules (Wentian and Mengtian) are planned to be added this year. Because Tianhe is much smaller and simpler than the ISS, I wasn't sure what to expect when photographing it. Once I did catch it crossing in front of the Moon, I noticed that it looked longer and resembled a candy in a wrapper. That was due to the cargo spacecrafts Tianzhou 2 and Tianzhou 3 docked to the ports.

Tiangong Space Station in front of the Sun on February 10, 2022 (Click for full size)

To see the solar panels on the space station and the spacecrafts, I needed to observe it crossing in front of the Sun. Fortunately, a sighting opportunity took place just two days later and I was able to get a good look. Both the large panels on the core module and the smaller ones on the spacecrafts were visible.

Tiangong Space Station zoomed in at night and day

With the shots zoomed in and stacked, you can see the individual parts more clearly. The length of the object is about 38 meters (Tianhe: 16.6m, Tianzhou: 10.6m each), which came out to be about 30 pixels long when I shot it on February 8 at 413km away. This is roughly 1/3 the size of the ISS. If there were no spacecrafts docked, it would have looked much smaller and less distinct. On February 10, it was 576km away, so it came out to be smaller at about 20 pixels. I may be able to get larger Sun-crossing shots in Summer when the maximum altitude of the Sun is higher.

Device: Nikon P1000
Settings: 3000mm - f/8 (ISO 800 - 1/800s / ISO 200 - 1/1250s)
Filters: None
Time: 2022-02-08 19:03:59 / 2022-02-10 12:11:53 KST
Location: Haenam / Gangjin, Korea
20 / 23 video frames processed with Pixelmator Pro 2.3.5
10 / 14 video frames stacked with RegiStax 6.1.0.8

Today’s “The Toon-Box”

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Seeing a spacecraft docking with ISS from Earth

Crew Dragon approaches Int'l Space Station on April 5, 2021

With clear skies yesterday evening, it was a perfect time to watch the International Space Station make a pass near zenith. Like last month, I set my P1000 camera to video mode while I tracked manually. When I reviewed the recording, I was happy to see that the frames were mostly in focus. The quality was actually one of the best I got with the camera, with most of the modules easily distinguishable. But then I noticed a faint dot next to the station in much of the frames, so I looked up the news.

It turned out that the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft was moving from one docking port to another during those moments. The move only took 39 minutes from undocking (19:31:02) to soft capture (20:10:12), so it was out of sheer coincidence and luck that I was recording while spacecraft was near, but not docked to the space station. The fact that the Crew Dragon's was just big enough to show up in the frames helped, too. The 109-meter ISS was 83 pixels wide at the closest approach, so the Dragon being 4 meters in diameter appeared as a 3-pixel dot. In any case, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I photographed this occasion. It was something I had on my bucket list.

Device: Nikon P1000
Settings: 3000mm - ISO 200 - 1/1000s - f/8
Filters: None
Time: 2021-04-05 20:05:26-20:06:12 KST
Location: Naju, Korea
432 video frames processed with PIPP 2.5.9, RegiStax 6.1.0.8, and Pixelmator Pro 2.0
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ISS brushing past afternoon Moon

Illuminated ISS passes in front of the first quarter Moon on March 22, 2021 (50% - click for full size)

While the Sun is up in the sky, the Moon is still visible at the right phases due to its brightness. Although the Int'l Space Station can also become bright, it's only visible shortly before to about an hour after sunset. So when I found out that it was to pass in front of the Moon while the sky was fairly bright (36 minutes before sunset), I wasn't sure of the results. Would it look brighter or darker than the Moon? Would it even be visible when it's not in front of the Moon?

These questions were cleared up when I got the Moon at that moment on video. Because of the uncertainties and the quickness of the pass, I used 4k 30fps recording instead of the usual 7-frame burst mode on the P1000 camera. The prediction calculation was slightly off and the ISS was not centered, but I still managed to get more than 10 useful frames. The fuzziness is due to video compression, but it's far better than nothing. Interestingly enough, the radiators on the space station were quite a bit brighter than the surface of the Moon in general.

Shots of ISS caught on the video and the resulting stacked image

When we take a closer look, the prominent features of the ISS are easily discernible. The solar panels are stretching from top to bottom, while the Russian modules Zvezda (right) and Zarya (center) are more illuminated than the multi-national modules on the left. Considering this success, it looks like I should try the video recording again for the next ISS pass.

Device: Nikon P1000
Settings: 3000mm - ISO 400 - 1/1000s - f/8
Filters: None
Time: 2021-03-22 18:10:36 KST
Location: Buan, Korea
12 video frames processed with Pixelmator Pro 2.0
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Jupiter-Saturn Conjunction of 2020

Jupiter, Saturn, their major satellites, and star HIP 99314 are seen together on December 21, 2020 (click for full size)

Jupiter and Saturn appeared closest to each other in nearly 400 years on the Winter Solstice of 2020. For this Great Conjunction, the two planets were only about 6 arc seconds apart, which meant that I was easily able to take a photo of both in a single frame as you can see here. Some had expected that they might appear as a single dot, but it turned out that Saturn was discernible as a fainter "bump" on the top right side of Jupiter to the naked eyes.

To show the planets and the satellites together, I used varied exposures and then combined the results into a single photo. Titan was the dimmest that I could photograph, and it appears very faintly to the right of Saturn. Interestingly, a star named HIP 99314 was also caught in action between Io and Europa, which means that this conjunction was actually a triple affair.

Nikon P1000 taking photos of the conjunction

By the way, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to see the phenomenon in person because it was pretty cloudy throughout the day. Luckily, most of them went away as the Sun set and I was able to take the photos for about an hour until the low-hanging clouds started to block the view. The next closest conjunction happens 60 years later and I'm not sure if I'd be around to see that, so I was glad that the weather decided to cooperate in the last minute.

Device: Nikon P1000
Settings: 3000mm - f/8
- Jupiter: 24 photos, ISO 200, 1/30s
- Saturn: 13 photos, ISO 400, 1/30s
- Satellites: 17 photos, ISO 800, 1/5s
Filters: None
Time: 2020-12-21 18:20-18:40 KST
Location: Naju, Korea
Photos processed with PIPP 2.5.9, RegiStax 6.1.0.8 and Pixelmator Pro 2.0

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