The other day the International Space Station (ISS) made a transit of the western sky during twilight. Low on the horizon was the planet Venus with the ISS streaking across the sky above. I’ve been shooting images of the ISS for a year or two but think this is one of the best. It works for a number of reasons. One is the bright twilight on the horizon deepening into dark night sky above. The planet Venus — and its reflection in the water — add a counterpoint.
To create this image I set the camera on continuous shoot and then used the remote release to start. The images are ISO 200, f/4.0, 28mm wide angle lens, and 10s exposures. Five images were taken so this is 50 seconds of transit.
I opened all five images in Photoshop with each image a layer. Because 50 seconds is long enough for stars to leave trails across the sky — even with a wide angle — I wanted to only use one sky layer. In the other four layers I masked the stars and sky and left only the track of the ISS. The result is sharp points for the stars and Venus and a smooth track for the ISS.
To get daily updates on transit times of the ISS — and other space satellites — I use the following two web sites:
Did you get a chance to view the Perseid meteor shower this year? It peaked on the evening of August 12-13 but meteors were visible for many days preceding the peak. With the moon just a few days past new and setting early the skies were very dark for optimal viewing. A maximum rate of more than 100 meteors per hour has been reported with this years event. This compares with a more typical maximum rate of about 50-80 per hour. So this was a better than average event with higher numbers as well as very dark skies.
But to make things even better there was a three-way planetary conjunction taking place at the same time. In the western sky after sunset an observer could see the planets Venus, Mars, and Saturn close together along with the crescent moon.
For the meteors, I used a 28mm wide angle lens, ISO 3200, f/4.0, and 30s exposures. I set the camera to continuous shooting mode and let it run until the card filled a few hours later. I then reclined on a lounge chair with a sleeping bag draped over me.
Even though I saw a large number of meteors with my eyes — and some of them were spectacular long-path events with residual debris trails — the camera captured far fewer because the field of view of even a wide angle is not wide enough to view the entire sky
A previous post talked about mountain biking in Flagstaff along the high elevation sections of the Arizona Trail. Not too far away is another section of the Arizona Trail — this time at an elevation of about 6500 feet. The vegetation is different — and quite green because of all the rain lately — and the trail is more open.
This particular section of the Arizona Trail starts along Old Walnut Canyon Road on the north boundary of Walnut Canyon National Monument. It travels through Ponderosa Pine then moves into Pinyon-Juniper with wide open vistas. There are old homesteads along the trail with collapsed buildings and old toys in what was once someones yard.
Flagstaff has a variety of great mountain biking trails. Some of these trails start right in the city or at the city edge; others require only a short trip out of town to the trail head.
In addition to local trails, sections of the Arizona Trail pass through Flagstaff and the nearby mountains. One of the newer sections north of town has some excellent riding through groves of aspen trees.
This is an amazing ride when the leaves begin to change color in the autumn and the shadows start to get long.
It’s also a good idea to keep a sharp eye for elk wandering through the woods and along the trail. After all, it’s important to share the trail with ALL users!
Earlier this month it was apparent that there would be one final night of exceptionally clear skies before the summer monsoon pattern set up and skies would be cloudy more often than clear. I thought another night sky image with reflections of the stars in water might be interesting so I ended up at Lake Mary a few miles southeast of Flagstaff. I was surprised to see how much light pollution there was in the southern sky. This stray light is coming from Phoenix, located over 100 miles to the south. There is so much light that it is even reflected in the lake — as are a few of the stars.
A very short distance to the north of where this image was taken is the Anderson Mesa astronomical station. It’s hard to believe that they can still gather useful observations of the sky with this much light pollution. Finding truly dark skies is becoming a global challenge.