Saturday, 19 April 2014

Spotting the International Space Station

I'm aware that this makes me sound like an utter geek, but please bear with me.

Over the past few months I've heard more and more people talking about seeing the International Space Station (the 'ISS') in the night's sky. Parents were particularly excited around Christmas as they could pass its appearance off to their children as Santa on his sledge. I have to admit with no children to impress and freezing nights, I wasn't inclined to go out and stare up at the sky, without a clue what I was looking for. That changed this week when more and more people were mentioning it on Twitter and there was a flurry of photographs. Being keen on finding any excuse to take some photographs, suddenly I was drawn in.

Although the ISS is constantly orbiting the Earth, it can't always be seen. There will be periods of time when it will be visible almost every night, which has been the position we've been in for the last week or two. There are several sites which will tell you when you can see it from your location, my favourite is www.meteorwatch.org but NASA has a larger database. The ISS always moves from west to east, but on a different trajectory and at a different altitude each time. It's easy enough to spot though if you know vaguely what direction to look in, particularly if you pick a night when it's extremely bright, as it looks like a fast moving star.

I headed out a couple of nights this week to try and take some photographs. It proved much more difficult than I was expecting. Although I had a tripod and camera, standing in the back garden in the dark, suddenly everything was trickier than I expected. Changing my camera to remote control mode by torch mode whist it was on top of a tripod at eye level was virtually impossible, and even focusing was pure guesswork. I tried a few test shots before the ISS was due to arrive, just to decide what ISO and shutter speed I should be using. I needed the sky dark enough so that the ISS would stand out, but a long enough shutter speed so that rather than just photographing a dot in the sky, I'd get a light trail of its movement over several seconds.

 
This was my first shot, which came out surprisingly well. We've been lucky this week with clear weather on many nights when the ISS has passed over so I'm glad I made the most of it.

My husband wanted to take the opportunity to try some long exposure torch photographs, this was his contribution to the evening. Maybe not of such interest to NASA, but I quite liked it!


I may have a final attempt tonight at a few more photographs, I'm just hoping the cloud clears before 9pm. If you take any photographs of the ISS yourself, please let me know. I'd love to see them.

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