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Another Night Mission

I’ve been trying to photograph an Iridium Flare for a while now, but it never seems to work out. Rain/clouds have been the biggest reason. With the end of the Iridium flares fast approaching, I gave it the old college try on Wednesday morning.

The flare was going to happen about 20 minutes before dawn. It would be bright enough to cut through the encroaching sunlight. When the time came, I saw nothing. Maybe I blinked? Maybe this particular satellite had already been deorbited? Nope.

My header picture was taken a few minutes before the flare. See that cloud on the right? To the naked eye, it appeared to dissipate. Nope. It drifted over right to the spot in the sky where the flare would be. It was back-lit in such a way that it melted into the sky. It was even hard to see in the pictures. After a close examination of the shot that should have had the flare, the cloud revealed itself (through various color and contrast adjustments).

D’oh! The one cloud in the sky was right where I didn’t want it to be. There will still be other chance to catch a flare. Six of the 51 satellites will remain operational to serve as back-ups for the new ones. There will be fewer chances to catch a really bright one, but there will be chances.

But I didn’t sit out in the cold (low 50s, upper 40s with a steady 15 mph wind from the north) for nothing. And by “out in the cold,” I mean out in the open, on a large box drain that extends from a beach out into Tampa Bay. No cover, nothing to block the wind. It was cold out there.


I recently purchased an after-market battery grip for my D5200 as Nikon never made one for it. Testing at home showed a good four hours of continuous long exposures were possible with it. So I wanted to test it out in the field, in the cold, where batteries never last as long as you want them to.

I shot about 230 frames for star trails, plus 30 minutes of fiddling around and shooting with the LCD screen on for the Iridium flare, plus 20 or so test shots to frame and level things (with the LCD screen) at the start of the outing. It still shows a full charge. While it’s not really “full,” it still has plenty of juice left in it. I probably could have gotten another 90 minutes of star trails out of it.


And because it’s a cheap after-market thing, it adds very little weight to the camera. Doing a day of handheld shooting with it would be no problem. But I really just want it for star trials and meteor showers (the Geminids are starting now and peak next week!).

Ok, back to the pictures... In the header, the two bright spots are Venus (up top) and a slim crescent moon. I ended up with 193 useable shots for star trails (the rest were way over-exposed as the sky got brighter). Venus is the long bright trail. The occasional light flares on its trail are from passing behind a little fast moving cloud. Right below the moon trail, there is a short star trail emerging from the horizon haze. It’s not a star. It’s Mercury. In the lower right corner, you can see two Geminid meteors. There is a third, but it ended up right behind the moon and haze when everything was stacked, so it is lost in the fray.

193 32-second exposures at 18mm, ISO 1000, f/3.5

These are the three frames with Geminid meteors in them.


That’s all I’ve got for now. Next week, on the nights of the 13th and 14th, is the peak of the Geminids. If you have clear-ish skies, go out and shoot/watch if you can, the later the better. The darker the spot, the better, too. But plenty will be visible even from well-lit areas. We saw a bunch last year from our driveway with a streetlight right across the street from us.

I’m watching the weather at three really dark locations and might just be able to go out on both nights. But even if you can’t go out on one of the peak nights, the few days before and after will still put on a good show.

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