A quiet moment on Enchanted Rock, waiting for the International Space Station to arc across the sky. 

The ISS is as big as a football field, more than 150 miles over our head and travelling at 17,000 miles an hour. 

The best part is that you can see it from your own backyard!

Behind the Scenes:
I had travelled to Enchanted Rock State Park with some friends to photograph the Milky Way on the night of the new Moon. And since the Milky Way was not going to rise until midnight, I planned to shoot the International Space Station from the park’s famous dark skies. 

During the evening hours I scouted the location and made a small stack of rocks where I would set up my tripod to photograph the ISS where it would soar over a couple of huge boulders. I hiked back after dark and asked my friends if they wanted to join. They said they would rather “light paint” with flashlights at a spot ¼ mile down the hill. 

So I set up my tripod and camera, dialed in the exposure and clicked the shutter just as ISS began to make its appearance in the sky. Midway through the 6 minute exposure, I noticed a brief splash of light on the boulders and thought that my shot was ruined, but I let it finish up anyway.

I studied the image after I got home the next day and was amazed to see not only that the light on the boulder was just the perfect amount of brightness to add a touch of depth, but the relative position of my friends, my tripod spot that I identified earlier during the day and the boulders were in perfect alignment to cast a shadow of me and my tripod onto one of the boulders. Enchanted indeed!

Read on to learn more!
Satellites Over Our Heads?
The first manmade satellite was Sputnik, which launched in 1957, and the ever growing number of satellites provide communications, television, radio, GPS location, Earth observations, weather tracking, scientific measurements and even look out into space at other galaxies, reaching back in time. 

There are now over 6,500 satellites and a variety of space junk orbiting the Earth one hundred or more miles above our heads. Talk about space traffic! The ones in Low Earth Orbit are travelling at 17,000 miles an hour to offset the drag of Earth’s gravity. That’s faster than a speeding bullet!
Why Can We See Satellites?
A satellite will appear as a solid white light much like a star, but moving in a gentle arc across the sky. While a satellite seems to travel at about the speed of a plane, if the light blinks, displays red or green light, or makes a turn, then it really is a plane much lower to the Earth’s surface.
Why do you see a satellite? The answer is our Sun! Even though we are in the Earth’s shadow, the satellite is high enough that it is in the sunshine and we are seeing the reflection of the Sun off of the satellite or its solar panels. This daily phenomenon occurs in the hours just before sunrise and just after sunset. 
How Can I Spot a Satellite?
The good news is that you can easily spot the brighter satellites even in your own backyard if you know when and where to look. Here are some tips to improve your chances!

1. Know the area around your house.
Walk around during the day with a compass to see which direction your front yard faces, which direction your backyard faces & where trees block your view of the sky overhead. 
Walk around again at night, where are you shaded from streetlights and bright lights from your house or other houses?

2. Do some research.
Now that you have a basic understanding of your lines of sight, look up the satellites that will be overhead. They are surprisingly good about being on schedule. 
Go to the Heavens-Above link below to see what in the sky tonight and keep the following in mind when you read the tables:

I usually can’t see the ones that are dimmer than +3.0 magnitude in the city, so I focus on the ones that are less than or equal to 3.0.
Remember that magnitudes run backwards... the higher the number, the dimmer it is, a negative number is good and bright!

Target about 30 minutes after sunset or at least 30 minutes before sunrise so that the sky will be dark.

Azimuth (Direction):
Read the compass headings to determine which direction it appears & which direction it disappears.
How does that line up with your yard?

Highest Point Altitude:
The higher the number the better since it will be more overhead and brighter. Also you will be looking through less of the atmosphere as you look more overhead.
Zero is at the horizon and 90 is directly overhead, I usually don’t worry about the ones lower than 15 degrees, haze and light pollution take over the sky.

3. Get outside! 
Go outside 10-15 minutes early to let your eyes begin to adjust. 
Shield your eyes from streetlights. 
Change your apps to the red light night settings to preserve your night vision. Be patient and have fun spotting the satellites above us. 
Then think about what you saw. What was the brightest satellite that you saw, what was the dimmest. How close to the horizon could you see the satellites. 
What satellites did you add to your list?
Click the buttons below to see what satellites are overhead tonight or download the Heavens-Above app to your phone.
Then head to your backyard about 10-15 minutes before the show!

Note: the links below are set for Waco Texas and the Explore exhibition. 
If you live elsewhere, you can manually change the location.
Some of my Favorite Satellites to Spot
International Space Station
The International Space Station (ISS) is as big as a football field, and has a massive solar panel array. It is in Low Earth Orbit about 150 miles overhead and  is moving at 17,000 miles per hour to offset the effects of Earth's gravity. That’s faster than a speeding bullet and it circles the Earth once every 90 minutes.
The ISS is the brightest satellite in the sky and can be seen from your own backyard if you time it right. After sunset and before sunrise you can see the sun reflect off of the solar panels while it is in the sunlight and we are in the night’s shadow. It looks like a star, with its steady light moving in an arc across the sky. 

The brightness depends on whether it is directly overhead or it is nearer the horizon, making it almost 500 miles away from you. The good news is that it is very predictable and you can get a forecast of when it will be visible overhead in your town.  Generally, it will be visible for a week or so at a time at the evening, then a week in the morning, then not visible at all. 

And there are many other satellites to see as well, start with the ISS and then expand you viewing list!
Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble is almost 400 miles out in space and is pointed away from the Earth to view distant galaxies. It was launched in 1990 on a Space Shuttle and has been observing space with an ever increasing set of instruments ever since. 
It is much fainter in the sky, but on a moonless night and away from bright lights, you can catch a glimpse when it is overhead.
SpaceX Starlink Satellites
Love 'em or hate 'em, there sure are a bunch of 'em up there.
SpaceX is launching a huge fleet of Starlink satellites to provided broadband internet service. While each one is quite small, there are 1,600+ in space right now and there are plans for at least 12,000. 
On a dark night these can be seen criss-crossing the sky in an overlapping pattern. SpaceX launches as many as 60 Starlink satellites on a single rocket. If you catch a batch that has recently been launched, they will appear as a string of beads until they slowly work their way into their assigned orbits.

About Charlie
Through my photography I seek to connect more deeply with nature.
Several years ago, while watching a nature program on TV, I became fascinated with the time lapse videos of flower blooms opening up and clouds floating by. But what really captured my attention was the heavens rotating right before my very eyes. I was amazed and decided right then that I needed to figure how to do that on my own. So began my adventure of chasing the night skies... learning more than I expected about the stars, ways to imagine their majesty and about my place in the universe!

Please join me in exploring the wonders of the night sky. 
While the night sky may seem the same for days on end, every night is a little bit different from the previous night and is an adventure waiting to be experienced. There is so much that you can see from your own backyard: stars slowly changing day by day, planets moving past them, man-made satellites soaring overhead and meteors zooming past in the blink of an eye. After you get comfortable with that, we are well placed in Central Texas for you to get into much darker skies with a drive of an hour or two.

Let’s Talk!
My email is favretfoto@gmail.com if you have any questions about how to get started or if you have any comments. 

Wishing you clear skies, 

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