You never know what you may uncover when shooting the night sky. Case in point - On August 12th I started to prepare for an evening of photographing the annual Perseid meteor showers. I knew that the best view for observing the showers was in the northeast sky and that the best time for possibly catching a few meteor glimpses was well after midnight. So at about 9:45 pm I set up my tripod on our house deck and began taking some test shots. The evening began with some very cloudy conditions with a small storm passing to the north of us. The wind kicked up a little and the temperature dropped a few degrees. At that moment I was not too hopeful of being able to catch a falling star. But I carried on. Then the cloud cover started to break around midnight, the slight wind abated, the temperature rose, all of which lifted my spirits. An owl hooting off in the distance further eased my soul and sensitized me to the staccato rhythms of nature as I awaited the bewitching hour for meteors to fall. At 1:00 am, I finally did have the fortune to view a handful of meteors pass overhead under a clear sky. As quickly as it started, however, the meteor show stopped. So no meteor images were captured. The frequency of observable meteors in a highly polluted light area as in our community is just not that conducive for image captures.
But all was not lost! That earlier evening of partly cloudy coverage did avail itself for an interesting photogenic opportunity. The upper atmosphere of a black starry night juxtaposition against a lower atmosphere of dimly lit, drifting clouds, framed by a horizon of tall hardwoods was just the right compositional arrangement for a pleasing image. To illustrate this, of the several test shots taken, I have included two that are shown below. The first image is perhaps the more satisfying of the two. It reveals a dark sky peppered with a myriad of stars, orange glowing wispy clouds, barely detailed tree tops, and the passing of two streaking aircraft, wing lights blinking.
But here is the revelation. The second image, similar in composition, has one solid bold streak of light across the lower horizon. It is not an aircraft - the streak does not indicate intermittent blinking. Could it be that I fortuitously captured a meteor streak during my setup of test shooting? Oh, hallelujah! But wait, this is not a characteristic meteor streak. So what is it? Well I will cut the suspense and get to the conclusion. With the help of some ingenious tablet device apps, and good detective work by yours truly days later, that UFO is none other than the International Space Station! That little bugger station completes 15.7 orbits during a twenty-four hour period and lasts for the most, ten minutes above the horizon, night or day. So there you have it. No meteor streaks. Just aircraft and ISS image streaks captured on a partly cloudy, starry night. I think the "test" images are more aesthetically pleasing than whatever I may have captured with a meteor on a cloudless backdrop. You never know what you may uncover .......
D W Orr
Environmentalist, Historic Preservationist, and Photographer
Harford County, Maryland
August 15, 2015
Two Aircraft at Night (8/12/15, 9:59pm) - Exposure Info: FL18mm, 20 secs, f2.8, ISO 800
International Space Station at Night (8/12/15, 10:09pm) - Exposure Info: FL18mm, 20 secs, f2.8, ISO 400