Iridium 34

Iridium 34

Iridium Satellites are a constellation of communication satellites that allow some phones to make calls even in areas where there is no normal cellular coverage. They also have a peculiarity: they have three solar panels and one communication antenna that are highly reflective, and work as very good mirrors. Usually, near the sunset or sunrise, if they are illuminated by the sun, they might reflect that light to the Earth surface, in a fast moving circle with a diameter of around 20 km.

If you are on the ground, and one of the solar panels illuminates your position, you will see a star that suddenly appears in the sky, moves a little bit, and disappears. I cannot imagine how many people in the recent years might have incorrectly confused this with an UFO. The few seconds the event lasts are interesting the first times that happen, but afterwards you get used to it and it loses all its interest.

It’s something different if the main antenna is the one illuminating the Earth, especially if the satellite is passing near the top of your heads (at least over 45 degrees altitude in the sky). In this case is not a “normal” star what appears, but one similar in brightness to Venus. The flare, which lasts a few more seconds (15-20 approx.) is very hard to miss, and very spectacular. You are looking at the sky and suddenly a dim star appears. At the beginning it looks like a normal star, but then you notice that it is moving, relatively fast, in a straight line. It keeps winning a little bit of intensity until, in a couple of seconds, it starts to flash brightly, until finally reverses all the process and disappears dimly after a few more seconds.

Today’s picture captured Iridium 34 satellite in one of those flights. With an exposition of 20 seconds and a “rearming” period of less than 1 second, I was pretty sure I would capture it. But Murphy’s Laws are unavoidable, and it turned out that the exposition time expired just in the maximum point, and the rearming period avoided me to capture all the process. At least I was half-lucky, and the picture ended just in the maximum, so I got a decent picture that looks like a meteor. This picture corresponds to the period between the satellite starts to glow dimly until the maximum. Afterwards, a symmetrical trail in the right part would have resulted if the exposition had continued.

Even if you are not a photographer, finding an Iridium flare is a nice activity for summer nights. You will learn how to locate an object in the firmament, and how to recognize some constellations in the process. For a flare of the main antenna (which has a magnitude of around -7) you don’t even need to be in a dark place, and can be seen even in the middle of a city, as long as the buildings don’t obstruct the vision of the sky.

Do you want to locate one? Try Heavens Above. This page allows locating the ISS and Iridium satellites (among other dimmer satellites) for any place and time. Do you have kids? Tell them that you will make a star appear when the moment happens, and gain their awe, crowning you as the “Master Prophet Of The Stars”.

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The flight of the Space House

The flight of the Space House noID pub

The flight of the space house ID

International Space Station flies near Scorpius, Mars, and Saturn on a hot summer night.
Three not-very-wise men wave at it as it passes by.
Its inhabitants didn’t wave back at us.
Still we are happy to have seen it.

Now it’s time for another night landscape. One of the good things of summer in my location is that the nights are so warm and clear that going out to watch the sky is easy and gratifying. After the bad luck we had last time trying to catch an Iridium flare, we decided to give it another try. One very bright iridium flare and two bright passes of the International Space Station (ISS) were programmed, so at least we would have something interesting to see.

This time we were luckier. We managed to get pictures of all the three events (some better than others). Iridium and other man made satellites are not very impressive by themselves, but the trail they leave can spice up a boring sky picture. In this case, a typical landscape of my area is decorated with the stars, and the ISS provides the difference with many other night pictures. Many people walk around this place every day, but I don’t believe that so many see it at night, taking time to watch the sky.

If you look closely, you can see some interesting things:

  1. International Space Station (ISS): Moving with a speed of 7.66 km/s, this space station completes a revolution around Earth every 92 minutes. It’s permanently occupied by astronauts who develop many research projects in low gravity conditions. Although it is not always visible from the surface, when it is appears in the sky as a bright white star that moves. So when you look at it, thinks that some people are there, in the space, working to advance in the boundaries of knowledge.
  2. Mars: The red planet (although it is not noticeable in the picture), and the closest one to ours. This bright point in the sky is easy to find in the night, even in the presence of light pollution.
  3. Scorpius: One of the constellations of the zodiac. It’s located near the center of the Milky Way. It was also depicted in A factory of life.
  4. Saturn: One of the biggest planets of our solar system. Its rings are a very nice view, so try to watch it with a little telescope.
  5. M7: An open cluster of stars known as the Ptolemy Cluster. It is 200 million years old and has 80 stars. Its composition is similar to the one in our Sun.
  6. 6- M6, the Butterfly Cluster. Seen with enough zoom resembles a butterfly. Although close to M7 in the sky they are really 800 light-years apart. This makes them independent clusters. But the stars that form both clusters are related, as all of them come from the same cloud of gas. This makes them gravitationally bound together and both travel in the same direction along the universe.

This picture is also included in my project “Landscapes from La Mancha”, a gallery that collects nice and artistic pictures of the region I live in. From “La Mancha”, the land of Don Quixote, there are many daylight pictures. Night landscapes, on the contrary, are not so abundant, but I believe that the sky and stars give a catchy point to those flat and arid landscapes.

Interested in watching the ISS or Iridium satellites from your location? You can find all the information in Heavens Above.

Passing the Time

Passing the Time

With just a mug and a coffee jar
you can travel really far.
Suddenly, you hear midnight chime
and you realize the pass of time.

It’s been a long time since I last participated in Flickr Friday. For anyone not knowing it, it’s a Flickr’s group that every Friday launches a new topic and you have one week to create and submit a picture about it. I don’t usually participate, sometimes because my lack of time (you cannot send any picture, it must be taken during the corresponding week) and sometimes because the topic doesn’t connect with my inspiration. Although the themes are usually broad, they imply a restriction by nature, so sometimes it is difficult to get a picture about that. I like to work free, and to allow my scenery to develop in front on my eyes until I get something I like. On this situation, the responsibility of confining the scenery to an idea gets on me, which is not my strongest point.

The first time I participated, was with Heroic Actions, a picture in the “MoneyMoneyMoney” theme. After a few concept tries and many pictures, I got the picture, and I was lucky enough to get it selected. The result was a very high number of visitors, relative to my usual number. Afterwards when I participated, I wasn’t lucky enough to get my picture selected by the administrators of the group.

But yesterday I saw the topic, I had nothing to do at that moment, and I started to play with objects, lights and my camera. Photographing glass is a difficult task because the way the light has to reflect and scatter on transparent material. But this difficulty is also part of the fun, so I decided to go on “hard mode” on purpose. Also, I wanted to test my new lighting umbrella. I bought it thinking on model sessions outwards (I’m planning one for this August, I hope it goes well), but I think it can get some nice light inside also (although my small room makes difficult using big appliances, and the umbrella is… well… big). With all of that, and the spare hour I had, this is what I got. I have to admit it’s certainly not my best picture, and I have tendency to repeat planes and compositions when I work on “studio”, but still I’m happy with the result. Perhaps it’s not brilliant, but at least I think it got catchy, and finding an excuse to take a picture is always welcome.

Now, it’s time to return to the hard-working-world again, until the next time I can find and excuse to photograph. Hope it will happen soon.

Trampoline

Trampoline

This picture ends my triad on the damselflies. I got the front, and the side, and now is time to show the top. Now I believe I can state that I have showed everything a damselfly has to be shown. This time, the place and the bug are different.

At the end of our rural trip we went to a place I already knew, near the dam. I had been there 6 years before, taking pictures, and I wanted to see the state of the place after this period of time. It was then the first time I saw a damselfly, and I managed to capture it photographically (sometimes I believe I capture animals in pictures in the same way kids capture Pokemon nowadays, now that it is a trending topic). It turns out that in this occasion we found again some white damselflies there, and I took the opportunity to repeat the picture. We were already tired and thirsty, so we didn’t stayed for long, but some nice pictures still were possible.

This is the result. They are the same color and shape. Probably, even similar size. It is very likely that they are not the same, after 6 long years, but they might be relatives. At least it’s comforting to see how nature doesn’t change too much in some places, and you can find the same animal communities after a few years of difference. I think I will have to return there in a few years to see if I can find them again.

I hope you have enjoyed these three thematic pictures. At least I hope to have shown you that not all insects are nasty bugs, and that some of them can be quite pretty when you stop to look at them closely.

One-leaf-kingdom

One-leaf-kingdom

This is the second picture of the damselfly cycle. This is the same one I showed on Living on the edge, but this time captured on its side. From an artistic perspective, the former one had more potential, but in an aesthetic way this one is more appealing, as it focuses more on the body of the insect and less on the specific position. The lack of contrast in the hues between the leaf, the damselfly, and the background also makes this picture risky; i.e. the bug is clearly pretty and interesting, but the picture as a whole is not as catchy as it could be. Still, I think it is worth publishing.

It was taken with a Canon 100mm L IS USM lens. This little lens amazed me from the very first time I used it. When I bought it, it was worth 900 €, right now you can find it for near 800 (for example, in Amazon). Don’t think of that amount of money as expensive: the lens is worth every cent you pay for it. Its sharpness and definition are outstanding for the 22 MPx of my 5D Mark 3 (and, of course, better in my 15 MPx 500D), the focusing engine is fast, precise and silent, and the quality of the color can be noticed even by the less technical people. Also, the ability to focus at macro distance is a plus in fun. Do you see something small? Just get as close to it as you can and take the picture. 22 MPx allow for very big printing sizes, and nothing is more attractive than a big and detailed picture of something you don’t usually can see with your eyes.

This damselfly falls in that category of items. Even if you can see one live, they are usually easily scared and very tiny to be appreciated in detail. You can glimpse their color or the beauty of their flight. It’s more difficult to see the details of the black stripes, or perhaps the shape of their mouth and head. These kinds of pictures are for stopping on the details and enjoying what you can’t usually see.

So chill out, take your time, watch it bigger and enjoy what you see. This damselfly stopped one day for a few seconds to allow you to watch it (probably, from hundreds of kilometers away).

Living on the edge

Living on the edge

Summer. Mid of July. 49 ºC. Two tired photographers with no water passing by an almost forgotten path in an old car. The idea was to follow the border of the Vicario’s water reservoir from the back to the dam. But destiny had other plans.

A very deep pothole in the path prevents us from continuing farther. A hole created in the mud by some heavy car on the rainy days. Now that the rainy days are gone, it has become hard, and we have no other options that to turn back and find another way.

While the driver maneuvers to turn the car, I get down and climb a funny structure that is 50 meters away from our position. It’s a tall and long concrete block, probably covering a water pump, but at our position the terrain climbs and you can just walk to the top. It seems like the runway used in fashion shows, except for the boiling sun and the arid concrete floor. I walk to the end while my shadow hides exactly under me and my black hair burns like a stove. At the end, I can see two conductions that transport water from one side of the reservoir to the other. After a few minutes, the driver has reached my position. He found the structure uninteresting at first, but it seems that waiting for me under the sun while I explore seems even more boring.

We are ready to leave when I spot it: A blue damselfly in a near bush. They are perhaps one of my favorite insects. They are pretty, elegant flyers, and with a completely harmless aspect (who could say the same of a cockroach). It was many many years ago when I saw one for last time. It was looking at us, curiously, probably wondering why two idiots like us were there in such a “lovely” evening. Trying to capture it was useless, as it turned out to be a little bit shy, but a few moments afterwards another one, yellow and green this time, appeared to take a gaze at us.

This time we were luckier, as our new friend was more calm and patient that the former one. We couldn’t get the best pictures we could, as our position was a little bit difficult, but still we managed to get some decent pictures of it. Some frontal, some lateral. The ultrasonic focusing system of the lens helps a lot in this situation. Trying to focus a very small point, with a very shallow depth of field, in an unpleasant position, while hot and partially dehydrated, is not an easy task. At the end, it got bored of our tiny noisy black boxes and flew away, and we turned back to the car to continue our way, like the reporters of the National Geographic, but in a more casual and rural manner.

I left the place with two things: A bunch of pictures of my damselfly, and the convincement that a good focusing engine is something wonderful, and I will never ever again complain when I find that a lens is expensive because of it.

Perhaps you cannot feel the heat, but at least I can share how pretty these insects are.

Sometimes, the air gets heavy

Sometimes the air gets heavy

Sometimes, the air gets heavy.

You can feel it in every breath.  Dense, humid and viscous. You feel the charge crawling along your arms’ skin, perhaps your legs’ also. And then it happens: a blinding light, and the corresponding noise. A discharge of pure energy, which was one moment ago contained in the middle of the air and, now, just dissipates in the atmosphere, in the earth, in the water…

Sometimes they are simple and ordered, others complex and chaotic, but always beautiful and powerful. The awe inspiring forces of the nature, showing one more time that even with all our technology and all our knowledge, we are no more than ants against them. We look up to the sky to contemplate the show; we use our fine technology to capture the moment forever. And in our memories and in our images we remember the true beauty of the released energy, without master or guide, because even when we manage to capture it in a lightning rod, it is only because the ray decided to visit it, voluntarily.

Who could feel nothing against such amazing display of force? Who could watch upwards, unshaken, in the middle of the storm, while one of the most basic forces dances around like a giant god in the middle of the playground?

This is what happens just before you notice the loud bang.

And now, you know how tiny you really are.