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How to photograph or image the Starshine 3 re-entry

How to spot the Starshine 3 re-entry:

The satellite may start glowing like a bright star with an ionized glowing trail behind it as it moves across the sky. It could also have what look like sparks or flames shooting off it. It could even produce what looks like smoke. Simply put, it may look like a slow-moving meteor. It could take at least a few minutes to traverse the sky. If the pass goes dead overhead, it could take up to 4 minutes for the fireball to travel from horizon to horizon! Any pass lower than that should be shorter in duration.

To spot it, I'd recommend trying it with several friends or classmates. Have each person look in a different direction at about a 45 degree elevation. Make sure you scan the area around the horizon, too.

Select a suitable location away from objects that may obstruct your view of the pass. Stay away from lights. Get out early, so your eyes become accustomed to the darkness.

What you'll need to photograph or image Starshine 3:

In order to photograph or image Starshine 3's re-entry, you will need either an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera that can take a time exposure or a video camera that has Night Shot or low light level capabilities. Certain digital cameras may possibly be used to take a time exposure also. If using a video camera, it most certainly should be set to "manual focus" and focused on infinity. Any camera should focused on infinity for that matter. And don't forget to remove its lens cap.

Test your instrument during the nights preceding the re-entry, especially if you are using a video or digital camera. Try to find the optimum zoom settings that will best record the the brighter stars but still offer an acceptable size field of view. Review what you record to make sure the focus is good and that you can see stars. Maybe also experiment with zooming in. If the fireball is slow, it may be easy to zoom in for a closeup!

Video Cameras:

Remove the lens cap. Make sure there is a tape in the recorder and that it is rewound! Set the camera to manual focus and focus the video camera on infinity. Since it will be night, focus on a star. If the video camera has a low light level setting, use it or at least experiment with it, as that could help! If the camera has an infrared illuminator, turn it off or mask it with black electrical tape. If a slow moving fireball is seen, aim the camera at it, keep pointing the camera at it as it moves across the sky, and record!

Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras:

Remove the lens cap. Your camera must have either a "B" or "T" setting so that it can take a time exposure. You will want a field of view of at least 20 degrees. Use a lens that is smaller than 50mm. Either 38mm or 28mm lenses with fast focal ratios will work the best. You will need a "cable release" so that you do not shake the camera when exposing the film. You will also want a sturdy tripod that is in good mechanical condition, because you will want to take a few if not several photos during the pass. In order to do this,you will have to rapidly adjust the camera's pointing between exposures. If you see the re-entry, you will need to aim the camera in front of the object before taking a time will have to "lead" it. Try to use a faster film, such as an ASA 400 or even ASA 800.

Prior to taking a night time exposure, take at least one normal daylight photograph. You'll want to do this again after taking the last time exposure. These two photographs will mark the beginning and end of the film and will help the developer with film processing.

To take the actual time exposure, assuming you've carefully focused the camera and have the aperture wide open, depress the cable release and lock it in place. Keep the shutter open for the suspected time that the pass will go through the field of view. When it has passed, release the cable lock to end the exposure. Change the camera's aim to a point in front of where the fireball will pass and take another photo. Repeat this process over and over until you can no see the fireball. This will be very difficult. You will have to know your set-up very well to be successful. Keep in mind that once you spot the fireball, you will have to act quickly by lining up the tripod, depressing the cable release and waiting and then ending the exposure, rewinding to the next frame, and then moving the tripod again. Remember, the camera has to be absolutely still when you are exposing the film! If you have never attempted something like this you will experience what is known as "sensory overload".

Additional information needed for confirmation purposes:

Have a watch that is accurately calibrated and piece of paper, a pen or pencil and a small flashlight. Stretch a red rubber balloon or piece of red cellophane over the lens of the flashlight, so you don't ruin your night vision. Write down the time you start to see the object and when you last saw it. Have a compass handy. Observe the azimuth and elevation that you first start to see the fireball and where you last see it; e.g.: WNW 35 degrees high through ESE 10 degrees high. You will also need to know the Latitude and Longitude of your observing location.

When taking the photographic film in to be processed, make sure you tell the photo technician to develop the film very carefully. They may not "see" an image when looking at a negative of the night sky. Tell them to definitely develop all frames that you exposed. Tell the developer to simply develop both end photos normally, and all others in between. Make a note of how many frames were exposed before rewinding the film.

George Varros, Mt. Airy, MD

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Last Updated: January 20, 2003