Photographing Starshine's Reentry

Here's the equipment you'll need:

- Two digital stopwatches.
- A sturdy tripod with adjustable axes in azimuth and elevation.
- A 35 mm camera or any Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera capable of taking a time-exposure. The camera should have a lens with an aperture between 28mm and 55mm. Lenses larger than 55mm may have too small a field of view and lenses smaller than 28mm may not capture enough detail. The lens should have a manual f/stop setting of 2.0 or lower and a shutter with a bulb setting that can be hand operated by means of a cable release. (If the shutter does not have a bulb, "B", or "T" setting, or can not take a time-exposure, you won't be able to use it to photograph the re-entry. )
- A cable release.
- A roll of film with a rating of ASA 400 or faster.
- A project notebook.
- A sheet of paper and pencil for each observer.

Here's what you need to do now:

First of all, elect a team leader whom you can all respect. Here are the team leader's responsibilities: Choose an observing site that is well away from bright lights and trees and buildings. Choose a camera operator, two stopwatch operators and lots of observers. Set up a rapid-response telephone calling network for your team members. Go to the Project Starshine web site at and click on the Starshine Re-entry Prediction Page every day between now and the satellite's predicted re-entry date. On the final day, check the web site every hour. We think that by then the time of re-entry will be known to within ten minutes and the location will be known to within a few hundred miles. If you see that Starshine is going to re-enter thousands of miles away from your location, call off your observing session. However, if you see that Starshine may re-enter somewhere within 500 miles or so of your observing site, assemble your team, get them to the observing site an hour ahead of re-entry, and make sure they have their equipment with them.

Here are the camera operator's instructions: Load the camera with your roll of fast film and set the camera's focus and shutter speed controls to their manual settings. Adjust the camera's f/stop ring to its wide-open position and adjust its focus to the infinity setting. To make sure it is really in focus at infinity, look through the viewfinder at the brightest star in the sky, and carefully adjust the focus back and forth until the star's image is as sharp as possible. Mount the camera securely on the tripod.

Here are the stopwatch operators' instructions: On the day of Starshine's re-entry, log onto the web site. When the digital clock image appears on your screen, wait till the time comes up to an even minute, then start both your watches and write down in the project notebook the hour and minute shown on the display. Leave your stopwatches running.

Here's What to Do During the Observing Session:

At the start of the session, the camera operator should check the camera's focus one more time. Set up the tripod on solid ground, with its axis brakes slightly loosened, in the center of a circle of observers that are surrounding the tripod at a distance of ten feet or more. The observers should all face outward, away from the camera, and look up at the sky. Each observer should be assigned a separate portion of the sky by the team leader. Keep your eyes moving slowly throughout your sector of the sky, so your "blind spot" won't hide the satellite. Look high and low; Starshine could appear anywhere. Do not crowd the camera operator. Practice calling out sightings of blinking, colored lights on airplanes and pointing the camera at them, early in the observing session. Then settle down, get quiet, and concentrate on looking for Starshine.

When an observer sees Starshine's flaming trail appear, that observer should say loudly and clearly, "THERE IT IS….THERE….THERE….THERE…" and continuously point his index finger at the satellite as it streaks across the sky. The camera operator should quickly turn around toward that observer to see where the observer is pointing and spot the satellite for herself. She should then rapidly swivel the camera in azimuth and elevation until it is pointing at the leading edge of the flaming streak in the sky, and lock the azimuth and elevation brakes on the tripod. She should press down the cable release to open the shutter and hold it open, as she loudly says, "OPEN." She should keep the shutter open for about 30 seconds, then release the cable release and call out "CLOSE." If the trail is still visible, she should advance the film to the next frame, re-aim the camera to a position in front of the leading edge of the flaming trail and shoot another 30-second exposure. It is important that the camera shutter stay open for 30 seconds for each exposure, so star trails will also be recorded. Project officials will use these star trails to determine exactly where in the sky the camera was pointed during Starshine's re-entry.

One stopwatch operator should stop his watch when the camera operator says, "OPEN." The other stopwatch operator should stop her watch when the camera operator says "CLOSE," during the first exposure. They should both write down their stopwatch readings in the project notebook as soon as possible after the event. They should add their stopwatch readings to the standard time readings they had written down when they started their watches. They should write down the two sums, which will be the standard time that the flaming trail started and stopped. Don't worry about any possible second exposure. Just estimate the time that it took place.

All the observers should mentally record the initial and final angular locations and direction of the satellite's travel across the sky as it was burning up, and then write their observations down on separate pieces of paper, as quickly as possible after the event. They should include their descriptions of the appearance of the flaming streak: Was it a smooth trail, or did it flare up and die down more than once? Did individual flaming pieces break away from the main flame, or was there just one central flame? Did it appear to move faster or slower than a meteor (shooting star)? How long was it visible? Was it white, or did it appear to be some other color? And so on. It is important that they write their observations down individually, sign their names under their observations and then verbally compare notes later on what they saw. We think Starshine should appear as a bright star moving smoothly across the sky at a rather fast rate, but not as fast as a meteor, with some sparks trailing back from the head. But we need to know from the observers what it really looked like. The project leader should transfer the observers' written comments to the project notebook and then read the instructions found in the Contest Rules section of the Starshine home page about what to do with the recorded image and project notebook.

Here's what to do if you have a video camera:

Use a video camera with "low light capability." Try imaging some stars at night, ahead of time, to see if will work. If it does record stars, it will probably be able to record Starshine's re-entry. Set your focus on "manual," and focus on the brightest star in the sky until it is in sharp focus. Then assemble your team and follow the general instructions given in the sections above, leaving out those that obviously don't apply to video photography. Please don't have just one person try to use a film camera and a video camera simultaneously. You'll probably miss the re-entry with both cameras. Use two operators, please.

Good luck to everyone! If enough of the 25,040 students around the world who polished mirrors that are on the outside of the Starshine satellite try to photograph the satellite's re-entry, we just might have a chance of getting a great picture.

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