Saturday, 15 October 2005

Failed - trail too faint (Lacrosse 4)

Saturday, October 15, 2005, 20:49:24

Just tried to image a pass of Lacrosse 4.

The almost full moon was already up, and it was
slightly hazy. Hence, the sky background came out
very bright on the image. The trail of Lacrosse 4
is visible on the image, but too faint to reliably
measure, alas.

Observations of Russell Eberst on the 13th yield
similar delta T's for Lacrosse 4 as my observations
from the 10th.

Tuesday, 11 October 2005

Clear sky and fine Lacrosse trail

Clear skies again at last! Yesterday and today the sky
was bright blue. Yesterday evening I managed to get
two fine pictures of Lacrosse 4 (00-047A, #26473), one
as it sailed across Andromeda at about +2.0, the other
while it was entering eclipse in Pegasus (hence only
the start of the track was measured for the latter

The first image yielded a splendid well-defined trail.

In all, 3 positions. The 3rd point is perhaps less good
as the 1st and 2nd, as the trail already was becoming
faint due to eclipse entry.

The delta T's are quite consistent internally: the
satellite was 1.5 seconds late relative to Mike's 10 day
old elset 05273.79219807.

Saturday, 8 October 2005

Foggy skies and Lacrosses

Saturday, October 08, 2005, 00:46:14 LT

After many days of bad weather, I tried to capture a
spy bird again. Earlier this evening I obtained a meagre
one point on Lacrosse 3 (97-064 A), obtained under very
poor conditions. The sky was very hazy (fog). Only the
beginpoint of the trail did I trust and report.

Tried to capture Lacrosse 2 as well somewhat earlier, but
the sky was still too bright and foggy.

Saturday, 1 October 2005

Bad weather

We have bad weather here for over a week now. That is
not unusual in this time of the year. Expect the next
3-4 months to see only sporadic observing activity due
to this.

So for the moment, it is back to asteroids.....

Monday, 19 September 2005

Blue skies and USA 129 again

Monday, September 19, 2005, 23:24:36 LT

Just an hour ago, captured what now is becoming an
old friend: USA 129 (96-072A, #24680, a "Keyhole").
Image fogged by moonlight, but trail well discernable.
Two apparently good points, both about 0.1s late
relative to Ted's latest elset, with good crosstrack

Spent a good part of the day searching for TNO's and
asteroids in NEAT data.

Both Ted and Pierre mailed me to point to the nice
residuals of yesterdays USA 129 observations.


Monday, September 19, 2005, 11:26:35 LT

Quick update to my last post:

* The context of other observations on USA 129
suggests that the delta T problem is gone.
This might indicate the change in used camera
settings indeed was the cause.

* Alas, I could not pry more than two nights of
data on the asteroid out of the NEAT archives.
This means it is no use submitting to the MPC.

Astrometry fiesta

Last night was an astrometry fiesta.

I captured Lacrosse 3 (97-064A, #25017) during its
19:40 UTC pass, crossing Delphinus. Following this
I captured USA 129 (96-072A, #24680) as it crossed
from Pegasus into Andromeda. The images were
heavily fogged by moonlight and the trails marginal,
but measurable.

In addition to this, I bumped into a potentially new
main belt asteroid while searching for TNO's in the
NEAT image archives. I am still in the process of
prying and measuring more images out of the archive
in order to get enough nights to submit it to the MPC.

I was quite tired last night, so I stopped early and
am in the process of continuing astrometry this morning.

Sunday, 18 September 2005

No observing opportunities

Last week for various reasons saw no observing opportunities. Either weather was bad, or I had other things to do.

This is a bad season anyway: from late September to January, and especially October-November, skies are often overcast.

Tuesday, 13 September 2005

Delta t deviation

It appears that my delta T values again come out
some ~0.3s "early" relative to other stations.

As this was not the case for my August data, I have
begun to suspect it is the result of my recent
change in camera settings (other setting for colour
and contrast, to bring out fainter trails better).
Apparently, this also changed the intitiation time
of the camera by an extra 0.3s.

As of now I will use the empirical 0.3s value to
adjust my timings accordingly.

USA 129, but no aurora

Monday, September 12, 2005, 23:59:46 LT

An aurora warning was out, as the geomagnetic
activity was very high due to a series of X-class
flares on the sun today and yesterday.

Aurora was not seen, but Keyhole satellite USA 129
(96-072A, #24680) was captured by the camera at
20:43:10 UTC. A clear unambiguous trail is visible
on the image, yielding two points. I am very curious
as to how the delta T values will compare to those
of other stations this time. It will be running "early"
anyway because of the high geomagnetic activity (which
increases the drag, as the atmosphere expands due to

An exposure was made one minute earlier too, but the
satellite is not visible on that image.

Sunday, 11 September 2005

Accuracy problem with deltaT

I posted a number of accuracy test lately. But now some
results have appeared that deviate. It concerns the data
on 96-072A (USA 129) of the 8th.

The problem is in the delta T values. They come out some
0.3-0.5s too early compared to other data gathered by
other stations around that time. It concerns data from
two separate images.

In below table, the asterisk-marked points are mine. The
other points are by David Brierley and Peter Wakelin.
The given delta T values are relative to Ted Molczan's
elset 05253.13803400.

-0.37 *
-0.29 *
-0.48 *

I am at a loss to explain this deviation.
Something in the timing is not right, but what?

The crosstrack value of the second point initially was
somewhat off (0.07 degree). This turned out to be because
I had switched the image reference time and object position
time in Astrorecord. When this was corrected, the crosstrack
value came out fine (but the delta T difference remained).

Friday, 9 September 2005

Flare of USA 129 Keyhole satellite

Yesterday evening I captured this image of the American Keyhole imaging satellite USA 129 (96-072A, #24680) starting to flare brightly near the zenith. A few seconds after the end of this exposure it reached magnitude -1.5. A second exposure starting 30 seconds later only shows a faint trail, estimated about magnitude +3.0.

This picture and the second one provided three positions

Monday, 5 September 2005

Another bright flare of Lacrosse 4 - imaged this time!

2005-09-05, 23:40 LT

During its deep twilight pass of 19:14 UTC (21:14 local time) Lacrosse 4 (00-047A, # 26473) showed a bright Iridium-like flare, just like two days ago.

The sky was still bright blue with only the brighter stars visible. Yet Lacrosse 4 stood out well for severall seconds. I estimate it reached at least magnitude 0.

This time, the camera was open when it happened. Nothwithstanding a light blue brackground, the flare is well-visible on the image. Stars from delphinus can be recognized at lower right.

Insomnia, Lacrosse 4 and a failed attempt for Lacrosse 5rk

Last night I could not get into sleep, even though I
tried hard. I hope this is not a return of the insomnia
that plagued me for months, untill a month ago I was
finally able to stop with sleeping medication.

As I was still awake at 4:30 am local time, I decided to
bring out the camera and target Lacrosse 4 (00-047A),
who made a pass around 5:08 am, the end of which was just
visible for me low in the east.

The winter constellations were rising this early in the
morning: the Pleiades and Mars shone brightly high in the
sky. Lacrosse 4 moved on the Auriga-Gemini border as it
cleared the edge of the house in the alley gap between my
house and the bank building opposite me. I captured a faint
but measurable trail.

A few minutes later I tried to target the Lacrosse 5rk
(the rocket that launched Lacrosse 5), but failed to
see it both visually and on the photograph.

Here is one of the two images of ISS I shot yesterday. It is moving below Lyra into Cygnus here. The bright star in the top is Wega (alpha Lyra).

Encouraging accurracy test using ISS

I've been doing some accuracy tests lately to check
on the accuracy of my experimental photographic camera
setup, as I am always striving for improvement.

After comparing some of my datapoints with data by others
on the same satellites earlier (see earlier blog entries),
I took advantage of the current start of nice and favourable
ISS evening passes to use ISS as a test target and compare
obtained positions to an accurate ISS TLE.

I obtained 4 positions from 2 images for ISS during last
evenings 19:55 UTC pass: two (the first two) with ISS in
the zenith, two with ISS going into eclips low in the

25544 98 067A 4352 F 20050904195525800 17 75 1900355+263390
25544 98 067A 4352 F 20050904195536500 17 75 1952060+282850
25544 98 067A 4352 F 20050904195635800 17 75 2321209+227230
25544 98 067A 4352 F 20050904195646500 17 75 2339494+210810

Using Scott Campbell's SatFit I compared them to an accurate
TLE for epoch 05247.96166413

The result is as follows:

AZ EL ASP XTRK deltaT Perr
( 1) 184.50 64.32 83.18 0.02 -0.02 0.028
( 2) 157.31 65.03 94.14 0.01 -0.02 0.027
( 3) 96.58 34.40 137.74 0.00 -0.06 0.032
( 4) 94.09 30.36 141.68 0.03 0.17 0.091

sum 0.05184

Of course I was very happy with this result. When I use
the TLE issued previous to the above one (05247.68884259),
I get:

AZ EL ASP XTRK deltaT Perr
( 1) 184.50 64.32 83.17 0.03 0.18 0.204
( 2) 157.31 65.03 94.12 0.03 0.18 0.205
( 3) 96.58 34.40 137.73 0.00 0.13 0.067
( 4) 94.09 30.36 141.66 0.03 0.37 0.171

sum 0.17140

...and the truth will be somewhere inbetween I guess.

The 4th point merits some comment, as it clearly deviates
in the series. The reason is that the 4th point was
obtained while ISS was going into eclips fast. Instead of
being the true end of the trail due to the end of the
exposure (the reference time for this point), it probably
is the point where ISS crossed the imaging threshold of the
camera while fading out. Hence it being "too late" compared
to the other points.

I've been thinking about the pittfals of my system, and
the obvious one is pointed out by point 4 in the above series.
A start- or endpoint of a trail is not reliable when it is
not marking the start or end of the exposure, but the point
where the brightness of the satellite crosses the imaging
threshold, the trail limiting magnitude of the camera. This can
happen when the sat fades in or fades out (or both) or is faint
and irregular in brightness. When that is the case, it should
translate in a first point that is apparently "too early",
and/or a second point that is apparently "too late". Whenever
such things are visible in my data compared to other datapoints,
this is probably the reason.

But for a bright sat not near eclips, this ISS test again
suggests the digital camera system performs quite well.

So far this little, encouraging test. Hereby, I also want to
thank Scott Campbell for making available his software.

Sunday, 4 September 2005


Earlier today I wrote:

"Some 10-15 minutes before Lacrosse 4 I saw a nive bright
sat of about magnitude -1 to -2 low in the sky descending
to the southeast."

Of course, this was ISS.....

Saturday, 3 September 2005

Flare of Lacrosse 4 (00-047A)

Targeted Lacrosse 4 (00-047A, #26473) again this evening.
Observing conditions were poor, the skies were hazy. Some
10-15 minutes before Lacrosse 4 I saw a nive bright sat
of about magnitude -1 to -2 low in the sky descending
to the southeast.

Lacrosse 4 made an Iridium-like flare, something which I
have not seen a Lacrosse do before. Starting at about
magnitude +2.5 when I started the exposure, it brightened
and gave a brief flare of about magnitude +0.5 some 10
seconds after the end of the exposure. The onset of this
was just captured on the image, the end tip of the trail
on the exposure is suddenly bright and fat.

This last point is some 0.2 seconds late relative to elset

Thursday, 1 September 2005

A Keyhole and ENVISAT, and NEA's

Thursday, September 01, 2005, 17:09:02 LT

Worked last night (31 Aug) with the camera in the new
colour/contrast setting. Images come out more dull now,
but I do have the distinct impression that faint trails
do show up better.

Catched USA 129 (96-072A, #24680), a Keyhole optical
imaging satellite with a decimeter resolution capability.
Faint trail but the measured positions come out fine.

Also catched a sat I initially could not identify. IDSat
gave no clear match. Ted Molczan then identified it as
ENVISAT. It puzzled me that IDSat did not gave me that
match, untill the solution jumped to me this morning
while I was commuting in the bus: a sign error in my
location's longitude? Indeed, a check when back home showed
this to be the case...

Spacewatch resumed operation again a few days ago, so the
mornings that I am at home are filled with hunting NEA's

And after a series of clear nights, it is raining again...

Wednesday, 31 August 2005

Another accuracy test

Another test of accuracy: the plots show my positions for Lacrosse 4 (00-047A, #26473) obtained last night, along with positions obtained by stations 433 and 2018. The red dots are my data. The data are compared to Mike McCants elset 05420.93550308.

Station 433 uses a LL video camera, and 2018 uses stopwatch and binoculars if I am not mistaken. Note that with regard to delta T, the values should regres from negative values (satelllite early with respect to the elset) before the elset epoch to increasingly positive values (satellite late with repsect to the elset) after the elset epoch (which indeed they do).

Again, my setup seems to perform well.

Lacrosse 4

Wednesday, August 31, 2005, 00:27:31 LT

Slightly hazy, but reasonable conditions this evening.

Obtained two instead of one images of 00-047A (Lacrosse 4)
spaced 1 minute apart as it traversed Pegasus, and hence 4
points. The second pic shows the typical orange colour of the
Lacrosse satellites, due to orange metal foil covering, rather
well. The sat seemed some 0.15 seconds late relative to elset

I might give Lacrosse 3 a try later tonight as well, if my
alarm clock cooperates. Yesterday it did not and I woke up 30
minutes too late....

Experimenting with a slightly different camera setting today
(other color/contrast setting). I have some idea that trails come
out better as a result.

Wednesday, 24 August 2005

Accuracy test - seem to do fine

Using data reported for Lacrosse 2 (91-017A, #21147) by stations 2018, 2675, 2701, 2751 and me (4352) over the past week, I analysed the accuracy of the positions relative to Mike McCants' Elset 05234.83672363, using Scott Cambell's SatFit program. The goal was to see how my own data accuracy fitted with the other stations, thus getting an indication of the performance of the setup here.

Above diagrams give the comparisons in terms of positional error, cross-track error, and timing error. Note that with regard to the error, "early" observations (those before the Aug 22 epoch date of the Elset should come out early (negative delta T), and "late" observations late (positive delta T). My station's data are shown as red dots.

Looking at the diagrams, my setup seems to perform well and I don't need to worry. Which is good to know...

Cirrus, and satellites

24 Aug 2005, 01:55 LT

Above picture is the Japanese spysat IGS 1B (03-009B, #27699) coming out of the earth shadow almost in the zenith, around 23:28:07 local time (21:28:07 UTC) this night. I saw it visually, coming out of eclipse and brightening rapidly to about mag +2.0.

Above picture resulted in a good position measured from the end point of the trail.

Conditions were rather poor this night. A pass of Lacrosse 2 (USA, 91-017A, #21147) suffered from fields of thin cirrus. The start of the trail was too ambiguous to measure, the end did yield one point.

Just like yesterday, the bank building opposite me had all the bright lights in their offices on: this while these offices were completely deserted.... This was a big nuisance, apart from being a waste of energy. I hope this is not going to be a new trend. being in the midst of a ciy allready is hard enough concerning the light pollution, and this is definitely notably decreasing my visual limiting magnitude. I have to shield my eyes against the glare!

Tuesday, 23 August 2005

Further analysis 91-017A (Lacrosse 2) data

Because the residual for my second point for 91-017A
of last night worried me, I ran SatFit again but this
time also incorporating my data of 17 August. These
are the results:

AZ EL ASP XTRK deltaT Perr
(1) 97.49 47.14 118.26 0.02 0.04 0.030
(2) 102.25 44.06 122.20 0.00 -0.08 0.032
(3) 91.14 49.19 114.34 0.01 0.03 0.016
(4) 96.63 46.27 118.46 0.01 0.18 0.082

Again deltaT of the last point of last night clearly
stands out. However, the results for 17 August do not
indicate this is something recurrent. Hence, it appears
the last point for last night is just anomalous. Such
can happen, it are observational data after all, which
always can have errors introduced by God-Knows-What.

Nice bright sat (Lacrosse 2)

Yesterday evening was clear (it is clouded again now),
and I catched Lacrosse 2 (#21147, 91-017A) making a very
nice pass over the rising Pegasus square at a steady
mag +2. The sat was seen visually, and the trail shows
up well on the image too. The startpoint measured was
very close to the last TLE for 21147, 05232.87066994,
the endpoint is off by some 0.15 seconds. The fit is
as follows (using Scott Campbell's SatFit):

AZ EL ASP XTRK deltaT Perr
( 1) 91.14 49.19 114.34 0.01 0.03 0.016
( 2) 96.63 46.27 118.46 0.01 0.18 0.082

Maybe this indicates there stil is some slight calibration
problem with regard to the exposure duration of the camera.

Thursday, 18 August 2005

Some pictures of the equipment

Here are some webcam pictures of the equipment of Cospar station 4352 Leiden, the actual SatTrackCam. See also my detailed SatTrackCam website.

As you can see it is actually quite simple: a lap-top, a Canon Digital Ixus 400 digital camera, and (not shown here) a DCF77 radio controlled clock for accurate time keeping. The station's geographic coördinates have been obtained by GPS.

Another clear night: nice pass of Lacrosse 2

Thursday, August 18, 2005, 02:05:36 LT

A second clear night, with somewhat better sky conditions
than yesterday. Targets were the American Radar
reconnaissance satellite Lacrosse 2, and the Japanese
optical satellite IGS-1A that was also targeted yesterday.
Tried to capture USA 129 as well and indeed have a very
faint trail on the image, but too indistinct to measure
reliably. The limiting magnitude for satellites clearly is
near +3.0 for this camera setup.

Obtained two points for Lacrossse 2 and only one point for
2003-009A (IGS 1A), the start of the trail, as the end seems
to fade away and is very indistinct on the image.

By contrast, the trail for Lacrosse 2 is fat and bright. Saw
the sat make his pass visually, magnitude steady near +2.5 through
Pegasus just before entering the earth's shadow.

Wednesday, 17 August 2005

Clear Sky! Observed IGS 1A and IGS 1B

Wednesday, August 17, 2005, 02:04:20 LT

After a long period of clouds and rain, it was
clear this evening, although slightly hazy. A
gibbous moon was shining low in the south, the
sky background remained quite bright.

I targetted the two Japanese IGS spy satellites,
the optical satellite IGS 1A (2003-009A, #27698)
and the radar satellite IGS 1B (2003-009B,
#27699). The main purpose of both is to keep an
eye on North Korea. IGS 1B is a very nice, bright
naked eye object.

IGS 1B made a nice pass, I observed the satellite
visually as well while it was skimming Pegasus. It
was 0.6 seconds early relative to elset 05227.95069540.

The trail of the fainter IGS 1A is les well resolved
on the image due to the bright background. It was
~ 0.3 seconds early relative to elset 05277.91063071.

Saturday, 13 August 2005

Promises not fullfilled....and learning C++

Yesterday in the daytime we had a thunderstorm, and it
rained cats and dogs. However, in the early evening it
fantastically cleared.

When I came out of the Eritrean restaurant 'Djebena' with
Renée at 22:15 LT, the dusk sky still was fantastically
clear. But of course, this was too good to be true...

At about 20:50 UTC, 15 minutes before a fine zenith pass
of IGS 1B and with the camera already mounted and ready,
the first clouds came in.... I did see IGS 1B through
broken cloud cover at magnitude +1 and did shoot a
picture, and it even shows up on that picture: but the
start- and endpoints of the trail are in clouds an cannot
be determined unambiguously enough to measure it...

Similarly, I lost the next target, IGS 1A, in clouds.

I did see a nice bright Perseid meteor through broken
clouds low in the sky. Normally I would be out on our
meteor observatory with the other guys of DMS team
"Delphinus" this time of the year, but other obligations
prevented me from joining in this year.

This week, wanting to have something usefull to do while
observing was impossible, I have started to learn myself
programming in C++.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

Still clouded (...), and asteroids

Tuesday, August 09, 2005, 20:39:14 LT

It is still clouded. Again, I do not think tonight will
stand a chance.

About the asteroid I reported last Sunday; MPC sent the
designation K02CS9H back, but it is a 'known' object alas,
it had two one-night reports already linked. My contribution
now has been to provide another 3 nights so its orbit is more
firm now and it has made it in to the DOU today. But it does not
count as a new discovery. Such can happen.

Monday, 8 August 2005

Bad weather over there too, Shuttle postponed

Monday, August 08, 2005, 11:16:10 LT

Skies are still overcast here, but we are not the only
ones. The landing of Shuttle Discovery has just been
postponed by 24 hours because of bad weather at Kennedy
Space Center. And the Spacewatch telescope at Kitt Peak
has been closed for almost a month now because of
continuous instable weather.

I guess it's back to the NEAT archives then...

Coupled back the "comet" of yesterday to Rob Matson. He
thinks it's a bad orbital solution on a main belter.

Rainy day, Dream away....

Monday, August 08, 2005, 01:15:15 LT

Rain rain rain and a completely overcast sky now, so
I am going to call it a day (after all it is 1 hour
after midnight already...).

Spent the afternoon and evening searching for TNO's and
main belt asteroids in the NEAT image archives. Sent in
one set of astrometry on a probable new main belter to the
MPC. Also got a set of astrometry on two consecutive
nights only on another object, that result in a cometary
orbit. Alas two night is not enough to send it in to the MPC...

That's all for today, I am going to sleep.

Sunday, 7 August 2005

Hunting TNO's...

Sunday, August 07, 2005, 15:30:54 LT

This ability to post through e-mail is cool....

Weather is still weird here. Rain showers the one moment,
bright clearings the other moment....

I do not give tonight much chances. Instead, I am hunting
TNO's in the NEAT archives today......

Saturday, 6 August 2005

Clouds again

Saturday, August 06, 2005, 23:40:10 LT

The atmosphere is very dynamic again. Mostly cloudy during the daytime, seriously clearing just before sunset, but thin middle altitude cloud cover again when the sky had become dark enough for photography. Tried to catch USA 129 but failed due to the cloud cover.

Currently the thin middle altitude clouds seem to be gone again, but low altitude cumuli abound. I am going to give it one last try in about 10 minutes from now and if that fails I am going to call it a day.

For the visual element: here's a picture of Lacrosse 5 obtained a few days ago:

Image hosted by

(for a larger image click here).

Lacrosse 5 is a radar spy satellite operated by the US NRO.

Dutch weather sucks! (05-06 Aug 2005 run)

It rained all day on the 5th, but the sky rather unexpectedly cleared in the evening.

When I returned from an evening with friends at about 00:30 am local time, I had some hopes I might be able to do some imagery. Back home on the lap-top I found out that I already had missed a good pass of IGS 1A, but might be able to catch Lacrosse 2 and one of the NOSS rockets later on in the night. So I set the alarm clock.

When I woke up at 3 am, the sky conditions were very dynamic. It changed from completely clear to overcast and back again in a matter of minutes. It was clear imaging would become a gamble.

I lost the gamble: cloud fields passing by just at the moments the satellites made their passes...

Weather prospects for the week to come do not look good. Dutch Weather realy sucks.....