Friday 16 August 2013


Unless you're on it, the International Space Station is a long way away - 400 or more km, even if it's flying right overhead - but on the other hand, it's huge. Modern digital cameras and lenses can do surprisingly well at capturing images of such a large and distant object, so - having been impressed by some of the pictures I've seen on the web - I thought I'd have a go myself.

This is my first proper effort -I tried a couple of nights ago with my camera on automatic mode, but the battery was low and in the low light conditions I struggled with finding the focus at infinity (my camera has a continuous focussing dial, so there's no handy end-stop). Tonight I set the ISO to 800 and the shutter speed to 1/500th, and focused on the Moon and a couple of stars beforehand. My cameras is a Lumix FZ50 with a 1.5 teleconverter on top of the built-in 420mm lens. The sky was clear except for some cirrus and the pass was a bright one. I balanced my camera on a wheelie-bin, as I've seen mentioned elsewhere - good tip. A tripod is not much use as you can't track fast enough to keep on the station.

What do you reckon? It looks like I've resolved something more than a smudge, but I admit it's not very scientific. Next time, I'll take a sequence of exposures at the same angle and see if there's any consistency between the images.



  1. Nice.

    The only comparison I have are shots of stars and Jupiter (another interesting target for a simple camera). And this seems better than a mere smudge, I'd guess you captured something of the real shape.

  2. This is so cool!

    Many months ago, I signed up for some email service or another that was supposed to let me know when the ISS was overhead (not to take pictures, but just to go outside and wave), and I haven't heard anything...might just not have aligned since then. How are you keeping track?

  3. Hi Sarah - there was a problem with the TWISS alerts service on twitter, so you might need to sign up for that again. You can also check on the NASA site, by looking up your area:

    Once you're into it, it's surprising how often you can see the ISS - many, many sighting opportunities per year for a given location.

  4. That 'Spot The Station' service of NASA's is pretty much useless: I've gotten alerts for a pass up to a full day AFTER the fact! And the information given is pretty sparse—just a single line of text.

    I'll stick with Heavens Above (
    Register an account (Free!), and log your Lat-Long coordinates, and you can get 10-day pass predictions for the major satellites (ISS, HST, X-37B, etc.), including sky charts and ground tracks!

  5. I'm gonna get my little scope out this week and have a gander! There's some good 3-4 min exposures this week!
    This is cool!

  6. Hi Al,

    Saw a nice pass of the ISS on Monday evening while horse riding on the Noordwijk beach, we'd gone out for a "moon ride", it was almost full moon. It was compensation for the fact that not long before I'd fallen off my horse ....No lasting damage (apart from to my pride).
    And wonderful to ride back through the dune forest by moonlight.


    Sarah H.

  7. There's at least one free iPhone app, ISS Spotter. It shows you where the ISS is right now (over central Africa as I write), gives forecasts of coming passes, and lets you set up alerts which you can configure according to time (so you don't get woken at 3am, or alerted while at work) and maximum peak elevation (so that you're not alerted to low-angle passes if you don't want to, if you live in a valley or a high-rise city).

    Never mind many, many sightings a year - there can be quite a few in a night (five opportunities I saw one time on the NASA chart, over a spread of around six hours). On the other hand, some times of the year you can go ten days or more with a single sighting.

  8. Pretty sure I saw it! Had to get up bloody early to do so! Worth it!

  9. The ISS Detector works really well.

  10. Does the future RS story involve the Prefect?????