Image Gallery - Man-made Objects

Since the beginning of our exploration of space, we have been filling a growing shell around the Earth with artifacts, sometimes deliberately, as in the case of scientific, military, and commercial satellites, and sometimes simply as a byproduct of other activities, as is the case with the thousands of pieces of space junk created by spent rocket stages, jettisoned material, and collisional debris. Capturing images of such objects is an interesting challenge.

In addition to the information on this page, be sure to see the image I captured of the CONTOUR spacecraft, just days before its catastrophic failure while boosting out of Earth orbit.

Genesis Spacecraft, 7 September 2004. 305mm LX200 (f/7.6), SBIG ST8i camera, stack of twenty 2-minute exposures collected between UT 04:30:10 and 05:17:22. The object's location in the lower left is 20h 54m 22.33s -25° 07' 49.74". Its final position at the upper right is 20h 53m 51.69s -25° 02' 13.64". It traveled 8' 58" over 49.2 minutes (10.93"/min). The spacecraft distance from my location was about 285,000 km. This object is very low on my southern sky, in the constellation of Capricornus. The spacecraft is carrying a sample capsule targeted for re-entry over Utah on 8 September 2004. A 187KB animation of this image is here.
Genesis Spacecraft, 8 September 2004. 305mm LX200 (f/7.6), SBIG ST8i camera, stack of thirty-three 10-second exposures collected between UT 05:08:02 and 05:26:39. The object is travelling almost straight north (up), from 21h 19m 41.56s -19° 32' 38.0" to 21h 19m 40.13s -19° 22' 38.0". The spacecraft is moving across the sky very quickly now, just hours from its scheduled return.

J002E3, 15 September 2002, 06:03:13 UT. 305mm LX200 (f/7.6), SBIG ST8i camera, stack of twenty 60-second exposures, 135 seconds between exposures. The trail length is 320", over a total exposure of 2613s. The object is traveling towards the upper left (NE.) The image center is 03h34m37.5s +14°40'39.5". The calibrated magnitude of the object is 16.45.

So just what is this? When it was detected on 3 September 2002, it was initially thought to be an asteroid. However, it was quickly determined to be in Earth orbit, and is now thought to be the third stage of a Saturn IVB, most likely from Apollo 12. Since its launch in 1969 it has probably been moving back and forth between Earth and solar orbits. Its chaotic trajectory may result in a collision with either the Earth or the Moon in the years ahead.

© Copyright 2004, Chris L Peterson. All rights reserved.