Mike Kane's ISS photo (with an 8" Dobsonian)

The International Space Station is now 20 years old. It orbits the Earth every 90 minutes or so, and while it doesn't go past everyone every time, there are quite a few opportunities to see it - as long as you don't live in Canada, Northern Russia or anywhere in Scandinavia.

Mike from Port Macquarie got a fantastic photo earlier this month. It's the best one I've seen so far. I contacted Mike to find out how he did it.

... and you can take a photo like this yourself!

The ISS is about 110 metres across. When it goes over soon after sunset or soon before sunrise, it stands out against a dark sky. If the light is at just the right angle, it can be brighter than Venus. The ISS moves at about the apparent speed of an airliner, but it makes no sound, and has no flashing lights. It's quite serene.

But Mike's photo was a challenge. It's a bit like photographing an A380 from Melbourne while the plane is flying over Devonport in Tasmania!

Mike uses an app called ISS Spotter to alert him of upcoming flyovers. There are quite a few similar apps, and a website.

To take the photo, Mike used a remarkably simple setup, but has a well-practiced technique.

He has an 8" manual Dobsonian telescope, a camera (an Olympus DSLR) and a 2x Barlow. The effective focal length is 2400mm, which is like a very long lens.

The DSLR has a remote shutter button and was set to take photos continuously. Mike used 1/1000s exposures and ISO 1250. Once the camera was focused, all he had to do was physically manhandle the Dobsonian, hold the shutter button in his hand, line up the ISS in the red dot finder (a Telrad) and - to quote him - machine-gun the ISS when it was in the frame. Of course, "all he had to do" belies the fact that it's quite a job to juggle all that heavy and delicate equipment and get good shots.

He got around 200 photos, of which 10 or 12 were usable.

It's an incredible image, and beautifully captured. Well done Mike!