Padraic Koen's returning Hayabusa

Padraic Koen posted this beautiful photo taken from the helipad at Arkaroola in South Australia. I often joke that my "office" is at the ASV's dark sky site in Heathcote, but Padraic's beats that by light years.

It was at 3:59am on 6 December, and the camera, with its 11mm lens, was facing West-Northwest.

Arkaroola is at the northern end of the Gammon Ranges, seriously isolated in the outback. The settlements of Copley and Leigh Creek are over 100km to the West-Southwest. These places produce pretty much zero light pollution, so the Arkaroola skies are about as dark as you'll get anywhere on the planet.

There are a few things going on in this picture. First, the Moon was rising in the Northeast, out of frame to the right. This is shining gentle light onto the terrain, and the ten-second, ISO800 exposure picks out some features on the ground.

This is pretty much my favourite part of the sky. At the top, Orion is dominating. Orion contains all sorts of dark fuzzies, including the Great Nebula, and is surrounded by something I've yet to get a hold of, Barnard's Loop.

Orion is looking downwards (pointing his bow, if you like) at the Hyades asterism, which forms part of Taurus. This shows as an A shape (or V if you're in the Northern Hemisphere). Yellow Aldebaran is the uppermost star in the Hyades.

Of course, below that, the Pleiades is at about the same angle as the highest part of the low hills that surround Arkaroola.

Finally, that bright horizontal line that's emerging from the hills below and to the left of the Pleiades is a payload ejected from the Japanese Hayabusa 2 probe. It was re-entering the atmosphere after its six-year journey to retrieve a sample from the asteroid Ryugu.

The capsule was initially travelling at about 40,000 km/h, but slowed as it burned through the atmosphere. Its final ground track was East-Southeast as it deployed its parachutes and landed in the Woomera Prohibited Zone. It was picked up by Japanese scientists the next morning.

It's a marvellous photo, and just makes me want to go there. Thanks, Padraic!