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Is that an airplane or a meteor in your night sky photo?

I take a lot of photographs of the night sky. These photos are usually less than 30 seconds in exposure length. But sometimes I catch a meteor!

But, I also get airplanes in my photographs. So, how do you tell the difference?

I managed to get this one photograph that has both a meteor and two airplanes. This photograph gives you a really good overview of how to tell the difference!

This is a 30 second exposure of Taurus. You can see three streaks. There is a bright streak in the center bottom. And to the left is a bright red streak. On the very lower left corner is a dim red streak.

Let’s take a look at that bright streak. This is clearly a meteor. One of the best indicators of this is that it changes in amplitude along its course. As it enters the atmosphere (left end) it starts to brighten as it heats up. And toward the end of it’s journey it gets very bright and burns up then ends with a sputter. So, this inconsistency in brightness is a great way to know it is a meteor.

Where as airplanes display two very different characteristics. The light is very steady. It varies only a little in it’s intensity. In the case of this airplane you can also see a rhythmic pattern in flashes that look like red stars right on the path of the plane.

And sometimes the airplane will be a consistent flashing of light as in this one that is on the bottom left corner of the photograph. And with two different colors. That’s a great indicator of an airplane. This plane has a red running light and a white light that flashes intermittently.

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