Searchlights at Night

October 25, 2013


: Christopher Kyba
Summary Authors: Christopher Kyba; Jim Foster

The photo at top shows a bird’s eye view of a searchlight beam over Berlin, Germany. To give the brightness of this light scale: at the bottom left of the big dark park is Potsdamer Platz, and at the bottom right of the photo is Alexanderplatz, two of the brightest areas in the entire city of Berlin. Even at a distance of several miles, this beam was far brighter than anything else in the city. The searchlight was probably sweeping across the sky and that gave me a better chance of getting an image when it was pointed towards me. A bird flying slowly over the city at night would be swept over again and again with this disorienting light. When I fly over cities at night, I occasionally see points of light that are almost painful to look at, even from 10,000 ft (3,050 m) up. I can only wonder how migrating birds react to these kinds of lights. Are they blinded? Do they fly towards them? See also Bird’s Eye View of a Searchlight at Night.
Compare this image with the image below, taken from the International Space Station by Flight Engineer Don Pettit. It shows a 1.6 billion lumen spotlight and a one-watt blue laser at the same location aimed at the station at 7:30 p.m. Central Standard Time on March 3, 2012. Astronauts Don Pettit and Dan Burbank first saw the spotlight at a distance of 870 mi (1,400 km) and kept it in view for six minutes. The night lights of San Antonio are to the left and Austin is to the right. The space station "flash" location was 40 mi (64 km) north of San Antonio at the Lozano Observatory. In order to aid in identifying the lights as seen from space, the laser and spotlight were cycled on and off at one-second intervals.

ISS flash2 336_0833

Photo details: Top - Canon EOS 500D camera; Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens; 1/200 sec. exposure; f/2.6. Note that the city appears dark (other than the blinding spot) because I was trying to minimize motion blur. Bottom - Camera Model: NIKON D3S; Lens: 85.0 mm f/1.4; Focal Length: 85mm (35mm equivalent: 85mm); Focus Distance: Infinite; Aperture: f/1.4; Exposure Time: 0.0080 s (1/125); ISO equiv: 6400; Software: Adobe Photoshop CS5 Windows.