Not all that Glitters is Starlight

September 19, 2023



Photographer: Wayne Robinson    
Summary Author: Wayne Robinson    

What do you get when you combine a failed attempt to photograph the aurora in Bowie, Maryland with favorable winds for a landing approach from the south at Baltimore Washington International Airport?  But wait - also add in a healthy (well, maybe not so healthy) dose of Canadian smoke to the air?  You get this composite photograph of the landing approaches of six aircraft taken on the night of July 17, 2023.

All the aircraft have lights configured for landing, with the white landing light in the center and the red (port) and green (starboard) navigation lights on the wing tips, punctuated by flashing anti-collision strobes.  Also prominent is the beam from the landing light, brightly shining out ahead of the aircraft.  Due to the large amount of aerosol particles in the air, the paths of the landing lights can be easily seen as they scatter off the thick aerosols.  Perhaps, the blue and green tints of this scattering, related to the aerosol particle sizes, is due to different altitudes in the haze/smoke layer.

I might be going out on a limb, but I wonder if the scattered landing light and the aircraft telemetry could possibly be combined to yield a distribution of aerosols in a region – sort of like a LiDAR without the laser.

Nore that the semi-horizontal dotted lines in the photo are the interrupted trails of background stars.

Photo details: Canon 80D camera; 18 mm lens; multiple exposures of 1 and 3.5 seconds at f/3.5; ISO 1600. Photos taken at approximately 11:30 p.m. local time.

Bowie, Maryland Coordinates: 39.0068, -76.7791

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