Aussie video shows Curiosity leaving Earth

THIS AMAZING VIDEO was taken by Australian amateur astronomer Duncan Waldron with assistance from Mark Rigby of the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium in Brisbane, Australia.

It shows the departing Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which was launched from Cape Canaveral early on Sunday morning, Australian Eastern Daylight time.

The fuzzy triangular shape is likely to be gas venting from the Centaur rocket upper stage which boosted the probe out of Earth orbit.

Plumes that look similar to this one can sometimes be seen by skywatchers if they’re in the right place at the right time to catch a satellite being boosted into its final orbit by what’s called an “apogee kick motor”…and often lead to UFO reports, as the sight is very unusual.

Below is a photograph of the plume (lower left corner) taken by Duncan Waldron from the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium.

Plume from MSL's Centaur as it departed Earth

As NASA's Mars Science Laboratory departed Earth, astronomer Duncan Waldron at the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium snapped this photo of what is apparently gas venting from the probe's spent Centaur booster rocket.

Story by Jonathan Nally.

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  1. Jonathan Nally says:

    Fantastic, thanks for the extra info Duncan. You (and Mark) certainly were in the right place at the right time, which proves that old astronomer’s motto … keep looking up!

  2. Jonathan, all images were shot with a 55mm lens on a crop-frame DSLR. The image you show above is almost the full image area, while the video (I have 3 versions) is cropped to show more detail. There is no sound reason why I rotated the wide image, except that I was tired at the time, and was probably reverting to my Scottish roots, where Orion’s Sword hangs downwards!

    It was good fortune that I happened to spot the plume about 15 minutes after Mark did; 15 minutes later and I wouldn’t have seen it. It was also good fortune that I didn’t have to go back to the Planetarium until Monday, whereas Mark managed about 3 hours’ sleep before turning up for duty on Sunday!

  3. Jonathan Nally says:

    It was brilliant work all ’round Mark.
    Question for you on behalf of one of our SpaceInfo readers — why is the cloud pointing one way in the video, and the other way in the still photo? I answered that I presume the photo was taken directly with a camera, which of course gives a “right way up” image; while the video was taken through a telescope, which gives an inverted image?

  4. Mark Rigby says:

    The timelapse is amazing.

    When I first sighted it at 2:15am, Brisbane time, MSL was 12,000 km from Brisbane with a relative velocity of 29,769 km/h. When Duncan’s timelapse began at 2:39am, the figures were 20,400 km and 20,680 km/h, and at the end of the sequence at 3:05am – 29,100 km and 19,580 km/h.

  5. Jonathan Nally says:

    Yes, congrats to the Brisbane blokes for keeping their eyes peeled.
    And I don’t think anything you or I could say would convince the conspiracy fans of anything!
    Cheers Pete.

  6. Pete says:

    AHA! So it WASN’T a faked launch! An Aussie saw it, and photographed it, so it’s real! 🙂

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist a dig at the conspiracy theists…)