Halifax astronomer catches rare photo


HALIFAX – A Halifax-based astronomer is the envy of his peers after he photographed a rare image in the skies from his balcony Sunday evening.

Michael Boschat, a research technician in the Atmospheric Science Department at Dalhousie University, caught images of the first stage of a rocket booster re-entering the atmosphere.

The boosters were jettisoned by a rocket carrying cargo to the International Space Station and Boschat said he was waiting, camera in hand, for the right moment.

“I was hoping to see the separation from the rocket body,” he said. “You can see a little puff of gas and get a nice photograph.”

While waiting for the separation, Boschat saw out of the corner of his eye two bright blue streaks passing through the sky – the boosters, already separated, lighting up the Halifax skies as they re-entered the atmosphere.

Boschat said he scrambled to get the photo, adjusting the exposure to ensure a decent image. He says the rocket was visible for eight or nine seconds.

“I didn’t really expect to see a re-entry of the booster,” he said. “I guess I just happened to catch a lucky shot of the breakup.”

The rockets were designed to propel the Cygnus spacecraft on a supply mission to the International Space Station.

The Cygnus, which is scheduled to arrive Wednesday, is bringing a shipment of groceries and 7,400 pounds of space station cargo along with some Christmas presents for the awaiting crew.

Boschat posted his photos of the boosters on message boards for the astronomy community, and garnered both admiration and a little jealousy. He said he even earned praise from someone who works at NASA.

It’s the third time Boschat, who has studied astronomy for 57 years, has captured such an incident on film.

In 1986, he caught photos of an unannounced Japanese rocket launch and in 2001, he photographed the breakup of an old Soviet Union rocket booster.

“When I’m long gone, hopefully someone will say ‘Hey, he caught three of them.'”