Below are two videos that I put together from still frames shot the night of November 5th 2009. Each individual exposure that makes up each movie frame is 5 seconds long, and each movie represents about 10 minutes worth of images. The camera shot continuously, the only delay between frames is the download time the camera requires to store the image on disk. The imaging train is the same one that is used on virtually all the astronomical photos on this site, a 12" SCT at f/6 with a SBIG ST-9 taking the images. The telescope drive was turned off, so the stars are trailing, and the satellites (well, some of them anyway) are stationary. Each image is about 22 arc-minutes square.

If you are using Internet Explorer, the videos will loop. In Firefox, you'll have to refresh the page to get them to replay. In Google Chrome, they won't play at all. Dealing with browser (in)compatibility is very tiresome.

XM Radio and AMC TV satellites
Cosmos 2397

The non-moving objects are (left to right) XM-2 (Rock), XM-1 (Roll), XM-3 (Rhythm), and AMC-16. XM names their satellites, thus the "Rock", "Roll", and so on. All four are parked in geostationary orbits.

XM-1 and XM-2, both launched in 2001, are not being used, apparently due to a design flaw in their solar panels. XM-3 was launched in 2005 to replace XM-1. XM-1 and 2 are available as backups to XM-3 and XM-4, but at the moment they are (literally) just "taking up space". All the above XM's were launched by Sea Launch on top of Zenit-3SL rockets.

XM-1 and 2 are both Boeing 702 satellites with solar panels that span 48 meters (158 feet) which may help explain their brightness.

AMC-16 is a A2100AX satellite, built by Lockheed Martin. It was lofted by an Atlas-5 from Cape Canaveral in 2004 and provides television and other communications services.


XM-1 was retired in 2016 and, depending on the source, has either been moved to a graveyard orbit aroud 39 West, or has been deorbited.


Cosmos 2397 (2003-015A) is a Prognoz 2nd generation Russian military surveillance satellite, intended to provide early warning of missile launches from the United States. It was launched on a Proton-K rocket from Baikonur in April 2003. The web site listed it as being out-of-service due to a fuel tank problem only a month after launch.

In the original video (the above is shorted and played faster so as not to try the patience of the viewer) the flashes are consistently about 135 seconds apart through the entire 35 minute movie. In February of 2007 an observer (of whom I have no contact information) reported the flash period of 687 seconds. Could it have been hit by something causing it to increase its tumbling or rotation rate?


As of 15 March 2017, it is in a (presumably) geostationary orbit above Ethiopia and Somolia. Since it was reportedly out of service due to a fuel tank issue, I'm not sure how it got to where it is.

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Questions/comments, E-mail me at john at theastroimager dot com