Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The view from your app - birds eye view of a searchlight at night

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I was browsing through some photos from one of our night flights from last year when I came across this image (click to emblinden):

Birds eye view of a searchlight by Christopher Kyba is licensed
under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
It's a "birds eye view" of what it looks like when you pass close to the beam of a searchlight. The city appears dark (other than the blinding spot) because I was trying to minimize motion blur. I've enhanced the image below to give you a bit more of a feel for how bright these things look when you view them with your naked eye.

To help give a scale of how insanely bright the spot is, to 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. When we fly over a city at night, I occasionally see points of light that are actually painful to look at, even from 10,000 feet up, and in most cases my best guess is that they are floodlights, not searchlights. I can only wonder how migrating birds react to these kinds of lights. Are they blinded? Do they fly towards them?

I am pretty sure that we didn't pass into the exact beam of the searchlight, both because that is statistically very unlikely and because the view looked similar for several seconds (several hundred meters). But you can actually see the beam coming from a long way away, here is a photo from 72 seconds earlier (~3.5 km away), you can still see that the spot is far brighter than anything else in the city:

Distant Searchlight by Christopher Kyba is licensed
under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
It's possible that the searchlight was sweeping across the sky, in which case I had a better chance of getting an image just when it was pointed roughly towards me. But of course for a bird flying slowly over the city at night, that will happen over and over and over again!

Note for new visitors: "The view from your app"is a regular feature on this blog, and is intended to highlight good and bad outdoor lighting. The main purpose of the blog is discussing the Loss of the Night citizen science app for android phones.

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