News Helicopter Camera Snaps Photo of Saturn While in the Air


If you’ve ever watched the evening news on television, you’ve probably seen photos and video captured by the powerful cameras on the station’s helicopter. Here’s something interesting: on a clear night, the long reach of the helicopter’s camera can actually snap a clear photograph of the planet Saturn!

The photograph above was captured by Chopper 6, the news helicopter operated by Philadelphia’s 6ABC Action News.

Here’s a closer crop of the image, showing how clearly the camera is able to capture the rings of the gas giant:


Earth and Saturn are separated by roughly 746 million miles, or about eight times the distance between Earth and the Sun. It’s the most distant planet in our solar system that’s obviously visible to the naked eye, though to see the rings of the planet you’ll need to use a powerful telephoto lens on your camera, or a telescope for your eye… or a gyro-stabilized chopper camera.

The clarity of Chopper 6’s photo shows how effective the stabilization system on the chopper’s camera is (the photo was shot while the helicopter was flying around). Here’s a short clip showing the news station sharing the photograph:

Here’s a photo of the chopper and its camera, as seen in this video in which the station talks a little about how it captures its aerial imagery:


The camera, located on the front of the helicopter, is usually pointed downward to capture clear images of things happening on the ground (e.g. traffic, accidents, disasters):


To snap your own photographs of Saturn, you’ll need a lens with a pretty long focal length (in the high hundreds). Here’s what you’ll get with a 600mm lens:


Here’s another photo captured using a Panasonic FZ7, which has a 12x optical zoom lens that’s the equivalent of a 36-432mm lens in 35mm terms (this photo is cropped):


Not a bad shot for a fixed-lens compact camera…

Image credits: Saturn by robert.linden, Saturn by aresauburn™

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  • Felvis

    In b4 a bunch of people talking about how boring this photo/how the lighting is wrong/how this is a waste of article space.

    Cause that seriously seems to be how commenters work around here.

  • David Di Franco

    Very cool!

  • Alan Dove

    And if they can see Saturn, they can see Uranus.

  • guest

    Do we know what the specs are for the gyro camera? just curious to know, not that I need to go out and get one. Would be pretty awkward on my backpack.

    I used a 400mm 2.8 with a 2x extender and was able to get a sort of clear shot of Jupiter and 4 of the moons and Saturn. Very small of couse, but this was also on a solid tripod, on the ground and not flying around.
    Very cool

  • Mantis

    Really? What makes you think so?

    If you have ever looked through even decent pair of astronomy binoculars you’d know that objects like Saturn, Jupiter, Andromeda, and the Orion Nebula are well within view.

  • brandon

    fake, the rings are at a funny angle.

  • Mantis

    How so?

    As an amateur backyard astronomer, I’m genuinely curious what’s so funny about the angle.

  • Ferris

    As an amateur backyard astronomer, you don’t catch a lot of jokes.

  • Samuel

    You realise these gyro cameras can rotate on sever axis and it was attached to a helicopter which can also take on a range of angles and since we don’t have the original file we have no idea whether someone has rotated it in post. If i were to fake a photo of saturn i’d probably do better photo but from a chopper damn impressive.

  • cocopuff

    now that’s cool.

  • AshburnStadium

    I’m originally from the Philadelphia area, and Chopper 6 is legendary there for its capabilities. I saw the video right on WPVI-TV last night. It’s no fake.

    Chief meterologist Cecily Tynan (seen on the clip talking to Jim Gardner, who has been the dean of Philadelphia TV news for over 30 years) would not stand for something like that.

  • Samuel

    I *think* we are agreeing. A first for PP comments.

  • Niceshotguys

    Ah-the single word “fake” is humour. Now that IS subtle, isn’t it? True, you didn’t use the more common “photoshop.” There it is-in the next post!
    Nice shot Chopper 6-keep up the good work!