Not so close encounter

By Phil Plait | May 8, 2007 11:42 am

What is this???

An insect and the Moon? A UFO near a streetlight? A Photoshop job?

Nope. It’s the International Space Station, passing near Venus in broad daylight.

How cool is that? It was taken yesterday by the accomplished photographer Etienne Simian of Saint Martin de Crau from the south of France. He was using a relatively modest 8″ telescope and a webcam, which amazes me. You can actually make out details on the station! Venus, if you have been living in a basement the past few weeks, is glowing like a beacon in the west after sunset, incredibly bright. You can see it fairly easily in the daytime if you know just where to look.

The space station orbits the Earth, and you can find out if it passes overhead at your location by using any number of planetarium software packages (my favorite way is to go to Heavens Above). I go out several times a month to see it pass across the sky, in fact. For M. Simian, it happened to sail very near Venus… I looked up Venus’s stats, and it’s about 17 arcseconds across, so the ISS was about 5 arcminutes away when this image was taken. For comparison, the Moon is about 30 arcminutes across in the sky, so this was a very close encounter! But only apparently: the station was a few hundred miles from the photographer, but Venus was about 90 million miles away.

Some close encounters aren’t as close as you might think.

Tip o’ the chapeau to Larry Klaes, and to Spaceweather, which is hosting that image.


Comments (20)

  1. Cameron

    I just wish the clouds would clear up, it’s been raining for the last two weeks and school was closed yesterday due to flooding. I WANT TO GET MY TELESCOPE OUT!!!

  2. I’m astonished! I think it is right up there with that picture of the shuttle and space station crossing in front of the Sun.

  3. JSW

    It looks like a Rebel airspeeder. Will we soon see AT-ATs marching on France?

  4. This just further illustrates the amazing things encoded in the radiation all around us, and that we won’t see them if we don’t look!

  5. Rosemary

    That is brilliant! I agree, it looks a bit like a Tie Fighter!

    If you use iGoogle (used to be called Google Homepage) there’s a page gadget called ‘Satellite Tracking’ that shows a few different satellites and their place over the Earth. One of them is the ISS.

  6. Troy

    The space station is good for something…astrophotography!

  7. Grand Lunar

    Too cool!

    Kinda reminds me of last weekend’s remastered episode of ‘Star Trek’, “Tomorrow is Yesterday”, with the Big E in the clouds. Of course, THIS is real!

  8. So how many missions to Venus could we fund with the money tied up in that station?

  9. Freebaser
  10. Very cool, I too want to get my new telescope out, but it’s cloudy every night! Soon there won’t be any more night for months.

  11. Ed Davies

    It’s a commonly observed but not scientifcally well understood phenomenon than new telescopes actually cause clouds. My theory is that it is off-gassing from the materials used for telescope packaging that provides the condensation nuclei required for cloud formation.

  12. Trebuchet

    Lovely! I’m assuming the elongation of Venus is caused by tracking the Space Station, right?

  13. Kyle Edwards

    I’m assuming the elongation of Venus is caused by tracking the Space Station, right?

    Venus is getting close closer to a 50% phse right now, so it could just be the shape of the planet.

  14. Irishman

    Trebuchet, Venus goes through phases just like the Moon. The elongation is caused by being somewhere near 50%, i.e. Venus appears to be slightly gibbous in that photo. Also, Venus appears slightly overexposed in order for the ISS to be visible.

  15. Buzz Parsec

    Ed Davies, if you are right, you may have nailed the 2nd free parameter in weather forecasting. (The 1st being that trailer parks attract tornados.) The government would have to register all telescope purchases and include a GPS in them so their locations could be tracked acurately… So that’s the real reason they’re forcing telescope manufacturers to include GPS-enabled automatic tracking systems in new telescopes!


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