ISS and Shuttle images!

By Phil Plait | June 19, 2007 8:54 pm

As I wrote earlier today, the Space Shuttle Atlantis separated from the space station Tuesday morning. I happened to stumble upon the fact that they would be close together for a while, and decided to check my local view. They would pass almost directly overhead at 10:00 p.m. local time! Added bonus: they would be pretty bright, so I could easily get good pictures of them.

So I did.

(Click on the images for bigger ones hosted on Flickr.)

The image above is of the two as they rose through the trees north of my house. The Shuttle is the fainter streak on the left, and the ISS is brighter (it’s pretty big now) on the right. Note that they are on slightly different tracks: since Atlantis undocked, it was on a slightly different orbital path. The blotches in the sky aren’t clouds, they’re from crud inside my camera. I need to get it cleaned.

This one is cool: as they passed overhead, they went past the Big Dipper; you can see the handle stars on the left (including Mizar and Alcor, a close double star).

Each picture is a 13 second exposure. During that time, each of those spacecraft moved about 60 miles, or 100 kilometers or so. There are seven people on board Atlantis, and three on the ISS. We put people in space, and you can see it from the ground. No telescope, no binoculars, just you, your eyes, and a little foresight to know when and where to look.

And while they’re separating more and more every hour, you should really check and see if you can see them from your location. It’s worth it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (44)

  1. Thanks for the reminder Phil! Just double checked the schedule I printed from heavens above several days ago, and they will be visible from Sunnyvale in about 20 minutes, with a negative magnitude. Will be headed outside shortly.

  2. Supernova

    Awesome! Looks like you’re enjoying that clear mountain air! Too foggy here in the Bay Area tonight to see anything. :(

  3. Supernova Says: “Awesome! Looks like you’re enjoying that clear mountain air!”

    You’ve obviously never been to Denver :-)

    “Too foggy here in the Bay Area tonight to see anything. ”

    Well, come over the hill to Livermore. It’s been brilliantly clear all week.

    – Jack

  4. Chip

    We were out walking our friend’s dog in Sacramento at 10:38 PM and saw them pass over. Wow – really bright and moving fast. They both faded out toward what I think was basically the East just after passing the zenith directly overhead.

  5. Navneeth

    Wonderful shots!

    Alas I cannot see them from here. :(

  6. shoeshine boy

    I saw the ISS for the first time Monday evening. I figured that with the shuttle docked, and the new solar panels, it would be easier to see, so I paid a visit to heavens-above. It predicted a fairly early evening pass near the north star with a magnitude of around zero. Since even I can find the north star, I figured this was the perfect opportunity.

    So, I aligned my watch to NIST, plotted the track and dragged my wife onto the back deck. We were not disappointed. The ISS/shuttle pair rivaled Venus for brightness, and we could even see some shape to the ISS with our naked eyes.

    As a bonus, on the western horizon we got a moon and planet show.

    Very cool.

  7. DenverAstro

    I missed it dangit. I was in my garage last nite struggling with a scope. I have a 5″ Maksutov that I was trying to mount on a slick little alt/az mount I just got recently and wouldnt ya know, the dovetail plate I have doesnt work with the rings on the Mak. Bloody hell. I got so frustrated, I gave up and went to bed. :o)

  8. Leslie C

    I saw them last night, they were about 2 degrees or so apart. My husband wondered how many UFO reports there would be…

  9. shoeshine boy

    Sadly, the weather didn’t cooperate last night. It would have been nice to see the ISS and Shuttle in tandem. Maybe next time.

  10. Moose

    Saw them at 10pm sharp. I was worried that the rising haze would obscure them, but no, it stayed clear enough. Really made my night.

  11. SteveT

    Saw them almost directly overhead in MN at 9:30PM! I was worried that it wouldn’t be dark enough at that point, but they were easily visible in the early evening darkness.

    I let my 9yo daughter stay up late to watch with me and my wife. She was VERY excited to see them! It was incredible to watch their relative visible separation get smaller and smaller as they got closer to the horizon. You don’t usually get to observe obvious parallax when looking at things that look like stars!

    I had the same thought as you, Phil, about how cool it was to be able to see people in space with just my unaided eyes.

  12. hale_bopp

    Is it just my computer screen, or can you see a slight difference in color between the Shuttle and ISS? That’s not surprising given the fact that they have different reflective properties, but it is cool to see.


  13. CS

    The NASA and the Heavens Above trackings do not match.
    For example, for my location NASA shows:
    Wed Jun 20/09:17 PM 26 deg approach ENE

    While Heavens Above shows:
    Wed Jun 20/09:13 PM 10 deg. approach NW

    Any clue of the reason why?

  14. Dave W

    Hey BA,

    Try Mikes Camera in Boulder. They do a decent job cleaning optics & such. Otherwise, nice pics.

  15. Tom

    I took some shots of them Monday night, but went in closer with a 12″ LX200.




  16. DennyMo

    Tom, thanks for that animated GIF!

    HeavensAbove says I should be able to see it around 11pm tonight in southern Indiana, hope the boys can stay awake that late with me. The weather looks like it’ll cooperate, too!

  17. Sterngucker

    Hello all!

    Nice pictures!

    I visited yesterday evening a friend of mine, and as we sat on his veranda, free sight to south/south-west, somewhat to the eastern and western because of the roof, at about 22:30 CEST, i saw a little light, fliyng from south to north, and on the close right of it a little glim. And i said, as the “astronomer” of my clique, “awww….the ISS…and right of it it looks like the spaceshuttle docked..quite cool, isn’t it?” (despite the fact that the ISS never flies from south to north) and we watched…then i took the binoculars and saw that it was actually an airplane and the little light to it’s right was the left position light of it *shame* 😀

    But roughly 5 min later i saw 2 lights coming from the south-eastern direction and was astonished (haven’t read news yesterday in the afternoon, so i didn’t know the Spaceshuttle has docked off already) and wathced a little bit and then i knewed, this was the ISS and the Spaceshuttle. The dots were approximately a moon-diameter apart and it took long, really long, till it wasn’t able to see it.

    It was a really good show. Haven’t seen anything like that in my roughly young life 😀 It’s a pitty i haven’t had a Camera ready to hand.

    As i watched this, i questioned myself how the nightsky might look in 50 years, full of satelites, some telescopes (hopefully) and spacestations (hopefully).
    Great 😀

    Sience is just so cool 😉

    Greetings from Bavaria

    PS.: Great site Phil! Keep at it! :)

  18. They were great here in Chicago last night. I am looking forward to tonight’s pass as well. The ISS was distinctly orange-ish at first, and changed color to white as it passed overhead. It’s also brighter than the Shuttle now.

    I put some images and animation of the whole pass here.

  19. Sergeant Zim

    My husband wondered how many UFO reports there would be…

    Well, since ‘Everybody Knows’ that the US space program is completely dependant on alien space science, any time the ISS or Shuttle are spotted, it’s really a case of UFO – right?

    *sarcastic mode off*

  20. Moxy

    I saw them from outside of Chicago, and it was just amazing. My only regret was not telling more people they would be able to see it.

  21. Ray M

    I checked the “Heavens Above” web site and saw that both the ISS and the shuttle were due to pass overhead at 21:19 eastern. Sure enough, there they were, with maybe 20 degrees separating them – almost as though the ISS was towing the shuttle on a long line.

    Great stuff, and thanks fro reminding me to look!

  22. Ray M

    I checked the “Heavens Above” web site and saw that both the ISS and the shuttle were due to pass overhead at 21:19 eastern. Sure enough, there they were, with maybe 20 degrees separating them – almost as though the ISS was towing the shuttle on a long line.

    Great stuff, and thanks for reminding me to look!

  23. Travis

    I could make the same lines using MS Paint.

  24. Beautiful, simply beautiful!

  25. money

    Hey you will make money with those digg traffic!

  26. Troy

    I saw ISS too, my first time with the Shuttle attached.

  27. Max Fagin

    The ISS and Shuttle just flew over Colorado again. Almost as good a sight as last night!

  28. Amanda

    Great shots… they almost look cartoony, I love it.

  29. R S James

    Had my brain off last night. I was in a friend’s driveway at about 9:25 EDT, and it was still pretty light out. We saw two bright spots moving in tandem and made a comment about “two planes following each other.” We were near an airport, so seeing planes on approach with landing lights is pretty common. I thought about the fact they were too close together for landing. I thought about the fact they were too far apart for military formation flying. I thought about the fact that they were at the wrong altitude and location for landing. I thought about the fact that they were not moving towards me (You only see the landing lights when the plane heads towards you.) I knew the shuttle had just undocked from the ISS, and what’s more, yeasterday afternoon I had thought about Thierry Legault’s photo of Atlantis and the ISS against the sun! Did I put any of this together last night? Nope, not ’till this morning when I looked at the photos on the BA blog. Like I said, my brain was off last night!

  30. Great shots, thanks for sharing. I saw the shuttle lift off from a distance once when I was in Daytona Beach, and when I lived in Austin I once saw the shuttle on approach streak across Texas – ran inside and saw the landing live minutes later back in Florida. Both were very cool, I’d like to see them overhead next time!

  31. Was the ISS in front of the shuttle, or vice-versa? I assumed the shuttle was in front when I saw them Thursday night because showed the shuttle as 0.5 magnitude brighter than the ISS, and the brighter one was out in front.

    Can anyone clarify this? Was heavens-above just plain wrong?

  32. Wow you must have a pretty good camera to get pictures like that.

  33. Charlie in Dayton

    Was over at Mom’s last nite to haul the trash to the curb, and noodged her enough to come out in the yard to watch the ISS pass. Didn’t even think of the Shuttle being close…we got us a twofer on that one…

    Fascinating and utterly beautiful…Venus…Saturn…Denebola…the Moon…Arcturus…Antares…Jupiter…and the ISS and Shuttle shootin’ right through them all…

  34. Kevin in Downingtown

    I checked heavens above, and sure enough, ISS was flying over Pennsylvania at 21:42. Took the kids out to a nearby soccer field with a great view all around, and saw the ISS flying West to East… then about a minute or two later, we see another object right behind… I thought maybe it was another satellite… it definitely disappeared at the same point in the sky that the ISS did, so I new it was something in orbit. So when we came back, I checked heavens above, and eventually read that the shuttle didn’t land thursday as expected… what do you know, we saw the shuttle, too! Thanks for the tip, but it brought up some intesting discussions about planets and space… we never did anything like this before, but I think we will be in the future… I’m going to look into a good pair of binoc’s to start with, and maybe later a telescope.

  35. The camera I have is an off-the-shelf digital camera with 5 Megapixels. Shots like this aren’t too hard to get. I have a nice tripod, and I had the camera set manually for time exposures at f/5.6. Any decent digital camera should do well, and if you have a film SLR you can do a lot better, too.

  36. k-man

    Thanks, Phil – I finally decided to try some sky shots – and was very pleased with the results ( ). Like Kevin, I wasn’t expecting to see the shuttle, either – stopped showing times for it. It’s definitely something that I’m going to start doing more of!.

  37. Nice shot. I should have thought to use flash in mine to illuminate the trees better. Here it is:

    Click the photo for the full image.

  38. jill

    do you know how many miles away from earth the space shuttle was when you saw it?

  39. Belcavitch

    this is amazing our family just saw the ISS pass over our house this is something we will be looking forward to in the days to come, something we never new about truly amazing!


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