Space walker from the ground

By Phil Plait | April 10, 2009 2:30 pm

Hey, remember the picture I posted of the ISS and Shuttle as seen from the ground by an amateur astronomer Ralf Vandebergh? It was very cool, right?

Yeah, well, check this out. It’s another image by Vandebergh, and may show an astronaut doing an EVA on the ISS. Wow. I can’t tell if it’s actually showing what’s claimed or not, but given the size constraints, yeah, it’s certainly possible.

That oughta make your Friday afternoon a little more surreal.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures

Comments (26)

  1. GGremlin

    And how much will THIS image get on ebay ūüėČ

  2. Davidlpf

    When the astronaut finally found a place where he could be alone someone taking a picture of him from Earth.

  3. Ethanol

    Damn paparazzi!


    Yeah, well, I had tried to submit that APOD feature to Digg early this morning, but some lazy bastard who could NOT be bothered to copy-and-paste a few lines of the description before submitting it, beat me to it. I HATE inconsiderate Diggers who do that!

  5. Extremely cool, if that really is a glimpse of an astronaut.

  6. justcorbly

    Have the Powers-That-Be ever released an example that shows what their toys can do?

    If memory serves, images only below some specific altitude taken by ground-tracking scopes are released to avoid giving away the scopes’ capabilities.

  7. SeanDudeMan

    He was probably clearing a wedgie from his ass at that very moment.

  8. Maria

    Or…… could be an alien checking out the station *ducks for cover*

    Either way, very cool :-)

  9. Chas, PE

    Joe! Hey Joe!! You’re fly’s open!

  10. Michelle

    Ho. Ly. SHEET.

    What a feat.

  11. TheProbe

    Speaking of the ISS, could you use your NASA contacts to have them name the new latrine after Colbert? They will announcxe the name on Tuesday on his show. Imagine if NASA astronaut announced that the latrine is named after him…

  12. Chip

    USAToday website has a cool animation showing how the ISS has grown over the years:

  13. Myleft foot

    Yeah, but where’s the giant nebulous hand trying to crush him? I thought you said this was “very cool”? Well I, for one, want much cooler images now.


  14. MadScientist


    Memory doesn’t serve so well then. Big telescopes = more light = shorter exposure time, however the atmosphere conspires against you. For a good idea of what it’s like looking down, have a look at the ‘quickbird’ images which have a fairly high resolution – sure you can do better but why – pointing and selecting what data to view just become a bigger issue. With larger apertures on the ground you can get a better image looking up at the ISS; you can do a quick calculation of the ultimate telescope resolution to get an idea of how many pixels will make up an astronaut on the ISS. (Maybe the BA will be kind enough to do the calculations or post a plot of theoretical resolution vs. effective aperture size.) Since this guy is taking images while manually tracking his telescope, he’s doing very well.

    There really aren’t any secrets about what people can see with telescopes; it’s not as if there’s a global conspiracy to hide physics from non-military users. You can even trawl the web and find a lot of articles about contemporary military equipment and what they do – just don’t expect to find full specs for the instrumentation on a military bird.

  15. MKremer

    @Chip: “USAToday website has a cool animation showing how the ISS has grown over the years”

    Nice animation. Three errors with it (2 major ones, one update error):
    a) P6 did not grow like Lego blocks on top of Z1 (it’s one piece)
    b) The truss isn’t attached to Node 1, but to the Discovery lab module
    c) Node 3 will attach to the side of Node 1 (opposite the airlock module)

  16. andyb

    “an astronaut doing an extravehicular activity on the ISS”
    “an astronaut doing extravehicular activity on the ISS”
    All sounds ugly. Is one grammatically incorrect?

  17. astronaut doing activity
    an extravehicular on ISS

    wondered if I could diagram that sentence or not……..



  18. It’s not often you look up into space and see a human being outside of a spacecraft.

  19. justcorbly


    I wasn’t suggesting a conspiracy, or a theoretical interest in optics. I was just curious if NASA or anyone else had released similar images. It’s a fact, though, that the technoloogy used to look up can also be used to look down, and the government does not release images displaying the full capabilities of either.

  20. The Mad LOLScientist, FCD

    A commenter on another site said that based on the spacewalker’s location, it was probably Joe Acaba. I don’t know if it is, but I do know Ralf Vandebergh is DA MAN!

  21. Adrian Lopez


    There is no conspiracy to conceal the capabilities of telescopes, nor could the government do anything to prevent research or educational institutions from fully exploiting and demonstrating the capabilities of the quite modern telescopes in their possession.

  22. justcorbly

    Adrian, where did I say anything about a conspiracy? I just wondered if the government had released images of similar or better quality, and pointed to fact that the government does not release images demonstrating the full capabilities of similar telescopes, i.e., reconnaissance satellites.

  23. NGC3314

    This is hearsay, and therefore not quite evidence, but I once spoke to a telescope operator who had worked at one of the USAF facilities. He described them being able to tell the arm positions of cosmonauts working outside on Mir. (This is the kind of application that got the USAF to spend a lot of money on adaptive optics while astronomers were, in comparison, practically tinkering in their garages).

  24. coolstar

    Since the pioneering work of Ron Dantowitz starting over a decade ago it’s only been a matter of time, patience, and skill until someone was also *lucky* enough to get an image of an astronaut during a spacewalk. Congrats to Vandebergh for being that person! Dantowitz has recounted how his images got him a visit by people most likely working for organizations with abbreviations of 3 letters……..
    In terms of looking the OTHER way, I’ve been telling my students for a couple of decades that they ought to be a little concerned about who is watching when they’re on a deserted beach or rooftop. A couple of years ago the USAF GAVE away (practically speaking) a $20M+ adaptive optics 4 meter class mirror to researchers at the Air Force Academy (for unclassified use, one of the folks is a foreign national). That can only lead one to believe that they (and associated others) are currently flying optics with considerably greater capability. Holographically corrected inflatable optics anyone?


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