Check. This. Out. Amazing photo of the Sun…

By Phil Plait | May 15, 2009 5:00 am

Oh man oh man, do I love this picture:

Sun by Theirry Legault

OK, so you look at it and say, "So what? It’s a picture of the quiet Sun seen in overcast conditions. Big deal!"

Ah, but a big deal it is. See those spots in the lower left quadrant of our nearest star? Those aren’t sunspots… here, let me show you what those are:

Thierry Legault, Sun, Atlantis, and Hubble

Yes, that is in fact the Space Shuttle Atlantis silhouetted against the Sun. But wait, there’s something else, isn’t there. What’s that spot below the Shuttle?

That, me droogs, is the Hubble Space Telescope. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

Holy Haleakala!

The exceptionally gifted astrophotographer Thierry Legault captured this stunning tableau just minutes before the crew of Atlantis caught up with and captured Hubble for its very last servicing mission on May 13, 2009. This shot has never been accomplished before, and it’s magnificent. He used a 13 cm telescope, and camera that took a series of 16 images of 1/8000th of second each.

If the style and photographer’s name are familiar, it’s because I chose a similar image from Legault of the ISS and Shuttle as #5 of my Top Ten Astronomy Images of 2006. He’s good, and he may very well be the only person to get in my Top Ten list twice… but there’s still many months left to make up my mind.

Until then, check out this other Shuttle+Sun image he took, posted by NASA on Flickr. Wow. That’s right out of Star Trek.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, NASA, Pretty pictures

Comments (202)

Links to this Post

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  1. Star Trek? Uh oh. I hope nobody drills a hole to the sun’s core and pours in red matter.

  2. Mat

    Is the Sun really that egg shaped!

  3. That is FREAKING AWESOME. My favorite scene in Star Trek was the Silhouette against the star. Thanks for sharing!

  4. ColonelFazackerley

    I thought I had a speck of dirt on my screen. Turns out that I could not rub Atlantis off my monitor, no matter how many wipes I used.

  5. Opiecan stole my reaction. OMfsm, that is awe-strikening.

  6. MadScientist

    Awesome — I was thinking “boring, only one set of tiny spots” except of course the spots weren’t the sort of spots I thought they were.

    @Mat: I think there is some distortion (whether it’s refraction or an artefact of the rendering I can’t tell). The ellipticity of the sun needs some care to measure; there is only about a 1 in 1000 change in proportion.

    @ColonelFazackerley: The first thing I always do is scroll the image up and down to see if the ‘dirt’ is part of the image – a trick I learned very quickly in a previous lifetime when I observed the sun.

  7. Thanks Phil – really glad I’ve seen these pictures!

  8. DrFlimmer

    @ Lauren and Opiecan:

    Mine, too! This is really incredible!!

    When I saw the whole sun at first, I thought: Well, what will this be all about? Probably about “lack of sunspots”? Would’ve been interesting…. but this story is just so beautiful – f*** the sunspots 😉

    Thanks for sharing, Phil (and the photographer, of course…)


    Solar activity is looking very minimal!

  10. QUASAR



  11. It’s not monitor dusts, it’s a spec on the telescope. Totally faked!!1

    I kid 😉 Amazing shot. I didn’t think photography like this was possible, that any sensors would get flooded too much for such fine detail to appear. Guess that doesn’t stop someone clever and determined!

  12. This is a hoax. Everyone knows the sunlandings were faked.

  13. QUASAR

    The Shuttle looks like it’s extremely close to the Sun and extremely large, bigger than the Earth, so this one is an absolute phony!

  14. Completely amazing!

    I just happened across this and was going to send it to you
    Laser Cut Hubble Space Telescope Paper Model

    Now I have to find a papercraft Shuttle to hang next to it!

  15. I have to agree with you all, that is one amazing shot. I saw the first pic and the little black shadow and thought Sunspot. Then read that it wasn’t a spot so I thought Mercury. Then I saw the zoomed image… WOW!

  16. Charles Boyer

    This is a hoax. Everyone knows the sunlandings were faked.

    Even in the movie “Sunshine.”

    Wonder what Phil thinks of that movie. It was entertaining enough, but it had a preposterous premise.

  17. @Naked Bunny lol

    Theirry Legault has some truly incredible photos on his site

  18. fastpathguru


    And to think that to take that shot, he had to lead the Sun by 8 minutes to account for the Sun’s light’s travel time…


  19. Off topic, that is a truly spectaular photo!, Phil could you do a blog on the origin of the earths magnetic field? Is it due to just the ferromagnetic dipole or is there a cuurent involved that may be coupled to the earths rotation or the Sun’s magnetic field? Is the temperature of the earths iron core known?

  20. Clive DuPort

    Isn’t Quasar a funny chap. Does he not realise the effect of different magnifications when taking photgraphs? The images are perfectly proportional when you take into account the relative distances of the Earth, Shuttle/Hubble & Sun. It does though, give the strange effect of the Shuttle/Hubble orbiting a much smaller object than our Sun.

    Absolutely SUPERB photography.

    Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Phil.

  21. sleepneeed

    Wow is truly an understatement!

  22. cyb

    I do not see how the sun can cast a shadow on itself, unless there are a object brighter then the sun on the other side of hubble.

    Anybody want to figure this one out or shall I put this in the fake-box? =)

  23. cyb

    Damed! It is a silhouette not a shadow! Now it make sense and inspire awe!

  24. John Phillips, FCD

    Way cool photo, thanks Phil. Definitely deserves a place in your top ten.

  25. Daffy

    Paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke: at last the human race has discovered something as exciting as war; unfortunately, not everyone has realized that fact.

    Just awesome.

  26. John Baxter

    Don’t fail to follow the links. (Love the photographer’s shot of painter painting out the portion of the moon going into eclipse.)

    The camera is one any of us could buy (well, in place of our next two computers plus another for some lenses), the Canon 5D mark II. I’ve seen remarkable HD video shot by that camera, of an ambient light night street scene.

  27. Electro

    Phil, could you please explain, in terms that I could use with a scientific illiterate, how we come to lose the solar corona in that shot. I mean an imaging specialist who dabbled as a NASA outreach guy must have that explanation down pat.

    I tried “the camera has a pretty heavy filter on it” but said Luddite still thinks the shot is fake.

  28. took a series of 16 images of 1/8000th of second each

    Of course he took a series of 16 images. According to his web page (see link in BA’s post), the entire transit lasted only 0.8 seconds!

  29. John Baxter:

    The camera is one any of us could buy (well, in place of our next two computers plus another for some lenses), the Canon 5D mark II.

    Hmm… List price US$2699, but an online search shows it as “low” as “only” US$1299.99.

    “But, honey, think of all the money we’re saving next year, when our youngest is out of preschool! Just think of all the fame and fortune I can make by having an image I took appear on the BABlog!” Think she’ll go for it? :-)

    Oh well. It’s probably not waterproof, and will just get ruined when I drool on it.

  30. I didn’t think the corona was particularly visible if the disc was visible, a bit like how you can’t see dim starts too close to the full moon. And it does say this was taken in overcast conditions, i.e. through a thin layer of clouds.

  31. Wayne Robinson

    … but why is the Sun yellow? I thought that you wrote in “Bad Astronomy” that it’s white…

  32. “Check. This. Out.”

    That. Is. Cool.

    @Electro: The corona is diffuse and expansive, and not intrinsically very bright compared to the Sun. You can see stars through it during an eclipse. (see

    So the same argument for why you can’t see stars in the Apollo shots applies – you’re not holding the shutter open long enough to capture enough light to see it.

  33. CJ

    great images!

    OT: but I didn’t know where to add this comment. Have you seen this “song to jenny mccarthy”? an ode sung by the mumps, measles and rubella:

  34. spaceface

    Photoshopped/NASA’d whatever you wanna call it. I’ll be the first to call this a hoax then..
    Where are the original raw photographs? I don’t buy that you can photograph anything ‘against’ the Sun, so please enlighten me.

    I’m open for information, not stories.

  35. Once more, the achievements of talented people are showcased, thereby rubbing my nose yet again in my own averageness. Sighhhhhhh.

  36. Thanny


    If you think it looks egg-shaped in that picture, I’d check your monitor settings. It looks perfectly round on a square-pixel display, and each dimension is the same size.

    The sun rotates so slowly (about once every 27 days under the covers – the surface rotates at variable speeds) that its flattening cannot be detected in a simple photograph.

  37. thesunisgod

    its definately doctored.
    1. the sun isnt spherical like that
    2. its edges arent that defined
    3. the texture isnt so unform, 2009 should have had some spots as 2012 is the minimum

    So the picture has no scientific value at all but it does look nice.

  38. John


    This sun is tens of millions of miles away from Earth.

    The shuttle orbits just a few hundred miles away.

    Of course, when you put the shuttle in front of the sun without accounting for the vast distances between the two, it won’t appear to be to scale.

  39. dhtroy

    Wow. Just wow. There’s nothing like seeing pictures like that to make one feel small and insignificant.

    We are but Whos in Whoville.

  40. Dynaglide

    This picture just resized my brain. I could only marvel, What an age we live in.

  41. favvr

    I think that should be Thierry Legault …

  42. When makes fun of you, you know you’re a wack job. I would submit this to Phil, but frankly I have no idea how to do that.

  43. Wendy

    FANTASTIC photo!!!!

  44. magista

    Is it my monitor, or some lens artifact, or can you actually see some granulation on the surface of the sun?

  45. SteveG

    I don’t think the shuttle should fly that close to the sun.

    Do astronauts get white stuff for their noses?

  46. GJeff

    The sun is egg-shaped if you hold the egg with the end pointing at you and looking at it that way. Am I annoying everybody yet?

  47. that is a very large ufo, close to the sun its simple as that. it could be big as the earth or bigger !

    the earth is a very small dot against the sun ! this thing is the same.

  48. @wayne robinson: I asked him that very same thing on twitter and he never answered me. It’s a conspiracy, I tells ya!

    Well, more likely it’s because the image’s color balance was adjusted to make it look yellow. There’s no other objects in the image to provide a known color reference, and even if there were they’d probably be very dark due to the sun being very bright.

  49. Maya (and other 3D software) models ‘incandescence’ by pumping flat cartoon color into an object to mimic light radiating equally in all directions, but it looks like from the photo that even a radiant ball like the sun actually has falloff at the edges

  50. Kennith Perry

    That is simply amazing.

  51. We saw a similar, but better quality photo almost two years ago. This was definitely not the first of it’s kind.

  52. Ray and Wendy, I linked to the ISS photo in my blog post. which is what I think you mean. This is the first time the Shuttle and Hubble have been photographed in this way.

  53. Amazing photos. Was anybody else glad they were safe in front of their computer and not next to the sun? Actually, what was not in the pictures is even scarier. Where are the sunspots?

  54. Bob
  55. Mark M

    I don’t think this would be possible with a digital camera as the photo sensors would get fried. I would be very concerned about the metering system. This photo would have been made on film and scanned. My question is, what type of polarization was used?

  56. event.horizon

    Most probably this is NOT a hoax.

    Found a similar photo at

    Some people say the space shuttle is too big, some say it too near to the Sun. come on folks, it is big because it is NOT too near to the Sun, it near to the Earth.

  57. Mark M

    Upon further review, I suppose it could have been made digitally, but I am still curious about the filters used. Did he use two circular polarizers, slightly out of phase?

  58. Did any of you wondering how this was done actually click on the link to Thierry’s site? He used a digital camera, a solar filter, and very short exposures.

  59. Mill

    Umm if that is a shadow on the Sun anyone know where the light source is coming from? Earth? hehe think the shadow should be opposite way of the Sun? Just trying to say Sun is up for us and shadows are down.

  60. Specifically, a Baader solar prism which cuts out over 95% of the sunlight, and an exposure time of 1/8000th of a second.

    Poe or not, all the comments above about how fake this must be are troubling. Not because someone might think it’s fake, but because people who wondered how it was done didn’t simply follow the links and see how the guy did it! Jeebus, it’s only a few twitches of your fingers away!

  61. That’s not the shuttle, it’s Galactica!


  62. MartyM

    The “egg” shape is an optical illusion based on the image being square containing a dark background against the white space of this web page. You get the appearance of the sides of the sun being narrow or “squeezed” in the photo. If the web page background was dark like the photo’s background (as shown in the linked site) the sun looks completely round.

    Very nice photo indeed!

  63. Jeffersonian

    Yeah this one’s way awesome.
    5Q + 5Q

  64. The comments on this thread are quickly destroying my faith in humanity. Apparently people don’t know what silhouettes are, nor are they aware of perspective.

    Seriously, while this particular photo takes good timing, it’s not that difficult to get things in front of the sun. All you need is a camera with enough power and a solar filter. Instead of screaming hoax, why don’t you guys actually try learning something about how its done?

  65. Mount

    Blam! New desktop background. With that kind of resolution in the second photograph I wonder if he could resolve an astronaut during a spacewalk.

  66. Bill Nettles

    Something doesn’t seem right. Hubble altitude of 590 km gives an orbit radius of 6970 km. That would give an angular speed around the Earth of 1.08 milliradians per second or 0.062 degrees per second (an orbital period of 96 minutes, which is reasonable).

    If the transit took 0.8 s (which is what Spaceweather and a previous commenter said), then it only transited 1/20 arc-degrees. The sun is 1/2 (half) a degree. Did it really slice across a small edge (that was only 1/10 the width of the solar disk), or am I missing something here?

  67. Susie V Kaufman

    Ohhhhhhhhhhh, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I was out-loud gasping!


  68. Brian


  69. @ Bill Nettles:

    Here’s the info that Legault used from Calsky dot com:

    Crosses the disk of Sun. Separation=0.014° Position Angle=185.7°. Transit duration=0.75s
    Angular diameter=16.1″ size=37.0m x 24.0m x 10.0m
    Satellite at Azimuth=223.5° SW Altitude= 77.6° Distance=578.1 km
    In a clock-face concept, the satellite will seem to move toward 10:08
    Angular Velocity=42.2’/s

    Centerline, closest point: Longitude= 80°43’40” W Latitude=+28°18’11” (WGS84) Distance=0.14 km Azimuth=188.7° S Path direction= 98.7° E ground speed=7.182 km/s width=5.4 km max. duration=0.7 s

    So it would appear the spacecraft only cut across a small slice of the sun’s disk, the transit taking less than a second to do so.

    @ Brian:


    Just like the idiot UFO nuts who claim old home movies of flying saucers on strings can’t be fake because “they didn’t have computers then.”

    FSM, how on earth did anyone ever do anything without a frakking computer?

  70. GR

    @Joseph Francis

    I’m not sure that this is what you’re seeing, but the sun does show what’s known as “limb darkening”. The edges of the sun are dimmer because you’re seeing through less material than the middle.

    Of course, it could just be an artifact of the filter he used, or something wonky with the lens or the camera.

  71. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    people who wondered how it was done didn’t simply follow the links and see how the guy did it! Jeebus, it’s only a few twitches of your fingers away!

    Never underestimate peoples laziness.

    [The fun thing (fing?) is that the brain exerts more energy between rest and active state than those finger muscles will. In this case being lazy is an herculean task. I dunno how they do it…]

  72. Sosh


    How great is the God’s made.

  73. DorXtar

    Do you love this picture as much as God loves you? Hee-hee. Buuuurn.

  74. Wayne Robinson

    I have taken photos of the Sun through a solar filter through the branches of a tree and you do see the silhouette of the branches on the image, so the image is entirely plausible. In my images, the Sun has a white “colour”, so the image has been adjusted to give a more pleasing yellow colour.

  75. I found another photo that’s not posted here or on Thierry Legault’s site. It shows the shuttle from the side.

  76. godzilla

    fake. how can the sun be so small…and the shuttle is that big?

  77. StevoR

    Great photo. THX :-)

    I vote that for top 10 images of 09. 😉

    But seeing that the “sunspot” is ‘Atlantis’ instead and there are therefore NO sunspots visible it does kind of make me more worried about what our Sun is doing currently .. Its quiet. Too quiet.

    Hope we aren’t heading for another Maunder minimum.

    I miss the auroras. Not that I’ve ever seen seen a really good one. Well in person that is.

  78. Flying sardines

    Bad Astronomer – a request for you if I may :

    Can you post an article here on just what *is* going on our Sun & its (currently stalled? Or justa bit late?) at the moment?

    It seems to be something quite mysterious and not-quite-right and also something with pretty big possible implications…


  79. Flying sardines

    Make that :

    “Can you post an article here on just what *is* going on with our Sun & its (currently stalled / or just a bit late?) sunspot cycle at the moment?”


    Plus while on requests, for pity’s sake, please, please, please can we do something about getting an editing ability for these comments here?

  80. Clive DuPort

    With ref. to the colour (English spelling), the yellowing could easily be caused by atmospheric conditions at the time the pictures were taken.

    I can also see granulation on the surface of the Sun when I embiggen (thanks for the word, Phil) the pictures.

    I have absolutely NO doubt that these incredible pictures are 100 percent genuine.

  81. Grammar Nazi

    NO thanks to using the non-word “embiggen”. :-(

    There are already perfectly good words like ‘enlarge’ & ‘increase size’ and ‘magnify’ that work better and which are grammatically correct, thankyou very much.

    Please use them in future, Dr Phil Plait.

    The uncorrupted english language needs all the friends it can get.

  82. Colin

    Grammar Nazi is talking lolbocks!

  83. anon

    This is beautiful, and some of you are so simply stupid and do not deserve to see or witness anything like this ever.

  84. Karen

    So very cool. Thanks for sharing…

  85. Grammar Nazi

    I probably shouldn’t even ask but “lolbocks”? What the blazes is ‘lolbocks’?

    Other than another non-word of course.

  86. Daffy

    Grammar Nazi,

    a) You need a sense of humor.

    b) Thank you is two words.

    c) The punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.

    d) The abbreviation for doctor requires a period.

    e) The first quotation mark is “, not ‘.

    d) Sigh.

  87. dennyg

    I once Photoshopped ET crossing the moon.

  88. Bill Nettles

    Grammar Nazi has earned a grade of “F” on both comments. There is a sentence fragment in each of them. That is unacceptable writing.

    The photograph is truly amazing. When one realizes how close the shuttle is (about 350 miles up) and how far away the sun is (93 million miles up), the apparent sizes make sense.

    Godzilla, unless you are joking, how is it that you can cover the sun with your hand? The sun must be really small, right?

  89. blf

    First off, that is an amazing photograph extremely unlikely to be fake. And as others have noted, it seems some people have never heard of either perspective or doing some reseach (e.g., following the link).

    Whilst Grammar Nazi is being silly (albeit I suspect he/she thinks he/she is serious)—language evolves for rude word sake (Grammer Nazi, had he/she lived in Shakespeare’s time, would have disapproved of Shakespeare)—a common British style is to use ‘…’ whilst a common USAian style is to use “…”. The punctuation in-or-outside quotes nit is a contentious issue with perhaps the best advice being be consistent, either is Ok unless it changes the meaning; and a common (but not universal) British practice is drop the full-stop (period) after some abbreviations.

    A Preview functionality, at the minimum, please? Please? (I my option, it’d better than an Edit functionality, but as long as I can preview before posting I don’t care too much whether or not I can also edit after posing…)

    Back on topic (and repeating myself ;- ), an amazing photograph! Good job.

  90. nxsus6

    God’s Creation!

  91. blf

    And of course, in my whingeing about the lack of Preview I made exactly the sort of mistake Preview is a decent help in helping to spot. Should be “In my opinion…”, obviously.

  92. Grammar Nazi

    @ Daffy:

    a) I do have a sense of humour.

    b) ‘Thankyou’ can be one word as well. It is frequently written that way & as blf noted language does evolve. I’d just like its evolution to be reasonable & not devolution as a result of illiterate or joke word choices by people who should know better.

    c) As blf also noted regarding punctuation & quotation marks this is not always the case.

    d) Dr vs Dr. Either is acceptable as far as I understand.

    e) “lolbocks” & ‘lolbocks ‘ – in the first case I was quoting Colin, in the second I was ‘air-quoting’ the word for emphasis. Incidentally, still no answer on the meaning of lolbocks. Does anyone know what that is supposed to mean? I don’t.

    f) NOT d) again. Sigh back at you! 😉

    @ Bill Nettles:

    “Grammar Nazi has earned a grade of “F” on both comments. There is a sentence fragment in each of them. That is unacceptable writing.”

    Now whose being nitpicky? 😉

    (Well okay, probably both of us.) Honestly, I disagree. Sentence fragments might not be the best grammar however, as long as they make sense in context I do notconsider them to be that major a problem. IMHO.

    @ blf: Regarding US & UK customs – here in Australia we get a weird mixture of both as well as our own Aussie regional quirks and twists upon the language. Given that the language is *English* perhaps we should all consider following the English rules? After all it is their langauge!

    American english? There is NO such thing really – there is merely the American dialect of English.

    The French are notoriously fussy and controlling about their language. It coccurs to me that perhaps we would be well advised to follow the French example and not allow our language to be corrupted away into mutually intelligable dialects and slang.

    How serious am I? Well, can I not make serious points in a humerous way? Or, for that matter, vice versa? 😉

    At least I’ve got a few people thinking and talking about grammar and language use which is something. :-)

  93. Grammar Nazi

    A few minor corrections:

    I) do notconsider them = I do not consider them

    II) It coccurs to me = It occurs to me

    III) humerous = humorous

    Mea culpa. We are all fallible human beings, myself included.

    I contend though that enough grammar and spelling mistakes get made inadvertantly without us needing to further degrade our langauge by deliberately introducing illiterate-isms like (yuck) “embiggen.”

  94. dja

    Truly amazing photos.

    Although, another thing I notice, that I haven’t found any mention of so far, is that I clearly see very faint bands in the Legault’s solar photos. I assume they are latitudinal bands, similar to the cloud banding on our local gas giant planets (but much fainter). Does anyone else see them? I see at least four of them on the right side of the Sun and a fifth on the left side (if I mess around with the image’s contract in photoshop), But they appear in the same place in both photos. Based on the bands, it looks like the Sun’s poles are at 3 & 9 o’clock in these photos.

    I just found that surprising because I’ve just never heard of any mention of banding on the surface of the sun. I’m no expert of course, but there does appear to be some. I suppose that makes sense since it’s essentially a large rotating ball of gas, but I’ve seen a few solar photos before and never ever seen any banding.

  95. Fly By

    Grammar Nazi said:
    I contend though that enough grammar and spelling mistakes get made inadvertantly without us needing to further degrade our langauge by deliberately introducing illiterate-isms like (yuck) “embiggen.”

    You. Are. Right. Just because language evolves (and it will, of its own due course) does not mean that we must cheerfully corrupt it willy-nilly. What the popularization of ridiculous words like “embiggen” shows is the powerful impact and indoctrination of the media and common (meaning ‘uneducated’) culture on the demoralization and defragmentation of the educated mind, and the handing of knowledge and intellectual refinement from generation to generation. Try reading some editorials from a hundred years ago – or even fifty years ago, written by well-versed, educated observers of life and all its foibles and scientific or human attainments. You will find an entirely different vocabulary, with increasing dimensions for complexity the farther back you go. Are we being corrupted? Yes, I would say so.

    So saying, “Long live the advancement of the human intellect and the development of the mind and the talents God has given to all of us!” Huzzah.

  96. Wow! Awesome photos. Totally incredible views.

  97. So, Grammar Nazi, you don’t see any problem with your handle here, yet you don’t like new words being incorporated into the language?

    Irony much?

  98. Brian Hamilton

    There’s nothing wrong with embiggen. It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

  99. Great pic!

    And English is open source!

  100. IBY

    @Grammar Nazi
    Then I am afraid language has already been corrupted from the beggining of times, and it seems irreparable… So long live new words!!! ^_^

  101. Steve


    Please look at this and rethink your handle:


  102. Grammar Nazi,

    “whose being nitpicky?” should be “who’s being nitpicky?”.

    Also, the word “Nazi” has been incorporated into English from German in unmodified form. “Nazi” is the German language contraction for “Nationalsozialist”. You’ll notice that the English translation, national socialist, has no Z in it. Therefore, to maintain linguistic purity, you’d need to drop the German loan word from your screen name, or change it to “Grammar Naci”.

    Yes, we’re all fallible, but when you claim a certain property through your screen name, and then go around lecturing other folks, you need to have your ducks in a row when it comes to that particular subject.

  103. Karina Wright

    Grammar Nazi:

    Ah: “uncorrupted english language”:

    Whilom ther was dwellynge at oxenford
    A riche gnof, that gestes heeld to bord,
    And of his craft he was a carpenter.
    With hym ther was dwellynge a poure scoler,
    Hadde lerned art, but al his fantasye
    Was turned for to lerne astrologye,

  104. Doesn’t anyone care to mention that “embiggen” is a cultural reference to the Simpsons, where it was used with deliberate humor? It’s not like Phil is just making up a word for no reason.

  105. Simon Bishop

    Did Grammar Nazi really not get the bollocks joke?

  106. Metostopholes

    @Phil Plait
    I’m sure he meant “Grammar National Socialist”, but had a typo.

  107. Grammar Nazi, there would be very few words in English if not for new “corrupted” ones – all words were new once. In addition to being descriptive, “embiggen” also serves to provide television fans with a sly reference. It’s part of a new type of internet parlance where intended mistakes, misspellings and cultural references are used to indicate/provide irony, humor, or known exaggeration. Plus, as Brian says above, it’s a perfectly cromulent word.

    Back to the subject at hand, that’s an amazing series of photos. Perspective on such a grand scale is amazing.

  108. Brian Hamilton

    On a more serious reply to Grammar Nazi: look, language, by itself, is devoid of any real meaning. It is merely a tool for the communication of ideas. It’s clear to me that causation goes the other way here, it is the sophistication of ideas and argumentation which lead to the more sophisticated use of language in the past. I would submit that it is not the degradation of the language that you ought to be lamenting, but instead the erosion of the ideas and plummeting level of discourse that is being communicated through the language.

  109. Aiden

    @mat: the pixels on your monitor aren’t square. Most likely you’re on a widescreen monitor, but using a 4:3 resolution setting.

  110. Nick

    ooh, ack. uh. uh. uh. baghb bagh , hugugh?

    Oh, I’m sorry, I started my post in the language of Homo Erectus, not wanting to encourage that nasty evolution of the language or anything.

    If you think Shakespeare is different, try reading Chaucer, or Beowulf, or anything written in “English” before 1000 CE.

  111. “Embiggens” is a perfectly cromulent word.

  112. WA

    This is just my oh-so-humble opinion, but I love that our language is so flexible as to allow us to make our own words, yet still quite effectively communicate with everyone who sees/hears it. I agree that when using existing words, spelling and (especially) punctuation rules must be honored, because they serve a purpose in how we read what we read. But, with that in mind, don’t new words, or even bastardized words, serve their own purpose? Shouldn’t we use the power of our language to every advantage?

  113. heretic23

    I was hoping for a sunny day today, even go up early to take tea into the backyard to watch it come up. Cloudy day here, so no such luck. Sunrise from space ftw!

    Also, it cracks me up when people think language is a static tool. Language, to be of any use at all, has to be dynamic. That means including new words, no matter how silly their origins may seem to us. Grammar Nazi, evolve or be rendered mute; your choice. :)

  114. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    the erosion of the ideas and plummeting level of discourse

    Like arguing about perfectly cromulent words and spelling instead of the phantastic foto at hand?

  115. IBY

    I once tried to read old English via Chaucer, and it is practically unreadable to us modern English users, and our language will probably be unreadeable centuries in the future.

  116. Pretty amazing clear photo for a blind guy – I mean if you spend that long looking at the sun LOL :) No actually a pretty cool photo.

  117. ...

    That has to be photoshopped. There is no way that the Space Shuttle is that big compared to the sun.
    However, that is a very good picture.

  118. IBY Says:
    I once tried to read old English via Chaucer,

    Actually, Chaucer is in Middle English… Olde* English reads almost like German (since English and German, like homo sapiens and other primates are from a common ancestor)



  119. Greg in Austin

    … Says:
    May 16th, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    That has to be photoshopped. There is no way that the Space Shuttle is that big compared to the sun.
    However, that is a very good picture.

    Don’t bother to follow the links to the photographers actual page to see how its done.
    Don’t bother with the math that would show the relative size of one object at a very close distance with another object at a very far distance.
    Don’t bother looking up the word “perspective.”
    Don’t bother trying it yourself.

    Just come here and proclaim your disbelief, and live happily in your ignorance.

    That’s the great thing about science. I don’t have to take Phil’s word that this is real. I don’t even have to believe Thierry Legault really took these pictures. Just knowing how it was done, I could do it myself. And so could you.


  120. Shannon

    Grammar Nazi said:
    I contend though that enough grammar and spelling mistakes get made inadvertantly without us needing to further degrade our langauge by deliberately introducing illiterate-isms like (yuck) “embiggen.”

    All though history English has been embellished with popular “made up” words. “Intellectuals” of their time were just as dissatisfied. Same subject, different century. The evolution of language.

  121. CryoTank

    Wow, that’s a pretty amazing photo.
    At first I thought I’d noticed a second “spot” but it was just a speck of dust on my screen ha ha (I’m sure Hoaxland would have seen this differently).

    @Grammar Nazi
    Ever heard of Denglisch? Now that’s a weird thing 😉

  122. Daffy

    Grammar Nazi,

    You defend popular use in your case so you can excuse your errors, and then condemn someone else’s use of neologism. Whaaa? Sorry, but you are hardly in a position to criticize someone else’s use of a language you are so sloppy with yourself.

    Btw, “embiggen” is a joke from the Simpsons. As was explained to Lisa, “it is a perfectly cromulent word.”

    Well, at least you haven’t wasted anyone’s time with preposition nonsense.

  123. StevoR

    The photo starring (sunning? 😉 ) here made the front cover (albeit a small version) of the Adelaide (South Australian) ‘Sunday Mail’ newspaper! 8)

    I got a free copy today during the “Million Paws Walk” – an RSPCA fundraisng mass dogwalk in the city – as did millions* of other Adelaideans – but I recognised it instantly from this site! 😉

    A colour copy from the aforementioned paper (sadly not full page but still) now adorns my pinboard at home. :-)
    * Okay one point something million maybe verging on two now but anyhow ..

  124. StevoR

    Forgot to specify, the paper (Sunday Mail, 2009- May-18th) had a small insert (right term?) of the ‘Atlantis on the Sun’ image on the front cover which was aclsoe upof the ‘Atlantis’ on yellow with an accompmaying article and full colour (if not size) photo on page 6.

    The media here hasn’t been too bad (for once) covering the Hubble & its latest (last?) repair and upgrade mission either. :-)

  125. StevoR-Correcting

    Make that :

    …. on the front cover which was a close up of “The ‘Atlantis’ on yellow solar backdrop” with an accompanying article and full colour (if not size) photo on page 6.

  126. Spectroscope

    Dare I mention how yellow (not white or green) our Daytime Star looks in this image? 😉

    Of course if you saw it in Hydrogen Alpha (as I got to do once through a friends telescope) it’d be an astonishingly crimson red … 😉

  127. @Torbjörn Larsson

    You, of course, make a very good point. And one I was thinking myself, in all honesty.

    Though personally, I liked the picture so much I already did much the same thing as Phil here — and blogged about it. 😉

  128. Joe

    Och! Haud yer wheesht, Grammar Nazi! That’s Scots dialect for Oh, shut up!

  129. veloopity

    I can’t believe how many people post what their first thought is without even switching on their brains. So, to all the “Fake” shouters, here’s a little exercise:

    Tonight, look at the moon. Stretch out your hand halfway and hold up your thumb until it blocks your view of the moon. Wait – the diameter of the moon is 3500 km but your thumb is much smaller. This must be a fake.

    Shout “Photoshopped”!

  130. hi nrgy


    who landed on a sun?

  131. Hello

    If we can take a picture of a black hole 6 billion light years away I want to see the scratches in the paint on that spaceship! lol

  132. SUNLANDINGS fake?

    who landed on a sun??

  133. GirlNoir

    Ready for some insufferable pretentiousness?

    I’m a University of Chicago-trained linguist. Grammar Nazi’s insistent ascription of normative values to language and its development is a GIANT pet peeve of the linguistic community. Language is entirely arbitrary – so long as you’ve understood what was said to you, language is doing its job. It does not ‘degrade’, nor does it demean or simplify the ideas it communicates because it is non-standard. This isn’t a breed of moral or intellectual relativism; it’s simply a function of the fact that language is a completely non-iconic, non-representational system like zip codes or the colors of highway signs. Any one is as good as any other. And stuffed-shirt ‘back in my day’ types are merely judgmental and resistant to change. Don’t get me wrong; all languages have a standard variety which is accorded prestige, and which one de facto must know to be considered ‘intelligent’ or ‘educated’. It’s just that we would all do well to realize that this exaltation of the standard variety is not necessary, nor does it mean that non-standard varieties are any less logical, intelligent, or capable of the communication of complex ideas. Don’t show prejudice against non-standard language by assuming it, or its speakers, are somehow inferior! Please recognize the essential arbitrariness of language. Prestige is a function of the way the human mind works and assigns categories and rank; it’s not inherent to language. Grammar Nazi, your opinions are an artifact of instinctual human prejudice toward the unknown and the different.

  134. Grammar Nazi

    @ Steve: ( May 16th, 2009 at 11:49 am)

    “@Grammar_nazi [sic] Please look at this and rethink your handle:
    [Erin Mckean redefines the dictionary video clip]

    Thankyou Steve for posting that link to what was an interesting video. Erin Mckean comes across very nicely as a funny, pleasant and intelligent person who speaks very well.

    However, while I enjoyed the video I still disagree with some of its content and the views of many who would dumb down or otherwise corrupt our wonderful langauge.

    I’m a little short of time today I’m afraid, but please allow me to make an analogy:

    Many BA bloggees including, I beleive the BA himself, quite rightly object to the misuse and degradation of the word ‘theory’ by creationists and other anti-science people to mean simply the equivalent of ‘guess.’ They strongly and rightly insist that the word ‘theory’ be used properly rather than corrupted and rendered meaningless or misleading.

    Well, I agree with them on the misuse, worse the deliberate corruption of the term ‘theory’ and I also feel very much the same when it comes to the use of the joke term “embiggen.”

    Using this non-word degrades the english language. It harms it in a fashion very similar to the way the misuse of ‘theory’ harms science by causing false impressions and muddying the perceptions of many people in society.

    Using ’embiggen’ instead of one of the better correct english alternatives implies that the person using it is ignorant or illiterate – and proud of it.

    It disrespects and damages the english langauge. It makes it harder for proper english communication tooccur and dumbs down and confuses our comon langauge. There are already perfectly good words to describe what is meant – ‘enlarge’ being one – which should be used in preference because they are correct and meaningful words rather than not a joke that has outlived its welcome.

    Inadvertant mistakes in grammar and spelling are inevitable if regrettable. I understand that we (including I, myself) are all occassionally guilty of typos and overlooking the odd grammatical rule. This is one thing and part of life albeit something to be avoided and corrected wherever possible.

    (Indeed, I’m typing while tired and this post will no doubt contain some examples of such. Please forgive me for them in advance.)

    Neogisms that are required by technical or cultural reasons are another thing that must be grudgingly accepted where there is a genuine need or use for them.

    However, deliberately corrupting the english language by replacing a correct word and correct english with an unneccesary joke term that has long since stopped being funny is something I find deplorable, inexcusable and saddening.

    This is especially the caes when the person doing so is someone who really should very much know better. Dr Phil Plait, please think about this and reconsider. Imagine the word you are misusing was ‘theory’ or ‘science’ or ‘skepticism’ rather than (yuk, it hurts even to type it) ’embiggen’ and imagine your feelings then.

    As for my ‘handle’ here it has nothing to do with the historical political party.

    I use the ‘Nazi’ part of my screen name in that words secondary meaning of ‘someone who is strict about getting something correct.’

    This is along the lines of a ‘Spelling Nazi’ being someone who insists on correct spelling, a ‘Soup Nazi’ (yes, a la ‘Seinfeld’) being someone who insists on the best soup, et cetera.

    ‘Nazi’ is in this modern sense of the word a near-synonynm for ‘perfectionist’ but with a lighter more sardonic, dare I note, humourous and linguistically evolved touch! 😉

    My name ‘Grammar Nazi’ then refers to someone who insists on getting grammar and the english language more generally correct – although as you’ll have noticed I do not limit my posts to this facet of life alone but also comment much more widely on other things too.

    I am glad to see that if nothing else, I have at least raised the awareness of some people here and sparked some discussion that will hopefully have some here thinking about their lexicographical use and misuse!

  135. GirlNoir

    Grammar Nazi, the problem with your example is that the misuse of ‘theory’ de-clarifies a term that, IN CERTAIN CONTEXTS, requires a great deal of precision. ‘Theory’ is an entirely valid word meaning the same as ‘guess’ in everyday, nonscientific discourse. The problem arises when people unfamiliar with the restrictions on its use in scientific contexts misinterpret it along less-restrictive lines. This is an issue of context confusion, not the corruption of language. It does not relate to the word ’embiggen’ because ’embiggen’ is an entirely made-up word, with only one real context which shapes its meaning. True, words exist that could be used instead, such as ‘enlarge’, but your assertion that ‘enlarge’ means the same thing as ’embiggen’ is false. ‘Enlarge’ means ‘to make larger’. ‘Embiggen’ means ‘to make larger’, with added connotations of a nerdy inside joke that both lightens the mood and heightens the social bond between Phil and his readers. If you can find another English word with an older usage that means exactly the same thing as ’embiggen’, suggest it to Dr. Plait. I’m sure he’d be interested.

  136. Grammar Nazi

    @ Girl Noir:

    Sorry I haven’t got sufficent time to do more that note you are absolutely incorrect in your corrosive and socially,artistically and culturally harmful postmodernist approach.

    There are times when there aredifferent ways and approaches and there are times when something is simply wrong.

    When it comes to 1 + 4 = 5 answering no it really equals 900 is simply incorrect and absurd.

    It is the same here for “enlarge’ versus ’embiggen.’ Enlarge is simply corectand (Bleech!) ’embiggen’ plain wrong.

    You wouldn’t call an incorrect answer a correct answer in maths or in rocket science. You wouldn’t say a brain surgeon or anykind of doctor is free touse alternative techniques theymade up as a joke.

    It is the same with english whether you accept or like that reality or not.

    Words do have correct spellings, grammar does have correct rules (as well as some acceptable slight variations) and an incorrect word or grammar is just that, incorrect -notdifferent, not personal opinion, but plain, outright WRONG.

    Would you send in your resuem fullof mispelled nonsense words? Would you write out a perscription or chemical formula by making up the letters as you go along?

    It [language] does not ‘degrade’, nor does it demean or simplify the ideas it communicates because it is non-standard.

    Wrong. It certainly *does* degrade english and it certainly *does* demean and make communication harder even impossible when people use wrong ie. “non-standard” words.

    This isn’t a breed of moral or intellectual relativism;

    Sigh. It very much is exactly that. Your university training I can instantly tell is clearly of the worthless new fashioned “smoked too much dope, lets have classes on postmodernist, feminist lesbian basket-weaving kind” rather than what we older people would call an actual education where youemerge able to give correct answers to reasonable questions and back your words up with actual reality and facts.

    it’s simply a function of the fact that language is a completely non-iconic, non-representational system like zip codes or the colors of highway signs.

    Non-representational? Language?! Langauge is nothing but representation! Have not studied any Chomsky yet?

    Don’t show prejudice against non-standard language by assuming it, or its speakers, are somehow inferior!

    It is not prejudice but simple fact to point out that that someone who cannot read or write (or speak) properly – in the standard otherwise known as correct form of english is illiterate.

    Using “non-standard” otherwise known as incorrect english creates very real problems for those who use it as many foreign, poorly-educated and / or mentally challenged amply demonstrate.

    It is a shame Girl Noir you have not learnt to think beyond what a few deluded 60s or 70’s era hippie lecturers have clearly (mis-)taught you. :-(

    I hope for your sake (and our societies) that you and those like you soon realise how foolish and harmful your current postmodernist cultural relativist ideas actually are.

  137. Grammar Nazi

    Typos. Grrr. Well I did tell you I was tired.

    So that you know, I’m going to bed now. I may write more tomorrow or the next day if I get the time.

    This has already taken too long. :-(

  138. @Grammar Nazi

    Yes. Purity of the English language! I assume you call it “cow” rather than that corrupting word “beef”. Or, to be even more correct and proper, “cu”. “Swine” rather than “pork”, “sheep” rather than “mutton” and “deer” rather than “venison”.

    The French are notoriously fussy and controlling about their language. It coccurs to me that perhaps we would be well advised to follow the French example and not allow our language to be corrupted away into mutually intelligable dialects and slang.

    Oh, my bad. You seem to idolize the ridiculous concept of the French Academy (which, IIRC, failed), so you may very well call it “beef” rather than the proper English term “cow”.

    Prescriptivist grammar is certainly called for in some areas (technical jargon or clear misuse of words like affect/effect, for example), but when it comes to cultural references and neologisms (noticed you dropped the “lo” from it), I think you’re being a bit over the top. I’m guessing that James Joyce, among numerous other writers, drives you absolutely nuts.

  139. GirlNoir

    WOW. Suddenly this has devolved into mud-slinging?

    Your misunderstanding of my comments is exactly the type of misunderstanding I attempted to pre-empt. I say that language is non-iconic and non-representational because these terms have a very precise definition in an academic context, much like the term “theory”, which you so lamented the misuse of earlier. Here, they mean that when I say the word “tree”, there is nothing inherent in its formation that evokes an actual tree. It is an arbitrary label attached to a thing in the real world. In Spanish, that arbitrary label is “arbol”. There is no essential characteristic of a tree that shapes the word which is used to label it. Therefore, language is arbitrary. I am neither a moral nor an intellectual relativist; 1+4 clearly equals 5, and math and science are subjects with fundamentally correct answers. What I am trying to express is that the formation of language has no inherent tie to the real world; seeing a tree or a dog does not immediately and necessarily result in the words “tree” or “dog” or “arbol” or “chien” or any of the other words in other languages for such an item in the real world. _There is no inherent connection_. Thus, you cannot compare language to a math equation; language is a string of arbitrarily assigned labels. Yes, English has existed for a very long time, and we have an established “standard” form of it. Yes, there are also deviations from this standard form. You have pointed this out, and claimed that the deviations are inferior to the standard form. What I’m trying to say is that both the standard variant and its deviations are, in essence, totally arbitrary, so how can we say that one is better than the other, apart from the fact that one has more cultural weight behind it? We should not discount this cultural weight (lest you say that I’m a culturally destructive hippie). I acknowledge its inevitability, and the certain necessity of conforming to it in order to be taken seriously (in certain situations). But that is a cultural construct, not an inherent property of language.

    As a side note, being a linguist, I thoroughly respect your intelligence and the obvious extent to which you think about language. Let’s keep this conversation civil, okay? My university is actually a fairly conservative one, not culturally, but academically. Please don’t imply that my Nobel Laureate professors’ ideas are dope-fueled hippie relativism. They are well-respected researchers in their field, with work based on previous well-respected researchers, Chomsky included (his ideas are largely considered horribly outdated, by the way, and yes, I’ve read a good deal of his work).

  140. GirlNoir

    Oh, and Grammar Nazi? Please leave out your homophobic comments in the future. If you “don’t have anything against” homosexuals, then I apologize for taking your “lesbian basket-weaving” comment the wrong way, but it certainly seemed like a low blow. You may want to watch out… I hear they let queers hang out on the Internet and make comments.

  141. GirlNoir

    Sorry to spam, but as an aside, Todd W., thanks for the backup. Your battles with the antivaxxers do my heart good; I appreciate someone with such intellectual clarity giving me a little corroboration.

  142. @GirlNoir

    Sorry to spam, but as an aside, Todd W., thanks for the backup. Your battles with the antivaxxers do my heart good; I appreciate someone with such intellectual clarity giving me a little corroboration.

    No problem. Like I said, there are times when prescriptivism is good (I’ll add on teaching of “proper” language, combined with a descriptive approach), and others where it just borders on the absurd.

    It’s been a while since I actively studied linguistics, but I recall Chomsky having some valid points and, like you said, some very outdated notions.

  143. Piano Fight
  144. You may want to watch out… I hear they let queers hang out on the Internet and make comments.


  145. cms

    What a cromulent photograph! Bravo.

  146. ratcals

    Nice photo, but why can’t we see any of the other features on the sun? It’s a big swirling mass of extremely hot gas. We should be ablt to see some of that not to mention solar flairs. Also, why don’t we see any other space junk?

    I’m not calling the photo fake, but I was just wondering.

  147. pretty nice. but i found something even MORE incredible! check out this moon shot and see if you can tell what / who it is. un. real.

  148. @ratcals

    As I understand it, the sun is in a quiet period right now, which may explain the lack of sunspots and flares.

    As to the space junk, I’ll paraphrase Douglas Adams. Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. What we’re seeing of the orbiter is just a small section of the sky. Anything large enough to be seen in the photo is in a different part of the vast range of sky outside the view of the camera. There may be some other junk in the shot, but it’s just too small to resolve or it isn’t reflecting enough light.

    That’s my take on it, at least. :)

  149. Elegiac View

    Firstly I will comment on the astonishing photo. It’s simply gorgeous.

    Now, I could not help observing the amusing debate concerning evolving language and proper English. In regards to Grammar Nazi, he/she does have some worthy points; however, I must admit that, on occasion, I have employed certain words that may, upon first glimpse, appear to be ‘nonsense’ words. Indeed, I do enjoy watching the occasional episode of “The Simpsons” – and it does tend to be influential in introducing new words to society, does it not?

    Nevertheless, I would suppose that the majority of posters here would be disinclined to use certain words that have been introduced by that show. As an example, does anyone recall the word ‘meh’ that has recently been added to the Collins English Dictionary? The specific origins of this word are unknown, excluding its use on a 2001 episode of “The Simpsons”. This word is particularly popular amongst teenagers.

    Whether one believes that this word should be classified as proper English or not, a person cannot deny its extensive usage amongst the youth. Does this widespread usage automatically make ‘meh’ an acceptable word? Perhaps not, but one cannot deny that is exactly how the English language continually alters over time – words that are once considered slang become perfectly respectable vocabulary.

    I would suggest that Grammar Nazi and others take a moment to consider this. It may also be a good practice to become less hasty in dismissing a word merely because it is new and unfamiliar. As some have mentioned, writers such as Shakespeare and James Joyce, who were ahead of their time in their experimental use of the English language, have become lasting symbols of progression and innovation, among other themes. Consequently, popular culture has gradually become accustomed to experimentation and change. Hence, why not continue the process?

  150. yeah thats amazing. looks weird. how can we get a shot that shows the sun with the shuttle in it, hard to believe, but yeah, amazing

  151. Rob

    Obviously photshopped. Its just a yellow circle and a small black smudge.

  152. jb

    yeah1 the sun rules. it’s the best thing outside the planet.

  153. Samuli

    If I’m going to hear another goofball saying this photo is fake because “the shuttle is way too big” I’m going to get sunspots in my brain.

    Extend your arm and place the tip of your finger between line of sight and Sun. Conclusion: The tip of your finger must be fake.

    PS. I hope you’ll go blind from staring at the sun SO YOU CAN’T POST YOUR INANE ‘OBSERVATIONS’ ANYMORE.

  154. Tijis

    @ Samuli:


  155. Megan
  156. Richard

    You really would not wish someone to lose their eyesight would you? How could you ever imagine gaining any respect with such a second grade schoolyard comment?

  157. Frappdapp

    flying space cocks!

  158. corky

    The ignorance of some of the commentors is just astounding. No wonder we have so many pathetic politicians if these people actually vote.

  159. Herp Derp

    but what is atlantis doing that close to the sun?


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