Weird and wonderful ISS image

By Phil Plait | March 19, 2010 1:00 pm

psb_iss_radarOver at The Planetary Society Blog, Emily has posted this bizarre image of the International Space Station, taken by another satellite in the radio part of the electromagnetic spectrum. If you want the whole story, then click it and see what she wrote!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures, Space
MORE ABOUT: Emily Lakdawalla, ISS

Comments (14)

  1. Yoweigh

    Predator vision in SPAAAAAAAAAAAACE!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. jcm

    Ghostly. Cool.

  3. For those that can’t get to the page for whatever reason, here it is:

    ISS in the X-band
    On March 13, 2008, the International Space Station (ISS) passed across the field of view of Germany’s remote sensing satellite, TerraSAR-X, at a distance of 195 kilometers.

    In contrast to optical cameras, radar does not “see” surfaces. Instead, it is much more sensitive to the edges and corners which bounce back the microwave signal it transmits. Unless they are directly facing the radar spacecraft, smooth surfaces such as those on the ISS solar and radiator panels, do not reflect a strong signal to the detector, so they appear dark. Yet the bright spots outlining edges and corners clearly show the shape of the ISS. The central element on the ISS, to which all the modules are docked, has a grid structure that presents a multiplicity of reflecting surfaces to the radar beam, making it readily identifiable. This image has a resolution of about one meter.

    Remember, X-band is NOT X-ray. :) And yes, this is just way cool!

  4. Michel

    That´s a cool picture.

    And off topic, speaking of the Planetary Society.
    It´s time again to sign up your name for some spacetravelling:
    [quote]
    The Planetary Society is collecting names and messages to fly on two exciting solar sail missions: Our own LightSail mission and JAXA’s IKAROS mission.

    IKAROS will launch soon, so we are in the final days before we need to send our DVD to Japan to be mounted to the spacecraft. The last day to send messages on IKAROS now Sunday, March 22. However, you will still be able to send messages on the LightSail mission for a few more months.
    [/quote]

    http://planetary.org/special/fromearth/sail

  5. Egaeus

    X-band? I’ll bet it was speeding too.

  6. Very Cool Picture! I’d be curious what satellite it was.

  7. Egaeus, if it was speeding too much, wouldn’t it leave earth orbit?

    G.W.: Germany’s remote sensing satellite, TerraSAR-X

  8. Messier Tidy Upper

    Thanks for that – awesome image and writeup. :-)

    @ 3. Larian LeQuella Says:

    For those that can’t get to the page for whatever reason, here it is: …

    Actually if you scroll down further there’s more – after a visual image of the International Space Station you’ll find this :

    The International Space Station, June 11, 2008

    As the Space Shuttle Discovery departed the International Space Station, the astronauts photographed their handiwork, which included the addition of the Japanese “Kibo” experiment module, a tube-shaped element at the top left of the Station in this image. Earlier in the year, Atlantis carried the European Space Agency’s Columbus module into orbit. The two modules vastly increase the scientific capability of the station, fulfill important international obligations, and bring the Station to a state of near completion. After October’s Hubble Servicing Mission, nine Shuttle launches remain, with most of the remaining large Station components (including the final set of solar arrays and an Italian habitation module that can double the crew from three to six) scheduled for launch in 2009. Credit: NASA

    The main reason I’m posting this picture is because it’s a picture of a pretty familiar object — the Space Station — in an unfamiliar part of the electromagnetic spectrum. I post images here all the time in wavelengths longer than the human eye can see, and it’s tempting to assume that images of the same places will look pretty much the same in visible wavelengths. But the photo above shows how simultaneously familiar and strange a well-known object looks in radar, reminding me that my instincts in interpreting what I see in radar images of places like Titan, Venus, and the Moon may not always be reliable.

    A final note about this image — I first learned about it via DLR’s Twitter feed. I’m finding it easier to get news about European missions via Twitter than more traditional means!

    This from there has me somewhat puzzled though :

    “(I’ve noticed some bloggers incorrectly reporting this image as being taken in “X-rays,” which is quite a different animal entirely, waaaaay shorter wavelength than visible light and not a very friendly wavelength to be irradiating astronauts with; microwave radar is waaaay longer wavelength than visible light and of no consequence to astronaut health.)”

    Now I’m not arguing with this necessarily, but I am thinking that its weird because :

    - don’t people get X-rays all the time?

    &

    - don’t folks cook food in their microwave ovens?

    So I think I’d rather be X-rayed than microwaved myself! ;-)

    EDITED to add :

    Remember, X-band is NOT X-ray.

    Okay that’s cleared it up .. but wait, what is X-band & how is it different from X-ray and all? Sorry but can you (or someone else) please elaborate? I’m still puzzled.

  9. Mike from Tribeca

    My word, but that puppy has gotten big. Very interesting stuff, as usual!

  10. Yeah, I didn’t want to copy ALL the text from the web page.

    As to the X-raying: That travels THROUGH most things, including you, possibly damaging you to a lethal extent (the X-rays you get are in such low doses that it wouldn’t be useful at making any images beyond a very short distance). Microwaves are stopped by pretty much anything that get in their way, especially the skin of the ISS. If I was hiding in a giant metal tube, and radiation was heading my way, I’d prefer it to be in the microwave band as opposed to the X-ray area of the spectrum. ;)

    X-band: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_band (this page breaks it down by frequency, but many other places measure it by wavelength)

    Basically many frequencies have names within the frequency range. Like Infrared isn’t all infrared. Some is Near IR, short wave IR, mid wave IR, and even long wave IR. Same for pretty much the entire right side of the EM spectrum (the long wavelengths).

    Whole EM Spectrum: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_spectrum

  11. Michel

    @9 Mike from Tribeca:

    Get your bino/telescope out and follow the very fast moving ISS.

    And go here:
    http://isstracker.com/
    So you know when and were the ISS is.

    And join here for more indept sattelite tracking:
    http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/satellitetracker/
    (lot´s of info about tracking the ISS and other sattelites and tweaking scopes)

  12. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 10. Larian LeQuella Says:

    Yeah, I didn’t want to copy ALL the text from the web page.

    Fair enough – I guess that is kinda frowned on isn’t it? (Gulp, sorry.) I just wasn’t sure that you – or others knew there was more is all.

    As to the X-raying: That travels THROUGH most things, including you, possibly damaging you to a lethal extent (the X-rays you get are in such low doses that it wouldn’t be useful at making any images beyond a very short distance). Microwaves are stopped by pretty much anything that get in their way, especially the skin of the ISS. If I was hiding in a giant metal tube, and radiation was heading my way, I’d prefer it to be in the microwave band as opposed to the X-ray area of the spectrum. X-band: … (this page breaks it down by frequency, but many other places measure it by wavelength) Basically many frequencies have names within the frequency range. Like Infrared isn’t all infrared. Some is Near IR, short wave IR, mid wave IR, and even long wave IR. Same for pretty much the entire right side of the EM spectrum (the long wavelengths).
    Whole EM Spectrum: ….

    Thanks. Now I get it. :-)

    I would have figured the term would be equivalent to “near” & “far” X-rays & microwaves just as it is for IR but guess that works too.

  13. Brian Too

    Reminds me of Neo’s vision of the Machine City.

  14. Infrared Electromanetic give me all ya got!
    Any full spectrum?

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