Shadow of Endeavour

By Phil Plait | June 2, 2011 6:00 am

[Update: ARG! In the original post, I had put up a picture that did not have Endeavour docked to the Space Station. My mistake; I grabbed the wrong image from Dani. I have fixed it below. Sorry for any inconvenience.]

Endeavour is safely back on Earth. But while it was docked to the International Space Station, it cast a long, long shadow… which you can see in this astonishing picture:

[Click to ungdwarfenate.]

Cool, isn’t it? I know, it’s small — you can see it more clearly in the full-res picture — but here’s a close-up:

You can now see the ISS much better (along with a sunspot — note that spot below the ISS is roughly the size of the Earth!); Endeavour is the long fuzzy bump on the top of the horizontal bar on the upper right going between the two sets of solar panels.

This picture was taken by Spanish photographer Dani Caxete, amazingly using just a 12.5 cm (5 inch) telescope. He has a gorgeous series of photos on Flickr which is well worth checking out, including this very cool one showing a series of video frames of the ISS crossing the Moon, and a very moody shot of the ISS and Sun with some clouds adding a sense of foreboding.

It’s funny: I know the math. At the distance of the ISS over the ground (350 km), the human eye has just enough resolution to see the space station as more than a dot. Maybe a very slightly elongated dot. Through binoculars you should be able to detect the solar panels, and through a good telescope far more detail is apparent.

But still, to see it in a photo makes the math real. That’s a spaceship and you can see it! That’s pretty nifty.

And we still have one left. Atlantis is scheduled to launch on July 8. I certainly hope that there are more photogenic opportunities like this one, and there are more photographers out there like Dani willing to try to capture it.

Image credit: Dani Caxete, used with permission. My thanks to Manu Arregi for pointing Dani’s work out to me!

Related posts:

INSANELY awesome solar eclipse picture
When natural and artificial moons align
Two solar ISS transits
ISS, Shuttle transit the Sun


Comments (18)

  1. Nigel Depledge

    My word, BA, you’re up early today!

    Yes, this is a very cool shot.

    I’m not entirely sure I’d call a verhicle restricted to LEO a spaceship, mind you.

  2. Sean

    I’m not sure that is Endeavour. The image above appears to be the same as this one and was taken May 5, well before the May 16 launch of Endeavour.

  3. LMR

    I want to make an aperture solar filter for my scope (and binoculars). I see people mentioning Baader film, which seems to be pretty popular – but looks like it needs to be ordered internationally. I also found another one that is available from Seymour Solar (whose website seems to be having problems) … but can’t find any mention from them if theirs also blocks UV and IR like the Baader film mentions, or if it just blocks visible light.

    Anyone have any recommendations, additional information, or other alternatives?

  4. Sean, that’s correct. I got an email from Dani pointing that out. I grabbed several images to see which looked best on the blog, and wound up uploading the wrong one. This is what I get for trying to write a post while on vacation. :) Anyway, thanks, and it’s fixed.

  5. You know, I see a lot of news reports about the ISS being built and maintained and hosting the shuttle and such, but, um, has any real science been done there? Apart from getting better at building stuff on orbit (yay!), has this project been worth it?

    Not trying to be snarky, but I’ve always had a hard time trying to figure out what the point is.

    Great photo, tho.

  6. Electro


    If nothing else, it keeps the entire space exploration and development industry moving forward. Letting it disintegrate like post-Apollo NASA would not help anything.

  7. ewa/

    The more we do together, together – the better we can be!
    For your knowledge sow new seeds to my knowledge – for the effort: Salary!
    The more we do together – the smarter we become!

    – An elegant view. – Great picture…Love it!

  8. Caleb

    @kuhnigget, yes lots of science happens on the ISS, see here:
    It’s just not talked about very much, as far as I can tell its mostly basic research, so it doesn’t make for very good headlines.

  9. Ruby


    I’m not sure what your definition of “real” science entails, but here is a list (albeit on wikipedia) of the names of all the experiments on ISS

  10. @ Caleb:

    Thanks! And yes, boring ol’ research isn’t very sensational, is it? :)

  11. Quiet Desperation

    I’d say it was the Silhouette of Endeavor, but that would be pedantic. ūüėČ

  12. Nigel Depledge

    @ QD (12) –
    Yes. It is a silhouette, not a shadow. And it is pedantic to bring it up.

  13. Morat20

    Regarding ISS and science: Until relatively recently, any science done there was automated because ISS was restricted to a three-man crew. (Three people being, basically, just enough to keep the lights on). The science and research done was relatively useful, being stuff generally too long-term for a 12 day shuttle flight (leeching off of ISS power to push to 14+ days didn’t occur until roughly around the time the habitation module was added anyways), and stuff that could go up and down on the shuttle.

    With the addition of the habitation module, increasing ISS’s crew complement to seven, they actually had the warm bodies to monitor and prod stuff. NASA is, despite the fact that the shuttle and station get all the PR, pretty big on research and science.

    ISS’s history and it’s construction is a lengthy lesson in real-world engineering — specifically what happens to design and engineering when your customer (Congress) decides to screw with your requirements and budget year-to-year, and keeps shuffling around who builds what….

    Frankly, it’s amazing the thing got put together at all, much less does some useful work up there. Although from listening to astronauts talk candidly, actual space-construction experience would have made the whole thing worth it. Building stuff in space is difficult and people learn best from their own mistakes. It’s amazing how much of human construction techniques don’t work where there’s no air or gravity.

    Even little things like “tightening a bolt” become difficult challenges in space. I shudder to think about things like trying to drill through rock on the Moon without the ability to water the bit, for instance.

  14. Aunt Bee

    At the Farmers’ Market at the Wisconsin Capitol today, two creationists had an exhibit set up decrying evolution and “evolutionists.” One man had a Jesus fish on the front of his T-shirt. On the back it said:
    I looked at them, and Better Science said, “Any questions or comments?” I said one word: “Insane.” Then his buddy asked me, ” How much sense does it make to believe that all this came from nothing?”
    I just shook my head and walked away. Later I thought I should have said, “About as much sense as believing someone died 2,000 years ago for sins I haven’t even committed yet.”

  15. QuietDesperation

    Yes. It is a silhouette, not a shadow. And it is pedantic to bring it up.

    Thank you. I try.


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