Awesome.

The Moon, Space Shuttle Atlantis, an aurora plus Kibo, all in one breathtaking scene (Soichi Noguchi)

The instant I saw this photograph I realized I was seeing something so beautiful, I’d have a hard job writing something to accompany it.

Coming straight from the Twitter feed of Soichi Noguchi, Japanese astronaut and social-media-in-space-photography-guru, this single photograph has captured the moon, an aurora hanging above the Earth’s limb, a docked space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station’s Kibo module (plus a bonus robotic arm and solar panel).

This picture is awesome on so many levels. And to be honest, this should be the photograph of Atlantis’ final mission. It encapsulates so much; a testament to what mankind is capable of and a tribute to the men and women who are currently in space, risking their lives for the advancement of our race.

There’s not much else to say, except: wow.

The H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-1) Photographed… from 300km Below

The Japanese HTV-1 taken 3 days after launch at an altitude below 300km (©Ralf Vandebergh)
The Japanese HTV-1 taken 3 days after launch at an altitude below 300km (©Ralf Vandebergh)

I first came across Ralf Vandebergh’s outstanding astrophotography when I was inquiring about a “mystery” object that appeared to be stalking the International Space Station (ISS) in July. As it turned out, it wasn’t a UFO, it was in fact a Russian Progress re-supply space vehicle testing out a new automated docking procedure with the orbiting outpost. Vandebergh managed to image the ISS and Progress vehicle with amazing clarity from his home in Wittem, the Netherlands.

HTV-1 approaches the ISS on Sept. 17th (©Ralf Vandebergh)
HTV-1 approaches the ISS on Sept. 17th (©Ralf Vandebergh)

Today, he’s done it again, only this time his target was the first flight of the robotic Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle, HTV-1.

On day 3 of the mission (Sept. 13th) to supply the ISS with over 4 tonnes of food, water, fuel and equipment, Vandebergh captured this incredibly detailed picture of the vehicle, speeding overhead at an altitude of just under 300km (pictured top). He also took a shot of the HTV-1 as it was approaching the ISS on Sept. 17th (right).

I’m totally in awe of these shots, and there’s a lot more where this came from. In Vandebergh’s gallery there are pictures of spacewalking astronauts, shuttle cockpits and amazingly detailed portraits of the ISS… all taken with a camera, through a telescope, on terra firma. Enjoy.

For reference, here’s a shot of the HTV-1 from the ISS shortly before docking:

The HTV-1 approaches the space station on Sept. 17th (NASA)
The HTV-1 approaches the space station on Sept. 17th (NASA)

A Visor Filled With Awesomeness

The space station as reflected in John "Danny" Olivas' spacesuit visor on September 3, 2009 (NASA)
The space station as reflected in John "Danny" Olivas' spacesuit visor on September 3, 2009 (NASA)

When I came across this image in NASA’s Human Space Flight gallery, I stopped. I was looking for the “perfect” shuttle image during the STS-128 mission to the International Space Station earlier this month, but I got sucked into browsing through the hundreds of EVA photographs NASA has stockpiled in their archives.

This particular scene was taken by NASA astronaut John "Danny" Olivas when he was out on a spacewalk installing a new Ammonia Tank Assembly. The EVA was over six hours long and Olivas was able to do some digital photography in that time. This picture shows his spacesuit helmet visor, with a reflection of the camera at arms length below.

Also visible in the reflections in the visor are various components of the station and European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang, mission specialist, anchored to a Canadarm2 mobile foot restraint. —NASA

The reflection captures so much detail. The curvature of the Earth can be seen in the distance, with space station solar arrays jutting in front. Even the two docked Soyuz vehicles (TMA-14 and TMA-15) are in shot. To top it all off, ESA astronaut Fuglesang is dangling in the vacuum of space attached to a robotic arm.

Quite simply, awesome.

BOOM!! BOOM!! Beep Beep Beep Woof Woof Woof

Identified Flying Object: Anthony Cook caught a gipse of the shuttle over Griffin Observatory, LA (©Anthony Cook)
Identified Flying Object: Anthony Cook caught a gipse of the shuttle over Griffin Observatory, LA (©Anthony Cook)

Yesterday, at 5.48pm PDT, I witnessed a shuttle event for the first time. Following the 13-day long STS-128 mission to the International Space Station, shuttle Discovery had to be redirected to land at Edwards Air Force Base, about an hour north of Los Angeles.

Excited, I kept track of the shuttle’s progress as it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and made a fast decent toward the Californian coastline. I quickly realized that the shuttle’s flightpath would not only take it over LA, it would be flying straight over my house! (Give or take a few pixels on my laptop screen, that would probably translate to several miles, but hell, it was close enough.)

I knew there might be a good chance that I’d hear the shuttle’s sonic boom as it passed over LA County, but I wanted to see the approaching shuttle too.

Unfortunately, it was one of the few days that there was low cloud patching the sky, so the chances were slim. Either way, I had a good chance of hearing the sonic boom if I got outside and listened very hard. I was told on good authority (by ace Discovery Space correspondent Irene Klotz) I should be able to hear the shock wave about 4 minutes before touchdown.

There was 6 minutes to go, so I ran outside to listen out for the distant thud of Discovery slamming though the atmosphere 14× the speed of sound.

Distant thud? Are you sure about that, Ian?

Although I was prepared to hear a mediocre bang, I wasn’t prepared for what really happened–

BOOM! BOOM!!!

Stupidly, I was balancing on a chair, shading my eyes in the hope of seeing a little dart-shaped shuttle through the clouds… with my laptop under my other arm so I could hear the NASA TV commentary a bit better. Not smart. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard that! I’m amazed I didn’t drop the laptop and fall off the chair, it really was that loud. Almost like a bomb going off.

Once I put the computer down on a more suitable surface, I shouted “Holy crap!” (on Twitter too). I was shaking a little. I heard the neighbours chatting about the noise; a car alarm was sounding and dogs were barking (hence the reference to the funny title, as said by @08HD_DynaSGC). I’d just heard the space shuttle, pass overhead, after spending 13 days orbiting the Earth, docked with the space station.

The enormity of the Shuttle Program struck me really hard, and I felt a little emotional. I hadn’t even seen a shuttle with my own eyes, all I’d heard was its sonic boom. I can only imagine how I’d react if I actually saw a shuttle launch, or a landing. I hope I do, soon, before the remaining six shuttle missions are out…

Image source: Spaceweather.com

Would You Like a Slice of Moon with that Solar Observation?

The Hinode view of the eclipse (JPL/NASA).
The Hinode view of the eclipse (JPL/NASA).

On July 22nd, Asia witnessed the longest solar eclipse of the century. I saw the pictures, it looked like fun. I’ve only seen a partial solar eclipse in the past, so when I heard about last week’s eclipse lasting nearly 7 minutes, I was more than a little envious.

So another eclipse, another momentous event if you could witness it, but if you couldn’t, at least you had some nice pictures to look at. However, there seems to be one forgotten spectator who had the best seat in the house to watch the moon pass in front of our Sun: the Hinode solar observatory.

Hinode (meaning “Sunrise”) is a space-based observatory launched by the Japanese space agency JAXA in 2006, and since then it has changed our perception of the inner dynamics of the solar corona. It can image the fine-scale magnetic structure of coronal loops and track plasma features with astounding precision.

On Wednesday however, Hinode caught an entirely different feature in its lens.

Actually, I’m a little surprised there’s not much of a fuss about the eclipse from space. Admittedly, the lunar transit across the solar disk didn’t attain totality, but it sure looks amazing!

For more of the Hinode eclipse, have a look at the Flickr gallery

Russian Saraychev Peak Eruption Video Glory

Wow! I thought the single image of the volcanic eruption (plus shock wave) was cool, but after seeing the complete series of images put together in this animation, I’m literally blown away. Thank you Richard Drumm for sharing the video on Twitter — now this is one YouTube video that needs to be shown off.

The 29 photos in this animation were taken by space station astronauts as they passed over Russia’s Sarychev Peak volcano in the Kuril Islands.

For more information, check out my previous Astroengine post

A Shocking Volcanic Plume

volcano_shock

When I first saw this image, I didn’t think too much of it. After all, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen a volcanic plume racing through the atmosphere. However, this picture is awesome on so many levels.

First, as part of NASA’s Earth Observatory program, an astronaut in the International Space Station was fortunate to get the timing just right to witness Russia’s Sarychev Peak volcano in the Kuril Islands explode, blasting a huge plume of ash and smoke high into the atmosphere. Second, the conditions on the ground must have been very still, allowing such a huge vertical structure to reach so high. And thirdly, the image captures two amazing features: a condensing cloud of vapour at its peak (the white, smooth cloud) and a shock wave that pushed all the surrounding cloud away from the eruption.

Wow.

For more on this stunning event, check out Michael Reilly’s great article over at Discovery’s Earth Pub.

Discovery Space Quiz: Dalek Mothership?

space_quiz

For my first Discovery Space Quiz, I was sent a selection of images from the Lowell Observatory StarTales Archive. On looking through the selection this week, one image grabbed my attention and I decided to use it in the monthly “What Is That?” quiz.

So what is it? The insides of a Dalek spaceship? A new hi-tech observatory? A washing machine drum?

Check out my space photo quiz on Discovery Space… you might be surprised by the answer…

A Lightning Bolt Hits Water, So Close You Can See Its Streamers

A bolt of lightning, 40 metres away (©Francis Schaefers and Daniel Burger)
A bolt of lightning, 40 metres away (©Francis Schaefers and Daniel Burger)

It’s pictures like these that make me a) want to do more photography, b) feel more in awe of nature than I already am, and c) wonder how the photographer didn’t pack up his gear and run away screaming. But thank goodness the talented storm chasers didn’t run away, they actually witnessed a very rare event, up close.

This astounding image was shot by photographers Francis Schaefers and Daniel Burger when they were chasing a thunderstorm along a beach in Vlissingen, the Netherlands. Chasing a storm along a beach. The best bit of the SpaceWeather.com article comes right at the end, where it says that Schaefers and Burger took a series of shots from “underneath a balcony where they figured the lightning wouldn’t reach.”

Let me emphasise that last bit: underneath a balcony.

Balls of steel comes to mind. For me, nothing less than a reinforced bunker surrounded by lightning rods will do.

Related Lightning Articles:

Anyway, back to why this image is so fantastic. When lightning strikes the ground, if you are able to get the timing perfect, you might be able to capture ‘upward streamers’ rising from the ground to meet the leading edge of the bolt, as NASA lightning expert Richard Blakeslee explains:

Streamers reach upward from the water.
Streamers reach upward from the water.

In a typical cloud-to-ground lightning strike, as the leader approaches the ground, the large electric field at the leader tip induces these upward propagating streamers. The first one that connects to the downward propagating leader initiates the bright return stroke that we see with our eye. Upward streamers are often observed on photographs of lightning hitting the ground.”

It’s hard to imagine if this streamer phenomenon has been observed to reach out from water before, but this Dutch example must be very rare. It’s hard enough to photograph lightning streamers on solid ground, let alone on the surface of a body of water.

In case you weren’t already amazed, check out this shot. It’s called The Cruise You Don’t Want to Take for very obvious reasons:

The storm, plus cruise, ship off the coast of Vlissingen, the Netherlands (©Francis Schaefers and Daniel Burger)
The storm, plus cruise, ship off the coast of Vlissingen, the Netherlands (©Francis Schaefers and Daniel Burger)

Source: SpaceWeather.com

Hubble and Atlantis Transit the Sun (Photo)

The Hubble Space Telescope and Shuttle Atlantis pass in front of the blank Sun. Can't see their silhouettes? Click on the image for the large version and look in the bottom-left-hand corner. That's no sunspot pair... (©Thierry Legault)
The Hubble Space Telescope and Shuttle Atlantis pass in front of the blank Sun. Can't see their silhouettes? Click on the image for the large version and look in the bottom-left-hand corner. That's no sunspot pair... (©Thierry Legault)

Thierry Legault is one highly skilled astrophotographer. The transit of the Hubble Space Telescope and Space Shuttle Atlantis took only 0.8 seconds to clear the disk of the Sun, so Legault rapidly took four pictures per second, starting his series of pictures two seconds before the pair were predicted to pass in front of the Sun.

STS-125 Atlantis and Hubble Solar Transit. The image was captured from Florida at 12:17pm EST on May 13th as the Shuttle approached the orbiting telescope at 600km from Earth (©Thierry Legault)
STS-125 Atlantis and Hubble Solar Transit. The image was captured from Florida at 12:17pm EST on May 13th as the Shuttle approached the orbiting telescope at 600km from Earth (©Thierry Legault)

In the image above, the 35 meter-long Atlantis is easily identifiable, but the tiny speck of the 13 meter-long Hubble isn’t so easy to define, but the result is superb. According to Legault’s website, this is the only picture of the STS-125 and the observatory, orbiting at an altitude of 600 km.

Back in July 2008, Astroengine reported on the transit of the International Space Station across the disk of the Sun. Fortunately, in both cases, the Sun’s face was blank, and no sunspots are prominent enough to ruin the view.

Stunning!

Sources: NASA on Flickr, Astrosurf