Incredible Photographs Capture Rocket Passing In Front Of The Moon

Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket launches the Cygnus spacecraft carrying supplies to the ISS on Oct 6, 2020. The nearly full Moon provided a spectacular backdrop for keen launch photographers. NASA/Patrick Black CC BY 2.0

Incredible photos of the moment a rocket passed in front of the Moon have been captured by an astrophotographer from Philadelphia.

Steve Rice snapped the pictures of a lifetime as the Antares rocket, carrying the Cygnus NG-14 spacecraft, flew in front of the Moon on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) on October 2.

Launching from Wallops Island, Virginia, Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket was carrying the Cygnus cargo spacecraft and delivering, among other things, NASA's new space toilet to the astronauts aboard the ISS.

Rice captured the spectacular images at 9.16 pm, roughly 22 seconds after liftoff at about 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) from the launchpad, according to a post he shared on Instagram. 

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Using the rocket launch and orbital trajectory flight simulator Flight Club to work out exactly where to place himself, Rice calculated a location on the side of a road overlooking the launch that put the rocket right in his path, backlit by the Moon, 22 seconds after the scheduled launch time. Using a tripod and 300-millimeter telephoto lens, he held down the shutter when he saw the light of the launch and prayed he'd get some frames of the rocket transiting the Moon, he told Business Insider in an interview.  

Incredibly, he managed to capture 4k footage simultaneously, which shows the shockwaves emanating from the engines and the rocket's exhaust plume as it passed in front of our satellite. "That crackling sound you hear is the direct result of those shockwaves," Rice wrote under the video he shared on his YouTube channel

Capturing transiting spacecraft – or planets – is a game of skill and luck. Both the vehicle and the celestial body are moving and you have to take into consideration the size of both, too. Add in geography and weather, the latter of which already affected the Antares launch, which had been rescheduled from its original launch the day before with just 18 seconds before liftoff. Luckily, Rice had a nearly full waning Moon, which comfortably fit the 42.5-meter (139-foot) rocket inside.

The ISS has been caught in some stunning photos of it transitting the Moon and, incredibly, the Sun during 2017's total solar eclipse. This month, however, seems to be proving particularly good for spectacular rocket launch transit photos, after an initial worry "Scrubtober" was cursed following multiple launch reschedules, including SpaceX's Starlink satellites.

However, SpaceX finally launched its latest batch of 60 satellites on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on October 6, at 7.29 am, providing a spectacular sunrise as a backdrop.

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With another Starlink satellite batch scheduled for launch sometime in late October and Blue Origin's rescheduled New Shephard NS-13 mission also due for launch (potentially coinciding with Halloween's rare Blue Full Moon), perhaps we'll be lucky enough for some more spectacular shots.

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