spaceSpace and PhysicsspaceAstronomy

Stunning Photos Capture The International Space Station Crossing The Moon


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

You can clearly see the solar panels and the main bulk of the station here. Jeff Cremer

An astronomer has captured some rather stunning views of the International Space Station (ISS) passing in front of the Moon.

Jeff Cremer snapped the images from Pueblo, Colorado, on November 26. He noted where the ISS was going to be in the night sky, and drove out to the prairie to set up his equipment and take the shots.


“Even though I was going to be taking the shot from Colorado, the ISS was actually flying over central New Mexico at over 17,000 miles per hour [27,000 kilometers per hour],” Cremer said in an email to IFLScience.

He snapped the image using a Celestron C8 telescope and a Canon 7D camera. It took just 0.81 seconds for the ISS to transit the Moon, orbiting at a height of 400 kilometers (250 miles) above the surface of Earth. It’s not straight up in these images, though, so it’s actually 584 kilometers (363 miles) away, as seen here.

Sunlight made the ISS especially visible. Jeff Cremer

Now, seeing a transit like this isn’t particularly rare. But the image is particularly awesome because, from Cremer’s location, the ISS was being lit up by the Sun as it passed in front of the Moon. There's a light blue color on the station as well, which is thought to be earthshine, reflected light from our planet hitting the station.

“Most of the shots that you see of the ISS are just silhouettes,” said Cremer. “This shot is different than the others due to the fact that it is an illuminated pass, which means that the space station was being lit up by the Sun as it transited in front of the Moon.”

The station has a faint blue glow from Earth's reflected light. Jeff Cremer

This means you can clearly see the entire station including its solar panels, which are the slightly brown bits to the top and bottom. The brightest areas are probably the giant heat rejection radiators on the ISS, which transmit heat from the station into the vacuum of space, or some of its modules.

The station spans roughly the size of a football pitch, with a width of about 109 meters (356 feet). This makes it the third brightest object in the sky, after only the Sun and the Moon. Yes, it’s brighter than all the other planets.

It’s not always our brightest artificial object, though. Occasionally a group of satellites known as the Iridium satellites reflect sunlight in just the right way to make them flash in brightness. These are known as Iridium flares.

If you want to spot the ISS yourself, or you want to see an Iridium flare, there are plenty of websites to help you track them. You can see them with the naked eye, although if you want detail like this, you’ll need to get your hands on a telescope and a decent camera.

Here we can see the whole sequence of images, which lasts less than a second. Jeff Cremer


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