Amazing Shuttle picture!

The entire universe in blog form
April 27 2010 10:37 AM

Amazing Shuttle picture!

[Update: Frequent BABlog contributer Thierry Legault also captured an incredible image of Discovery as well!]

"Amateur" astronomer Ralf Vandebergh took this incredible shot of the Space Shuttle Orbiter Discovery as it was docked to the space station. Mind you, this picture was taken from the ground!

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Wow! Discovery was 369 km (220 miles) away from Ralf when he snapped this shot using his 25 cm (10") telescope. The atmosphere above his observing site was calm and steady, aiding him in getting such an astounding picture. Incredibly, he was tracking the Orbiter and station manually, moving his telescope by hand! He has other pictures of this mission as well, including several of the space station. Ralf's images have graced this blog before, including this one of the station, a picture of Discovery and ISS from an earlier mission, and one actually showing an astronaut doing a spacewalk!

It's easy to forget that space isn't all that far away, starting (officially) only 60 miles above our heads. The ISS orbits just 350 km (210 miles) above the Earth's surface... which may not seem like much. But that's vertical height; imagine climbing a staircase that high! It takes a lot of energy to get there, but, as it happens, only about the same amount of energy once there to go anywhere in the solar system.

As author Robert Heinlein said: once you're in orbit, you're halfway to everywhere. All it takes is energy, and the will to go there.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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