Ridiculously awesome pic of Discovery and the ISS taken from the ground!

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Feb. 28 2011 6:30 AM

Ridiculously awesome pic of Discovery and the ISS taken from the ground!

At some point, you look at a picture and think, it is seriously insane that we can do this. Behold: the Orbiter Discovery approaching the International Space Station, as seen from the ground:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

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


I think I remember that scene from Star Wars!

This remarkable picture was taken by Rob Bullen on Saturday February 26 from the UK, using an 8.5" telescope. I'll note that's relatively small as telescopes go! But the ISS is now over 100 meters long, and if it's directly overhead (that is, the closest it can be to an observer on the ground) it appears large enough to easily look elongated in binoculars -- in fact, it would be big enough to look elongated to someone with good eyesight and no aid at all*! Still, images like this are difficult to obtain even with a carefully guided telescope equipped with a video camera.

Oh -- did I mention that Rob hand-guided his telescope for this shot?

Yeah. Wow.

This is a remarkable piece of photography involving excellent timing, good weather (it had been cloudy at Rob's location almost up until that moment), and luck. But the equation for luck is really just (hard work + preparation) x (time) x (statistical fluctuations).

Clearly, the "hard work + preparation" was the most heavily weighted factor for Rob, and it paid off for him handsomely.

[UPDATE: Another phenomenal astrophotographer, BA favorite Thierry Legault, has posted a stunning animation of an ISS/Discovery flyover on his website.]

Image used by permission of Rob Bullen. Tip o' the unsharp mask to Wil Wheaton, who let me know about this on reddit.

* Here's some math for you: The minimum distance to the ISS if it's overhead is about 350 km. It's about 100 meters across, so, using the small angle formula, that means it's apparent size is about 1 arcminute (a degree is 60 arcminutes, and the full Moon is about 30 arcminutes in size). The unaided human eye, assuming normal eyesight, can resolve objects that are about that size, so as I wrote the ISS would barely appear elongated to someone with good eyesight, and would be easily resolved in binoculars. The farther it is from overhead, the smaller it would appear, so conditions have to be just about perfect to see it as more than a dot without binoculars.

Related posts:


The World

How Canada’s Shooting Tragedies Have Shaped Its Gun Control Politics

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive

Is he right?


“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.


Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 6:30 PM The Tragedies That Have Shaped Canada's Gun Politics
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 4:10 PM Skinny Mark Wahlberg Goes for an Oscar: The First Trailer for The Gambler
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.