Dream of Endeavour

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May 17 2011 12:48 PM

Dream of Endeavour

When the Shuttle Endeavour launched yesterday at 08:56 EDT from Kennedy Space Center, I was somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean flying home. Had I been a few hundred kilometers farther south I might have spotted it, assuming I was awake and on the left side of the plane. But some things are hard to plan.

Happily, photographer Trey Ratcliff thought ahead a bit more than I did, and took this astonishing picture of Endeavour roaring into the sky for the last time:

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!  

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Sigh. So lovely! And so dreamlike... but that's because he shot several photos and combined them using High Dynamic Range (HDR) processing. In a nutshell, you take three exposures. In one, you set the exposures and other settings for the dim parts of the scene, in another you expose for the brighter parts, and in a third you take the medium road. Combining them leads to this other-worldly, ethereal picture quality. [Update: as Trey himself notes in the comments below, this particular shot was not multiple-frame HDR, but shot as a single image. I assumed it was multiple shot HDR because a) he's written tutorials about it and 2) it really looked like it to me! Mea culpa.]

I love how the Shuttle's flame lights up the clouds, and the trail of smoke draws your eye from the bottom of the frame right into the spot where the cloud is afire. In my mind the mushroom-cloud symbolism is strong, but not on purpose and there's no real obvious metaphoric connection. Funny though.

Trey's other images are equally amazing and well worth your time perusing, too. You should also check out the pictures taken by Stefanie Gordon, who did happen to have a view from an airplane, and who tweeted her shots. They're really cool!

Image credit: Trey Ratcliff (used under Creative Commons licensing). Tip o' the lens cap to my pal Lila Mae (warning: she swears a lot and is generally saucy).