Atlantis, one last time in the Sun

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July 22 2011 11:04 AM

Atlantis, one last time in the Sun

Thierry Legault has done it again!™

Thierry, an amateur astronomer from Belgium France, has had many of his amazing photographs grace this blog, and just yesterday I was wondering what he would get from the last Space Shuttle mission. As if on cue, he alerted me about his latest set of pictures, including this amazing shot of Atlantis moving across the face of the Sun:

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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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[Click to enspaceplanenate.]

This is a combination of four images, with the position of Atlantis marked with circles. He took that shot in Germany just 21 minutes before the de-orbit burn, meaning this may be one of the last images ever taken of an Orbiter actually in orbit (the picture I posted earlier today taken from the space station shows Atlantis as it was moving through our atmosphere, when it was no longer in orbit).

A few days earlier, in the Czech Republic, Thierry captured Atlantis and the ISS less than an hour after the Orbiter had undocked:

I marked the position of the two with an arrow; again, click to embiggen. You can clearly see the two orbiting objects in silhouette against the Sun, with sunspots festooning the solar surface 150 million kilometers farther away.

I imagine over the next few days we'll be seeing other dramatic images of this final mission of the Space Shuttle. Thierry has more on his site as well.

As I've pointed out many times, I've had mixed feelings about the Shuttle program (you can read a very harsh but not unfair review of the program by Discover Magazine editor Amos Zeeberg), but it has provided us with an astonishing reminder that as of 50 years ago, we became a space-faring species. Some of our steps in this past half-century have been faltering, and some have been firm and confident. But I hope that in the long run, our current first steps will eventually turn into giant leaps and bounds.



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