Astrophoto: Photographer Re-Creates E.T. Flying in Front of the Moon

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Aug. 23 2013 8:00 AM

E.T. Flies in Front of the Moon Once Again

Back in May, I posted a series of incredible photographs of a biker in front of the rising full Moon. The photographer, Philipp Schmidli, did an astonishing amount of careful planning to get the shot, including mapping out the terrain and the exact location the Moon would rise, so he could capture it while still intersected by the horizon.

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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! Follow him on Twitter.

A lot of people (including me) noted that the bicyclist in front of the Moon reminded them of the iconic scene in the movie E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, when Elliott and the alien are escaping the bad guys via bicycle, and E.T. levitates them so they fly across the face of the Moon.

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So Schmidli thought, “Why not?” and redid the calculations. He built a bike ramp, set up his camera, and what he got was simply flippin’ fantastic:

ET flies in front of the Moon
If you survive the jump, make sure to phone home.

Photo by Philipp Schmidli, used by permission

How about that? Mind you, that shot is real! It’s hard to overstate how much planning this takes. He had to know the exact time and place the Moon would rise from his vantage point—it only takes two minutes to rise through its own diameter (that is, clear the horizon completely once the top part starts to poke up). And the Moon is pretty small in a camera, so he had to use a big lens (1,600 mm effective focal length!) to magnify it, which meant being pretty far from the bicycle so that it would appear the right size as well. He had to map out his position and the direction to the Moon with high precision.

Schmidli has several other pictures from this shoot on his blog, too. It’s in German, but PetaPixel has the story in English on how he set the shot up.

As for what he used as a stand-in for the cute little alien, well, here you go:

philippschmidli_etmoonsetup

Photo by Philipp Schmidli, used by permission

It’s amazing what a little planning and creativity can get you. Or really, in this case, a lot of planning and creativity.