Solar Transition of the Last Shuttle Docked to the ISS (July 12, 2011)

Posted: July 12, 2011 by Mike Hubbartt in Academia, Space Exploration
Tags: , , , , ,

By Tobias Lindemann, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Introduction

I was not happy when Atlantis lifted off last Friday, because I thought we would not have a chance to see it here in Europe. I was relieved when a friend told me that there would be a Solar-Transit of the ISS (International Space Station) near our home in Munich, Germany. The day after the launch, I read that the Shuttle Atlantis docked with the ISS, so I knew I had a chance to get the ISS and Shuttle together in a picture.

To verify the possibility, I went to www.calsky.com which is a nice site where you can calculate where the ISS will pass, as well as moon and solar transits for your location. Even if there is a flyby that is close to the sun, this site tells you where to go to see a perfect crossing. I was happy to learn that I could go to a place that is only a stone’s throw from my house.

I don’t own a mobile telescope, so I took my 300mm telephoto lens, a solar filter I built years ago for a solar-eclipse, and my EOS to the observation site. But before I left I had to synchronize the clock of my camera to match an exact radio clock.  Calsky had calculated the exact time for the crossing at 14h 56min 18.2sec UTC, and the whole transit duration was only 0.89 seconds which is fast.  I arrived at the observation location at 14:40 UTC, so I had enough time to find the sun, focus the lens and set the correct exposure time (I felt the best exposure time was 1/6000 at ISO 100 and f/9 with my filter).

IMPORTANT! Regarding the correct filter, it is extremely important that you do not look at the sun even though a small photo lens without a filter. Direct sunlight can seriously damage your eyes!!!

I choose JPEG as the image format because I can take many more photos in this format in burst-mode than taking raw format images.

A few minutes later, the key moment approached and I started the photo shot. I didn’t look at the sun through the finder, but after one minute of exposing the image I decided that the crossing must be over and released the trigger. I went home and transferred the photos to my computer and was very exited to see there were pictures of the sun, with something in front of it. I had about 800 photos to look at, but I realized that I had adjusted the time of my camera with a radio clock, so every photo has a very exact time stamp. It was unbelievable, but there were some pictures with the ISS in front of the sun at the exact time of 14:56:18. Thank you calsky.com; that is what I call that accurate.

The only tasks I had left was to stack the images with Fitswork using the “minimum function”, so that the dark ISS looks better plus reduce the intensity of the sun in the consolidated photo. Here is my photo from that event:

Even when a telephoto lens lacks high magnification, you can see the modules and solar panels of the ISS. Normal ISS passes occur in the evenings and mornings, and I do photograph very often at either time, but this was the first time I took some photos of the ISS in front of the sun, which was very exciting.

– Tobias <TobiasLindemann@iss-tracking.de>

Editor’s Comment

Tobias does astro-photography and shares his photos with fellow astronomy enthusiasts. He recently took a beautiful image of the ISS transitioning across the sun and I saw it when he shared it with members of the ISS Tracking Yahoo User Group. I was impressed enough to ask Tobias to write a short article about it for the readers of this site and he was happy to comply. Thank you for sharing, Tobias.

– Mike

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