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An International Space Station Eclipse of the Sun

The International Space Station (ISS) is a remarkable spacecraft. The diagram you see here compares ISS to other famous spacecraft and an American football field. As you can see from the diagram, ISS is huge. ISS orbits the Earth at a breathtaking speed of about 17,000 miles per hour or about 5 miles per second. At such a speed, I could get from my house to work in just over one second.

A Saturday morning not long ago, I came to realize that I could photograph ISS as a silhouette during a passage in front of the Sun. A website gave me precise locations and times for me to catch this event. One place and time to observe the eclipse was the parking lot of my nearby gym at precisely 10h: 41m: 00s a.m. that same Saturday morning. The website let me know the ISS would take just one second to cross the disk of the Sun.

I got to the parking lot of the gym a little early to setup and practice my timing to catch the event. So, there I was in my photography vest, setting up a tripod, attaching a protective solar filter to my camera, attaching the camera to the tripod, and pointing the camera at the Sun. All I needed was a pocket protector and a calculator on my belt loop to complete my full-up nerd-look. Of course, that was the moment the “dean-of-the-gym” drove into the parking lot, got out of his car in the row next to me, and shot me a look that confirmed my full-up nerd-status. Later, a curious person wandered over to me and asked what I was doing pointing my camera at the Sun. He was kind of amazed that I could catch the ISS moving across the disk of the Sun.

At precisely 10h: 41m: 00s a.m., I held down the shutter button, hoped for the best, and heard seven rapid fire clicks of the camera shutter opening and closing over one second. It was all over. No second chances. Did I get it? I quickly looked at one of the seven images on the camera’s LCD screen. Yes! There was the silhouette of the ISS in front of the Sun’s disk. I could easily make out the solar panels of the ISS.

Next, I went home and overlaid the seven images of the ISS and background Sun on top of one another to produce the image below showing ISS crossing the disk of the Sun. The inset in the image shows a magnification of one ISS image. Even though the ISS is as big as a football field, it was more than 300 miles away from me, and so its appearance in my images was small.

Image Credit: Stephen Tegler

To me, it was kind of cool to catch this behemoth for one second as it rocketed around the Earth. I wasn't the "dean-of-the-gym", but I was stoked the rest of the day.

Warning: It's dangerous to look at the Sun with your eyes. This picture was obtained with a solar filter protecting my Canon 7D camera and a 400 mm lens with a 2x focal length extender. At no time, did I use my eyes to directly look at the Sun.

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@2020 Stephen Tegler