Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Return of the Coolest Picture Ever
It's been a while since I posted a "Coolest Picture Ever," but this one certainly qualifies. With the Space Shuttle program winding down (just one flight left), NASA seems to be taking every opportunity to capture spectacular beauty shots they never had time for before. If they'd released photos this sexy 25 years ago, we might have ourselves a real space program today.
There are a couple of interesting things happening in this picture. It's a fairly long time exposure taken while Endeavour was on the night side of the planet. The shuttle is illuminated by lights shining from within its own bay (and maybe some light from the International Space Station or backglow from the Earth itself?) while it zips over city lights a few hundred miles below. NASA astronauts don't take a lot of pictures at night for the same reason you and I don't: it's dark! But wow. What a beauty.
I've got to mention the stars. Most photos taken in space don't show any, which is one of the points of "evidence" cited by the Moon hoaxers who don't believe Apollo really went anywhere (as if NASA would've spent billions faking the Moon landings but forgotten to hang up a black curtain studded with Christmas lights). Those pictures don't show stars for, again, the same reason your nighttime snapshots don't. The camera exposure time is too short. Taking a photo of a white-suited Moonwalker or white-tiled spacecraft in direct sunlight requires about the same shutter speed and f-stop as shooting them on a sunny afternoon in the Mojave Desert would. Stars are thousands of times fainter and you've got to leave the shutter open a long time for anything to show up, meaning you have to hold very still--quite difficult on a spacecraft orbiting at 17,000 mph (in fact, if you zoom in on the high-resolution version of this shot on the NASA website, you can see the stars streaking just a little bit).
Thanks for your service, Endeavour. Maybe someday I'll get down to L.A. and visit you at the California Science Center. But it won't be the same.