Not so close encounter

Contributed by
May 8, 2007
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What is this???

An insect and the Moon? A UFO near a streetlight? A Photoshop job?

Nope. It's the International Space Station, passing near Venus in broad daylight.

How cool is that? It was taken yesterday by the accomplished photographer Etienne Simian of Saint Martin de Crau from the south of France. He was using a relatively modest 8" telescope and a webcam, which amazes me. You can actually make out details on the station! Venus, if you have been living in a basement the past few weeks, is glowing like a beacon in the west after sunset, incredibly bright. You can see it fairly easily in the daytime if you know just where to look.

The space station orbits the Earth, and you can find out if it passes overhead at your location by using any number of planetarium software packages (my favorite way is to go to Heavens Above). I go out several times a month to see it pass across the sky, in fact. For M. Simian, it happened to sail very near Venus... I looked up Venus's stats, and it's about 17 arcseconds across, so the ISS was about 5 arcminutes away when this image was taken. For comparison, the Moon is about 30 arcminutes across in the sky, so this was a very close encounter! But only apparently: the station was a few hundred miles from the photographer, but Venus was about 90 million miles away.

Some close encounters aren't as close as you might think.

Tip o' the chapeau to Larry Klaes, and to Spaceweather, which is hosting that image.