Astrophotos

Thierry Legault’s Stunning Views of the Space Station (with spacewalking astronauts) Crossing in Front of Sunspots

He’s done it again, outdoing even his own incredible work.

Over the years, we’ve written many articles to share the beautiful and mind-bending astrophotography of Thierry Legault. Each year he seems to come up with ideas to try to surpass even his own craziest attempts of astrophotography feats – such as capturing spy satellites in orbit, or snapping pictures of the International Space Station (ISS) transiting the Sun during a solar eclipse.

Now, he was able to take pictures of the ISS transiting the Sun while two astronauts were doing a spacewalk. As an added challenge, Legault made sure he was in the right place at the right time so he could capture the ISS (and astronauts) while they were passing by three enormous sunspots.

WHAT??

The International Space Station transiting the Sun on June 9, 2023, in view of a large sunspot. Additionally, two astronauts, Steve Bowen and Woody Hoburg were outside the ISS on a spacewalk while this image was taken. Credit and copyright: Thierry Legault.

On June 9, 2023 NASA astronauts Steve Bowen and Woody Hoburg performed a spacewalk to install a new set of iROSA solar panels.

“For the occasion, I drove 6 hours from home to go to the Netherlands where a transit happened one hour after the spacewalk started,” Legault said on Facebook. “This time, the ISS passed in front of 3 sunspots groups in a split second! The big sunspot could swallow the Earth, but it is 300,000 times farther than the ISS (150 million km versus 550 km).”

The real-time view of the ISS transit past sunspots on June 9, 2023. Credit and copyright: Thierry Legault.

In a previous Universe Today article, Legault explained how he studies maps, and will travel thousands of kilometers to be in the right place to capture such a transit. He uses a radio synchronized watch to know very accurately when the transit event will happen.

How did he figure out when the ISS was going to be passing in front of the current batch of sunspots?

“Using real time images of the Sun, I estimated the position of the main sunspot groups towards vertical and horizontal directions –which depends on time and location,” he told Universe Today. “I compared it to the trajectory planned by www.transit-finder.com, and I tried to place myself on the corresponding transit position.”

For a transit event, he gets get a total of 16 images – 4 images every second, and only after he enlarges the images does he know if he succeeded or not.

Legault said all the individual images are single shots at 1/32000s. None of his image of ISS transits are stacked. His camera has a continuous shuttering for 4 seconds, and he begins the imaging sequence 2 seconds before the calculated time.

Back in 2011, Legault was able to take pictures of Steve Bowen on another spacewalk, as the ISS passed in front of the Sun. When he learned Bowen was on another spacewalk, Legault had the idea to try and get a picture of him again.

“Oops, I did it again…better!” Legault said on Facebook.

Keep in mind, an ISS transit lasts less than a second – this one was just 0.75 seconds long — and is shown in slow motion on Facebook here.

Capturing the event in images must be timed with ultimate precision as the ISS is traveling at 27,000 km/h (17,000 mph).  

Thierry Legault and his telescope setup for capturing the ISS transiting the Sun. Image courtesy of Thierry Legault.

His instruments were an CFF200 apo refractor, Baader Herschel wedge, Olympus OM-1 at 1/32000s, and fellow astrophotographer Emmanuel Rietsch’s GPS trigger. Legault also thanked friend Charline Giroud for assistance in the setup.

Check out Thierry’s website to see more of his wonderful work.

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Nancy_A and and Instagram at and https://www.instagram.com/nancyatkinson_ut/

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