Astronomy Cast Ep. 482: Alternative Ways to Space

Getting to space is all about rockets, but people are trying to figure out other methods that could carry payloads to orbit and beyond. Railguns, airplanes, tethers and more. Today we’ll talk about alternative methods of spaceflight.

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Skywatchers Identify Aircraft as They Pass in Front of the Sun

It’s all about timing and location.

You’ve probably seen images we’ve posted on Universe Today of planes crossing in front of the Sun or the Moon. But how do the photographers manage to capture these events? Hint: it’s not random luck.

“I live under a main flight path out of Heathrow,” said photographer Chris Lyons from the UK who took the image above earlier today, “and can easily spot the planes not long after they take off — if it is clear — from when they are about 100 miles away!”

Chris posts many of his images on Universe Today’s Flickr page, and what is great about Chris’ airplane photos is that he includes a handy infographic about the plane in the shot; the type of plane, its takeoff and destination, and more, garnered from online flight trackers.

Chris told Universe Today that he originally started trying to catch planes passing in front of the Moon.

A waxing gibbous Moon with an  American Airlines flyby  on Feb. 2, 2015. Credit and copyright: Chris Lyons.
A waxing gibbous Moon with an American Airlines flyby on Feb. 2, 2015. Credit and copyright: Chris Lyons.

“It went from snapping them near it when just taking Moon shots to wanting to get closer and have them actually passing it,” he said. “Then I got a Solar filter and tried it with the Sun. It is far more difficult than the Moon, as you cannot look at it for long. I limit my viewing (our eyes are precious) and only look through high rated neutral density filters.”

We’ve also featured images from Sebastien Lebrigand who lives about 70 km outside of Paris, France. Lebrigand is prolific: he takes almost daily images of planes passing in front of the Sun and Moon and posts them on Twitter.

A Boeing 777 and a sunspot crosses the Sun on April 17, 2014, as seen from France. Credit and copyright: Sebastien Lebrigand.
A Boeing 777 and a sunspot crosses the Sun on April 17, 2014, as seen from France. Credit and copyright: Sebastien Lebrigand.

Lebrigand is an amateur astronomer but says he especially enjoys “the rare conjunction of the planes passing by the Sun and the Moon.’

He uses a Canon EOS 60D and a telescope to take his photos the pictures. But his work takes hours of time for analyzing when a potential photo opportunity might occur, setting up equipment, waiting for the exact moment, and then perfecting the images.

An Airbus A319 jet flying at 37,800 feet as it passes in front of the Moon, as seen from near Paris, France. Credit and copyright: Sebastien Lebrigand.
An Airbus A319 jet flying at 37,800 feet as it passes in front of the Moon, as seen from near Paris, France. Credit and copyright: Sebastien Lebrigand.

Check out more of Chris Lyons’ work at his Flickr page, and you can see more of Sebastien Lebrigand’s work at his website or his Twitter feed.