This image of the Space Shuttle is truly beautiful, but is it real?

uhoh 09/17/2018. 3 answers, 19.228 views
iss nasa space-shuttle imaging space-art

I saw this image in the Infobae article La NASA probará un paracaídas para posar naves espaciales en Marte ("NASA will test a parachute to place spaceships on Mars").

The image looks plausible to me, refraction in Earth's atmosphere, a crescent moon nearly back-lit by the Sun at sunset, colors in the atmosphere, the Space Shuttle with it's doors open...

But it looks too good to be true, I'm not sure this specific view of the Shuttle and Earth's atmosphere is viewable geometrically from the ISS, even with a telescope, and a reverse image search only shows me other Spanish language news items (suggesting they come from a similar source) and no links to NASA for the original.

Is this space-themed artwork, or is it a real photo, possibly taken from the ISS?

beautiful, but is it real (Shuttle and the Moon at sunset)

3 Answers


OON 09/17/2018.

This image is very similar to the following image

https://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/shuttle/sts-130/html/iss022e062672.html

with the following description

STS-130 Shuttle Mission Imagery

ISS022-E-062672 (9 Feb. 2010)

Though astronauts and cosmonauts often encounter striking scenes of Earth's limb, this very unique image, part of a series over Earth's colorful horizon, has the added feature of a silhouette of the space shuttle Endeavour. The image was photographed by an Expedition 22 crew member prior to STS-130 rendezvous and docking operations with the International Space Station. Docking occurred at 11:06 p.m. (CST) on Feb. 9, 2010. The orbital outpost was at 46.9 south latitude and 80.5 west longitude, over the South Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern Chile with an altitude of 183 nautical miles when the image was recorded. The orange layer is the troposphere, where all of the weather and clouds which we typically watch and experience are generated and contained. This orange layer gives way to the whitish Stratosphere and then into the Mesosphere. In some frames the black color is part of a window frame rather than the blackness of space.

and

https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_1592.html

with description

In a very unique setting over Earth's colorful horizon, the silhouette of the space shuttle Endeavour is featured in this photo by an Expedition 22 crew member on board the International Space Station, as the shuttle approached for its docking on Feb. 9 during the STS-130 mission.

However compared to the actual photo it looks modified. There's no moon or stars in the original. There are three photos taken later

https://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/shuttle/sts-130/ndxpage5.html

but you can see that nowhere you can see stars and moon. Even if some unknown photo of this sequence has captured the moon it seems that for Feb. 9 2010 the phase was somewhat different (taken from the Heavens Above)

Moon phase for Feb. 9 2010


jcaron 09/21/2018.

A reverse image search (once you tell Google you're looking for the space shuttle, not base jump) brings you to the picture on Getty Images, which states:

Space shuttle above Earth's atmosphere, composite image

(emphasis mine).

So it's probably composed of one of the pictures linked to by OON and some other picture of the moon. Or that part could be completely hand-made. I haven't found any similar picture of the moon, but that doesn't mean it does not exist.


jpa 09/17/2018.

Some further information on the manipulation or possible genuine situation can be had by analyzing the perspective in the image.

I measured the length of the orbiter as 49 pixels and the diameter of moon as 251 pixels in the image. Because the apparent size of the moon is approximately 0.5 degrees when camera is anywhere close to earth, we can calculate that the orbiter is $49/251 \cdot 0.5 \approx 0.098 \,\mathrm{deg}$ long.

The apparent size of the orbiter compared to the moon is independent of the optics used to take the image, it depends only on the distance between the camera and the moon. Because the actual length of the orbiter is 37 meters, we can calculate that the distance between camera and the orbiter would be $37\,\mathrm{m}/(0.098\,\mathrm{deg}\cdot\frac{2\pi}{360\,\mathrm{deg}})\approx22\,\mathrm{km}$.

I guess this is somewhat plausible when compared with the description of the genuine images: "prior to STS-130 rendezvous and docking operations with the International Space Station", though it seems quite far away and would require a telescope. I kind-of hoped to find an implausibly long or short distance.


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