HOUSTON ? Stunning new images reveal the space shuttle Atlantis and the Hubble Space Telescope as the two spacecraft were silhouetted by the sun earlier this week.
The images were taken on May 12 and May 13 by photographer Thierry Legault before Atlantis astronauts grabbed onto Hubble with the shuttle?s robotic arm to begin a series of challenging spacewalks to overhaul the space telescope for the fifth and final time.
The spacecraft were zooming around Earth at 17,500 mph (28,163 kph) at an altitude of nearly 350 miles (563 km). Both spacecraft transited across the face of the sun in 0.8 seconds, according to Legault.
The two spaceships appear as tiny dark pinpricks on the expansive face of an otherwise unblemished sun. But in tightly cropped shots, the two spacecraft can easily be seen.
In the May 12 snapshot, Atlantis appears as a clearly recognizable shuttle in silhouette. Its nose is facing toward the limb of the sun and the shuttle?s tail, aft and starboard wingtip can be discerned.
The May 13 image is even more revealing. There, Legault caught both Atlantis and Hubble just before astronauts grappled the space telescope. The belly of Atlantis appears to be facing away from the higher Hubble, so its full outline reveals both wings, the nose and tail.
The school bus-sized Hubble is not as clear and appears as dark spot against the sun to the lower right of Atlantis. NASA?s space shuttles are 122 feet (37 meters) long with a wingspan of about 78 feet (24 meters). Hubble is nearly 44 feet (13 meters) long and 14 feet (4 meters) in diameter at its widest point.
The sun is going through a quiet phase of its 11-year solar cycle that has left it nearly barren of sunspots. It is expected to hit a mild peak in 2013.
Legault caught the transit of Atlantis and Hubble across the sun from Vero Beach, Fla. The shuttle launched toward Hubble on Monday from the Kennedy Space Center in nearby Cape Canaveral, Fla., on an 11-day mission to upgrade Hubble. The mission is aimed at extending the telescope?s life through 2014.
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