In Brief

Space Station Crosses Sun's Face in Spectacular New Photo

Space Station Crosses Sun's Face
This composite photo made from five images shows the International Space Station crossing the sun’s face on Sept. 6, 2015. The images were captured from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

An amazing new photo shows the International Space Station crossing the sun's face.

The picture, a composite of five images taken Sunday (Sept. 6) from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia by NASA photographer Bill Ingalls, captures a "transit" of the International Space Station (ISS) across the solar disk.

Such transits don't last very long, because the space station zooms around Earth at more than 17,000 mph (27,000 km/h) — the $100 billion complex completes one lap around our planet once every 90 minutes or so.

Transits can offer more than just aesthetic appeal. For example, in the 18th century, astronomers were able to calculate the distance from the Earth to the sun by carefully observing two transits of Venus across the sun's face (one in 1761 and the other in 1769) from various locations around the globe. And NASA's Kepler space telescope has spotted thousands of potential exoplanets by detecting the tiny brightness dips they cause when crossing in front of their stars from the observatory's perspective.

The ISS is currently staffed by nine space fliers. But three of them — cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, Denmark's Andreas Mogensen and Kazakhstan's Aidyn Aimbetov — will come back to Earth Friday (Sept. 11), returning the orbiting lab to its normal complement of six crewmembers.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.