Thursday, 28 February 2013

Oxford Calling the ISS

International Space Station over Lincoln
College, Oxford (Credit: Richard Passmore)
Every now and then, I get to see a photograph that just makes me go 'wow.'  One of our graduate students here at Oxford's planetary physics department is a keen and talented photographer, and captured this stunning shot of the International Space Station flying high over one of Oxford's ancient colleges.  The contrast between high technology and centuries of tradition makes this shot particularly exciting, and I asked Richard Passmore if I could share this image online.

Richard had targeted a space station pass at 19:00 on Tuesday February 19th from Lincoln College, Oxford (founded in 1427).  Using a long exposure, the photo captured 69 seconds of the ISS' path before it disappeared from sight.  He had originally planned to capture it in one shot, but the lens wasn’t wide enough to get it all so he created a vertical panorama instead. The sky and building roof was shot at f/3.5, ISO 100 for a duration of 69 seconds (using BULB mode on an SLR).  Richard then re-positioned the tripod to capture the building walls and rest of the quad, this time using an ISO of 1600 and a duration of only 4 seconds (f-stop remained at 3.5).  The brightness on the overlapping regions was fortunately a very good match so when he stitched them together in Adobe Photoshop there were no issues.  Finally he used Adobe Lightroom to correct the colour of the sky (the original image has a very unpleasant orange sky from the city's lights).  The result is great, and it's amazing to think that there are human beings living and working on that tiny star passing overhead.

Britain from space, Credit: ESA/Paolo Nespoili.
Given that Commander Chris Hadfield ( has been providing some stunning views of Earth from his high vantage point, it's nice to think of us looking right back at him!  On February 21st (two days after Richard's shot), Hadfield captured a nighttime image of Brighton and the surroundings, but I've yet to see an image centred on Oxford from the ISS (hint, hint).  In 2011, Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoili took this photo on a clear night while orbiting 230 miles above Earth aboard the International Space Station, and Oxford is there to the northwest of London along the M40.  On February 13th, Hadfield did get a view of the southern UK at night with Oxford visible, albeit through clouds.   These images from Hadfield have been a real treat, so I encourage you to follow his photo journal on Twitter!

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