By Sonny Jones
Look! Up in the sky! It wasn’t a bird nor a plane that brought Johnny Horne to the Clarkton School of Discovery parking lot on this hot, steamy Thursday afternoon, although, admittedly, it was a flying machine.
The former Fayetteville Observer photographer and amateur astronomer extraordinaire had traveled from his home in Stedman in hopes of capturing the International Space Station passing in front of the sun. Based on the spaceship’s projected path, the Clarkton School of Discovery parking lot was a perfect location. Who knew?
Johnny will be the first to tell you there are no guarantees in astronomy. A cloud passing between the sun and the Earth at just the wrong time means no video nor photo no matter how far you’ve traveled, how much equipment you have or how much time it takes to set up. He’s traveled the world taking images of eclipses, comets, stars and planets. He’s also traveled the world looking up at clouds and rain.
The window for Thursday’s event was about half a second, if that. The International Space Station travels at about 17,500 miles per hour and orbits the Earth every 90 minutes. Add in that we can’t actually see the ISS pass in front of the sun — after all, looking at the sun is frowned upon if you would like to keep your eyesight — and the ship is gone in a literal blink of an eye, it’s really a shot in the dark, so to speak.
Johnny started his video at 1:15 p.m. The camera was attached to a filter-protected telescope that was pointing directly at the sun. He stopped the video after three minutes. Did he get it?
He got inside his SUV and watched the video. And watched. And watched.
BLIP! There it went! Success!
Back inside his home studio and backyard observatory, Johnny put together a 15-image multiple exposure stack of the International Space Station passing in front of the sun which you see above. It shows the spaceship’s path across the sun. Notice the craft’s eight solar wings, four on each side, sticking out. The black spots at the top and the one near the bottom are sun spots.
Sonny Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.