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Catch a space shuttle's parting shot

Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images

The International Space Station and the shuttle Discovery streak through the sky above New York's Central Park on Monday. The two spacecraft appear as stars moving through the evening sky; the long streak is an effect of the camera time exposure. Discovery's final space mission ends Wednesday.

The Discovery farewell tour continues with more cool views from space, including a view you might see just by stepping outside and looking up at the right time.

Now that the shuttle Discovery has undocked from the International Space Station for the last time, the two spacecraft are growing more distant with each orbit. But if you're in the right locale, they can still be seen in close succession Tuesday night, passing overhead about a minute or two apart. Schedules for the flyovers are available from several websites:

  • NASA lists sighting opportunities for cities all over the world. The easiest way to get a schedule is to click through listing of countries and cities to find the place closest to your location. The sighting location is expressed in degrees above the horizon, where 10 degrees is roughly the width of your outstretched fist held out at arm's length. So if the listing for New York City tells you to look to the west, 29 degrees above the horizon, at 7:24 p.m., you'd want to stretch your arm westward and measure out about three fist-lengths above the horizon. Discovery would show up first as a faint star, moving toward the south. The brighter space station would follow a similar track about a minute later.
  • The Heavens Above website also charts the movements of the shuttle and space station across the sky, based on the user preferences you provide when you register.
  • SpaceWeather.com also lists sighting opportunities, based either on ZIP code or non-U.S. location. Discovery isn't listed separately in these viewing tables, but if you subtract a minute or two from the time for seeing the space station, you'll probably be in good stead for seeing the shuttle as well.

Unfortunately, there are some places where folks won't be able to catch the show, either because the orbital track doesn't allow the shuttle and station to catch the glint of the sun at the right time, or because the skies aren't clear and dark. (Curse you, cloudy Seattle weather!) But even if you're in that situation, all is not lost: You can still enjoy the views you can get on your computer.

Thierry Legault / Patrick Vantuyne

This 3-D image of the space shuttle Discovery docked to the International Space Station is based on photos captured by a telescope set up in Germany. To get the 3-D effect, look closely at the photo cross-eyed. At the proper distance, the left and right images will blend to produce a sense of perspective.

For instance, take a look at Patrick Vantuyne's 3-D image of the docked shuttle and station. This amazing view was captured by French photographer Thierry Legault earlier in the mission, using a telescope that he pointed up from an opportune viewing spot in Germany. Vantuyne, who hails from Belgium, took Legault's images and created a version that can give you a sense of depth when you look at it cross-eyed.

Usually I have a problem with cross-eyed 3-D imagery — I prefer the kind that you see through cheap red-blue glasses — but I was able to get the three-dimensional effect out of this one. I hope you can as well.

Still more awesome views should come out of the "fly-around" that Discovery made just after undocking from the space station. These maneuvers produce shots of the station as seen from the shuttle, as well as the shuttle as seen from the station.

This YouTube video provides a sampling of what the space station's crew saw as Discovery made its final station inspection today (plus Captain Kirk's not-to-be-missed wake-up call). 

Update for 3:30 p.m. ET March 8: As promised, here's a beauty shot of the International Space Station as seen from Discovery during its fly-around on Monday:


The International Space Station is backdropped against Earth in a picture taken from the shuttle Discovery.

We'll have more of these high-definition shots in a follow-up on Photoblog.

In the meantime, check out our Space section for the latest on Discovery's final mission, and our Space Gallery for the most recent installment of "Month in Space Pictures" slideshow. 

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