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Last looks at the shuttle in orbit

Thierry Legault / Astrophoto.fr

A three-image composite tracks the International Space Station and the shuttle Atlantis as they move across the sun's disk on July 15.

They look like alien bugs hopping across the sun, but these specks may represent the very last pictures of a space shuttle in orbit as seen from Earth.

French astrophotographer Thierry Legault, an expert in the technique of tracking spacecraft silhouettes, captured these views of the International Space Station and the shuttle Atlantis during their final rendezvous. Atlantis landed today, bringing the 30-year space shuttle program to an end.

The picture above is a composite, showing three views of the station-shuttle complex as it passed over the sun's disk on July 15. Legault had to travel to just the right location to get the shot. This one was taken from Caen in France. The entire transit took just seven-tenths of a second. Legault has labeled the shuttle and elements of the space station in this higher-resolution view:

Thierry Legault / Astrophoto.fr

The labels on this image point out the position of Atlantis and components of the International Space Station during a July 15 transit.

In an email, Legault told me that he traveled through the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands to capture the silhouettes. One picture, snapped north of Prague and posted to Legault's website, shows the space station and the shuttle side by side, 50 minutes after Atlantis' undocking earlier this week.

Legault produced the piece de resistance today during a stopover near Emden, in northern Germany. It may not look quite as impressive as the others, but it could well be more historic. Legault wrote that the picture was taken "just 21 minutes before the deorbit burn, therefore there are chances that it is the very last image of a space shuttle in orbit."

Here's a composite of four images, taken during the 0.9-second-long transit. The silhouettes of Atlantis are highlighted within white circles:

Thierry Legault / Astrophoto.fr

A four-image composite tracks Atlantis' transit across the sun's disk, just 21 minutes before today's deorbit burn. The white circles highlight Atlantis.

For the telescope and camera buffs out there, Legault says the images were produced using a Takahashi TOA-150 6-inch apochromatic refractor (focal length 3600mm) on an EM-400 mount, with a Baader Herschel wedge. The camera is a Canon 5D Mark II, set for an exposure of 1/8000s, 100 ISO, working in continuous shooting at four frames per second. Transit forecasts were calculated by www.calsky.com.

Merci beaucoup to Thierry for sharing his pictures with us through the years.

More great views of Atlantis:

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