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The sun in a spacewalker's hand


NASA's Sunita Williams appears to reach out toward the sun in a picture taken by Japan's Aki Hoshide during a Sept. 5 spacewalk at the International Space Station.

NASA spacewalker Sunita Williams looks as if she's reaching out to touch the sun in this picture, which is one of the coolest views ever sent down from the International Space Station. Of course, the sun is actually about 93 million miles behind her. This is one of those joke pictures like the ones that show someone plucking up the Eiffel Tower — only it was taken in outer space.

In addition to the Suni vs. sun angle, this picture is special because the photographer is mirrored in Williams' shiny helmet visor. If you look closely at the full-resolution image, you can catch sight of Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide holding up the Nikon D2Xs camera that took the picture, with one of the space station's solar arrays behind him. The setting reminds me of Neil Armstrong's famous Apollo 11 picture of Buzz Aldrin, which similarly shows the photographer's reflection.

Speaking of reflections, the photo below is something of a self-portrait, cleverly set up by Hoshide. He held the camera in front of himself, like someone taking an iPhone self-portrait, and snapped away with the sun's glare in the background. You can't see Hoshide's face in the visor, but you can see the structure of the space station and our beautiful blue-and-white planet about 240 miles (385 kilometers) below.

These pictures and others on NASA's Flickr site were taken on Wednesday, during a 6½-hour spacewalk to replace a power switching unit and a broken camera on the robotic arm. The operation followed up on an earlier outing that went awry because Williams and Hoshide couldn't screw in one of the power box's installation bolts. This time around, the spacewalkers used an array of tools — including a wire pipe cleaner and a toothbrush — to clear metal shavings out of the bolt housings and, in Hoshide's words, "get 'er done."

These pictures prove that Hoshide can get 'er done with a camera as well as an orbital toolbox.


Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide's self-portrait, taken during a Sept. 5 spacewalk, shows the International Space Station and Earth mirrored in his helmet visor.

Who in the Cosmos
Hoshide's self-portrait served as the focus of this week's "Where in the Cosmos" photo puzzle on the Cosmic Log Facebook page, which turned out to be a "Who in the Cosmos" puzzler. It took just a couple of minutes for Cade Frost to figure out who the mystery astronaut was, even though there wasn't much to go on. (The best clue is the tiny sliver of the Japanese flag visible on Hoshide's shoulder patch.) To reward Frost's sharp eyes and close attention to space station operations, I'm sending him a pair of 3-D glasses — which will come in handy for watching space station videos like this one. To get in on next week's "Where in the Cosmos" puzzle, be sure to hit the "like" button for the Cosmic Log Facebook page. And to see more cool cosmic images, take a spin through August's Month in Space Pictures slideshow.

Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.