# This image of the Space Shuttle is truly beautiful, but is it real?

I saw this image in the Infobae article La NASA probará un paracaídas para posar naves espaciales en Marte ("NASA will test a parachute to place spaceships on Mars").

The image looks plausible to me, refraction in Earth's atmosphere, a crescent moon nearly back-lit by the Sun at sunset, colors in the atmosphere, the Space Shuttle with it's doors open...

But it looks too good to be true, I'm not sure this specific view of the Shuttle and Earth's atmosphere is viewable geometrically from the ISS, even with a telescope, and a reverse image search only shows me other Spanish language news items (suggesting they come from a similar source) and no links to NASA for the original.

Is this space-themed artwork, or is it a real photo, possibly taken from the ISS?

• A better translation of that article title would be "NASA will test a parachute to place spaceships on Mars", or perhaps "NASA will test a parachute to gently lower spaceships down to the surface of Mars". The Wikcionario definition of "posar" in this sense, translated into English, is "to place something in a smooth manner onto a surface". – Tanner Swett Sep 17 '18 at 16:04
• @TannerSwett thanks! If you like, you are welcome to edit and make any changes or improvements to the translation yourself. – uhoh Sep 17 '18 at 16:09
• @TannerSwett That's better, but not quite there. You can just translate it as "land" spaceships on Mars; it's contrived usage and it is likely just a clumsy translation from English anyways. (I'd edit but it gets rejected by the character minimum, and I don't see anything else to fix.) – E.P. Sep 18 '18 at 11:33
• It is not a real image as presented. It is a “photo illustration” which often means taking real photo and adding stuff to it to make it fit better with editorial needs. – Giacomo1968 Sep 19 '18 at 0:30

This image is very similar to the following image

https://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/shuttle/sts-130/html/iss022e062672.html

with the following description

STS-130 Shuttle Mission Imagery

ISS022-E-062672 (9 Feb. 2010)

Though astronauts and cosmonauts often encounter striking scenes of Earth's limb, this very unique image, part of a series over Earth's colorful horizon, has the added feature of a silhouette of the space shuttle Endeavour. The image was photographed by an Expedition 22 crew member prior to STS-130 rendezvous and docking operations with the International Space Station. Docking occurred at 11:06 p.m. (CST) on Feb. 9, 2010. The orbital outpost was at 46.9 south latitude and 80.5 west longitude, over the South Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern Chile with an altitude of 183 nautical miles when the image was recorded. The orange layer is the troposphere, where all of the weather and clouds which we typically watch and experience are generated and contained. This orange layer gives way to the whitish Stratosphere and then into the Mesosphere. In some frames the black color is part of a window frame rather than the blackness of space.

and

https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_1592.html

with description

In a very unique setting over Earth's colorful horizon, the silhouette of the space shuttle Endeavour is featured in this photo by an Expedition 22 crew member on board the International Space Station, as the shuttle approached for its docking on Feb. 9 during the STS-130 mission.

However compared to the actual photo it looks modified. There's no moon or stars in the original. There are three photos taken later

https://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/shuttle/sts-130/ndxpage5.html

but you can see that nowhere you can see stars and moon. Even if some unknown photo of this sequence has captured the moon it seems that for Feb. 9 2010 the phase was somewhat different (taken from the Heavens Above)

• Great detective work, thank you. I think it's fairly conclusive then. – uhoh Sep 17 '18 at 10:44
• okay then, excellent detective work! Because the Moon is only ~400,000 km away, it has a slightly different apparent phase depending on location (the Earth is ~13,000 km wide) but that probably doesn't have enough of an effect to account for such a large difference. – uhoh Sep 17 '18 at 10:52
• The moon may be edited in, but I doubt that is into the pictures you specifically refer too. Atmosphere banding and shuttle positions relative to it are different. I doubt that any photoshopper would have changed that too (irrelevant to him/her). So it could still be a case of some unknown photo of this sequence – user10509 Sep 18 '18 at 14:46
• @JanDoggen Yep, I thought that too, but other way around. It is much easier to cut silhouette than draw the moon so I though it may be some iss photo without shuttle but with moon. But I couldn't find any. And as I've noted in comments to other answer I think that the moon is suspiciously large. I tend to think that it may be iss photo without anything with shuttle, moon and stars photoshopped in. Or it may even be that the background is artificial too, after all the painter could get extra pleasure from that. – OON Sep 18 '18 at 20:12
• @JanDoggen I don't know. The atmosphere banding looks a lot like it was done with the smudge tool in Photoshop. The arc of the moon is not refracted properly - it's continuous through the three distinct bands with excursions only at the boundary layer. It's definitely a composite of some sort. – J... Sep 19 '18 at 12:34

A reverse image search (once you tell Google you're looking for the space shuttle, not base jump) brings you to the picture on Getty Images, which states:

Space shuttle above Earth's atmosphere, composite image

(emphasis mine).

So it's probably composed of one of the pictures linked to by OON and some other picture of the moon. Or that part could be completely hand-made. I haven't found any similar picture of the moon, but that doesn't mean it does not exist.

• It almost looks like a fully faked moon image because you can see stars through the dark side of the moon, that and the moon seems to be too big. – Magic Octopus Urn Sep 17 '18 at 14:45
• @MagicOctopusUm The size of the moon is no problem, it's just a matter of perspective and a long focal length. I can't see any star on the dark side of the moon - you have to take into account it is heavily distorted due to the atmosphere and an oval shape. – asdfex Sep 17 '18 at 16:28
• @MagicOctopusUrn or a nuclear war on its surface. – Skyler Sep 17 '18 at 18:52
• @uhoh: You’d be better off asking a question using the ask question button in the appropriate SE site. Comments are not intended for new (off-topic) questions. Alternatively, go to chat. – WGroleau Sep 17 '18 at 19:12

Some further information on the manipulation or possible genuine situation can be had by analyzing the perspective in the image.

I measured the length of the orbiter as 49 pixels and the diameter of moon as 251 pixels in the image. Because the apparent size of the moon is approximately 0.5 degrees when camera is anywhere close to earth, we can calculate that the orbiter is $49/251 \cdot 0.5 \approx 0.098 \,\mathrm{deg}$ long.

The apparent size of the orbiter compared to the moon is independent of the optics used to take the image, it depends only on the distance between the camera and the moon. Because the actual length of the orbiter is 37 meters, we can calculate that the distance between camera and the orbiter would be $37\,\mathrm{m}/(0.098\,\mathrm{deg}\cdot\frac{2\pi}{360\,\mathrm{deg}})\approx22\,\mathrm{km}$.

I guess this is somewhat plausible when compared with the description of the genuine images: "prior to STS-130 rendezvous and docking operations with the International Space Station", though it seems quite far away and would require a telescope. I kind-of hoped to find an implausibly long or short distance.

• Speaking about angular sizes (as I was thinking that this image was made by putting the silhouette on the actual iss photo of the moon on the horizon without any orbiter) don't you find the moon suspiciously big compared to the troposphere? spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/station/crew-28/hires/… Of course all atmospheric variations introduce large uncertainty but still... – OON Sep 17 '18 at 14:22
• Thanks! I love a good technical analysis! In addition to several very long focal length lenses with image stabilization (see this answer and links therein for photos of lenses), there's this: Is there a telescope on board the ISS? – uhoh Sep 17 '18 at 15:39