They look just like specks of dust on the surface of the sun, but those black dots were the silhouettes of the space shuttle and the International Space Station.
From this distance, you can really appreciate the immenseness of the sun and the space. The sun is 93 million miles away – several orders of magnitude farther than the shuttle and the space station’s orbital distance of some 250 miles. But comparison, the Hubble Telescope orbits at some 350 miles. Further still is the Earth’s much cluttered geostationary orbit – over 22,000 miles — the distance at which an object takes 24 hours to orbit the Earth, and usefully hovers consistently over the same point of planet and thus the home of many communication and geolocation satellites.
The above photo was taken by the French photographer Thierry Legault, whose specialty is in taking pictures of solar eclipses, planetary and satellite transits. Earlier this year, he caught the moment just 50 minutes before Atlantis docked with the ISS; to take the photo, he traveled to Madrid so he would be inside the narrow five-mile wide visibility band that stretched across Spain, southern France and Northern Italy.
It is an extraordinary image, considering that the actual event was visible for just 0.54 of a second, because of the speed of two spacecrafts. To catch the event, Legault had to use an extremely fast shutter speed, combined with a pin hole-sized aperture.