Space Shuttle Smoke Plume Shadow Points to the Full Moon

During a 2001 launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, NASA photographer Pat McCracken captured this amazing photograph of the shuttle’s smoke plume casting a shadow across the full moon rising in the horizon.

[…] the Sun, Earth, Moon, and rocket were all properly aligned for this photogenic coincidence. First, for the space shuttle’s plume to cast a long shadow, the time of day must be either near sunrise or sunset. Only then will the shadow be its longest and extend all the way to the horizon. Finally, during a Full Moon, the Sun and Moon are on opposite sides of the sky. Just after sunset, for example, the Sun is slightly below the horizon, and, in the other direction, the Moon is slightly above the horizon. Therefore, as Atlantis blasted off, just after sunset, its shadow projected away from the Sun toward the opposite horizon, where the Full Moon just happened to be. [#]

Talk about a one-in-a-million shot…

(via PhotoWeeklyOnline)

  • Kevin Miller

    Well, given that it was a full moon, it’s a certainty that any shadows would point towards it (because it was directly opposite the earth from the sun). They just needed a clear sky in the direction of the sunset to create the shadow. So more like one-in-a-thousand. (Still a fantastic picture, don’t get me wrong.)

  • Elem

    a Kodak moment.

  • Gereon

    I keep staring at the image, but i don’t understand why only a part of the plume would cast this absolutely straight and virtually two dimensional shadow.

  • Erika

    Thanks for ruining it Poindexter.

  • Noxonomus

    I was wondering that at first but only the part of the plume in direct sun can cast a shadow, and th lower half of the plume is already in shadow.  Above the part casting the shadow I am not sure but I am guessing that there just isn’t enough stuff blowing around illuminated by the sun for the shadow to appear.

  • George Kaz


  • George Kaz


  • Flgraphics

    I find this hard to believe as well.. the shadow is being projected onto the open air? seems impossible to me

  • Baldur Tryggvason

    It’s the red band of the light spectrum that is predominantly visable in the sky there and so it’s only the red part of the plume that is casting the shadow.