Earlier this week in the sunny skies above the south of France, China’s experimental Tiangong-1 space station flew directly in front of the sun. Using a filtered 6-inch telescope, astrophotographer Thierry Legault recorded the station’s silhouette alongside big sunspot AR1775.
Most people are familiar with the 450-ton International Space Station. Fewer, perhaps, know about China’s 8.5-ton Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace-1). It was launched in Sept. 2011 to establish a foothold in Earth orbit for China’s fledgling space program. Tiangong-1 was briefly boarded by taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) in June 2012, and a second group is onboard now. Three Taikonauts arrived on June 13, 2013, on a 15-day mission to practice rendevous and docking maneuvers and to gain experience living in space. Their expedition is attracting little attention in Western press, but it is being widely followed in China. Earlier this week, more than 60 million students and teachers at 80,000 Chinese schools watched a live lecture by the crew of the Tiangong-1.
See the Tiangong-1 before it goes! Spaceweather’s Simple Flybys app turns your smartphone into a field-tested space station tracker. It works for both the ISS and the Tiangong-1.