Photographer Mack Murdoc is always up for a challenge. And he certainly gave himself one when he decided to capture the International Space Station moving across the Sun. Though the ISS transits the Sun quite often—the space station orbits the Earth every 90 minutes—getting good images of it takes a lot of research and skill.
After Murdoc set the goal to capture a solar transit, he started working out all of the details that he'd need to make his vision come to life. This included learning not only when the ISS would pass in front of the Sun, but also researching the precise coordinates and elevation needed to get a proper view. As he noted, “You have like, half a mile of wiggle room or else you're too far off and the ISS will just clip the side, or you can completely miss it,” so precision is key.
In this case, Murdoc had to travel about an hour outside of Los Angeles to get into the correct viewing position. From there, it was sitting and waiting, as when the moment comes, it doesn't last long.
“The space station travels at 17,500mph, so the time it takes the ISS to go from one side of the sun to the other is exactly half of a second,” Murdoc tells My Modern Met. “You start your count down—by now you're firing off exposures just in case it comes early or late—and you're watching your computer screen in excitement as it blows right through your frame. Everyone screams and cheers. The planning and effort were worth it.”
The photoshoot was particularly challenging for Murdoc because he'd only been gifted the solar telescope he used five days before the event. In fact, prior to this project, he'd never taken a solar image before. So, he spent the days leading up to the shoot practicing and learning everything he'd need to know about his new piece of equipment.
In the end, his dedication paid off. He came home with incredible photographs that were merged into a final image showing the ISS as it moved across the Sun. Not only that, once at home he discovered that he'd also manage to capture several solar prominences on the top and sides of the Sun. It was a welcome surprise that only enhances the artistry of his image. For Murdoc, the photograph's success is just confirmation that challenging yourself creatively can bring incredible results.
“The first step in creating something beautiful like a photograph, or even just a memory, is making the effort to get up and do it,” he shares. “Great things don't just come to you. And when things fall into place and you achieve what your goal is, you have that great sense of accomplishment, which is one of the world's best feelings.”