Chinese spacecraft captured by Earthbound photographers
Skywatchers on the ground have spotted the Chinese Shenzhou 9 spacecraft, which has docked with the Tiangong 1 module, as it hurtled through the night sky.
Last week, Chinese astronauts docked two spacecraft together in orbit for the first, and now skywatchers on the ground have captured the scene.Skip to next paragraph
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Chinese spaceflyers Liu Yang, Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang launched June 16 on the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft. Two days later, on June 18, the astronauts (known as taikonauts), docked their vehicle at the robotic Tiangong 1 module, which had been in orbit since last autumn.
The two craft have been orbiting Earth together since, with the astronauts — including China's first female spaceflyer — living and working onboard. From the ground, the docked Chinese vehicles look much like many other satellites, appearing as a swift-moving pinpoint of light passing across the sky.
Astrophotographer Stephen Mudge photographed Shenzhou 9 and Tiangong 1 moving roughly 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Brisbane, Australia on June 20. His long-exposure photo shows the docked spacecraft as a bright streak across the otherwise static sky seen in the early morning hours. [How to See China's Shenzhou 6 in Night Sky]
Mudge had shot one of the Chinese spacecraft before. On March 31, before the Shenzhou 9 mission launched, the skywatcher caught a view of Tiangong 1 crossing overhead just five minutes apart from a pass of the International Space Station (ISS).
"The ISS went over first, followed five minutes later by China's Tiangong 1 station only a few degrees away from where the ISS had been," Mudge wrote in an email to SPACE.com.
The International Space Station is the $100 billion product of a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. Tiangong 1 is much smaller, but it is the prototype module for China's goal of establishing a space station of its own by 2020.