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An astro photographer in California was overjoyed when he accidentally captured a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ picture of a jumbo jet silhouetted by the sun.
Andrew McCarthy is well practised at taking pictures of the sun, having been doing so for two years. Each image he takes of the sun is a ‘stack’ of thousands of shots, and over time he’s snapped similar pictures ‘hundreds of times’.
However, no image has ever compared to the one that featured United Airlines flight 425, or the accompanying scene he managed to catch on video.
Check out McCarthy’s footage below:
The photographer was taking pictures of the sun to ‘get a nice picture of the prominences – the little tufts of plasma hanging off the limb’, when the incredible scene unfolded before his eyes.
The shot McCarthy was hoping to get required him to use high framerates, similar to capturing a video, and during one of his batches of photos a plane ‘happened to perfectly intersect the middle of the sun.’
It took just one second for the jet to cross the sun, but McCarthy managed to capture it as it was silhouetted against the glowing red background of the star.
Discussing the resulting photo, the photographer said:
For me this is very rare. There are many photographers that set up near airports and plan for these shots, and get them easily. However I am far from an airport, and in my two years of shooting the sun, this is the first time I’ve captured a plane like this.
Each image I capture of the sun is a stack of thousands of shots, and I’ve perhaps done this hundreds of times – which would make this shot close to one-in-a-million to catch by accident like this.
The accompanying video shows the aeroplane passing across the centre of the sun, making it appear as if the jet is influencing the sun’s flares.
McCarthy explained that the video shows the ‘hot exhaust from the jet turbines distorting the air, and reflecting the light from the sun’.
The plane itself is only visible when silhouetting the sun – but since the contrails are scattering the same light from the sun they are briefly visible.
This gives the illusion that the surface of the sun was pulled out briefly.
After successfully snapping the impressive image, McCarthy used publicly available flight information to determine it was the United Airlines flight, travelling from San Francisco, California, to Newark, New Jersey.
He posted the image to social media, where the pilot of the plane came across it. The pilot was so impressed by the shot that they reached out to McCarthy, asking for prints of the photo so they could have them for themselves.
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