Astrophotographer captures incredible footage of a jumbo jet photobombing the Sun

A California-based astrophotographer has snapped 'one-in-a-million' footage of a United Airlines plane photobombing the Sun.


The stunning images and video, captured by accident, shows the aircraft perfectly silhouetted in black against the fiery orange surface.


The commercial aircraft took just a second to fly across the Sun as it made its way from San Francisco to New Jersey.


The moment was snapped by California-based astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy using a telescope fitted with a hydrogen-alpha solar filter, which highlights the chromosphere – a layer in the Sun's atmosphere.


'During one of my batches, a plane happened to perfectly intersect the middle of the Sun,' McCarthy 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.'  


The plane ended up being dramatically silhouetted right in front of the Sun in this rare, 'one-in-a-million' photo - taken as the flight crossed perfectly across the Sun's fiery surface


McCarthy had been attempting to get shots of the Sun's prominences – the large, loopy tufts that extend outward from the Sun's surface, using the hydrogen-alpha filter.  


Hydrogen-alpha filters block all light from the Sun except for the red light emitted by excited hydrogen atoms.


The hydrogen emission is responsible for the fiery colors of prominences and the chromosphere.    


'This shot was a complete accident, but instantly one of my favorites,' said  McCarthy.


'I was shooting the Sun in hydrogen-alpha light, so as the plane passed you could see the contrails scatter the light from the Sun, while the plane was invisible unless covering the disc [of the sun].

'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 jumbo jet took just a second to fly across the Sun - but perfectly intersected the surface of the burning star


The composite video footage appears to show the aircraft distorting the very edges of the Sun as it passes – which is just a trick of the light.


'In the video, what you're seeing is the hot exhaust from the jet turbines distorting the air, and reflecting the light from the Sun,' said McCarthy.


'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.'


McCarthy, who posts a variety of shots to his Instagram account, @cosmic_background, tracked down which flight it was using publicly available flight information.


He found it was a United Airlines 425 flight, travelling from San Francisco, California, to Newark, New Jersey.


After sharing to his social media, the pilot of the plane got in touch with him and requested prints of the image for himself.


McCarthy used the $3,000 Coronado Solarmax III 70mm telescope, which is optimised for capturing shots of the Sun in vivid detail thanks to its specialised filter protection.  


'I capture solar images using a specially designed telescope – do not point a regular telescope at the Sun!' said McCarthy.

'Not only will it not produce images like this, but it'll melt your camera or make you go blind.'   


McCarthy previously revealed what was described as the world's clearest pictures of the moon's craters by stacking thousands of pictures together over lunar phases to show the moon's surface in all its glory. 

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