Amazing photos of ATV-4 “Einstein” cargo ship’s fiery re-entry

The space cargo ship Einstein burns up as it plunges through Earth’s atmosphere Nov. 2, 2013. Only a few of the photos show the long orange flame. Could it be leftover fuel ignited by the heat? Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/ESA

At 6:04 a.m. CST Nov. 2 the Einstein cargo ship harmlessly burned up in Earth’s atmosphere over an uninhabited part of the Pacific Ocean. You’ll recall the ship docked to the International Space Station last June to deliver fuel, food and equipment; it was ‘de-orbited’ 5 months later on Oct. 28 carrying 1.6 tons of waste. While it’s unlikely anyone saw it from the ground, eyes from above got a fabulous view.

Further along during its descent Einstein begins to break into many smaller pieces. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/ESA

After undocking, the ship was put through a series of delicate maneuvers over a period of 5 days to position it directly under the space station. Once its controlled descent began, astronauts on board the station readied cameras ready to record the craft’s spectacular disintegration.

Individual pieces burn up under the intense atmospheric pressure and heat experienced during reentry. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/ESA

The photos begin when Einstein was 62 miles (100 km) below the station or about 195 miles (313 km) high. Notice how the whole ship looks like a giant meteor at first, but as it breaks into bits, each piece becomes its own smaller meteor until the whole grows into massive swarm of flaming debris. Burning trash never looked so beautiful!

Crop of a high-resolution photo of Einstein showing many pieces of burning debris. Credit: NASA/ESA

Scientists went through the trouble of lining up the two spacecraft and having photos taken to learn more about what happens to spacecraft upon reentry. The last time NASA and ESA photographed a returning cargo ship was in 2008.


Video made from the complete set of re-entry photos made by Vladimir Jankijevic

Click HERE to see the complete set of high resolution pictures of the event or watch it flash by in the awesome video made by Vladimir Jankijevic, one of our readers.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

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