The remarkable composite picture, shot by photographer Rainee Colacurcio, was selected as a NASA astronomy picture of the day. Even though the ISS is far closer to the Earth – at 250 miles (408km) distance – the iconic orbiting lab remains dwarfed against the immense surface of the Sun glowing orange in the background. Ms Colacurcio took the image from Edmonds Beach in Washington.
Ms Colacurcio told NASA: “That’s no sunspot. It’s the International Space Station caught passing in front of the Sun.
“Sunspots, individually, have a dark central umbra, a lighter surrounding penumbra, and no solar panels,’ she added.
“By contrast, the ISS is a complex and multi-spired mechanism, one of the largest and most sophisticated machines ever created by humanity.
“Transiting the Sun is not very unusual for the ISS, which orbits the Earth about every 90 minutes.
But getting one’s timing and equipment just right for a great image is rare.”
This awe-inspiring image is a really a combination of two photos.
One of the space station as it passed in front of the Sun, while a second captured details of the Sun’s surface.
The resulting composite pictured is unusual as it shows the Sun lacking any real sunspots.
These are darker patches that appear temporarily on the surface of the Sun and represent regions of relatively cooler temperatures thanks to localised magnetic fluxes which dampen convection.
The number of sunspots at any given time tends to vary with the 11-year solar cycle.
Ms Colacurcio added: “Sunspots have been rare on the Sun since the dawn of the current Solar Minimum, a period of low solar activity.
“For reasons not yet fully understood, the number of sunspots occurring during both the previous and current solar minima have been unusually low.”
Fifty years to the day after Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon, a NASA astronaut, an Italian flight engineer and a Russian commander blasted off from Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.
The trio glided in for a perfect docking with ISS to complete a “textbook” four-orbit rendezvous.
The timing of the launch was coincidental with the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969.
But NASA physician-astronaut Andrew Morgan described the crew as being honoured to serve as a symbolic link between the past, when the United States and the former Soviet Union were engaged in a Cold War space race, and today, when international cooperation is the rule and not the exception.
Mr Morgan said: “I can’t think of a better way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing than launching on the anniversary with an international crew, especially in light of NASA’s reaffirmation that we intend to land a crew on the surface of the moon in 2024.”