Sunset from space

By Phil Plait | June 14, 2010 7:00 am

What does a sunset look like when you’re racing through space at 8000 meters per second?



Oh, I could go on and on about the curvature of the Earth, the layers of the atmosphere, the distribution of colors, how the aerosol layer is thin and glows after sunset, and what it must be like to go through 16 sunrises and sunsets every day. But you can get all that information from the NASA website. And really, the enduring nature of this picture is not what it shows, but that it was taken by a human being in space.


Comments (20)

  1. Jason

    That is a truly beautiful picture.

  2. And really, the enduring nature of this picture is not what it shows, but that it was taken by a human being in space.

    Well, that and the fact that it’s just so pretty to look at.

    It’s so familiar, almost like sunsets we see from the ground, that it’s immediately recognizable as such. Yet, it’s so totally different at the same time. Now, if I could only get my digital camera to capture such colors.

  3. rob

    since the earth is flat, how come the horizon looks curved?


  4. Noel

    @ rob lol. It’s the edge of the spotlight sun’s range… oh wait. It’s curved the wrong way for that!
    Unless of course you think the image is faked… but again, the Flat Earth Theory doesn’t even allow sunsets or sunrises to occur. Those who argue that Sunrises and Sunsets are effects of perspective have obviously never drawn in perspective before. Anyone I’ve seen to sincerely argue for the Flat Earth clearly didn’t pay attention in high-school math and science… or art class. That is if they even went.

    Yeah, Phil. I wasted a whole week on the Flat Earth Society forums, and the above is the conclusion I’ve made.

  5. Messier Tidy Upper

    Superluminously beautiful. :-)

    Thanks for posting that BA – I love it. :-)

    But who took it now Soichi Noguchi, is back on Earth? ūüėČ

    PS. @ 4 Noel : Tell me you’re joking & theirs no “serious” Flat Earth society or real believers in that today. Please!

  6. Noel

    It’s mostly trolls, but I think there are some serious believers in there. Just look in the Flat Earth Believers section.

    If I ever become rich, I’d love to be on one of Virgin Galactic’s flights to witness that though, that is if they’d do night-time flights. That would be spectactular, as you’d be able to actually see the sunrise progress at a visible rate.


    @Messier Tidy Upper (#5),

    See: Flat Earth Society [Wikipedia].

  8. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 6. Noel & 7. IVAN3MAN : Thanks. Umm .. wow. :roll:

    One day, perhaps I’ll stop being utterly surprised by the truly strange things people either actually believe or profess to believe indistinguishably from actually believing. (Poes law?)

    Today is not that day. ūüėČ

    On the bright side good to see Wikipedia correctly lumps the Creationists in with the Flat Earthers there. :-)

  9. kevbo

    4. Noel

    The horizon is flat, the earth is flat, hence the sunset is flat. All you have to do is look in the mirror and see that your EYE is a sphere. The refraction of light through a curved surface is what gives the flat sunset the appearance of curvature.

    So why doesn’t a ruler look curved? It’s closer, so there isn’t as much distance for the refraction to happen over.

    (ouch. that even hurt my brain)

  10. Noel

    The horizon isn’t flat. It just appears straight. Yes my eye is a sphere-ish shape. If the sun is passing under the horizon, and can still be viewed in other places of the earth in a midday location, this follows that different places on the earth are not oriented the same, and with no edges in the surface, then we must conclude that the earth is round.

    You admit that the light is refracting through a curved surface, and so admit that the surface is curved. Good job, you just proved the earth is round. Go learn more about refraction.

    (oh, and my brain feels fine.)

    P.S. Don’t make Phil explain it to you. cause the Plait’ll set you strait! I bet he can’t believe this discussion is taking place here, or at all.

    I’ve already gone through this on the FES forums. Look up the user Nolhekh there. I’ve made a nice diagram of what the sun should be doing if the earth were to be flat.

  11. mike burkhart

    This is spectular , amazing , . I think Jhon Glenn said wile in orbit in his Mecury spacecraft on the frist orbit “that was the fastest night and day I’ve ever seen” (he also saw particals that he called “fireflys” about this time they turned out to be ice crystles coming from his craft.I thought the debate over weather the earth was flat or round was setteled in 1492. I wonder are there still people who beleve the Sun orbits the Earth ? or that there are only 4 elements:Earth,Air, Fire , Water ? This is increadable maybe Phil has a point.

  12. Toothygrin

    Debunking the Flat-Earthers once and for all:

    There was an internet campaign to send enough money to Rush Limbaugh to help him move out of the USA, thus fulfilling his ‘promise’ if the Health bill passed.

    Why not start an internet funding campaign to build a “transport the Flat Earthers to the edge of the world” trip, and help take them there? They would have full reign to direct the (flight/overland caravan traversal/whatever) so that they could not say that they were duped and/or taken to the wrong place. Then they could videotape the event, take camera photos, and show everyone how very right they are… assuming they ever got to the edge of the world.

  13. kevbo

    Oops. I thought I was being obvious enough… I forgot there are actually people who believe that stuff who post here.

    Next time I’ll include the /sarcasm


  14. jcm

    In the near future this picture will become my desktop’s wallpaper.

  15. That’s the kind of shot you can get when you have a clear glass where to look through…

    A couple of months ago, an hour before landing on Rio do Janeiro, I was able to catch the dawn from my plane’s window:

    (take a look at time 01:27)

    Yes… the glass was filthy enough to avoid a clear shot… but still, it was a memorable sight!


    @kevbo (#13),

    You made the mistake of not ending your previous tongue-in-cheek comment with these: !!!1!11!!1!!

    (You need to use at least a half-dozen of them!)

  17. The Flat Earth Society has forums??

  18. Is this from that Robbie Williams video (British singer)? What’s that about anyway? He goes to the International Space Station and nobody’s home? Or there’s a solar flare and nobody told him and they’re all shut in the panic room and he has to fly down to earth through the cosmic ray storm and have a [2001] scene and then become Dark Phoenix?

    (Like he doesn’t already think he’s Mister Fantastic)

  19. So how can we have a flat photo of a flat object that looks curved? I’m so konfyoozd. *sad face*

  20. JB of Brisbane

    Although not from quite as high up, I still consider myself privileged to have seen a sunrise over the Pacific Ocean through the window of a QANTAS 747SP cruising at 41,000 feet. Just before the sun peeked into view, it looked as if a rainbow had been flattened across the horizon. Make sure you see it at least once in your lifetime.


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