Steampunk station

By Phil Plait | August 29, 2011 12:12 pm

I can’t help but think of Jules Verne when I see this spectacular picture of Europe at night, as seen by astronauts aboard the International Space Station on August 10, 2011:

[Click to ennemonate.]

It’s not so much that the cities shown are Verne’s own — though you can see London (bottom left), and Paris (to the right of the dark swath of the English Channel). It’s the color. The brassy lights of the city, some fuzzed by clouds, are classic steampunk.

As you can see from the map, the station was high over the southern British Isles when this picture was taken. The view stretches for hundreds of kilometers, so a lot of major European cities are visible from that vantage point (NASA has a labeled shot to guide you).

We owe a lot to Jules Verne for his soaring imagination, including the inspiration to learn enough to go into space in the first place. I imagine he would have loved to been able to see a picture like this. After all, he predicted it.

… but upon thinking on it, I realized that, in a way, if only briefly and in name, he did get this view.

Image credit: NASA


Related posts:

A puzzling planet picture from the ISS
Followup: City lights from space
Turns out, it *is* a river in Egypt (one of my most popular posts ever)
Followup: the Nile river from space

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Geekery, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Europe, ISS, Jules Verne

Comments (21)

  1. Chris

    I can see my house from here! Great photo. My daughter is going to love seeing where we are from space.

    Also, I’m quite surprised at just how distinct the M25 is.

  2. Jonathan Strickland

    I love this photo! And because of the development on the banks of the Thames it looks like a tear is forming across England.

  3. Gary Ansorge

    Man, that is some heavy population density. If I was an alien, that big blob of light right across the channel is where I’d want to land,,,

    Beautiful pics, Phil.

    Gary 7

  4. Sander

    *recalibrates mental image of where Milan is supposed to be*

  5. Greg

    Good spot Chris, I think you can also see bits of the Peripherique around Paris and the dark blob of the Bois de Boulogne. Brussels looks a bit hazy – hot air from eurocrats.

  6. I just verified the view with Google earth and could confirm my hunch that NASA mislabeled Amsterdam.

    Contrary to many of the other light sources, the blob of light on the Dutch side of the English channel is not population density. I identify this as the so called “city of glass”, Westland, with ~27 km^2 of lighted greenhouses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westland,_municipality_of_the_Netherlands)

  7. Daniel J. Andrews

    Every time someone posts a picture like this, an ecologist dies…and a biologist is seriously wounded. :)

  8. Pepijn

    @Rob Hooft: good catch. That’s actually a pretty bad mistake by NASA, Amsterdam is nowhere *near* the coast…

    But otherwise a fantastic image!

  9. Chris P

    If you look at the Normandy coast between Cherbourg and Caen you can see why it was picked as the landing site for D-Day; there’s absolutely nobody there!

  10. Megan McC

    Heading straight South from London you can see the line of the A23 ending in Brighton on the coast. The Pinball Wizard route – “Ever since I was young boy I played the silver ball from Soho down to Brighton I must have played them all, but I ain’t seen nothing like it in any amusement hall. That deaf dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball”

    I’m in that blob of light at the Brighton end. Sadly I’m rubbish at pinball.

  11. sophia8

    Daniel J. Andrews @7: And at least six astronomers, at all that light pollution hiding the stars and planets. Honestly, Phil, how can you of all people rejoice at these kinds of pictures?

  12. John Kingery

    On a slightly different tack, I don’t know if the colors in the picture are accurate or false. If accurate, then it would seem that the golden glow of high and low pressure sodium lights has mostly won out over the harsh blue/white of the old mercury vapor lamps. The difference between the two is quite noticeable even from an airliner at night.

  13. Tim

    Awesome shot. I love how you can pick out the M25 and M23 around London.

  14. @7. Daniel J. Andrews : “Every time someone posts a picture like this, an ecologist dies…and a biologist is seriously wounded.”

    Wha..? I am puzzled by that comment – what are you referring to there?

    @11. sophia8 :

    Daniel J. Andrews @7: And at least six astronomers, at all that light pollution hiding the stars and planets. Honestly, Phil, how can you of all people rejoice at these kinds of pictures?

    Well, the picture does have its own kind of beauty to it but, I agree, when you think about the implications of it. Light pollution is literally costing us the stars. :-(

    @12. John Kingery :

    Going from the caption provided on the labelled NASA map penultimately linked :

    Astronaut photograph ISS028-E-24360 was acquired on August 10, 2011, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 28 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 28 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast. Lens artifacts have been removed. [Emphasis added.]

    I’d say this was true colour photo or very close to it. :-)

    Although ” ..taken by the Expedition 28 crew*” creates an interesting mental image of all six cosmonauts and astronauts* clicking on the shutter at once!

    * Namely : Commander Andrei Borisenko, Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Ron Garan, Sergey Volkov, Mike Fossum & Satoshi Furukawa. Only one of whoem presumably took this photo. Click on my name for the wikipage & source.

  15. Carolyn

    Sigh. This is why I’ve only seen the Milky Way a couple of times in the last ten years.

  16. If the Russian rockets keep failing, maybe we could build one of Verne’s space guns to resupply the ISS. Er…or not.

  17. On not labeling Amsterdam correctly:

    The dense western part of the Netherlands is comprised of a large compound conurbation, called ‘de Randstad’ (which literally means something like edge-city or rim-city) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randstad

    It carries this name because it is a densely populated horseshoe-shaped rim around a more open and rural central area (not all that much unlike the SF-bay area, half the total area, similarly sized population, but think of the bay replaced by meadows, greenhouses, rural towns and villages, recreational areas, small lakes, other (crop) fields and some forests). The major cities lying on this rim are Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Den Haag (The Hague) en Utrecht.

    From an international point of view it is not uncommon to refer to the entire randstad-area as the greater metropolitan area of Amsterdam (being the largest and most important city) and thus labeling the ‘Westland’ (between The Hague and the Rotterdam seaport) as Amsterdam is not entirely nonsensical.

  18. W Sanders

    It would be fairly cheap to put a satellite in orbit to continuously broadcast realtime HD video from a wide-wiew camera aimed straight down. You could sponsor the channel with a radio station playing new-agey music in the background. I’d subscribe.

    The only technical issue I can think of is bandwidth to stream the data back to Earth. Now that the shuttle is defunct, perhaps NASA has TDRS capacity available.

  19. I See London, I See France-

    ;-)

  20. Russ

    A crappy, false-color, anti science.. ‘steampunk’ version of the true, 21st century high tech world ! Notice the same ugly yellow-orange the TV media uses ? Look at the buildings & offices of the TV shows. Societal makeover in progress !

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