Space Station star trails

By Phil Plait | April 11, 2012 12:00 pm

One of my new favorite sites is Fragile Oasis, a blog where astronauts write about their experiences in space and on Earth. Don Petit, an American who has taken so many of the amazing pictures that have graced not just this blog but have gone viral across the web, posted a nice description of taking star trail pictures on orbit. This one in particular is surpassingly beautiful:

Siiiigggghhhhh.

You can see part of the International Space Station at the top (I think that’s the lab section, with the node Destiny and the JEM facility, but I may be mistaken). The stars are blurred from motion, with the thickening on the right of the Milky Way, the combined light of billions of stars.

The slight motion blurring makes it look like the ISS is moving at warp speed over the planet. The Earth’s atmosphere is the thin green/brown haze over the Earth’s limb, with the top sharply defined by the aerosol layer. The red glow is interesting. That may be an aurora, but it might also be an internal reflection; Don shot this through the cupola window. Reflections plague the shots sometimes… but my gut tells me this is auroral in nature.

Either way, this is a stunning shot, and I found Don’s description really interesting. What an opportunity, to see the Earth from above all the time, and to be able to place it so well among the stars where, honestly, it rightfully belongs.

Image credit: NASA


Related Posts:

- ATV docks with the ISS (MUST SEE photo!)
- The green fire of the aurora, seen from space
- Time Lapse: The stars, from orbit
- Appalachian nocturne: a tour of the eastern US from space

Comments (12)

  1. ajb240

    Is there no embiggened version of this pic?

  2. It is a beautiful image, however, it just drives home a bit of melancholy for me. The ISS is only 200-250 miles up… That is virtually nothing compared to where I wish we were. Imagine the earth as the size of a basketball, how far away from the surface do you think that is?

  3. Looks like rain to me.

  4. Kremer

    Yep, that’s the Destiny lab, with Node 2 in front, the JAXA lab to the left, and Columbus lab to the right.

  5. vince charles

    2. Larian LeQuella Said:
    April 11th, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    “The ISS is only 200-250 miles up… That is virtually nothing compared to where I wish we were. Imagine the earth as the size of a basketball, how far away from the surface do you think that is?”

    Well, if the basketball is pretty close to your face, that’s still within range of the bigger sounding rockets. A simple webcam system in a sealed module, looking through an airtight port should do. No, I’m not joking- such a trip would run you significantly less than a million dollars, assuming other payloads shared the ride. A canister with webcam and board would only take up a fraction of the capacity.

  6. Er…did you mean unsurpassingly beautiful?

    Although I do think the picture of my dog I took the other day could surpass this one.
    :)

    EDIT: Sorry, I don’t usually do the grammar nazi thing…stupid, juvenile jokes being more my stock in trade.

    EDIT REDUX: Or did I miss the pun? Something about passing the earth below and the stars above? Yeah! That’s the ticket!

  7. Sparky

    Top right is the NASA Destiny Lab, with Harmony (Node 2), the ESA Columbus Lab behind it, and the JAXA Kibo lab to the left.

    The picture was taken from the European built Cupola attached to Node 3.

  8. Ben H

    Phil,
    As another commenter pointed out, you are correct that you can see the JEM, Columbus, Destiny Lab, and Node 2. However the Destiny module is not a Node, as you imply above. Keep posting links to Fragile Oasis, they deserve the exposure!

    - Ben H.
    Houston, TX

  9. Messier Tidy Upper

    :-D Superluminous (beyond merely brilliant) image – cheers! :-D 8)

  10. kevbp

    @ 2. Larian LeQuella Said:
    April 11th, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    “The ISS is only 200-250 miles up… That is virtually nothing compared to where I wish we were. Imagine the earth as the size of a basketball, how far away from the surface do you think that is?”

    Earth’s diameter = 7,926.41 miles *12*5280 = 502217337.6 inches
    Basketball diameter = 9.39 inches (both from the googles)

    So, ratio of bball to earth = 1.86971E-08

    Multiply that by the average orbital altitude in inches (225 miles * 12*5280 = 14256000 inches), this gives you:

    1.86971E-08 * 14256000 inches = 0.2665 inches.

    So, about 1/4 of an inch…

  11. Craig Sachs

    Our astronauts living on the first international Off World outpost are working on the science that will eventually lead us away to settle on other shores. The best its yet to come so don’t fret that we don’t have everything we see in science fiction.

  12. Peter Davey

    Talking of science fiction, it was Robert A Heinlein who famously said that, once you are in Earth orbit, you are halfway to anywhere in the Solar System.

    All we need now is the proper drive – in both senses of the term.

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