Astronaut opens up the window to see the Moon rise

By Phil Plait | June 1, 2012 1:48 pm

Seriously, who knew the International Space Station had windows that could open?

That lovely time lapse video shows the Moon rising over the Earth’s limb. Then, halfway through, the protective covers on the cupola windows get opened, and you can see astronaut Don Petit’s smiling face in there!

You can see Don putting on sunglasses as the sunlight hits the dome. This threw me for a second, actually. If the nearly full Moon is rising, that means the Sun should be setting; they’re on opposite sides of the sky. So why is the cupola suddenly thrown into light?

I’m pretty sure it’s because the Sun was up the whole time, but some part of the ISS was blocking it at first. As the ISS orbits the Earth the Sun’s position in the sky moves, so as the Sun was setting it got out from behind what was blocking it and threw the cupola into sunlight. I imagine a minute or two after the events in this video ended, the Sun sank beneath the curve of the Earth, not to rise again… for another 45 minutes.

Image credit: NASA

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, NASA, Pretty pictures, Space
MORE ABOUT: Don Petit, ISS, Moon

Comments (15)

Links to this Post

  1. Friday Links | June 2, 2012
  2. Ouvrir les volets sur l’ISS | La boite verte | June 3, 2012
  1. OneofNone

    Actually, if you watch the ISS structures above the Cupola, you can see broad light nearly all the time. Most of the area is in shadow, indeed. But at the very first second there is already a patch of light disappearing. Followed by some other patches later.

    So your explanation is correct. As expected :)

  2. Arek W.


    Where’s “Also sprach Zarathustra” theme?

  3. Thopter

    “Astronaut opens up the window to see the Moon rise”

    If that’s true, he was looking the wrong way the entire time.

  4. Chris

    …you can see astronaut Don Petit’s smiling face in there!

    Actually I think it looks like some alien is trying to escape the space station.

  5. Don Petit is a riot and a half, even when viewed in timelapse. Great video!

  6. Looks so sci-fi, really like a movie.

    it might seem stupid, but I’d love to see that window opening in real time, somehow I think that would look awesome.

  7. Tribeca Mike

    Thanks, that’s molto cool, and a vast improvement over the ancient astronauts, who though capable of traveling between galaxies were still not sophisticated enough to understand the concept of aluminum silicate and fused silica glass windows.

  8. Phil,
    Thanks for sharing this time lapse. It’s like looking backwards at all of those beautiful aurora time lapse video from ISS.

    As for windows that close, this is pretty common for ISS windows because of the thermal risk to the windows if they are left exposed to the elements. At least for most of the US segment windows the crew is supposed to close the shutters when they are not in use. The Destiny Lab, launched in 2001, has a very large single window as well ( that has a hand crank window shutter much like the cupola shutters in this video.

    – Ben H.
    Mission Control, Texas

  9. On another note, the light changing is the shadow of one of the solar arrays moving across ISS. Because of simple physics, the moon i moving up at the same ate the solar arrays are moving so it kind of looks like the moon is in charge of the shadow, but it’s kind of an illusion.

    – BenH.

  10. Gary Ansorge

    Opening windows in space is one reason we try to make things idiot proof.

    “What happens if I open this airlock?”

    “You and everyone else…dies…”

    “Oh! So what does this button do?”

    “It opens the airlock…”

    “Oh!” says the idiot, as he pushes the button…

    Glad it was just a window COVER…

    Gary 7

  11. loyalj

    You can also tell that the sun is up since you can see the Earth. If they were on the night side Earth wouldn’t be sunlit.

  12. DMPalmer

    At the height of the space station, the Earth’s limb is about 20 degrees below horizontal. So for ~40 degrees of orbit (10 minutes) both the Sun and the full moon can be visible.

  13. James

    Are they power windows or do they have a manual winder?


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