The Sun glints off a water world

By Phil Plait | September 13, 2012 11:00 am

You know what? Our planet is awesome.

[Click to thalassenate.]

This photo was taken by ESA astronaut André Kuipers, on board the International Space Station. Frustratingly there’s no info I could find on when this was taken, or what part of the planet it shows… but then, in a way, maybe that’s OK. It’s a reminder of how big Earth is, how easy it is to get lost here, and how much of it there’s still to explore.

Of course, that glint we see of reflected sunlight can tell us so much. It tells us we live on a world of water, which we already knew. But sometimes we see glints from alien worlds, and that tells us liquid exists there too.

And that tells me to take nothing for granted. Even the simplest thing we see so often can reveal amazing knowledge of things we’d otherwise never see.

Credit: ESA/NASA

MORE ABOUT: André Kuipers, Earth, ISS

Comments (19)

  1. Andre Mestre

    Why is the picture so small? I love space photos but i realy wish they were proper resolutions in the thousands (3000 x 2000 for example).

  2. Stephen Bates

    Bummer. It looks like either he or Flickr capped the resolution at 1024 x 768

  3. Shoot, that headline got me all excited for nothing*. I thought that maybe someone had developed a technique to detect water-covered exoplanets by some combination of light subtraction and polarization analysis.
    But no, the twist: it was Earth all along!!!!

    Ok, perhaps my expectations are starting to get just a teensy bit too high. But can you blame me? Seems like every single month there’s a science headline that makes me say “Wait, they can really DO that!?”

    *Ok, I suppose that’d be something more like “A sun glints off a water world”

  4. Now if only this awesome planet could shake off the damn homo sap infestation.

  5. Crux Australis

    This reminds me of those BBC ads with the astronauts singing. Awesome.

  6. Worlebird

    @kuhnigget #4 Unfortunately we seem to be working on that, and making pretty good progress, too.

  7. Charlie Young

    It also reminds us of how thin that envelope of breathable atmosphere really is.

  8. When you said “click to thalassenate”, I immediately thought of Arthur C. Clarke’s The Songs of Distant Earth.

  9. Chris R

    If he keeps the clock on his camera updated, it was taken May 10, 2012 at 9.11pm BST. I’m not entirely sure where BST is.

  10. Gonzo

    this is one of the most beautiful shots of Earth I’ve ever seen. I say that as someone who had the rosetta image of the crescent earth you posted as my desktop at work for months. Thanks, as always, Phil.

    EDIT: Location? Anyone know. As mentioned, it’s not high res enough (although it looks nice as my new desktop). But I don’t see spit, but water. It’s gotta be over the Pacific Ocean somewhere.

  11. Do please also note that fragile thin blue line of atmosphere hugging the horizon.

  12. Ben

    I assume BST = British Summer Time. Which is GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) plus 1 hour)

  13. Keith

    BST is British Summer Time (Clocks for forward an hour in Spring and return back an hour in Autumn). BST is +0100. 1hr ahead of GMT.

  14. Nigel Depledge

    Chris R (9) said:

    I’m not entirely sure where BST is.

    Shame on you!

    British Summer Time is on the Prime Meridian.

  15. Nigel Depledge

    The BA said:

    there’s no info I could find on when this was taken, or what part of the planet it shows

    Phil, it shows the ocean.

  16. owlpoop

    There was a proposal back in the 70’s to use the spreading of the Sun glint to estimate sea state/wave height. The spreading of the image can be calculated from the RMS roughness of the sea.

  17. Beautiful, but… honestly a little anti-climactic. I was expecting something a little more spectacular. That, and a larger picture (and yes I clicked the picture to enlarge it). Also… misleading headline. Didn’t think they were talking about Earth at first. : Got all excited.

  18. Gonzo

    Haha! @Esther – #17 – Spoiled By Science: Expects an alien water world now. 😉

  19. Yerodretep

    ‘It’s a reminder of how big Earth is, how easy it is to get lost here, and how much of it there’s still to explore..’ ..and in all that we are still that Pale Blue Dot that Carl Sagan reminded us, a mere dust mote in the vast Universe:

    From : :

    ‘… From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

    The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
    —Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997 reprint, pp. xv–xvi …’


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar