In May, 2012, when the International Space Station was passing over Africa at 8 kilometers per second, astronaut André Kuipers took this stunning picture of Mount Kilimanjaro:
[Click to hephaestenate.]
The stratovolcano is nearly 5900 meters (19,000 feet) high. The iconic "Snows of Kilimanjaro" are transcendently beautiful, but may not be around much longer. The ice is receding, and it’s expected the volcano will be ice-free in as little as ten years. While the recession has been going on for a century now, the past couple of decades have seen phenomenal acceleration in ice loss, just as we’ve seen in glaciers across the planet and in the arctic sea ice as well.
Global warming is doing more than heating the planet and potentially threatening our lives. It’s robbing Earth of its beauty. I wonder for which we’ll be judged more harshly by future generations?
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.
On board the International Space Station, ESA astronaut André Kuipers just put up this ridiculously cool and fun picture of himself playing with water in space:
Wheee! But what are you seeing?
Let me explain.
The really short version of this is that the water is acting like a lens, flipping his face over. But there are two images of André’s face in there, and one is upside down! What gives?
First we need to look a the drop itself. On Earth, sitting on a surface like a tabletop, water drops tend to be flattened. But in space, where gravity’s not an issue, water drops form little spheres. That’s because of surface tension, an imbalance in the electromagnetic forces between water molecules, and is a whole post all by itself! But for now, what you need to know is that in orbit where there’s no net effect from gravity, water droplets form little balls.
In this case, you can see the drop isn’t a perfect sphere; it’s big enough that it can oscillate like a spring, elongating in one direction. That’s cool, but doesn’t affect what’s going on here too much — it just elongates the image of his face seen in the drop a little bit.
But we’re not done! The astronauts injected an air bubble into the drop. On Earth, that bubble would rise and pop, but again, when gravity isn’t your master, the bubble stays put. So in the middle of the water drop is an evacuated sphere filled with air.
So what’s with the funhouse mirror stuff?
Ah, that’s because light can be bent! When a beam of light passes through water or some other transparent material, the direction it’s traveling changes, which is why a spoon sitting in a glass of water looks like someone bent it. This is called refraction, and depends on two different things: the material itself (different stuff bends light by different amounts) and the direction from which the light hits it.
The shape of the refracting material — the lens — also changes the image we see coming from the source. The curvature of the lens affects the direction the light is bent. In the case of light coming from outside a sphere of water, the light hitting the top of the drop gets bent down, light hitting the right bends left, and so on.
And one other thing: the path of light bends whenever it passes from one medium to another, so it bends if it’s going through air and then hits water, and it also bends if it’s going through water and hits air!
So now we can figure this all out. Read More
Traveling over west Africa at 8 kilometers per second in the International Space Station, astronaut André Kuipers took this eerie and lovely picture of a storm cloud just as it was illuminated by a lightning stroke:
[Click to enlighten yourself.]
Wow. This is easily as cool as another amazing shot of a lightning-illuminated cloud over Brazil taken from space in 2011, too.
And hmmmm. Scientists have detected gamma rays — extremely high-energy light — presumably generated by lightning storms and shooting straight up into space. I hope nothing makes André stressed any time soon. The ISS is no place for him to Hulk out!
[P.S. Before anyone asks — and as much as I hate to explain a joke, I guess I really should in this case — the gamma rays emitted by lightning storms are extremely weak, and not a danger to the astronauts.]
For no other reason than it is beautiful, here is a picture astronaut André Kuipers took of Buenos Aires as the International Space Station sailed into the night over the Atlantic Ocean.
[Click to enmásgrandenate.]
Kuipers took that picture on May 11, 2012. Looking to the west you can see the city lights, as well as the thin green line of the atmospheric aerosol layer. I suspect that’s Venus right over the horizon, too. The silhouette is of the Russian Progress 47 capsule which docked with the ISS in April, and will remain there for several more months.
Image credit: NASA/ESA
I don’t have a lot to add to this incredible picture taken by astronaut André Kuipers of the Dragon capsule as it approached the International Space Station on May 25:
[Click to embiggen.]
Isn’t that spectacular? Actually, I will add something: the caption for this post indicates it’s over the Rocky Mountains. I got excited for a second, thinking maybe it was near my neck of the woods. But then I realized the icy mountaintops look nothing like they do here in Boulder. I checked anyway, and on Wolfram Alpha I found the picture was taken over Vancouver Island, which is where my friend Fraser Cain from Universe Today lives!
Huh. Small planet.
[P.S. Speaking of Fraser, I’ll be doing a live video star party with him, Pamela Gay, and many others for the Transit of Venus Tuesday. We have telescopes lined up all over the world to view this last-chance-in-a-lifetime event! Stay tuned for more info, but I’ll have the chat embedded here on the blog when the time comes.]
Image credit: ESA/NASA
On May 23 — the day after the SpaceX Dragon capsule launch — International Space Station astronaut André Kuipers snapped this shot of the Earth:
[Click to ensmaugenate.]
André — who’s Dutch — put this up with the caption "Er zit een draak achter ons aan!" — "There’s a dragon after us!". That’s a funny pun, given the name of the capsule that was already on its way there.
But he didn’t say what this feature was! I wanted to find out, and wound up with a fun story.
Because I was curious, I first read the comments on the Flickr page for this picture. Flickr use PC101 said it was Lake Puarun in Peru seen at an oblique angle. I looked on Google maps, and there’s a decent resemblance. But it didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t get enough landmarks to match up between the two photos, so I investigated a bit more.
Looking at the picture header, it says the photo was taken at 05:58 UTC on May 23, 2012. Wolfram Alpha shows that’s when ISS was over Australia, way too far around the Earth to see Peru. And the landscape around the lake is red, as you might expect from western Australia…
So I went back to Google maps, looked over Australia, and within about a minute found a suspicious-looking dry lake bed called Lake Rason. I zoomed in, and, well, here be dragon!
[Click to komodenate.]
I rotated this screenshot to more or less match the orientation of the one from the ISS, and clearly this is it. Funny, too: the "tail" is even longer than in the ISS picture, making it look even more like a serpent!
Now think about that. All I had to go on was a picture taken on board the space station and the time it was taken. I didn’t know what direction André took the shot, what magnification he used, or anything like that. All I had was the time he took the picture, and access to the internet… and a bit of experience knowing where to go to get more information.
And within a minute I had my answer! I could see plainly where and what this was. Interestingly, if the timing in the header is accurate and it was exactly 05:58 UTC, then the ISS was nearly directly over the lake when this picture was taken! You can see that for yourself: click here to see the map of the area where I’ve added an arrow to mark the position of the ISS at the time. The lake is in the middle, and looks upside-down.
Keep in mind, the ISS is screaming around the planet at 8 km/sec, so being off by a minute can mean a different of 500 kilometers. Incredible.
So there you go. Seek and ye shall find! And nicely, the Dragon spacecraft found the ISS just a day later, and made history. André has lots of pictures of that as well, which you can find on his Flickr page. Go check ‘em out… and if you find something you don’t understand, why, now you know what to do.
Image credit: ESA/NASA; Google Maps
This amazing shot was taken by astronaut André Kuipers from the International Space Station on May 5, 2012, as the perigee full Moon set behind the Earth’s limb. The Earth’s atmosphere bends light from the Moon, acting like a lens, pushing the bottom part of the Moon up into the top.
Science once again saves me from embarrassment. I was pretty sure the Moon wouldn’t take it personally.
Image credit: ESA/NASA