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
The view from the International Space Station is always pretty cool, but when an astronaut points the camera at the Earth’s horizon and takes a series of short exposures, adding them together gives a view right out of Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s:
[Click to psilocybinate.]
Astronaut Don Petit took the pictures to make this composite. Basically, it’s a series of eighteen 30-second exposures added together so the motion of the ISS around the Earth makes the stars trail, the cities blur, and your mind expand, dude.
The brown and green glow over the horizon is the atmospheric aerosol layer; molecules that absorb sunlight during the day and release that energy at night. The red glow above that puzzles me; I’ve written about it before. It might be a reflection of lights from inside the space station, but I suspect it’s actually the aurora; it follows the curve of the Earth, and as you can see from the star trails the camera was pointed toward the poles — the direction you’re likely to see an aurora.
ou can see faint star trails above the bright ones too, with a different center of curvature — those probably are from an internal reflection. Either that or the camera got moved, but that seems unlikely! Several people pointed out to me that the fainter trails above the stars are from the solar panels. I should’ve realized that myself!
This picture is one of several posted to Flickr, including this one which looks like it’s from the last scene of "2001: A Space Odyssey". But they’re all worth looking at, if only for their alien beauty.
After all, the photographer was literally high when he took them!
Image credit: NASA
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:
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