America’s ‘Strange Bedfellow’ as Seen from Space

By Tom Yulsman | June 18, 2014 12:28 pm

A stunning photo taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station provides the geographic context to an ironic turn of events

Iran, the Persian Gulf, and the United Arab Emirates, as seen from the International Space Station on 6/13/14. (Source: Reid Wiseman/NASA)

Iran, the Persian Gulf, the United Arab Emirates, and the Strait of Hormuz, as seen from the International Space Station on 6/13/14. (Source: Reid Wiseman/NASA)

It’s now almost a cliché: Following the takeover of parts of Iraq by Sunni militants, Iran and the United States are now “strange bedfellows.” (Or to put it another way, “frenemies.”)

The photograph above, taken by U.S. astronaut Reid Wiseman from the International Space Station last Friday, shows what America’s strange bedfellow looks like from space.

In the image, rugged parallel ridges of the Zagros Mountains in Iran create a corrugated topography that sprawls to the north and east from the shores of the Persian Gulf. The United Arab Emirates and Oman occupy the peninsula at the bottom of the image.

At the peninsula’s tip, to the lower right of the photograph, is the Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. This is the world’s most important strategic chokepoint for petroleum shipments. As of 2011, 17 million barrels of oil passed through the strait every day — 20 percent of the world’s total daily petroleum production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

At its narrowest point, the Strait of Hormuz is just 21 miles wide. But the sea lanes through which tankers pass in either direction are just two miles wide.

So in just this one image, Reid Wiseman has provided us with a compelling synoptic view of the geographic context for what’s happening in the region.

But hold on. I think I’ve gotten a bit too serious. So if you really want to know what’s going on and why it is really so very strange, Jon Stewart goes through it in brilliant — and hilarious — detail right here (zip forward to about 9 minutes).


  • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

    Wow. Super hateful. Have to watch commercials to get to the video, then you immediately skip to the part you want to watch… TRIGGERING MORE COMMERCIALS!

  • Paul McDivitt

    You can see Dubai’s man-made Palm Islands in this photo as well. Very cool!



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


See More


Discover's Newsletter

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

Collapse bottom bar