Astronaut Photographers Take Stunning Pictures of Earth Too

We may have some of the best, high resolution robotic cameras looking down on Earth from orbit, but you can’t beat the human eye for choosing the right shot. This spectacular image is a view of Harrat Khaybar, about 140 kilometres to the northeast of the city of Medina, Saudi Arabia. Old volcanic calderas, deserts and ancient lava flows can be seen. This picture was taken by a member of NASA’s Expedition 16 crew on October 10th, 2007, but has only just been released as part of the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment. We pay so much attention studying the Martian landscape and peering into galactic cores, sometimes it’s nice to turn the lenses around and see the complex geology of Planet Earth. There’s a lot more pictures where this one came from

Indias Lonar Crater (NASA)

Astronauts have a proud history of taking pictures of Earth from space. As far back as the Mercury missions in the 1960’s, a record has been kept of some of the most iconic pictures ever taken by mankind. A lot of the time we rely on remote-controlled telescopes, like the Hubble Space Telescope, to take pictures of the depths of our universe and we use weather tracking satellites to image our Earth, but there is a huge database of photographs by the most extreme photographers in the world: astronauts. So with the help of a steady flow of digital images being sent from the ISS and other missions, “The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth” is a huge online database of pictures taken by astronauts of Earth.

Looking out of the photography window in the Destiny module of the ISS (NASA)

Currently, the online database holds 759,527 views of Earth, including 315,923 from the ISS (as of April 7th 2008). The program is currently observing the 2007-2008 International Polar Year, gathering images of the Earth’s Polar Regions in the aim of monitoring the effects of climate change on the polar icecaps and beyond. But the scope of the project doesn’t stop there. In the collections, striking in-situ pictures of dynamic aurorae, detailed images of volcanoes and geologically active regions, oblique angle shots across the curvature of the Earth, city portraits and dust storms in the Mexican desert (to name a few); all captured by the men and women watching over us from orbit.

This view of Earth’s horizon as the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean was taken by an Expedition 7 crewmember onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Anvil tops of thunderclouds are also visible. (NASA)

A special treat is to browse through the “mission highlights” pages where you can find some of the best of the Earth since the Apollo missions. The view of the Moon rising above the Lunar landscape is as crisp as it was back in 1969 when it was taken from the Apollo 11 orbiter. Personally, the most recent eye-catching image is the shot of the Saudi Arabian Harrat Khaybar region (pictured top). This view of volcanoes and old lava flows may have been very similar to the Martian landscape when it was geologically active. Now, we only see barren terrain where few geologically recent events have occurred. Looking down on Earth, through the eyes of NASA’s orbiting photographers, is a strong reminder that our world is a vastly complex and dynamic planet, in stark contrast with the smaller Red Planet.

Original source: Earth Observatory

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