It Turns Out Some Borders *Are* Visible from Space

by Nancy Atkinson on September 8, 2011

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This picture shows the illuminated man-made border between India and Pakistan,the line snaking through the landscape, as seen from the International Space Station on August 21, 2011. Of the hundreds of clusters lights, the largest are the capital cities of Islamabad, Pakistan, and New Delhi, India. Credit: NASA/Ron Garan

There is an oft-repeated and perhaps beautiful saying that you can’t see political borders from space. Well, it turns out that saying isn’t true; not anymore. ISS astronaut Ron Garan took this image recently which clearly shows the border between India and Pakistan. Since 2003, India has illuminated the border with Pakistan by floodlights in attempt to prevent ammunition trafficking and the infiltration of terrorists.

“Since the beginning of human spaceflight fifty years ago, astronauts have reflected on how peaceful, beautiful, and fragile the Earth looks from space,” Garan wrote on his Fragile Oasis blog. “These reflections are not clichés that astronauts say because it feels good. It is truly moving to look at the Earth from space.”

But seeing this clearly visible political border was sobering for Garan and his crewmates.

“Realizing what this picture depicted had a big impact on me,” he said. “When viewed from space, Earth almost always looks beautiful and peaceful. However, this picture is an example of man-made changes to the landscape in response to a threat, clearly visible from space. This was a big surprise to me.”

Garan added, however, that the point here is not that we can look down at the Earth and see a man-made border between India and Pakistan. “The point is that we can look down at that same area and feel empathy for the struggles that all people face,” he said. “We can look down and realize that we are all riding through the Universe together on this spaceship we call Earth, that we are all interconnected, that we are all in this together, that we are all family.”

Garan said he believes our world is a place where possibilities are limited only by our imagination and our will to act. “It is within our power to eliminate the suffering and poverty that exist on our planet,” he said.

Read more on Fragile Oasis.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

dokies79 September 8, 2011 at 4:01 AM

Isn’t Karachi on the Southern coast of Pakistan? Aren’t those cities Faisalabad and Lahore?

Lord Haw-Haw. September 8, 2011 at 7:19 PM

You are correct Karachi is well to the South on the Arabian Sea in Sindh. The cities you see in the above photograph are identified here:

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=52008

Anonymous September 8, 2011 at 8:27 PM

The caption for the photo has been corrected. Thanks.

KRIS HAYNES September 8, 2011 at 5:22 AM

I find it difficult to believe that line is the result of lights directed for the purpose stated in this article. My gut tells me this cannot be correct. Logic doesn’t follow. But seeing is believing and since I do not have an opportunity to see it with my own eyes and must rely upon the eyes of a satellite, I must take this at face value. I research Nancy Atkinson and found her reputable. Believing this is disturbing on many levels. Our American border is nor nearly as protected as theirs. We still spend billions every day to occupy Iraq. Why? If they have the resources to secure their border in such a way, in a way we have not accomplished in our own country, what are we doing there? They are shining a light upon a border but they are doing something far more significant; they are shining a light into the darkness. They are keeping out the terrorists and ammunition traffickers. They are shining a light, as much symbolic as physical, on their borders to keep out darkness. They are doing with their country what we should have already done with ours; instead we have begrudged every penny spent on our borders bemoaning our budget. We spend billions and trillions on wars and so-called humanitarian causes revolving around wars and yet we claim we cannot afford to secure our borders.Some argue that we should not secure our borders and as a result the argument is so strong against the notion and the opinion so divided that this is why we have not garnered the enthusiasm to fund the enterprise of securing our border. Look again at the picture above of the border. Should American secure it’s borders? Should we create one of our own orange squiggly lines to mar the earth’s view from a bird’s eye view? Or should we shine a light into the darkness and allow only those without corrupt and destructive intentions enter our country at one of its most vulnerable times?

Vishal Shukla September 8, 2011 at 5:43 AM

Kris… First of all, I can tell you that it is a real picture … one thing it does not show here is that many part of this orange line is having electricity running in it. Even the borders are secured, but terrorists still find a way to get in…. So it’s not really a 100% safeguard :-)

Now as a follower of universetoday.com , I must say that it is a nice picture for sure… nice green haze and stars visible ….. and of course a man made wall!

riverlaw September 8, 2011 at 12:59 PM

Kris we do protect our borders. I live in Texas and cross the boarder occasionally and see some of the safe guards.
To think we do not guard the boarder because of a picture that you are not even sure is real… it hard to follow you. I agree the wars have not made us safer, but to think building a wall of light is what we need, or hell even a wall, is misguided.

Martin Holloway September 8, 2011 at 5:23 AM

What a total waste of energy -.-

Anonymous September 8, 2011 at 7:29 AM

I wanted to say the same…

martin D'souza September 8, 2011 at 8:27 AM

at last count atleast 2000 trained militant are wating to sneek into india from pakistan to wage a war = kill unarmed civilians. it has confirmed by CIA as well. this bare min that can be done to save lives.

deepankar mishra September 8, 2011 at 8:31 AM

how can you say that? pakis[islamic terrorists] are bombing your cities and you are saying india should not protect its border

Martin Holloway September 8, 2011 at 11:00 AM

With all due respect India needs to feed its population:
http://www.rediff.com/money/2008/may/26inter1.htm

That sough of illumination costs millions to implement. I’ m all for India protecting itself but there must be more cost affective alternatives?

JPeditor September 9, 2011 at 4:00 AM

Sure, nuking Pakistan!

deepankar mishra September 9, 2011 at 10:38 AM

I think you should research on terrorism and its effect on population. US is not a stupid country wasted so much resources only to find osama[ FYI:unemployment has increased in US]. I admire US and ISRAEL for fighting terrorism.

oook September 12, 2011 at 9:15 AM

With all due respect, there are starving people in every country of the world.

It might surprise you to know this, but until a few years ago India never had the need to import food (unlike countries like the UK for instance.)

The problem of starving people is not just because there isn’t food or money for food, but that there is a terrible (and corrupt) system that makes it hard to distribute this food to people that need it.

Even if that was not the case, is your argument that a country should not spend money on things like defence, science etc unless every single citizen is fed and clothed? That seems a terribly naive thing to say.

Anonymous September 9, 2011 at 7:02 PM

I can understand why this wall exists even though it is unfortunate that barriers and walls only seem to empower the more barbaric and less democratically-oriented leaders. i feel this is true in any country.

Niki Giada September 8, 2011 at 3:36 AM

Illumination pollutiojn -.-

Anonymous September 8, 2011 at 9:37 AM

How dramatic: Pakistan has become such an external threat from its national breeding, refuge grounds of Terror, that an illuminated security border is now visible from Earth orbit! There may be electric lighting in nuclear-armed Pakistan, but an aggressive “darkness” is spreading through its society. It must indeed be sobering — and impacting — to look down from space and see this glaring evidence of the death and destruction that is an increasing export of a land on the brink. The only empathy I can feel is for India, having repeatedly suffered the insufferable, intolerable barbaric warlike violations of its humanity from across the border, directly or indirectly ( but then, Pakistanis are victims as well ). Some struggle to live in peace — others, however, struggle to impose their will, and subjugate with merciless swords of violence. So it has ever been, as recorded in the history books of a Homeworld family that seems incapable of living at peace with itself. Until human nature is changed, it will continue to be so.

India faces its immediate, local threat of terror, we in the USA face the no less deadly threat of a vicious, lawless gangsterism, breaking-out and spreading its disorder and violence into our towns and cities from a nation teetering on the edge of chaos ( if it is not already a failed nation ), across an insecure border, lights or no lights.

The skies of Earth above may be aglow with the artificial light of billions, but below that star-faded envelope of life ( always remarkable to see ), brutal, savage darkness is not wanting to snuff-out peace, and destroy its beauty!

HeadAroundU September 8, 2011 at 10:46 AM

What is a bigger surprise is that he needed to see a wall. Just go to some news web page and read what people say, the things are not alright even in the first world. The things are not alright in Europe which is not far away from a civilized world. Just look at Belarus or Northern Africa, it’s either totalitarian or a war. They basically live 20 years back than me and maybe 40 compared to the USA. It’s a geographical wave. So, yeah, not a big surprise that something’s wrong above India.

Jafo September 8, 2011 at 11:20 AM

Everyone is missing the point, Lights provide little security, and in my opinion are merely a sign of insecurity. The fact that these lights can be seen from space means that they are not directed properly or sheilded since a good portion of the light is being directed up and not down on the ground (this is very wasted light). But an even bigger issue is the need for any kind of borders at all. This is a very small planet and for the time being we are stuck on it … we can’t leave, we need to find a way to live together without borders!
Mark

Sadik khan September 8, 2011 at 1:35 PM

Yes it seems everybody is missing the point. Lights is just one part of the story. There is a dedicated force BSF which keeps vigil of the entire border, day in and out. YES, the lights do help them.

JPeditor September 9, 2011 at 3:59 AM

“But an even bigger issue is the need for any kind of borders at all. This is a very small planet and for the time being we are stuck on it … we can’t leave, we need to find a way to live together without borders!”

Oh, boo-hoo! Please go publicly demonstrate in Pakistan, China, and Iran that they should have no borders.

If they don’t kill or imprison you for life, we will award you a shiny unicorn that poops lollipops!

Marcel-Jan Krijgsman September 8, 2011 at 12:23 PM

I like the way astronaut Ron Garan’s night photography of Earth and the stars. He’s really gotten good at it. And to think everything moves in space.

Anonymous September 8, 2011 at 12:39 PM

The path forward starts with the empathy Mr. Garan evokes. But to get anywhere, we all need to be open to amending intransigent positions in the light of proven facts and new information. If this is not even true of the BAUT forum here, what example are we setting, in spite of the wonderful articles posted on UT? The first step in changing the world starts with oneself, not with pointing fingers at one’s neighbor and claiming an unassailable moral high ground.

JPeditor September 9, 2011 at 3:55 AM

“Garan said he believes our world is a place where possibilities are limited only by our imagination and our will to act. “It is within our power to eliminate the suffering and poverty that exist on our planet,” he said.”

Go tell it to the jihad terrorists who come from Pakistan and whom India is trying to protect it’s citizens from.

India should mine the area on the fence with nuclear weapons, and THEN we can talk about how to “eliminate the suffering and poverty that exist on our planet”

squidgeny September 9, 2011 at 11:26 AM

Nuclear landmines? Really?

WaxyMary September 9, 2011 at 2:37 PM

Surely, Squid, you have seen these weapons displayed on late night TV shows. The host talks about how nice it is to see all the animals the guest is bringing and sure enough one of them buries the ground wires with a landmine. A very evil landmine to be sure. Foul and unpleasant though it is the host can’t but comment on the effect it is having around the studio. Soon all the guests, the host and the audience are exiting the building shouting ‘no u clear’, ‘no u clear’.

Mary

Anonymous September 9, 2011 at 7:05 PM

It really is an amazing photo. So profound.

Michael A September 10, 2011 at 5:57 PM

You seem to think you have debunked the planet X “conspirocies” Sure you can look through a telescope and know where to point it but can you do math? I didnt think so. The gavitational effect this dwaft is having on the other planets is only possible by a dwarf star of greater density than Jupiter. You even show “photo of the year” and are not bright enough to notice the cloud band in the lower hemisphere has dissapeared. This is what this photo shows. Compare it to a 2010 photo of jupiter. This was caused by the passing of the dwarf star. The huge magnetic pull disrupted Jupiters atmosphere. This is not some insignificant comet. The coma is what your surrounds YOUR head. Not sure what your motive is for this but until you can do math maybe you should stick to your star gazing hobby and leave real science to those who know it..

WaxyMary September 10, 2011 at 6:39 PM

@Michael A,

You say:
You seem to think you have debunked the planet X “conspirocies” [sic] Sure you can look through a telescope and know where to point it but can you do math?

My reply:
You are posting this in the comments for an article about borders as seen from space, did you mean to post this tripe somewhere else? Oh, and yes, math is not a subject of fear with me. Some folks do find math a bit of a tough nut, dry and fibrous, lacking in taste.

You say:
The gavitational [sic] effect this dwaft is having on the other planets is only possible by a dwarf star of greater density than Jupiter.

My reply:
You claim math proves your assertions, please provide the math to back up your assertion or it is not valid.

You say:
You even show “photo of the year” and are not bright enough to notice the cloud band in the lower hemisphere has dissapeared. This is what this photo shows. Compare it to a 2010 photo of jupiter. This was caused by the passing of the dwarf star.

My reply:
How, please, provide the specific math as proof. Also, is Jupiter’s weather somehow normally immune to local (internal planetary specific) changes?

You say:
The huge magnetic pull disrupted Jupiters [sic] atmosphere.

My reply:
Ok, I’ll bite at this low hanging fruit, please tell us which it is, the “The gavitational [sic] effect…” or the “huge magnetic pull”. If you say both, then please, provide the math and facts supporting this odd claim.

You say:
This is not some insignificant comet.

My reply:
Err, yes, it is, please prove it is not insignificant as a comet, show your work –we have and can continue to show it is not as you claim.

You say:
The coma is what your surrounds YOUR head. Not sure what your motive is for this but until you can do math maybe you should stick to your star gazing hobby and leave real science to those who know it..

My reply:
Putting that insult aside for now, will you please provide the math to back all these assertions you have made, including the claim to “know science” you have made, because, frankly, you have failed to prove you are familiar with even the most rudimentary portions of accepted science. Tell me how a lever works, tell me what work is, tell me what makes the sky blue.

Mary

Frank September 12, 2011 at 4:18 AM

I am impressed by India in that they want to protect their culture and safety of their citizens and sacred cattle. The red search lights is a magnificent way to publicise their border protection and air space, as indicated by the red stop light. Incidently, what side of the road does one ride on in India?

Anonymous September 12, 2011 at 5:48 AM

I just had an interesting thought… what if the austronauts look down one day or night and see
the world blowing up with nuclear bombs ? would think they would freak .

Sharon M September 16, 2011 at 9:20 PM

I wonder how we would feel if this were not Earth? We were approaching a planet similar and it was all lit up like this? I.E. there’s some form of intelligent life producing those lights.

Martin Holloway September 10, 2011 at 1:36 PM

So everything is ‘ok’ in the name of fighting terrorism? even if it means staving your own population? Not sure I agree but respect your opinion.

Martin Holloway September 13, 2011 at 10:05 AM

No my argument was to spend ‘less’ not none. You make a good point with the distribution of world resources I agree with you. .

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