Where In The World (and What World) Is This?

Article written: 15 Apr , 2008
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

Anyone care to guess what orbiting spacecraft is responsible for taking this image, or even what world this is a picture of? At first glance, with all those craters, it could be Mars. However, the coloring isn’t quite right for the Red Planet. Is it a photograph of Mercury or an image of the moon?

OK, yes, this is an image of Earth, but you were wondering there for awhile, weren’t you! Interestingly enough, the white area is not snow, and the craters are not impact craters, but volcanic. And what spacecraft gets credit for the image? The International Space Station. This is one of the most recent images taken by the astronauts on board the ISS as part of the Earth Observatory program. A wonderful website, NASA’s Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth, hosts an incredible collection of photographs that astronauts have taken of our home planet.

Beginning with the Mercury missions in the early 1960s, astronauts have taken photographs of the Earth. As of April 7, 2008, this website has 759,527 views of the Earth, which includes 315,923 from the ISS. The site processes images coming down from the International Space Station on a daily basis, so the database is continually growing. The U.S. Destiny Laboratory module has a science window with high optical quality, which usually faces the Earth, and most of the ISS’s images are taken from that window on the world. On board the ISS is a nice selection of professional digital cameras, and a variety of lenses. One could spend hours (or days or a lifetime!) browsing through the striking photographs of Earth the astronauts have taken. The website also includes lots of information about each of the images, and a fun Where In the World quiz to test your geographical knowledge.

The image above is of the Harrat Khaybar volcanic field, a 14,000-square-kilometer area located in the western Arabian peninsula. The volcanic field was formed by eruptions along a 100-kilometer, north-south vent system over the past 5 million years. The most recent recorded eruption took place between 600-700 AD.

Harrat Khaybar contains a wide range of volcanic rock types and spectacular landforms, several of which are represented in this astronaut photograph. There are dark, fluid basalt lava flows, and the white deposits are sand and silt that accumulate in the depressions. There are lava domes and cones from the past volcanic activity.

The ISS astronauts take images daily of our planet. The image of Harrat Khaybar was taken on March 31, 2008, with a Kodak 760C digital camera fitted with a 400 mm lens, and is provided as part of the the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment.

Original News Source: Earth Observatory website


12 Responses

  1. Jorge says

    Hate to bloat (not really), but no, I didn’t wander for a minute. I immediately identified the craters as volcanic and the place as the Earth, somewhere. Didn’t guess the spacecraft, though, nor did I know where exactly on Earth this place was until I read the post. Still, the photo is beautiful. Too bad the full-res pic is so low-res: it would have made a wanderful desktop wallpaper.

  2. Jorge says

    Er… that should have been “gloat”…

  3. tacitus says

    Shame, I had such a good mental image of you bloating…. 🙂

    Wonderful photo, BTW

  4. AndyF says

    “but you were wondering there for awhile” – should be “a while”. Nearly as bad as “alot”

  5. Pammie Geertz says

    And Jorge, that’s wonder, not wander. And wonderful, not wanderful. But by all means, do continue your bloating.

    As for the picture, I guessed a desert, but no sense of geography. And Earth, only because the resolution didn’t seem to indicate non-terrestrial or extra-solar.

    As for the spacecraft, I was wrong on the ISS.

  6. Tim Kyger says

    They are the Tibesti range in northeastern Chad.

    And I knew that without looking it up, as a friend of mine in the early ’80s visited there. He had first identified the place from overhead photos from NASA and said to himself, damn, that is *unearthly.* I’ve *got* to visit there.

    And he did.

  7. Tim Kyger says

    OK, *now* I have read the actual article. My bad.

    But pictures of Tibesti look just as strange. Check ’em out.

  8. Jorge says

    Pammie, my mother tongue is portuguese, and so is my daily linguistic environment. I’m allowed a few mistakes in english, especially when I’m writing at 4 in the morning, half asleep in my chair, right before I call it a day… or, better, a night.

    (Really, the time tag in comments should also show the time zone the commenter is in… and the comments should have a preview function. If Fraser also runs the show here in the software department, that might perhaps be something to consider implementing?)

    And, er… resolution? LOL. Girl (assuming you’re a girl, which you seem to be; a rude, obnoxious, little girl), we’ve had pictures from Mars and some other places with a lot better resolution than this. Ever seen the martian rovers as a little more than dots in the martian landscape at the end of a mess of tracks? And what do you mean, extra-solar? You think we’ve had pics from other Earths revolving around other stars, eh? Sorry to disappoint you, but no, not just yet. Not for at the very least a handful of decades, especially if you want to see something more than pale tan dots.

    My advise to you: get over spelling and learn something about astronomy. Really. I’m constantly amazed at the amount of human spellcheckers that comment on this blog. This is called Universe Today, for crying out loud. Not Dictionary Today: Universe Today. Get the difference?

    Good jokes a-la tacitus above should keep coming in, though… 😉

  9. David says

    For Nancy Atkinson–great article and a nice learning exercise as well! I started to guess Mars but then looked more closely at the erosion features! I hope you’ll post other “brain teasers…” a great way for amateur astronomers to learn and pay attention to details.

  10. quasidog says

    I’m so jealous.

  11. Kootstar says

    My guess went something like this…
    1. Too clear to be Jupiter.
    2. Too many still well formed volcanic craters and one too recent for Mars.
    3. One active area too recent (geologic time) for even Moon.
    4. Gotta be Earth, but there I was stumped. Closest guess was maybe a Hawaii area. I was wrong, but it was fun trying! 😉

  12. Phil Paine says

    Hehe, Yup, Tim, it’s very similar to Tibesti, and it had me puzzled, but the configuration of volcanoes is wrong. I didn’t know about this patch of the Earth, and now I have to go there, too.

    I would love to see a feature length IMAX film that would start with such ISS shots, then zoom down to earth to show them at ground level. Steven Low’s IMAX production team has shown that it can make true works of art.

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