Astronaut Photos Create a Map of the World

If you could spend a few months — or even a few days — living aboard the ISS, what would you take pictures of? Earth, most likely, with your favorite landforms and your family’s and friends’ hometowns ranking high on the list. After a while, I’m sure plenty of other Earthly features would become photo targets — weather, aurorae, world cities at night, etc. — but ultimately, over the course of your stay in orbit, you would be able to see a trend in the pictures you take, and where you took them.

And over the span of 35 missions across more than 12 years, the graph above shows the trend of all the astronauts’ pictures. Look familiar?

Nighttime photo of the Nile delta region taken from the ISS (NASA)
Nighttime photo of the Nile delta region taken from the ISS (NASA)

Created by open-source NASA data aficionado Nate Bergey, the image above is a map made up of  over a million points (1,129,177, to be exact) each representing the global coordinates of an JSC-archived photograph taken from the ISS.

Clearly the continents are astronauts’ favored photo subjects, with the populous urban areas of North America, Europe,  Egypt and the Middle East, as well as the western and southern coasts of South America standing out.

“This makes sense, photos of clouds over an otherwise blank ocean get old after a while,” Nate Bergey wrote on his blog, open.nasa.gov. “I’m sure every astronaut has taken at least one photograph of the town they grew up in.”

Of course, the map doesn’t create an image of the entire globe. This is because the points denote actual over-ground coordinates of the Station (not necessarily what the photos themselves are of) and “the ISS stays between about 50° and -50° latitude as it orbits the Earth,” as noted by Bergey.

A map of the world with the points overlaid onto it, color-coded by mission, shows the difference:

all_iss_missions_map.preview

Bergey also notes the proliferation of purple-colored dots… these indicate the hundreds of images taken by NASA astronaut Don Pettit during Expedition 30/31, when he created incredible time-lapse videos of the Earth from the ISS.

One of many long-exposure images taken by Don Pettit aboard the ISS (NASA/JSC). See more here.
One of many long-exposure images taken by Don Pettit aboard the ISS (NASA/JSC). See more here.

With such a unique and lofty perspective of our world, it’s no wonder that astronauts spend so much time snapping photos — I can’t say I’d be able to tear myself away from the window myself! Read more about Nate Bergey’s project and how he created his map on his open.NASA blog here.

Pictures of Alaska

Northern Alaska

Here are some pictures of Alaska, taken from space by a variety of Earth observation satellites. These satellites capture images of Alaska to help scientists understand the natural processes that shape our planet. But, in our case, they also make for really pretty pictures.

This is a picture of Alaska; the Brooks Range in Northern Alaska. This picture was taken by the true-color Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on board NASA’s Terra satellite, which was launched in 1999. The Beaufort Sea is at the top of the image.

Alaska and Northwest Canada

This is an image of the point between Alaska and Northwest Canada. You can see the sea ice off the coast of Northern Alaska. This image was taken in Spring, as the northern tundra is just starting to be visible under the melting snow.

Eastern Alaska

This is a photograph of Eastern Alaska. You can see the Aleutian Islands and Kodiak Island, as well as the Yukon River. The cloud bank is hiding a plankton bloom in Bristol Bay.

This is a satellite photo of the Coast of Alaska. Perhaps the most famous feature is Prince William Sound, the site of the Exxon oil tanker spill. The lighter colors in the ocean comes from sediment coming off the ground and being carried into the ocean by currents.

Aurora Over Alaska

Of course, one of the most famous features of Alaska are the spectacular Northern Lights. This image was captured by Joshua Strang at an air base in Alaska. We see the Northern Lights when particles from the Sun’s solar wind are channeled by the Earth’s magnetic field, creating ionized particles in the upper atmosphere.

We’ve written many articles about Alaska for Universe Today. Here’s an article about the recent eruption of Alaska’s Redoubt volcano, and more information about ice loss in Alaska.

If you’d like more Alaska photos, check out Visible Earth Homepage. And here’s a link to NASA’s Earth Observatory.

We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about planet Earth. Listen here, Episode 51: Earth.

NASA Pictures

NASA has the absolute best resources on the web for pictures of space. We write so many articles about space here on Universe Today, so we’ve learned all the best places to look to get the latest and greatest NASA pictures.

Before we go right to some sites, here’s a general tip that you can use when you’re looking for NASA pictures. Use Google, but have it search for images within NASA’s sites. For example, let’s say that you’re looking for an astronomy picture of Mars, but you want it to be a NASA image. Search in Google for: mars picture site:nasa.gov. You can also switch over to the images tab and see lots and lots of images from NASA. You should be able to find the one you’re looking for.

Perhaps the best place to start is NASA’s Featured Images and Galleries. This is linked from the main NASA page and features current pictures as well as classics from the past. It also links you to other NASA image gallery sites.

Another classic is the Astronomy Picture of the Day. Keep in mind that although it’s endorsed by NASA, the pictures featured in Astronomy Picture of the Day are owned and copyright by the original photographers. So you can’t just use their pictures without asking permission first.

There’s a fairly new service out called NASA Images. It’s got a huge catalog of NASA pictures, with cool tools that let you organize and download your favorites.

The NASA Image Exchange is a huge database of NASA pictures. You can search by object, or by spacecraft and use other constraints to find the exact image you’re looking for.

The Johnson Digital Image Collection has photographs from all of NASA’s human spaceflight, from the original Mercury and Gemini flights, though the Apollo landings, right up until the space shuttle missions.

And if you want pictures of Earth, check out NASA’s Visible Earth site or the NASA’s Earth Observatory.

If you want pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, here’s their homepage HubbleSite.

Want NASA photos from specific spacecraft? Here’s NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, here are the Mars Exploration Rovers, and here’s Mercury MESSENGER.

That should get you started.

We have written many articles about NASA and its photography here on Universe Today. Check out this gallery of images from the STS-127 shuttle mission. And here are images from the shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

We have also recorded many episodes of Astronomy Cast about space, and we talk about NASA pictures all the time. Listen to this, Episode 88: The Hubble Space Telescope.

Space Wallpapers

Earthrise

Here are some amazing space wallpapers. If you want to make one of these your computer desktop wallpaper, just click on the image. That will take you to a much larger version of the image. You can then right-click on the image and choose, “Set as Desktop Background”. That will make any of these space wallpapers your desktop background.

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This is one of the most famous space photographs every taken. It’s called “Earthrise”, and it was captured by the crew of Apollo 8 as they were orbiting around the Moon. They saw the Earth rising over the Moon’s horizon and captured this amazing photograph.


Earth from space
Earth from space

NASA created this amazing wallpaper as part of its celebration for Sun-Earth day in 2008. You can see the Sun shining just outside of the photograph above.


Supernova 1054 AD
Supernova 1054 AD

Almost 1000 years ago, a star detonated in the sky as a supernova, shining brilliantly for a few days. After it faded away, it was replaced by this amazing nebula.


Star formation in the Eagle Nebula
Star formation in the Eagle Nebula

This amazing space wallpaper shows active star formation in the Eagle Nebula. These newly forming stars are blasting out huge clouds of gas and dust into space.


Saturn wallpaper
Saturn wallpaper

Here’s a beautiful image of Saturn captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft during a time that it was positioned over the planet’s pole.

We have got lots of image galleries here in Universe Today. Here are some Earth wallpapers, and here are some Venus wallpapers.

You can also download some cool space wallpapers from NASA’s JPL, and here are some wallpapers from Hubble.

You might also want to try listening to an episode of Astronomy Cast. Here’s an episode just about the Hubble Space Telescope.

Milky Way Galaxy Pictures

Here are some beautiful pics of the Milky Way Galaxy. It’s important to remember that we live inside the Milky Way Galaxy, so there’s no way to show a true photograph of what the Milky Way looks like. We can see pictures of the Milky Way from inside it, or see artist illustrations of what the Milky Way might look like from outside.

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This Milky Way Galaxy picture shows what our galaxy would look like from above. You can see its spiral arms, dense core and the thin halo. The Milky Way is a common barred spiral galaxy. There are billions more just like it in the Universe.


Milky Way in infrared. Image credit: COBE
Milky Way in infrared. Image credit: COBE

This picture of the Milky Way was captured by NASA’s COBE satellite. This photograph was taken using the infrared spectrum, which allows astronomers to peer through the gas and dust that normally obscures the center of the Milky Way.


The plane of the Milky Way, recorded with the Chandra satellite in three colours: Photons with energies between 0.5 and 1keV appear red, those between 1 and 3keV green, and those between 3 and 7keV blue. Discrete sources are indicated by circles.  Image: Mikhail Revnivtsev
The plane of the Milky Way, recorded with the Chandra satellite in three colours: Photons with energies between 0.5 and 1keV appear red, those between 1 and 3keV green, and those between 3 and 7keV blue. Discrete sources are indicated by circles. Image: Mikhail Revnivtsev

This image of the Milky Way Galaxy was taken with the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, which can see in the X-Ray spectrum. In this view, only high energy emissions are visible, such as the radiation emitted from black holes and other high energy objects.


Artist's concept shows young, blue stars encircling a supermassive black hole at the core of a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way.Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Schaller (for STScI)
Artist's concept shows young, blue stars encircling a supermassive black hole at the core of a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way.Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Schaller (for STScI)

Here’s an artist’s impression of what a galaxy like the Milky Way might have looked like early in its history. This image shows a supermassive black hole with young blue stars circling it.


Milky_Way_infrared_mosaic.  Credit:  Spitzer Space Telescope
Milky_Way_infrared_mosaic. Credit: Spitzer Space Telescope

This is a mosaic image of the Milky Way captured by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. It was built up by several photographs taken by Spitzer, which sees in the infrared spectrum, and can peer through obscuring dust.