Retired Astronaut Chris Hadfield Releases Stunning Space Photos

Orbiting 200 miles above the Earth, Retired Astronaut Chris Hadfield could easily photograph the ridges of the Himalayan Mountains, the textures of the Sahara Desert and the shadows cast by the tallest buildings in Manhattan.

The Richat Structure in Mauritania, also known as the Eye of the Sahara, is a landmark for astronauts. It’s hard to know where you are, especially if you’re over a vast 3,600,000-square-mile desert, but this bull’s-eye orients you, instantly. Oddly, it appears not to be the scar of a meteorite but a deeply eroded dome, with a rainbow-inspired color scheme. Image Credit: Chris Hadfield / NASA
Mauritania, also known as the Eye of the Sahara, is a landmark in the vast 3,600,000-square-mile desert. Credit: Chris Hadfield / NASA

“The view of the world when you have it just right there through the visor of your helmet is overpoweringly gorgeous,” said Hadfield, speaking Oct. 14 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. “It is phenomenal. The world is pouring by with all its colors and textures so fast.”

Although Hadfield has already shared many of his photos via social media, he unveiled another 150 images in his latest book, “You Are Here: Around The World in 92 Minutes.” The photographs open a rare window onto the Earth, illuminating our planet’s beauty and the consequences of human settlement.

The book is designed to replicate a single 92-minute orbit aboard the International Space Station. “It’s as if you and I are sitting at the window of the space station, and I said, ‘let’s go around the world once. I want to show you the really cool stuff,’ ” said Hadfield.

The astronaut, famed for his zero-gravity rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” took approximately 45,000 photos during his 146-day stint on the space station in 2013. That’s roughly 300 photos per day every day. Since NASA does not set aside specific time slots for astronauts to take photos, Hadfield did so while he should have been asleep or serenading millions with his guitar.

The Himalayan mountain range in South Asia.
The Himalayan mountain range in South Asia. Credit: Chris Hadfield / NASA

Why? Beauty triggers an unexplained emotional reaction, explained Hadfield. It also provides the best means of communication. Although the space station is an incredible scientific laboratory, art is equally important, he added, because it’s a way to reach people who might not otherwise be interested in the scientific nitty-gritty.

Hadfield is often attributed for humanizing space travel in a way that others before him had not. His use of social media, videos designed to quench our curiosity about living in space, and music, demonstrate a sheer passion that has inspired millions.

Manhattan awake at 9:23 a.m. local time, and Manhattan at rest at 3:45 a.m. local time. Image Credit: Chris Hadfield / NASA
Manhattan awake at 9:23 a.m. local time, and Manhattan at rest at 3:45 a.m. local time. Credit: Chris Hadfield / NASA

His photos not only share the natural beauty of our home planet, but also many signs of humanity, from bright city lights to the devastations of climate change as lakes dry up and disappear. “There’s so much information in just one glimpse out the window of human decision making and geology,” said Hadfield.

Hadfield’s remote yet vivid photos stand as a reminder of both the magnificence and fragility of life on our planet. “To have the world on one side, like this huge kaleidoscope, and then the bottomlessness of the Universe right there beside you,” said Hadfield, trailing off in awe. “You’re not on the world looking at it. You’re in the Universe with the world.”

Behold! Hubble’s Heavenly Holiday “Ornament”

Planetary nebula NGC 5189 as seen by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

It may be just a tad too big to hang on your tree but this bright, twisted planetary nebula would make a beautiful holiday ornament… if scaled a bit down to size, of course.

(Click the image to see it in its full festive glory!)

NGC 5189 is a planetary nebula that lies 1,800 light-years away in the southern constellation Musca. The gorgeous image above, acquired by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 on October 8, 2012, shows the glowing streamers of oxygen, sulfur and hydrogen that are being blown far into space from the hot star star at its heart — HD 117622 (at right.)

The expelled gas forms a double structure, with a series of central blue lobes surrounded by a twisted helix of bright streamers, called radial filaments. These filaments are the result of fast-moving material from the star impacting previously expelled, slower-moving gas, which becomes visible due to ionizing radiation.

The twisted shapes — as opposed to the circular or spherical structures found in many planetary nebulae — may be the result of an unseen binary partner to HD 117622, which over time would affect its rotational orientation.

“The likely mechanism for the formation of this planetary nebula is the existence of a binary companion to the dying star,” said scientist Kevin Volk in a Gemini Observatory article from 2006. “Over time the orbits drift due to precession and this could result in the complex curves on the opposite sides of the star.”

Read more: How Much Do Binary Stars Shape Planetary Nebulae?

The surrounding stars in the image were captured in visible and near-infrared light.

Read more on the Hubble site here, and check out a video below that zooms into the region of the sky where NGC 5189 is located:

Video credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)