In the era of the International Space Station, photography has become a big part of the astronauts' many tasks. ISS astronauts take daily photos out of their perch in low Earth orbit, which in true NASA style has an acronym (CEO, Crew Earth Observations). They document everything from urban expansion to natural disasters like floods and hurricanes—adding to the increasingly important record of our ever-changing planet.
The ISS produces so many photos, in fact, that there’s a group at the Johnson Space Center, The Earth Science & Remote Sensing Unit, that helps determine the images required and coordinates projects with other agencies.
But those images aren't just useful, they're often stunning.
That’s why the ESRS recently released a video of its 16 favorite images of Earth from the ISS from this past year. The images include shots of iconic features, like Mount Fuji or the Sangeang Volcano in Indonesia. Others highlight human impacts on earth, including a nighttime shot of the lights of Dubai.
One breathtaking photo captures a sunset over the South Atlantic Ocean. The image, taken in October, shows the planet’s surface in inky darkness while the sunset stretches like flame across the sky. It’s the type of photo that can only be taken in space, with the sunlight illuminating light and dark shades of blue, highlighting the different layers of the atmosphere.
Another photo shows Lake Urmia in Iran. In July, the lake, usually green from above, turned a striking wine-red color. As the lake evaporates during the summer and its salinity increases, Dunaliella salina, a type of algae, begins to turn orange and red, transforming the lake.
An image of thunderstorm clouds over the Philippines shows just how skilled astrophotographers have become. By pointing the camera toward the sun, the photographer was able to use shadows to accentuate the three dimensional aspects of the storms.
The beautiful imagery is a bittersweet end to a difficult year.