Astronaut Photography

Golden Gate, San Francisco, California
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Golden Gate, San Francisco, California

The Golden Gate of San Francisco Bay is one of the most recognizable straits in the world due to the Golden Gate Bridge that spans it. This high-resolution astronaut photograph is a nearly cloud-free view of the northern part of the San Francisco metropolitan area.

Published Sep 4, 2006

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250,000 Earth Photographs from the International Space Station
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250,000 Earth Photographs from the International Space Station

The crew of Expedition 13 recently passed a major milestone: as of late August 2006, more than one quarter of a million images of Earth had been taken from the International Space Station. The 250,000th image is an oblique view (a photograph taken from a side angle) of the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. This view provides a sense of perspective and accents topography, in contrast to nadir (directly downwards) views. Snow highlights the peaks of the Banks Peninsula to the southeast of the city. The peninsula has a radically different landscape compared to the adjoining, flat Canterbury Plains, where Christchurch (gray patch to the north) is located. The Banks Peninsula is formed from the overlapping cones of the extinct Lyttelton and Akaroa volcanoes. Subsequent erosion of the cones formed the heavily dissected terrain visible in the image, and sea level rise led to the creation of several harbors around the Peninsula. Erosion continues unabated today, as evidenced by the apron of greenish blue, sediment-laden waters surrounding the Banks Peninsula.

Published Aug 28, 2006

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Ash Cloud from Mount Ubinas, Peru
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Ash Cloud from Mount Ubinas, Peru

Subduction of the Nazca tectonic plate along the western coast of South America forms the high Peruvian Andes. The subduction (movement of one plate beneath another) also produces magma, feeding a chain of historically active volcanoes along the western front of the mountains. The most active of these volcanoes in Peru is Ubinas. A typical, steep-sided stratovolcano comprised primarily of layers of silica-rich lava flows, it has a summit elevation of 5,672 meters (18,609 feet). At 1.4 kilometers (0.87 miles) across, the volcano’s caldera gives it a truncated profile. Hardened lava flows from past eruptions linger on the volcano’s flanks. This oblique image (looking at an angle) from the International Space Station (ISS) captures an ash cloud first observed on satellite imagery at 11:00 GMT on August 14, 2006. An ISS astronaut took this picture one hour and 45 minutes later.

Published Aug 21, 2006

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Mount Etna, Sicily
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Mount Etna, Sicily

One of the most consistently active volcanoes in the world, Sicily’s Mount Etna has a historical record of eruptions dating back to 1500 BC. This astronaut photograph captures plumes of steam and possibly ash originating from summit craters on the mountain: the Northeast Crater and Central Crater, which includes two secondary craters (Voragine and Bocca Nuova).

Published Aug 14, 2006

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Calcite Quarry, Michigan
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Calcite Quarry, Michigan

While the Great Lakes region of North America is well known for its importance to shipping between the United States, Canada, and the Atlantic Ocean, it is also the location of an impressive structure in the continent’s bedrock: the Michigan Basin. Formed during the Paleozoic Era (approximately 540–250 million years ago) the Basin looks much like a large bullseye defined by the arrangement of exposed rock layers that all tilt inwards, forming a huge bowl-shaped structure. The outer layers of the Basin include thick deposits of carbonates—rocks containing carbon and oxygen, such as limestone—deposited over millions of years when a shallow sea covered the region. These carbonate rocks are mined throughout the Great Lakes region using large open-pit mines. The largest carbonate mine in the world, Calcite Quarry, appears in this astronaut photograph.

Published Aug 7, 2006

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Ship Traffic on the Suez Canal, Egypt
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Ship Traffic on the Suez Canal, Egypt

This astronaut photograph captures a northbound convoy of cargo ships entering the Mediterranean Sea from the Suez Canal in Egypt.

Published Jul 31, 2006

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Yates Oilfield, West Texas
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Yates Oilfield, West Texas

The Permian Basin of west Texas and southeastern New Mexico is one of the most productive petroleum provinces of North America. The area holds one of the thickest deposits of rock from the Permian Period, which lasted from approximately 290 to 251 million years ago. The Basin is a large depression in the bedrock surface along the southern edge of the North American craton, an ancient core of continental crust. The Basin filled with thick layers of sediment during the Paleozoic Era (about 545 to 251 million years ago) as the region was alternately covered by shallow oceans, or exposed as coastal salt flats. The sediments hardened into primarily organic-rich carbonate and minerals such as common table salt. Later activity in the Earth’s crust caused folding of the sedimentary layers, creating ideal conditions for the formation, trapping, and storage of petroleum. In this astronaut photograph, numerous white well locations and petroleum drilling structures mark the Yates Oil Field in the layered sedimentary rocks of the Permian Basin.

Published Jul 24, 2006

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Tenerife Island, Spain
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Tenerife Island, Spain

Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, a Spanish possession located off the northwestern coast of Africa. The central feature of this astronaut photograph is the elliptical depression of the Las Cañadas Caldera that measures 170 square kilometers (about 65 square miles).

Published Jul 17, 2006

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Nukuoro Atoll, Federated States of Micronesia
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Nukuoro Atoll, Federated States of Micronesia

Located just north of the equator, this classically shaped atoll is part of the Caroline Islands, which stretch northeast of Papua New Guinea in the western Pacific. Nukuoro Atoll is one of 607 islands that make up the Federated States of Micronesia.

Published Jul 10, 2006

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Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, TX
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Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, TX

The largest airport in Texas, Dallas-Fort Worth International (DFW) is also the fourth largest in the world, and it occupies more surface area than the entire island of Manhattan in New York. This astronaut photograph captures the entire airport and portions of the surrounding Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area.

Published Jul 3, 2006

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Site of Carthage, Tunisia
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Site of Carthage, Tunisia

The city-state of Carthage in North Africa was founded by Phoenician settlers in 814 BC, and it subsequently became the seat of a trade empire that controlled much of the western Mediterranean region (including most of the former Phoenician lands). Carthage was completely destroyed by the Roman Republic during the Third (and final) Punic War (149-146 BC). The end of Carthage has been made notorious by the story that the Romans allegedly sowed the city with salt to ensure that no further rivals to their power would arise there. However, given the great value of salt at the time and the strategic importance of the city’s location, scholars dispute whether the event actually occurred. Following the destruction of Carthage, Roman dominance of the Mediterranean continued until the fall of the Western Empire in 476 AD.

Published Jun 26, 2006

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Aves Island
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Aves Island

Named Isla de Aves in Spanish, (meaning “Island of the Birds”) Aves Island lies west of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. It provides a nesting site to green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and, of course, birds. Because the abundant bird droppings, known as guano, could be used in fertilizer and gunpowder, guano miners worked on the island until they depleted the supply. Since its discovery by Europeans, likely in the late 16th century, Aves Island was subsequently claimed by several European nations. The island is currently claimed by Venezuela, although disputes about ownership of the island, and the surrounding exclusive economic zone in the Caribbean, continue today.

Published Jun 19, 2006

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Sunglint Features, Lake Erie, United States
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Sunglint Features, Lake Erie, United States

Sunglint results when the Sun’s light bounces off the water’s surface and into the satellite sensor or camera. In this astronaut photograph, taken near noon on May 28th, 2006, sunglint highlights features on the surface of Lake Erie, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Cleveland, Ohio. The angular water bodies along the river are likely marinas. The main part of the image shows numerous ship wakes in the zone of partial glint around the disk of the Sun’s reflection point. The wakes radiate from the mouth of the Vermilion River, with many of them heading northwest (towards the lower-right corner) in the direction of Detroit, Michigan.

Published Jun 12, 2006

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Central Phoenix Metro Area, Arizona
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Central Phoenix Metro Area, Arizona

The Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area is the largest in the southwestern United States. This astronaut photograph of the central metro region includes the boundary area between three of the municipalities included in the conurbation of Phoenix: the cities of Phoenix (left), Tempe (center and lower right), and Scottsdale (upper right).

Published Jun 5, 2006

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Wave Sets and Tidal Currents, Gulf of California
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Wave Sets and Tidal Currents, Gulf of California

Sunglint (reflection of sunlight from the water surface directly back to the camera or satellite sensor) off the Gulf of California gives the water a silver-gray appearance rather than the normal azure color in this astronaut photograph. The sunglint allows us to see several active features which wouldn’t be visible otherwise. The image captures a moment in time displaying very active and complex ocean wave dynamics. In this view of Punta Perihuete, Mexico, we can see three major features: biological orman-made oils floating on the surface; the out-going tidal current; and complex wave patterns. The oils on the surface are recognizable as light-grey, curved and variable-width streamers shaped by the local winds and currents. Plankton, fish, natural oil seeps, and boats dumping their bilges are all potential sources for these oils.

Published May 29, 2006

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Activity at Cleveland Volcano, Aleutian Islands
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Activity at Cleveland Volcano, Aleutian Islands

ISS flight engineer Jeff Williams was the first to witness and then report an eruption at this Alaskan volcano in 2006.

Published May 25, 2006

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Washington, D.C.
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Washington, D.C.

George Washington not only served as the namesake for the capital city of the United States, he also chose its location, perhaps envisioning the transportation possibilities that the Potomac River flowing past the site would provide. Recognizable in this image are the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument (and its shadow), and the Lincoln Memorial, along the northeast bank of the Potomac River.

Published May 22, 2006

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Dust and Smog in Northeast China
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Dust and Smog in Northeast China

Much of the land surface is obscured in this oblique image of the North China Plain and parts of Inner Mongolia. In this image, a mass of gray smog—mainly industrial pollution and smoke from domestic burning—obscures Beijing and surrounding cities. Numerous plumes with their source points appear within the mass. Beijing suffers some of the worst air pollution in the world from these chronic sources, and the characteristic colors and textures of the smog can be easily seen through the windows of the International Space Station. The pale brown material in Bo Hai Bay, about 300 kilometers east of Beijing, is sediment from the Yellow River and other rivers.

Published May 15, 2006

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Viedma Glacier, Argentina
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Viedma Glacier, Argentina

The icefields of Patagonia, located at the southern end of South America, are the largest masses of ice in the temperate Southern Hemisphere (approximately 55,000 square kilometers).

Published May 8, 2006

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Oshigambo River and Etosha Pan, Namibia
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Oshigambo River and Etosha Pan, Namibia

Etosha Pan in northern Namibia is a large, dry lakebed in the Kalahari Desert. The 120-kilometer-long (75-mile-long) lake and its surroundings are protected as one of Namibia’s largest wildlife parks. About 16,000 years ago, when ice sheets were melting across Northern Hemisphere land masses, a wet climate phase in southern Africa filled Etosha Lake. Today, Etosha Pan is seldom seen with even a thin sheet of water covering the salt pan. This astronaut photograph shows the point where the Oshigambo River runs into the salt lake during an unusually wet summer in southern Africa, in March 2006.

Published May 1, 2006

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Lake Poopo Water Levels
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Lake Poopo Water Levels

Lake Poopó sits high in the Bolivian Andes, catching runoff from its larger neighbor to the north—Lake Titicaca (not shown)—by way of the Desaguadero River, which is the muddy area at the north end of the lake. Because Lake Poopó is very high in elevation (roughly 3,400 meters, or 11,000 feet above sea level), very shallow (generally less than 3 meters, or 9 feet), and the regional climate is very dry, small changes in precipitation in the surrounding basin have large impacts on the water levels and area of Lake Poopó. When the lake fills during wet periods, it drains from the south end into the Salar de Coipasa salt flat (not shown). Water levels in Lake Poopó are important because the lake is one of South America’s largest salt-water lakes, making it a prime stop for migratory birds, including flamingoes.

Published Apr 24, 2006

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Salt Dome in the Zagros Mountains, Iran
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Salt Dome in the Zagros Mountains, Iran

The Zagros Mountains in southwestern Iran present an impressive landscape of long linear ridges and valleys. Formed by collision of the Eurasian and Arabian tectonic plates, the ridges and valleys extend hundreds of kilometers. Stresses induced in the Earth’s crust by the collision caused extensive folding of the preexisting layered sedimentary rocks. Subsequent erosion removed softer rocks, such as mudstone and siltstone while leaving harder rocks, such as limestone and dolomite. This differential erosion formed the linear ridges of the Zagros Mountains. This astronaut photograph of the southwestern edge of the Zagros mountain belt includes another common feature of the region—a salt dome (Kuh-e-Namak or “mountain of salt” in Farsi).

Published Apr 17, 2006

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Lake Natron, Tanzania
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Lake Natron, Tanzania

If Lake Natron, in Africa’s Great Rift Valley, had a color theme, it would be pink. The alkali salt crust on the surface of the lake is often colored red or pink by the salt-loving microorganisms that live there. Also, the lake is the only breeding area for the 2.5 million Lesser Flamingoes that live in the valley. These flamingoes flock along saline lakes in the region, where they feed on Spirulina, a blue-green algae with red pigments. This mosaic of photographs of the southern portion of Lake Natron shows the largest open lagoon area, and island mud flat, and a large area of pink salt crust. The colors show the actual colors viewed by the astronauts. Each time the lake is photographed, there are differences in the pattern of its salt crust, and the red colors of the blue-green algae and bacteria on the surface of the crust.

Published Apr 10, 2006

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Newport, Rhode Island
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Newport, Rhode Island

Newport, Rhode Island, is well known as a summer destination, but winter snow blankets the city of Newport in this astronaut photograph. One of the first European settlements in the Americas, the region was initially populated by colonists seeking religious freedom denied them in Europe. Founded in 1639, Newport became a bastion of the Baptist faith but also exemplified one of the basic precepts of the United States Constitution—separation of church and state. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Newport consolidated its position as one of the premier ports of the United States. The 19(sup>th and early 20(sup>th centuries saw a decline in commercial shipping at Newport and its rebirth as a recreational destination. Many of the leading industrialist families of the time, such as the Vanderbilts, built grand summer mansions that are now open to visitors.

Published Apr 3, 2006

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Total Solar Eclipse of March 29, 2006
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Total Solar Eclipse of March 29, 2006

The International Space Station (ISS) was in position to view the umbral shadow cast by the Moon as it moved between the Sun and the Earth during the solar eclipse on March 29, 2006. This astronaut image captures the shadow across southern Turkey, northern Cyprus, and the Mediterranean Sea. People living in these regions observed a total solar eclipse, in which the Moon completely covers the Sun’s disk. The astronaut photograph was taken at approximately 2:00 p.m. local time. The terminator of the eclipse—the line between the light and dark parts of the Sun’s disk— is visible as it passes across central Turkey. The portion of the ISS visible at image top is the Space Station Remote Manipulator System.

Published Mar 31, 2006

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Winter in the Dasht-e-Lut Desert, Eastern Iran
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Winter in the Dasht-e-Lut Desert, Eastern Iran

An International Space Station crew member took this striking photograph one evening in late February, 2006. The image takes advantage of the Sun’s low angle to reveal linear geological structures of the Iranian mountain range bordering the western edge of the basin known as Dasht-e-Lut. The range rises 1,818 meters (6,000 feet) above sea level and lies 750 kilometers (466 miles) north of the Persian Gulf. The convoluted appearance results from erosion of folded and faulted rocks—softer rocks erode away quickly, leaving more resistant rock to form linear ridges that are perpendicular to the direction of compression.

Published Mar 27, 2006

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Savannah River Site, South Carolina
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Savannah River Site, South Carolina

Situated between the South Carolina piedmont and the Atlantic Ocean, the Savannah River Site is an important part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s nuclear program. The southern half of the site (building clusters with reflective white rooftops) is shown in this astronaut photograph. Construction of the site—originally called the Savannah River Plant—began in 1951 for the purpose of generating radioactive materials necessary for nuclear weapons production during the Cold War. A total of five nuclear reactors occupy the central portion of the site and operated throughout 1953–1992. Following the end of the Cold War in 1991, activities at the Savannah River Site are now focused on disposal of nuclear wastes, environmental cleanup of the site itself, and development of advanced remediation technologies.

Published Mar 20, 2006

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Belle Isle, Canada
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Belle Isle, Canada

Belle Isle (center) is surrounded by sea ice in this winter viewtaken from the International Space Station. Belle Isle lies in the BelleIsle Strait between the island of Newfoundland and the Labrador mainland. A portion of a small island along the coast of Labrador appears in the top left corner. Ice patterns show that the island lies at the meeting point of two sea currents (larger arrows). The Labrador Current flows from the northwest (top left), and a smaller current, driven by dominant westerly winds, flows from the southwest (lower left). Flow lines in sea ice give a sense of the movement of the ice.

Published Mar 13, 2006

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Apataki Atoll
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Apataki Atoll

This astronaut photograph depicts Apataki Atoll, an atoll in the Tuamotu Islands in the south Pacific. Atolls are ring-like coral islands that nearly or entirely enclose a lagoon. The atoll traces the perimeter of what was once the coastline of a volcanic island. In 1722, Dutch navigator Jakob Roggeveen became the first European to see the Apataki Atoll. It was later visited by Captain Cook in 1774.

Published Mar 6, 2006

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Lake Puma Yumco, Tibet, China
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Lake Puma Yumco, Tibet, China

The alpine lakes of the Tibetan Plateau are some of the most remote in the world. This mosaic of astronaut photographs, taken along a single International Space Station orbit track, depicts Lake Puma Yumco during the winter season. The lake is located at an elevation of 5,030 meters above sea level (16,503 feet), and is considered ultraoligotrophic, meaning that nutrient concentrations in both the water column and lake sediments are extremely low. Water in such lakes tends to be blue to blue-green and to have high clarity due to low levels of photosynthesizing organisms such as phytoplankton. Color change in these lakes is usually due to shallowing of the water—blue indicating deeper water. A depth transition is visible along the west-southwest shoreline of Lake Puma Yumco at the lower left of image. The most striking feature of the image mosaic, however, is the intricate ice block pattern on the lake surface.

Published Feb 27, 2006

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