Astronaut Photography

Northern Patagonian Ice Field, Chile
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Northern Patagonian Ice Field, Chile

The Northern Patagonian Ice Field (NPIF), centered near 47°S, 73.5°W, is the smaller of two remnant ice masses crowning the Andes Mountains of lower South America. The NPIF is a vestige of an extensive ice sheet that covered much of Patagonia just over a million years ago. Today, with its glaciers largely in retreat and only an area of 4,200 sq km, it is still the largest continuous mass of ice outside of the polar regions.

Published Feb 2, 2002

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Shrimp Farms and Mangroves, Gulf of Fonseca
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Shrimp Farms and Mangroves, Gulf of Fonseca

For decades, astronauts on space missions have documented land use changes around the world. Here, astronauts track the development of shrimp farming along the Honduran coastline of the Gulf of Fonseca between 1989 and 2001.

Published Jan 27, 2002

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Spanish Peaks, Sangre de Cristo Range, Colorado
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Spanish Peaks, Sangre de Cristo Range, Colorado

The Spanish Peaks, on the eastern flank of the Sangre de Cristo range in Colorado, abruptly rise 7,000 feet above the western Great Plains. Settlers, treasure hunters, trappers, gold and silver miners have long sighted on these prominent landmarks along the Taos branch of the Santa Fe trail. Well before the westward migration, the mountains figured in the legends and history of the Ute, Apache, Comanche, and earlier tribes. “Las Cumbres Espa&ntidle;olas” are also mentioned in chronicles of exploration by Spaniards including Ulibarri in 1706 and later by de Anza, who eventually founded San Francisco, California. This exceptional view, captured by the crew of Space Shuttle mission STS108, portrays the Spanish Peaks in the context of the southern Rocky Mountains.

Published Jan 20, 2002

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ISS Astronauts View the Moon
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ISS Astronauts View the Moon

Inspired by the nearly-full moon, space station astronauts used an 800 mm lens to study the craters and mare. This view, taken October 5, 2001, is centered on Crater Copernicus, surrounded by the Mare Serenitatis and Mare Tranquillitatis (Sea of Serenity and Sea of Tranquility), Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains), Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms) and Mare Nubium (Sea of Clouds). The bright crater and ejecta trails of Tycho dominate this near-side view. For scale, the crater of Tycho is 85 km in diameter.

Published Jan 13, 2002

Image of the Day Remote Sensing

Lake Sarez, Tajikistan
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Lake Sarez, Tajikistan

Lake Sarez, deep in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan, was created 90 years ago when a strong earthquake triggered a massive landslide that, in turn, became a huge dam along the Murghob River, now called the Usoi Dam. The resulting lake is perched above surrounding drainages at an elevation greater than 3000 meters. The lake is 61 kilometers long and as deep as 500 meters, and holds an estimated 17 cubic kilometers of water. The area experiences considerable seismic activity, and scientists fear that part of the right bank may slump into the lake, creating a huge wave that will top over and possibly breach the natural dam. Such a wave would create a catastrophic flood downstream along the Bartang, Panj and Amu Darya Rivers, perhaps reaching all the way to the Aral Sea.

Published Jan 6, 2002

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Dust Storm, Aral Sea
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Dust Storm, Aral Sea

The Aral Sea has shrunk to less than half its size since 1985. It receives little water (sometimes none) from the two major rivers that empty into it—the Syr Darya and Amu Darya. Instead, the river water is diverted to support irrigation for the region’s extensive cotton fields. Recently, water scarcity has increased due to a prolonged drought in Central Asia. As the Aral Sea recedes, its former seabed is exposed. The Aral’s sea bed is composed of fine sediments—including fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals—that are easily picked up by the region’s strong winds, creating thick dust storms. The International Space Station crew observed and recorded a large dust storm blowing eastward from the Aral Sea in late June 2001. This image illustrates the strong coupling between human activities (water diversions and irrigation), and rapidly changing land, sea and atmospheric processes—the winds blow across the Sea and pick up dust (former sea bottom sediments) as soon as the blowing air masses hit land.

Published Dec 30, 2001

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Soufriere Hills, Montserrat, West Indies
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Soufriere Hills, Montserrat, West Indies

Volcanic activity on the West Indian island of Montserrat has remained high for several years—the current activity started in 1995. However, remote sensing of the island has been difficult because of frequent cloud cover. The International Space Station crew flew north of the island on a clear day in early July (July 9, 2001) and recorded a vigorous steam plume emanating from the summit of Soufriere Hills. The image also reveals the extensive volcanic mud flows (lahars) and new deltas built out from the coast from the large amounts of volcanic debris delivered downstream by the rivers draining the mountain. As a small island (only 13 x 8 km), all of Montserrat has been impacted by the eruptions.

Published Dec 23, 2001

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Tibetan Braid
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Tibetan Braid

On October 13, 2000, the Expedition 3 crew of the International Space Station, high over Tibet, took this interesting photo of the Brahmaputra River. This mighty Asian river carves a narrow west-east valley betweenthe Tibetan Plateau to the north and the Himalaya Mountains to the south, as it rushes eastward for more than 1500 kilometers in southwestern China. This 15-kilometer stretch is situated about 35 kilometers south of the ancient Tibetan capital of Lhasa where the river flow becomes intricately braided as it works and reworks its way through extensive deposits of erosional material. This pattern is indicative of a combination heavy sediment discharge from tributaries and reduction of the river’s flow from either a change in gradient or perhaps even climate conditions over the watershed.

Published Dec 16, 2001

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Brüggen Glacier, Chile
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Brüggen Glacier, Chile

Brüggen Glacier in southern Chile is the largest western outflow from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and, unlike most glaciers worldwide, advanced significantly since 1945. From 1945 to 1976, Brüggen surged 5 km across the Eyre Fjord, reaching the western shore by 1962 and cutting off Lake Greve from the sea.

Published Dec 9, 2001

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Red Aurora as Seen from the Space Station
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Red Aurora as Seen from the Space Station

Red colors of the aurora are dominant in this image captured by a digital still camera in September 2001. Auroras are caused when high-energy electrons pour down from the Earth’s magnetosphere and collide with atoms. Red aurora occurs from 200 km to as high as 500 km altitude and is caused by the emission of 6300 Angstrom wavelength light from oxygen atoms.

Published Dec 2, 2001

Image of the Day Atmosphere

Green Aurora Seen from the Space Station
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Green Aurora Seen from the Space Station

As geomagnetic storms cause beautiful displays of aurora across the United States, astronauts onboard the International Space Station also have the opportunity to take a look. Green colors of the aurora are dominant in this image captured by a digital still camera on October 4, 2001.

Published Nov 11, 2001

Image of the Day Atmosphere

Napoli and Volcanism - Vesuvius and Mt. Etna
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Napoli and Volcanism - Vesuvius and Mt. Etna

For more than 240 million years the region now known as Italy has been the scene of episodic volcanic activity. East-southeast of Napoli (Naples) stands the imposing cone of Vesuvius, which erupted explosively in 79 A.D. to bury Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Published Nov 4, 2001

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Chetumal Bay Coral Reef
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Chetumal Bay Coral Reef

Chetumal Bay lies on the Border between Mexico and Belize. To the east of the bay, Ambergris Cay connects the Belize Barrier Reef to the Yucatan Peninsula. The north of the island is Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve. Here, the barrier reef comes very close to the east side of the island. In 1998, reefs in Belize were hit by two major events that led to heavy coral mortality: El Niño-related coral bleaching and Hurricane Mitch.

Published Oct 28, 2001

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Jungfrau and Interlaken, Switzerland
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Jungfrau and Interlaken, Switzerland

The Bernese Alps form the centerpiece of this late summer view of Switzerland; Jungfrau (4158 m), Moench (4089 m), and Eiger (3970 m) are among the higher peaks of the Central Alps. North of the range is the city of Interlaken, flanked by the Thune See and Brienzer See (lakes); the long, straight-segmented valley of the Rhone lies to the south.

Published Oct 21, 2001

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Space Station view of the Pyramids at Giza
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Space Station view of the Pyramids at Giza

This image represents, for its time, the greatest detail of the Giza plateau captured from a human-occupied spacecraft.

Published Oct 14, 2001

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St. Vincent Island, Apalachicola River Delta, Florida
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St. Vincent Island, Apalachicola River Delta, Florida

Sand ridges (cheniers) sweep in bands across St. Vincent Island, about 120 kilometers southwest of Tallahassee, Florida. These ridges have accumulated over time in the Apalachicola River delta complex. During high flow, the river delivers abundant sediment to the delta; as flow wanes the stream drops its load of coarser material around the channel mouth, to be redistributed primarily by waves. Variations in sediment supply and wave energy result in alternating bands of sand and mud. The crew of Space Shuttle 102 used the reflection of the sun off water that lies in the swales between ridges to emphasize the variable topography of the cheniers. Similar draping arrays of sand ridges and spits can be seen on the Po and Ebro river deltas of Italy and Spain, respectively.

Published Oct 7, 2001

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"Boilers" along the southeast coast of Bermuda

Along the south shore of Bermuda, waves break continuously along algal/vermetid reefs (composed of algae and molluscs, not coral), forming “boilers.” Boilers are named because the continuous breaking of waves makes it look as if the sea is boiling. This photograph taken from the International Space Station shows the eastern half of the main islands of Bermuda. Land use is about 6 percent cropland, 55 percent developed and 34 percent rural. Reflective white-colored areas are buildings and other developments surrounded by green areas of vegetation. St. David’s Island is also home to the airport, with runways built out into Castle Harbour.

Published Sep 30, 2001

Image of the Day Land Water

Biogenic Films at the Mouth of the Suez Canal
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Biogenic Films at the Mouth of the Suez Canal

Astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery used the sunglint off the surface of the Mediterranean Sea to reveal biogenic films on the ocean surface (“Biogenic film” refers to a thin layer of biologically-produced film resting on the surface.). The films dampen surface capillary waves, creating brighter and darker reflections, which, in turn, trace the complex surface water movements along the coast. The sunglint also highlights coastal features (jetties, submerged costal areas) near the Port of Suez.

Published Sep 23, 2001

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Urban Growth in Cairo 1965-98
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Urban Growth in Cairo 1965-98

Astronaut photographs from the Gemini era and from the space shuttle reveal tremendous growth.

Published Sep 16, 2001

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African Dust Blows over the Caribbean
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African Dust Blows over the Caribbean

Shuttle astronauts frequently track Saharan dust storms as they blow from north Africa across the Atlantic Ocean. Dust palls blowing from Africa take about a week to cross the Atlantic. Recently, researchers have linked Saharan dust to coral disease, allergic reactions in humans, and red tides. The top photograph, a classic image showing African dust over the Caribbean, was taken at a time when few scientists had considered the possibility. The image was taken by Space Shuttle astronauts on July 11, 1994. This photograph looks southwest over the northern edge of a large trans-Atlantic dust plume that blew off the Sahara desert in Africa. In this view, Caicos Island in the Bahamas and the mountainous spines of Haiti are partly obscured by the dust. Closer to the foreground, (about 26 degrees north latitude), the skies are clear.

Published Sep 9, 2001

Image of the Day Atmosphere Water

California Wildfires as Seen From the Space Shuttle
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California Wildfires as Seen From the Space Shuttle

An astronaut on the Space Shuttle photographed several wildfires burning in California in August 2001.

Published Sep 2, 2001

Image of the Day Atmosphere Land

Elephant damage to vegetation in Botswana
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Elephant damage to vegetation in Botswana

At the junction of the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers, Botswana, increasing elephant populations are having large impacts on local vegetation. Scientists working in the region used spectral analysis of an astronaut photograph digitized from film to identify areas where woodland vegetation had been heavily damaged by the elephants. The technique used the analysis of texture of the red band (or channel) in the image.

Published Aug 26, 2001

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Klamath Basin, California-Oregon
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Klamath Basin, California-Oregon

The Klamath Basin, on the California-Oregon border, had been in the news because of water shortages due to the drought in the United States’ Pacific Northwest. Diverse interest groups have come into conflict over the limited availability of Klamath Project water. In order to protect endangered Sucker Fish and threatened Coho Salmon in Upper Klamath Lake, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation cut off the flow of irrigation water to farmers in the project in April 2001.

Published Aug 19, 2001

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Manhattan
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Manhattan

It was a fine spring day on April 28, 2001, in New York City when the Expedition 2 crew of Space Station Alpha acquired this digital photograph. This ESC image was taken of Manhattan using an 800 mm lens (see inset) from an orbit altitude of 383 km. This particular lens can achieve spatial resolutions less than 6 meters.

Published Aug 12, 2001

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Ash Plume Streams from Mt. Etna, Sicily
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Ash Plume Streams from Mt. Etna, Sicily

The record of historical volcanism of Mt. Etna is one of the longest in the world, dating back to 1500 BC.

Published Aug 4, 2001

Image of the Day Atmosphere Land

Greenwich, Where East Meets West
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Greenwich, Where East Meets West

Greenwich is situated on the south shore of a sharp bend in the River Thames, just southeast of the City of London and is part of Greater London. Here is located the world famous Royal Observatory where the Prime Meridian, dividing East and West Longitude, was defined by international agreement in 1884.

Published Jul 29, 2001

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Baku, Azerbaijan
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Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku is Azerbaijan’s major city, and the oil capital of the Caspian region. This detailed view taken by the Expedition 2 crew on the International Space Station shows details of the city, including the extensive port facilities, and part of the large web of offshore oil platforms in the Caspian Sea.

Published Jul 22, 2001

Image of the Day Land Water

Mayon Volcano, Southeast Luzon, Philippines
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Mayon Volcano, Southeast Luzon, Philippines

Mayon volcano is the most active volcano in the Philippines, located just north of the coastal town of Legaspi in southern Luzon about 325 km southeast of Manila. Mayon is a near-perfect cone; its steep, forested slopes look rather like a bull’s eye when viewed from above.

Published Jul 15, 2001

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Watery Gem of Northern Italy, the City of Venice
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Watery Gem of Northern Italy, the City of Venice

The compact Italian city of Venice with its renowned canals is situated on a small, fish-shaped island in the Laguna Veneta at the northwest corner of the Adriatic Sea. In this photo taken from the International Space Station by the Expedition 1 Crew on February 21, 2001, one can see part of the causeway connecting the city to the mainland. The sinuous Canal Grande bisecting the city is easily visible in this scene as is the larger Canal Giudecca to the west, which leads to the port facilities on the northwestern end of the island. For centuries, the low-lying city has successfully coped with the three-foot tidal range experienced at this end of the Adriatic Sea, and the series of barrier islands has offered some protection from storm waves. However, a combination of both regional land subsidence and recent slight rises in sea level pose a significant threat this historic city and its priceless art treasures.

Published Jul 8, 2001

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Atolls in the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia
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Atolls in the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia

These two images of the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia, illustrate diversity in the morphology of atolls, one of the major types of coral reef formations. A typical atoll structure is a lagoon surrounded by a closed rim of cays and shallow spillways that control the exchange of water between the ocean and the lagoon. However, like human beings, this general scheme may vary according to the history of each individual atoll, resulting in a high diversity of morphology, especially for small atolls. The two neighboring atolls shown here have some unique features. What was a lagoon on Nukutavake (19°17′ S 138°48′ W, 6.2 km²) is now dry and completely covered by vegetation. Pinaki (3.54 km²) has a drying shallow lagoon still connected to the ocean via a single narrow spillway. The variation of morphology implies that each atoll may have a different equilibrium between ocean, lagoon, and land ecosystems.

Published Jul 1, 2001

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