Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) can observe atmospheric conditions and phenomena on a global scale. As the ISS orbited over the Syrian Desert, an astronaut photographed a large plume of dust stretching over the Mediterranean Sea and the island of Cyprus. Looking west toward the Sahara Desert, we can also see the waning gibbous Moon appearing above Earth’s horizon.
Astronauts are trained to photograph dust and aerosols by including coastlines and seas in the same shot. The edges of dust clouds are easier to identify over water when there is a definite coastline to reference. Over land, dust tends to obscure views of Earth’s surface.
In this region, dust often originates from North Africa and Western Asia. While it is difficult to discern the dust source from this photo, measurements taken by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite indicate a high concentration of dust over Turkey on this day.
Atmospheric dust can deliver key nutrients to phytoplankton and microbial communities living at the sea surface. In the eastern Mediterranean Sea, a region where there is little input of nutrients from other sources, such dust storms are important to sea life.
Astronaut photograph ISS063-E-25816 was acquired on June 10, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 50 millimeter lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 63 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by Andrea Meado, Jacobs/JETS Contract, and Kenton Fisher at NASA-JSC.