The Las Vegas metropolitan area is located near the southern tip of Nevada, within the Mohave Desert. While the city is famous for its casinos and resort hotels—Las Vegas bills itself as “the entertainment capital of the world”—the wider metropolitan area includes several other incorporated cities and unincorporated areas (not part of a state-recognized municipality).
Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) observe and photograph numerous metropolitan areas when they are illuminated by sunlight, but the extent and pattern of these areas is perhaps best revealed at night by city lights. The surrounding darkness of the desert presents a stark contrast to the brightly lit street grid of the developed area. The Vegas Strip is reputed to be the brightest spot on Earth due to the concentration of lights on its hotels and casinos. The tarmac of McCarran International Airport is dark by comparison, while the airstrips of Nellis Air Force Base on the northeastern fringe are likewise dark. The dark mass of Frenchman Mountain borders the city to the east.
The acquisition of focused nighttime images requires astronauts to track the target with the handheld camera while the ISS is moving at a speed of more than 7 kilometers per second (over 15,000 miles per hour) relative to the Earth’s surface. This was achieved during ISS Expedition 6 using a homemade tracking device, but subsequent crews have needed to develop manual tracking skills. These skills, together with advances in digital camera technology, have enabled recent ISS crews to acquire striking nighttime images of the Earth (such as this recent image of the Nile River Delta).
Astronaut photograph ISS026-E-6255 was acquired on November 30, 2010, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using an 180 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 26 crew. The image in this article has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast. 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 William L. Stefanov, NASA-JSC.
The desert darkness contrasts starkly with the brightly lit street grid of Las Vegas in this photo from the International Space Station.