The Great Pyramids at Giza are the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and perhaps the most famous of the ancient monuments in the Nile River Delta of Egypt. They are also a favorite subject of photography from orbit—particularly when high-resolution imagery can be obtained. This subset of a larger astronaut photograph illustrates the degree of detail visible from the International Space Station (ISS) using a long focal-length lens to provide high magnification. With good illumination of the scene and a steady hand on the camera, current off-the-shelf digital cameras on the ISS can acquire detailed images to rival those of automated satellite sensors.
The southeast-facing sides of the pyramids of the pharaohs Khufu,Khafre, and Menkaure are all brightly illuminated by the Sun, while the northwest facing sides are in shadow. This shadowing also highlights smaller, unfinished pyramids to the south of Menkaure’s pyramid and fields of rectangular, flat-roofed mastabas (tombs) to the east and west of Khufu’s pyramid. While not as grand as the pyramids, mastabas were the burial places of prominent people during the time of the ancient pharaohs. To the southeast of Khufu’s pyramid, the head and rear haunches of the Sphinx are also visible (albeit not clearly).
It is a short distance between the glories of ancient Egypt and the modern Cairo metropolitan area to the north and east. The green vegetation of a hotel golf course (image right) and the numerous buildings and streets of El Giza provide stark contrast to the bare rock and soil of the adjacent desert. Roadways visible in the desert (image left) connect the urban regions to the east with further development to the north (not shown).
Other images of the Nile River Delta pyramids and monuments
Astronaut photograph ISS032-E-9123 was acquired on July 25, 2012, with a Nikon D3X digital camera using an effective 1200 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 32 crew. It 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 William L. Stefanov, Jacobs/ESCG at NASA-JSC.
While the pyramids of Giza are perhaps the most famous, there are several other ancient Egyptian royal necropolis (“city of the dead”) sites situated along the Nile River and its delta. One of these sites is near the village of Dashur, illustrated in this astronaut photograph.
All astronauts are interested in observing unique human footprints from space, and especially those reflecting thousands of years of human activities. The region of the Great Pyramids of Giza—the last remaining wonder of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—is a favorite target. Although the pyramids have been imaged many times before by astronauts, each new image provides a unique look at the archeological monument, depending on the viewing angle from the ISS and the illumination from the sun. In this view, the shadows from afternoon sun provide directional arrows that point east. For scale, the current length of the large pyramid at the base is 227 meters (745 feet), and the height is 137 meters (449 feet).