Flying over the Philippine Sea, an astronaut looked toward the horizon from the International Space Station and shot this photograph of three-dimensional clouds, the thin blue envelope of the atmosphere, and the blackness of space. The late afternoon sunlight brightens a broad swath of the sea surface on the right side of the image. In the distance, a wide layer of clouds mostly obscures the northern Philippine islands (top right).
Looking toward the Sun to capture an image is a special technique used by astronauts to accentuate the three dimensions of landscapes and cloudscapes through the use of shadows. Two large thunderclouds rise next to one another (lower right). These clouds have long tails, also known as anvils, that stretch nearly 100 kilometers to the south. Anvils form when thunderstorm clouds rise high into the atmosphere and reach a “capping layer” thousands of meters (tens of thousands of feet) above sea level. Capping layers stop the upward growth of a cloud, deflecting air currents horizontally to form anvils.
Astronaut photograph ISS048-E-10018 was acquired on June 25, 2016, with a Nikon D4 digital camera using a 116 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 48 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 M. Justin Wilkinson, Texas State University, Jacobs Contract at NASA-JSC.