What an Astronaut’s Camera Sees: International Space Station

An intimate tour of Earth’s most impressive landscapes… as captured by astronauts with their digital cameras. Dr. Justin Wilkinson from NASA’s astronaut team describes the special places that spacemen focus on whenever they get a moment.


This is the coast of Namibia in southwestern Africa, the very dry desert coast of the Namib Desert. You can see a cloud band butting up against the shore and some straight dunes in the lower left of the picture. Yeah, those are giant red dunes that the astronauts say are among the most beautiful sites you can get when flying.

Coming into view on the left is an impact crater right in the middle of the picture, right about now, and some wind streaks. We know where this area is because it’s a bit unique. We’ve got a significant dune field coming into the picture on the left there: the Oriental Sand Sea, as it’s called in French, and on the top is the Isawan Sand Sea.

This is the island of Sicily with a cloud over Mt. Etna, so you can’t quite tell there’s a big volcano in the middle of the picture right now. And there’s the toe of the boot of Italy coming into the picture from the left. See a good example of sun glint on the right with the sea reflecting the sun.

This is the smooth east coast of the Kamchatka peninsula again. As you move inland, it gets even more striking as a picture because of all the volcanoes on this peninsula and the snowy mountains. There’s a volcano just coming into the picture from the top left there. You can see a knob-shaped feature.

Here is a smaller finger of land in China sticking into the Pacific Ocean. This is called the Qindoa Peninsula, and we recognize it. In winter, you can see all the snow lower left. And again, the sun glint point moving along the coast upper center. In an obvious picture, the Zagros mountains with snow on them in Iran, in the country of Iran.

Here we have the north coast of Australia and the Gulf of Carpenteria, and some islands. The most oversized island at the bottom of the screen is Groote island, which means the big island in Dutch. When you see a hugely powerful feature like this, and the astronauts shoot them a lot, we have had some detailed views looking right down the eye, looking at the eyewall. I seem to remember views of breaking waves on the sea surface at the bottom of the eye. Amazing detail.

Look at this neat picture of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. And the color variation? That’s due to an almost complete blockage of the lake’s circulation by a trestle for a railroad that crosses from one side to the other. It stops the circulation, and things get a little bit saltier and certainly saltier at the north end of the lake.

Here you see two circles coming into the top of the view now. These are either volcanoes or effects from inside the earth producing circular features. We think this is the Big Bend area of Texas.

This is an interesting sideways view of the peninsula of Florida, with the Keys stretching out into the lowest part of the picture there. And the shallow seas around the Bahama Islands top right.

And Cuba is coming into the picture lower right. And this, I believe, is the coast of Northern Chile in South America. It’s a very straight coast, except for that strange headland out to the right just disappearing. And so the desert is the first part of the inland zone, and then you see much blacker at the top of the picture, the Andes Mountains with many dozens of volcanoes.

Here is a thunderhead. The typical look of the thunderheads, the big rainstorms, that develop over the Amazon Basin. And another one is coming in the top right. Here’s a major river. There’s an even bigger one coming in on the right. That looks to me like it could well be the Amazon River, with one of its big tributaries on the left. And the flow would seem to be from the bottom of the picture to the top.

Ali Kaya


Ali Kaya

This is Ali. Bespectacled and mustachioed father, math blogger, and soccer player. I also do consult for global math and science startups.

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