Every day, European astronaut Thomas Pesquet sends out incredible pictures of Earth from orbit. City lights and nature's lights alike shine in his photos, here are some of his best shots from the past week alone.
Shown above, Paris appears below the International Space Station, nestled between two Soyuz spacecraft that are used to ferry astronauts to and from the orbiting complex. Pesquet is the 10th French astronaut to fly in space. This is his first space mission; he also has done some extreme exploration on the Earth for astronaut training, including in a cave network in Sardinia, Italy, and underwater as part of NASA's NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) work.
Pesquet can speak several languages, including English, French and Russian. Most of his tweets are sent twice, in both English and French.
Weird Features on Earth
It isn't too clear what Pesquet is photographing or where in this picture, but what we do know about astronaut photography is it's extremely important. While it's true that we enjoy astronaut images from the International Space Station, these images are also used by scientists to look at different things on the Earth. Over the years, astronaut photography has been used for things as diverse as climate change, disaster monitoring and even launch viewing.
A NASA press release from last year points out that astronauts in fact helped fuel the climate change movement. When the Apollo 8 astronauts sent back pictures in 1968 of the Earth as a fragile blue ball in space, it wasn't long before the first Earth Day happened (1970). Between astronauts and satellites, scientists can monitor changes on the Earth such as lakes drying up or deserts spreading.
Into the Dragon's Eye
This incredible shot of Hawaii's Mauna Loa shows streaks on its slopes from lava and from snow, according to Pesquet. From time to time, astronauts have caught volcanoes erupting from their perch on the space station, which provides a great view for scientists looking to make better predictions to help people. Past European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst was in fact a volcanologist, a pretty rare specialty even among astronauts.
Another European astronaut, Tim Peake, actually saw a volcano in action during his time in orbit last year. Peake recorded ash streams coming from a volcano that he identified as being in Eastern Russia; sources on the Internet later said it was Klyuchevskaya volcano, the tallest active volcano in the world.
Pesquet put a plea for addressing climate change in this tweet showing a gorgeous glacier: "So much snow it looks like cream! Let's tackle climate change and safeguard nature's balance." The European Space Agency and NASA both monitor climate change using satellites that track many different factors, such as precipitation, wind and solar radiation.
Funny enough, research on other planets can also help us better understand climate change on Earth. One of the more famous examples is Venus, where a runaway greenhouse effect is happening underneath the cloud banks, causing an oven-like surface that bakes unprotected spacecraft in moments. While Earth is not quite that extreme, it does help us understand the greenhouse effect, and how it can alter with cloud cover.
Great Barrier Reef
Shining like some sort of ocean spine, Australia's Great Barrier Reef shows off its aquamarine colors. "Another natural jewel that we must protect," Pesquet said in his accompanying tweet. In late 2016, NASA in fact did a study of its own at this reef as part of the COral Reef Airborne Laboratory (CORAL). While there is a touristic incentive to make sure the reef is healthy, there also are concerns about the environment there and at other reefs.
NASA points out that coral reefs worldwide are degrading because of human activities, and climate change more generally. Now scientists are on an urgent mission to make their data more unified and more accessible, before the reefs die out completely.
Pesquet managed to get some incredible detail of a small Bahamas island -- specifically, a private airstrip. "Not too shabby," Pesquet tweeted. "Uncanny detail picked up thanks to the 1150mm lens." It also shows the amount of training that Pesquet (and other astronauts) receive to get these incredible photos of the Earth.
Astronaut photography on the space station is enhanced thanks to a facility known as the , which features 360-degree windows facing Earth. Astronauts use it to keep an eye on approaching spacecraft, to take pictures of Earth below, and if time allows, to relax and just enjoy the view.
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