Time-Lapse: The Earth from Orbit

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Dec. 3 2013 12:49 PM

Time-Lapse: The Earth from Orbit

Earth from the ISS
Warp factor 3, aye.

Photo by NASA, from Peterson's video.

Stop whatever you’re doing (unless you’re performing brain surgery) and watch this astonishing and enthralling time-lapse video, showing the Earth from space using photographs taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station:

You know the drill: Make it hi-res and full-screen, and thank me later.


The video was created by David Peterson, who also made a similar video called “All Alone at Night”. Some of the clips I’ve seen before, but many are new to me.

At the 29 second mark, I was thrilled to see a glory, a complicated optical phenomenon where light is reflected back from water droplets in the air, creating a circular rainbow beneath the observer. You can see it tracking along with the station as it orbits above the clouds.

At 1:00 in, you see the Sun dip between the station’s solar panels; I believe this sequence was shot in 2012 at the summer solstice. At that time, the Sun never sets for the ISS; it just dips down near the limb of the Earth and rises back up, much as it does at the Earth’s north pole.

The Russian spacecraft docked to the ISS: a Soyuz (left) and Progress (right). You can see the light from the attitude firing on the right of the Progress capsule.

Photo by NASA, from Peterson's video.

At about 1:30, you can see two docked Russian spacecraft (a Soyuz in the foreground and a Progress in the back) with the Earth behind them. To my surprise, you can see the Progress firing its rockets twice, once on each side! The Progress rockets are sometimes used to maintain the ISS attitude (orientation to the Earth) and I had never seen video of them firing before.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

At 2:00, Peterson put in a remarkable series of shots showing C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy), a spectacular Sun-grazing comet that sported an extremely long tail. Discovered in 2011, it was very photogenic, and astronauts on the ISS took many photos of it.

He ends the video with a series of moonrise shots, which I never tire of. You can also see astronaut Don Petit working in the cupola; he was a pioneer of taking beautiful photographs from the station, and is a fitting way to end the video.

Tip o' the spacesuit visor to astronaut Ron Garan on Twitter.

[P.S. The music for the video is from the production company “Two Steps From Hell”, which makes music for movie trailers; you’ve probably heard their work many times without even knowing it. I quite enjoy their music, and really like the albums “Invincible” and “Archangel” in particular.]



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