Thor's Flashbulb

The entire universe in blog form
April 2 2014 11:30 AM

Flash of Illumination

From space, the Earth is seen from above, literally taking on a new perspective that can make our home planet itself look like an alien world.

In 2011, an astronaut onboard the International Space Station took a photo that proves it.

storm seen from space
A Bolivian thunderstorm seen from above and far to the side. Click to encumulonimbusate.

Photo by NASA

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That is a thunderstorm over Bolivia, seen at an oblique angle. It was nighttime there, and normally you’d only see the soft orange glow of city lights. However, at the moment the astronaut snapped the photo a lightning bolt tore through the cloud, illuminating it from within. It also lit up surrounding clouds as well as what looks like some water to the side (though it’s hard to be sure).

I remember when that picture was taken and being impressed with it, but for some reason I never put it up on the blog. I’ve fixed that oversight now. I love shots from space of Earth’s weather, from clouds casting long shadows to hurricanes casting a pall over entire countries. The images are beautiful, powerful, and a reminder that sometimes to see something so close and large, you need to back up a bit and take it all in from a different angle.

Tip o’ the space umbrella to NASA Earth Observatory on Twitter.

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