Italia … Dallllloooo Spaaaaaaaziooooo!

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Aug. 11 2014 11:33 AM

Italia … Dallllloooo Spaaaaaaaziooooo!

I apparently have a thing for pictures of Italy taken from space. In my defense, the boot shape is extremely recognizable, and it’s really photogenic when seen from above … like, 400 kilometers above.

And I have proof! Vedere!

Italy
Lo stivale d'Italia. Click to engrandiorenate.

Photo by NASA

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That photo was taken on July 26, 2014, by an astronaut on the International Space Station. The ISS was a couple of hundred kilometers south of Sicily when the picture was taken, and the astronaut used a wide angle (28mm) lens. It’s amazing how well the outlines of the countries can be seen … but then, perhaps that’s what you can expect when you have a view from a height.

I was enjoying the high-res version of this image (even though it’s a bit blurred in the 0.3 second exposure) when something caught my eye on Sicily:

Hmmm, a big circular region where it’s all dark … ? With a weird orange glow in the middle … ?

Oh right. That’s Mount Etna.

Mount Etna
Sicily is on the left (the toe of Italy's boot on the right), with Mount Etna pretty obvious left of center.

Photo by NASA

Holy cow. Again, it’s blurred, but you are definitely seeing glowing lava in the caldera on the 3,300-meter (11,000-feet) high stratovolcano. A new vent opened on July 25, the day before this photo was taken, so it’s possible the lava coming from that is what’s seen here. Note the lights of the city of Catania to the south and east; my thoughts on building near volcanoes is on record.

But it's still magnificent. Even more so, for that matter, when there's a lightning storm at play to the east:

That Vine video was taken by astronaut Reid Wiseman, who is very much worth your time following on Twitter.

I get sick to my stomach if I read in a car … but knowing you can see things like this just by traveling a few hundred kilometers straight up might be worth a few days of space sickness.

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

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