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An astronaut’s view of the world at night

Astronauts living on the International Space Station have long experienced a view of the world few of us could witness, but they have captured images which show our cities in an us-looking-at-them reversal.

May 10, 2022
By Anna Mendoza and Peta McCartney
10 May 2022

Stargazers have watched the night sky throughout time and many photographers have captured the beauty of the celestial skies in images which fill us with wonder. As they speed through space on board the International Space Station, astronauts have a unique view of the world’s great cities by night and have captured their own version of the man-made light show that few get to witness.

Often, the contours of the land and waterways which flow through the cities provide a natural canvass for the electric lights to create images unseen from ground level.

Here are a few of the global sights that give a new perspective to the places we live.

London

The River Thames divides London like an inky snake, while the city’s many open spaces, including cemeteries, golf courses and parks remain dark patches.

London city at night from the International Space Station. (NASA)

Paris

The circular design of Paris’ many arrondissements are visible from space, while the city’s Avenue des Champs-Elysees can also be seen as a bright line in the middle-left of the image.

Paris by night from the International Space Station. (NASA)

Riyadh

The capital city of Saudi Arabia has risen from 150,000 in 1960 to 5.4 million in 2012. In this image, the brightest lights follow the commercial districts along King Abdullah Road and King Fahd Branch Road, while many of the darker areas within the built area are city parks.

Riyadh at night from the International Space Station. (NASA)

China

Agricultural land surround China’s capital, Beijing and nearby Tianjin, with the smaller city of Langfang, located midway between the two major cities.

International Space Station image of cities at night in China, including Beijing (Top left) and Tianjin (Bottom right). (NASA)

Tokyo

Like a spider’s web of light, the bright lights of Tokyo reveal a new vision of the city where the last summer Olympic Games were held, delayed by the Covid pandemic.

Japan’s capital, Tokyo, by night from the International Space Station and showing the Edo River (Top) Sumida River (Middle) and Tama River (Bottom). (NASA)

Nile Delta

In Egypt’s Nile Delta, night lights reveal the population almost completely concentrated along the Nile Valley.

The Nile River delta at night from the International Space Station appears like a flower of light. (NASA)

Dubai

The city of Dubai is the largest metropolitan area in the emirate of Dubai along the southern Persian Gulf on the Arabian Peninsula, with night lights picking up the islands and peninsula of Palm Jumeirah clearly visible along the coastline. 

Dubai in the United Arab Emirates from the International Space Station. (NASA)

Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand’s capital and most populous city, is the focal point of this image which shows other cities lining the coast of the Gulf of Thailand.

Bangkok by night from the International Space Station. (NASA)

New York and Long Island Sound

Long Island Sound is an estuary along the upper East Coast of the United States. Directly to the west and southwest of the Sound, the New York City metropolitan area forms the brightest and most extensive area of lights.

Long Island Sound region, including New York, at night from the International Space Station. (NASA)

Los Angeles

The ‘City of Angels’ has a well-lit grid of streets and freeways with some renowned landmarks highly visible, including Hollywood in the north, nestled against the south side of the Santa Monica Mountains, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on the west coast, and the port facilities at Long Beach Naval Shipyards in the south.

Los Angeles at night from the International Space Station. (NASA)

Montreal and Quebec, Canada

Midwinter panoramas of the St Lawrence River in eastern Canada reveal Quebec City (top of pic) and the brighter metropolis of Montreal (centre screen).

Eastern Canada by night from the International Space Station. (NASA)

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, often called the ‘Paris of the South’, can be seen clearly from space, with major highways seen diverging from the city centre towards the outlying agricultural regions.

Buenos Aires at night from the International Space Station. (NASA)
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