Beyond Earth

Lifeboats over the Caspian Sea

Lifeboats over the Caspian Sea

The International Space Station was passing over Turkmenistan on July 26, 2015 when a crewmember shot this image of the southern extent of the Caspian Sea. The brilliant concentration of light at dead center, set somewhat inland from the coast, is the capital city of Iran - Tehran. Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, is the bright area protruding into the Caspian in the lower right third of the image.

ISS Invaded by Dragons!

ISS Invaded by Dragons!

The International Space Station was passing over the east coast of Brazil when this photo of the SpaceX Dragon capsule approaching for a rendezvous was taken on December 17, 2017. The Commercial Resupply Service mission known as CRS 13 carried about 4,800 lbs of essential scientific equipment, hardware, and crew supplies to the station. Docking was achieved via a port on the station’s Harmony module.

Hey, Who Let the Air Out of the Moon?!

You can thank atmospheric refraction for this droll little optical illusion.

In this image from August of 2016, sunlight reflected off of the Moon’s surface is bent as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere. By the time it arrives at the camera lens peering through the space station’s cupola window, something’s off.

Misshapen, yes. Permanent, no. Light travels fastest through a vacuum, slower through a medium – like air, for example. Where the atmosphere is denser its velocity is somewhat slower, and the light is bent, or refracted. Atmospheric refraction displaces stars from their expected location, and warps the shape of larger objects like the Sun and Moon. These ‘altered states’ are most noticeable just above the horizon, where the atmosphere is densest.

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Canal, Canali, Cannoli - Close Enough?

The late nineteenth century was all about canal building. The Suez Canal (pictured here) was completed in 1869, and reduced the travel distance between the North Atlantic and northern Indian Oceans by 4,300 miles by creating a shortcut from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, through Egypt. The Panama Canal went online a mere eleven years later.

Telescopes were getting bigger and better at this time as well, and astronomers were spending long hours staring at neighboring planets (astrophotography wasn’t a thing yet) and mapping any discernible surface features their optics would resolve. In 1877 Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observed a number of what he believed to be naturally occuring “canali”, an Italian word meaning “channels”, on the Martian surface. The word’s similarity to the English word “canal”, which refers specifically to an artificial waterway, led to years of bad astronomy in the person of well-to-do American astronomer Percival Lowell. Lowell devoted much of his later career to advancing his theory that the canals had been constructed by intelligent beings in order to redirect badly-needed water from the Martian poles to population centers nearer the planet’s equator.

Although most of Lowell’s contemporaries dismissed his ideas, it wasn’t until the Mars Mariner missions in the 1960s that remote sensing data could definitively prove him wrong.

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Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Citrus groves along the sandy shores of Florida’s ‘Space Coast’ share the land with groves of launch complexes - towering structures whose fruit is the knowledge gained through the exploration of space. The Banana River, which separates Cape Canaveral from Merritt Island, appears in the lower right. In the upper right an enormous cruise ship can be seen exiting Port Canaveral, America’s busiest cruise port, probably on its way to an adventure somewhere in the Caribbean. A runway, oriented to take advantage of the prevailing offshore winds, sits directly center.