Alexander Gerst/NASA

An astronaut aboard the ISS takes a photograph capturing the violence raging on one part of Earth.

Astronauts, when they first see the Earth from space, tend to share a complicated but common reaction: a sense of wonder. Mixed with a sense of peace. Mixed with a sense of appreciation of all that we share by virtue of sharing a planet. This encounter with the space-based sublime has, courtesy of the International Space Station astronaut Ron Garan, a name: "orbital perspective." It's that closeness humans seem to feel with Earth when they find themselves, against so many odds, outside of it. It's that Bette Midler song, brought to life.

But "orbital perspective" also involves, as Garan described it in 2011"a sobering contradiction." On one hand, the astronaut said of his own experience, "I saw this incredibly beautiful, fragile oasis—the Earth. On the other, I was faced with the unfortunate realities of life on our planet for many of its inhabitants."

That contradiction is captured perfectly in a photo shared yesterday by one of Garan's successors, Alexander Gerst, who is a current resident of the International Space Station (ISS). The orbiting space station—itself a symbol of international cooperation and, in that, global unity—passed over Israel and Palestine as it orbited Earth's surface yesterday. It was nighttime on that side of the planet; everything was dark save for the man-made lights studding the land. 

And save for one other thing, too: explosions. The flashes are distantly visible evidence of human bloodshed. "From  we can actually see explosions and rockets flying over & ," Gerst tweeted. He then shared the image above.

He noted as he did so that it was his "saddest photo yet."

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of the L.A. Metro Expo Line extension
    Life

    Why Can’t I Take Public Transit to the Beach?

    In the U.S., getting to the beach usually means driving. But some sandy shores can still be reached by train, subway, and bus.

  2. a photo of the Eiffel Tower with the words "Made for Sharing" projected on it
    Life

    How France Tries to Keep English Out of Public Life

    France has a long history of using official institutions to protect the French language from outside influence. Still, English keeps working its way in.

  3. Warren Logan
    Transportation

    A City Planner Makes a Case for Rethinking Public Consultation

    Warren Logan, a Bay Area transportation planner, has new ideas about how to truly engage diverse communities in city planning. Hint: It starts with listening.

  4. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  5. An illustration of a turtle with a city on its shell
    Transportation

    Why Speed Kills Cities

    U.S. cities are dropping urban speed limits in an effort to boost safety and lower crash rates. But the benefits of less-rapid urban mobility don’t end there.  

×