John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
If your hometown's been shot by astronaut/prolific shutterbug Chris Hadfield, it's probably viewable on this interactive map.
Chris Hadfield is the 35th commander of the International Space Station, the first Canadian to walk in space and a relentless demon of photography.
Since boarding the spacecraft in December, he's fed his half-million Twitter followers a steady diet of pupil-popping images taken from out his window as he speeds along at 17,239 m.p.h., such as a monstrous cyclone eating Madagascar, glacial runoff "burping" into the Atlantic and what he rightfully calls "one of the coolest space sights on Earth, the Richat Structure of Mauritania." Hadfield is so obsessed with documenting the planet that the only thing that makes him angry in space is having to go to bed: "My resolution has been to make the absolute most of it -- to spend as little time sleeping as I can," he recently told reporters.
But Hadfield is interested in more than the natural corrugations, volcanic smoke plumes and bathymetric mysteries of our ever-transforming globe. He's also slowly building a photo collection of the world's cities as seen from 230 miles up in the ether. And now, thanks to the work of a devotee in Canada, if the commander has snapped your hometown you can find the image on an interactive map bursting at the seams with visual gold.
David MacLean, who teaches computer mapping at the Nova Scotia Community College in Lawrencetown, was so wowed by Hadfield's daily photos that he thought, as reported in the Ottawa Citizen, "Wouldn’t it be nice to have a catalog of where they are?" So he made one, using a basemap hosted by Esri and a Google Drive database of locations that he and his students continually update. You can zoom in on cities to see Hadfield's full-sized photos, along with comments that he tweeted out with them. (A few of the images were taken by fellow astronaut Thomas H. Marshburn.) Another option lets you switch the base map to different settings, like "streets," "Bing Maps Aerial" and "National Geographic."
MacLean has written that his mantra is "a picture is worth 1,000 words; a map is worth 1,000 pictures; a GIS is worth 1,000 maps." In this case, his estimation of the map's cool factor is spot-on for lovers of astro photography. For a quick rotation of the world's cities seen in ant size, check out Cape Town bumping up against the sun-dappled ocean, the vast flatness of Chicago, huge sea swirls off of Mumbai and Boston, glowing foggily in the night.