An image recently captured over the north Atlantic by an unidentified ISS astronaut. Courtesy NASA, the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit

A new website lets you check out photos taken by astronauts of specific spots on Earth.

Who isn’t moved by images of the Earth at night?

In the contrast it shows between nature and settlement—in the civilizational network it reveals—it gestures at the mystery of human society. These composites are referenced in movies and in art and, especially, in data visualizations.

And I had assumed unthinkingly that the images above and below, last updated by NASA in 2012, were about as much as existed. A new database shows how much more there is.

(NASA)

Cities at Night collects images that astronauts have taken of Earth at night. It organizes them on a map, and draws them from a much larger resource: the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth, a NASA-organized database of all photos taken by astronauts in space.

For me, that brings a depth to these pictures that’s not present in other images of Earth from orbit. These aren’t machine-collected images, like those a weather satellite or Landsat might capture. No program indicated that these images should be captured. Rather, a person—often, with a DSLR you could buy at a store—saw something on the surface that caught their attention, focused the camera, and took a picture.

These are the results.

Chicago:

(NASA)

New York:

One of the American members of the ISS captured this image of New York City on March 23, 2013, as the laboratory flew overhead. (NASA Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit)

Portland:

(NASA)

New Orleans:

(NASA)

The database showcases many cities beyond these, including smaller municipalities, like Phoenix, Virginia; Atlantic, Iowa; and my own Trenton, New Jersey. It was compiled by an organization of Spanish astrophysicists to help inform readers about light pollution.

And while you’re musing about what your home looks like from above, consider that we don’t know what the astronaut’s own home looks like: No one has taken a detailed picture of the ISS since 2010. 

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

 

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. 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.

  2. Maps

    The Map That Made Los Angeles Make Sense

    For generations in Southern California, the Thomas Guide led drivers through the streets of Los Angeles. Now apps do that. Did something get lost along the way?

  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. Life

    Staying Afloat on an Island of Wealth

    Each summer on Martha's Vineyard, year-round residents and seasonal workers struggle to find affordable housing amid the island’s luxury real estate.

×