THE SCI­ENCE OF IMAG­ING EARTH

ESA as­tro­naut Paolo Ne­spoli gives his per­spec­tive on the util­ity of ISS pho­tog­ra­phy

Sky at Night Magazine - - EARTH FROM SPACE -

“The pho­tos we take in space by hand are mostly artis­tic, but in some cases we are asked to take spe­cific pic­tures. I re­mem­ber pho­tograph­ing a city from a side-on po­si­tion, and you could ac­tu­ally see and mea­sure the depth of the pol­lu­tion that was cov­er­ing it. This is some­thing that you can’t re­ally see in a pic­ture taken over­head by a satel­lite. Also, you can pick up cer­tain de­tails by eye that might not be so ob­vi­ous from a satel­lite. Then, once you know what you are look­ing at, the satel­lite can fo­cus in on the ob­ject bet­ter than you can with your hand­held cam­era.

There was a case that hap­pened with a crew be­fore me, who no­ticed a vol­cano erupt­ing on Earth. No­body on Earth knew this was hap­pen­ing, but the as­tro­nauts were able to pick it up from space. It wasn’t dan­ger­ous be­cause there were no peo­ple liv­ing around the vol­cano, but the ashes could have dis­rupted air­line travel so it was good that the crew dis­cov­ered it first. I also ex­pe­ri­enced some­thing sim­i­lar my­self with pho­tos I took of is­lands in the Pa­cific. A few months later I found a sci­en­tific pa­per on­line that had used my pic­tures, re­veal­ing that an is­land I had pho­tographed was ac­tu­ally an erupt­ing vol­cano that no­body knew about!

We achieve sci­en­tific re­sults with our own pho­tos more by chance, but I think it puts a per­sonal touch on the im­ages when they are taken by peo­ple. Ob­serv­ing Earth from this dis­tance helps us re­mem­ber that the things we do have an ef­fect; things that hap­pen in the UK can change the cli­mate in France, for ex­am­ple, which is some­thing that you don’t re­ally think about. Through the eyes of an as­tro­naut, th­ese is­sues be­come more ap­par­ent to the gen­eral pub­lic, and I think this does have some sort of in­flu­ence on the world.”

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