Astronauts' photos from space station reveal highs and lows of watching Earth in 2021 so far
- Astronauts on the International Space Station enjoy mesmerising views of Earth. They orbit the planet every 90 minutes, so they see lots of sunrises, night time city lights, blue ocean water, and colourful landscapes.
- The best photos taken from the space station in 2021 so far, which follow below, showcase bright auroras, hypnotising crop patterns, and stunning mountain ranges. Some astronauts try to find their birthplaces on the globe, while others scope out National Parks to visit someday.
- But as the climate crisis intensifies, the crew can also see devastating wildfires burning, as well as hurricanes like Ida and drought in the western US. The astronauts say this extreme weather is "sad" and "worrying."
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) drink in stunning views every day.
From more than 402 kilometres above the Earth, they can see city lights, mountain ranges, major storms, and melting glaciers.
Since the space station orbits Earth every 90 minutes, astronauts see 16 sunrises and sunsets per day.
There are currently seven people on the station.
Some of them - including European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and NASA astronaut Megan McArthur - regularly post stunning photos on social media.
Agricultural areas can make beautiful patterns, like these farms in the desert. It's not easy to pin down exact locations from space, but Pesquet said this was somewhere in Africa.
In some places, like Bolivia, those pretty patterns - and the crops growing within them - come at the expense of clearing tropical rainforest.
When spaceships launch towards the station, carrying astronauts or supplies, those aboard the ISS often watch the rocket streaking towards them.
Astronauts don't always know what they're looking at.
But sometimes they spot something distinct and dramatic, like a volcano spewing gas.
Occasionally, they even spy their homelands - like this picture Pesquet snapped of his birthplace in Normandy, France.
"How can something so beautiful be tolerated by human eyes?" NASA astronaut Mike Massimino told the Washington Post, referring to his feelings the first time he saw Earth from above.
Source: The Washington Post
But lately, some of the sights from the ISS have been more concerning.
"We've been very saddened to see fires over huge sections of the Earth, not just the United States," McArthur told Insider on a recent call from the space station.
Other consequences of climate change are easily visible from the ISS, too. "We can see all of those effects from up here," McArthur said.
Pesquet photographed Hurricane Ida just hours before it struck Louisiana as a Category 4 storm.
"It's worrying to see these weather phenomena becoming stronger and more frequent from our vantage point," Pesquet said on Twitter.
Lately the astronauts can even see dwindling reservoirs along the Colorado River, which is in its first-ever official water shortage.
—Megan McArthur (@Astro_Megan) August 26, 2021
On the bright side, though, astronauts caught a stunning view of the southern aurora earlier this month.
"I wasn't surprised by the auroras, but I was kind of bowled over by how breathtaking they really were, and how mesmerising it was to see it with my own eyes," McArthur said.
McArthur has also been scoping out US National Parks to visit with her husband - astronaut Bob Behnken - and their son once she's back on the ground.
Passing over the US, she can see several National Parks in just a few minutes.
"The other thing that we can see, of course, is the very thin lens of atmosphere," McArthur said.
"That is what protects our Earth and everything on it," she added. "We see how fragile that is, and we know how important it is."
Get the best of our site emailed to you every weekday.
Go to the Business Insider front page for more stories.