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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Appalachian nocturne: a tour of the eastern US from space

By Phil Plait

Recently, a picture of the New England area of the US photographed by astronauts on the ISS made the rounds. It was lovely, and inspired Rémi Boucher and Guillaume Poulin, two scientific communicators at an astronomy center in southern Quebec called the ASTROLab, to see if more pictures were taken. At The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth they found hundreds of photos taken from that pass, so they put them together into a wonderful time lapse video of the journey:

The video starts as the space station is over the Gulf of Mexico. The path of the station took it just east of the US coastline, and this view looks generally to the northwest. You can see Florida clearly, as well as Atlanta (surprisingly far to the west), the gigantic DC-Baltimore-Philadelphia-New York City corridor, then New England. Cape Cod is such an obvious landmark! Finally we can see southeastern Canada, and the Atlantic ocean.

I love how the northern lights are subtle, just hinted at, during much of the video since they are seen from such a great distance and edge-on, only to get brighter and stronger with proximity.

One thing that's a bit puzzling: what are the lights seen in the Gulf of Mexico at the beginning of the video? My first guess would be oil rigs -- there are quite a few of them. If anyone knows for sure, leave a comment!

I'll note that this video felt much smoother to me than others of its kind. It's displayed at 30 frames per second, but slowed down to half speed on top of that, which is probably what helps give it such a smooth, velvety feel. The entire elapsed amount of real time is only about 10 minutes -- which is a powerful reminder of just how fast 8 km/sec (5 miles/sec) really is.

Credit: Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center. "The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth."; Rémi Boucher - Guillaume Poulin / ASTROLab du parc national du Mont-Mégantic

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