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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Flash of Illumination

By Phil Plait

From space, the Earth is seen from above, literally taking on a new perspective that can make our home planet itself look like an alien world.

In 2011, an astronaut onboard the International Space Station took a photo that proves it.

That is a thunderstorm over Bolivia, seen at an oblique angle. It was nighttime there, and normally you’d only see the soft orange glow of city lights. However, at the moment the astronaut snapped the photo a lightning bolt tore through the cloud, illuminating it from within. It also lit up surrounding clouds as well as what looks like some water to the side (though it’s hard to be sure).

I remember when that picture was taken and being impressed with it, but for some reason I never put it up on the blog. I’ve fixed that oversight now. I love shots from space of Earth’s weather, from clouds casting long shadows to hurricanes casting a pall over entire countries. The images are beautiful, powerful, and a reminder that sometimes to see something so close and large, you need to back up a bit and take it all in from a different angle.

Tip o’ the space umbrella to NASA Earth Observatory on Twitter.

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