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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Sunset Clouds Over the Nile

By Phil Plait

If you’re lacking inspiration in life, sometimes it’s worth just browsing images taken from space.

A random tweet, a click, a scroll, and then I saw this and knew I had to share it with everyone, because, sigh. Wow.

That photograph, taken by Italian ISS astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, shows sunset over the Nile River in Egypt, with a few scattered puffy clouds casting long shadows across the landscape. It’s not cloudy there very often, so I imagine residents of the area must have really enjoyed this view from the other side.

I was able to find the original photograph on the Gateway to Astronaut Photography pretty quickly. It was taken on Feb. 28, 2015, at 15:37:51 UTC (17:37 local time, so that confirms this was sunset and not sunrise), when the space station was over central Egypt.

I did a quick check using Google Earth and was surprised to quickly identify the area of the photograph, too (the specific shape of the river made it easy). Just above the clouds on the right, on the banks of the Nile, is the city of Deir (or Dayr) Mawas. This makes sense; she was looking northeast to take the photo, and you can see the Sun is shining from the left (west) in the photo. In fact, the Sun is shining nearly due west, which makes sense for a photo taken just a few weeks before the equinox—the Sun sets due west on that date.

An interesting thing: The original image is faded a bit in color and rotated; someone must have cleaned it up before posting it to Flickr. They did a fantastic job. It’s gorgeous.

I have to say, when I see an interesting photo from the ISS it’s a lot of fun to track it down. It can be a puzzle, and very satisfying when the solution is found. I wind up learning something about our fair planet most of the time too, so it’s a double win.

And, of course, the beauty is worth the search as well. 

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