There’s nothing as profound as seeing Earth from space, and it is particularly wonderful during the holidays when festive lights adorn the houses and trees across much our planet’s surface.
According to a recent study, NASA scientists found that over the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, some regions on Earth are as much as 50 times brighter compared to the rest of the year.
On Christmas Eve, the International Space Station will pass over the United Kingdom, and thanks to the High Definition Earth Viewing experiment, anyone with access to a computer and internet can see Britain’s spectacular holiday light show from the perspective of the astronauts aboard the ISS.
The High Definition Earth Viewing experiment was activated on April 30 of this year, and so far over 32 million people have experienced the Earth in a way unlike any other, at a height of 268 miles above the surface.
Several commercial HD video cameras are attached to the European Space Agency’s Columbus module aboard the ISS. Each camera is pointed at Earth, and live records and streams what it sees.
The live stream cycles through the different cameras on board. When that happens, the stream cuts out for a few seconds, but the fresh, new view you get is completely worth the few seconds it takes for the switch.
As gorgeous as it is, this experiment has a purpose besides awing people on Earth: Each camera is protected inside a pressurised, temperature-controlled case. The experiment aims to test the effects of space on this equipment and the video quality it produces.
High school students helped design some of the components of the experiment through the High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware program.
Enjoy the view — which hopefully won’t be obscured by clouds:
If that one’s not working, here’s another live stream, from NASA:
Live video from the International Space Station includes internal views when the crew is on-duty and Earth views at other times. The video is accompanied by audio of conversations between the crew and Mission Control. This video is only available when the space station is in contact with the ground. During “loss of signal” periods, viewers will see a blue screen. Since the station orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes, it experiences a sunrise or a sunset about every 45 minutes. When the station is in darkness, external camera video may appear black, but can sometimes provide spectacular views of lightning or city lights below.
If neither of the video streams is working, below are some NASA visualizations that show (using green shading) where the lights shone brighter during December, an effect most pronounced in suburban areas.
Here’s where December is brighter throughout the Western US and Tijuana:
And in Texas:
And here are some GIFs showing what the ISS live stream looks like on an ordinary day:
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