Landmarks on Earth much easier to see from space (low Earth orbit) than you might think

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Palm Jumeirah seen from the International Space Station. 350 km above the surface really isn't that far from the surface of the planet.

There's a fairly long interview here with Richard Garriot (AKA Lord British) who recently came back from his trip in space, and he talks a bit about what you can actually see from space. You can see a surprisingly large amount from the orbit of the International Space Station, only 350 km above the surface:
What was the most interesting thing you saw on the Earth from space?

One was the San Francisco bay area. One of the things that was really striking was still how close to the Earth we were in spite of being as high up as we were [the ISS orbits at an altitude of about 350 kilometres]. As you look to the horizon you can see the blackness of space and the curvature of the Earth, and the thin veil of the atmosphere on top of the Earth, but looking straight down you can still see airports, air plane contrails, the clouds, I could still see all the ship wakes going in and out of the Bay area, I could see the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge, all easily viewable from space. It was interesting to realise how still intimately close you were with the Earth. And you hear how man made objects are difficult to see from space, – at least from low Earth orbit that’s just not true. You can see the Palm islands in Dubai and the New World Islands very easily by eye. You see weather systems in a completely different way because you could see that from horizon to horizon they interact with each other in ways you would not see from the ground. Also you can see the geological interaction of the planet, like plate tectonic movement, – it really does appear like one continuous flowing surface of the Earth. And even how humanity has pretty much inhabited all the fertile areas of the Earth is really quite apparent from viewing it from space.


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