French astronaut's jaw-dropping photos from SpaceX mission capture bright auroras and raging wildfires




  • In Science
  • 2021-11-19 13:06:00Z
  • By Business Insider
astronaut thomas pesquet catches floating pink macaron cookies with his mouth on the space station
astronaut thomas pesquet catches floating pink macaron cookies with his mouth on the space station  
  • Astronaut Thomas Pesquet just ended six months on the International Space Station as part of SpaceX's Crew-2 mission for NASA.

  • Pesquet snapped jaw-dropping photos while he orbited Earth, capturing auroras, colorful crops, red salt lakes, and bumpy clouds.

  • He also shot signs of climate change: raging hurricanes, clouds of wildfire smoke, and glaciers melting into wide rivers.

Thomas Pesquet, a European Space Agency astronaut, just returned to Earth after a six-month shift on the International Space Station.

Pesquet inside the ISS
Pesquet inside the ISS's cupola window on October 16, 2021.ESA/NASA  

He was part of SpaceX's second full crew to the space station - a mission called Crew-2.

His crewmates were NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.

The Crew-2 astronauts boarded SpaceX's Crew Dragon spaceship and undocked from the ISS on November 7.

spaceships docked to the space station above nighttime earth
spaceships docked to the space station above nighttime earth  

Pesquet served as ISS commander for the last month of his spaceflight.

The next day, they plummeted to a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.

cargo dragon spaceship flying above earth with nosecone open black space in background
cargo dragon spaceship flying above earth with nosecone open black space in background  

Pesquet was "basically the designated professional photographer of this mission," SpaceX engineer Kate Tice said on a livestream, as the Crew Dragon backed away from the ISS.

green brown river cutting across green brown hills and crops from space
green brown river cutting across green brown hills and crops from space  

During his time in space, Pesquet took more than 245,000 photos from about 250 miles above the Earth.

thick blue river in desert from space
thick blue river in desert from space  

"I think there's too many pictures," Pesquet said in a NASA Q&A on Monday.

red butterfly-shaped lake in brown mountain landscape seen from space
red butterfly-shaped lake in brown mountain landscape seen from space  

On one of Pesquet's last days in space, the ISS flew above a highly active, multicolored aurora borealis, triggered by a huge burst of particles from the sun.

A powerful aurora seen from the space station on November 4, 2021.ESA/NASA–T. Pesquet
A powerful aurora seen from the space station on November 4, 2021.ESA/NASA–T. Pesquet  

"We flew right above the center of the ring, rapid waves and pulses all over," Pesquet wrote when he shared the photo. Some of the aurora's spikes reach higher than the space station, he added.

"We've been treated with some unbelievable auroras," Pesquet said during the Q&A. "It's sad, because the pictures just don't do them justice."

green aurora snaking over earth with space station solar panels in foreground
green aurora snaking over earth with space station solar panels in foreground  

Pesquet said he saw about 15 to 20 instances of the aurora during the mission.

Auroras are just one example of stunning views Pesquet and his crewmates enjoyed as they orbited Earth.

namibian coast seen from space orange earth mountains beside deep blue ocean
namibian coast seen from space orange earth mountains beside deep blue ocean  

Among Pesquet's favorite subjects is what he calls "crop art" - the colorful geometry of agricultural fields.

landscape hundreds of yellow blue brown rectangles crops from space
landscape hundreds of yellow blue brown rectangles crops from space  

Agricultural areas can make beautiful patterns. While it's hard to pin down exact locations from space, Pesquet said these farms in the desert are somewhere on the African continent.

desert peppered with blue and green circles of crops
desert peppered with blue and green circles of crops  

"I like how something artistic sometimes comes out of a very practical purpose," Pesquet wrote when he shared this photo on social media.

crops seen from space an array of green brown orange rectangles
crops seen from space an array of green brown orange rectangles  

"Circles, squares, (salt) mines and irrigation are not meant to be pretty from up close, but they dazzle us from above and at a giant scale," he added.

In some places, like Bolivia, pretty patterns - and the crops growing within them - are due to the clearing of tropical forests.

agricultural areas make star-like patterns in the rainforest of bolivia
agricultural areas make star-like patterns in the rainforest of bolivia  

But natural landscapes make colorful patterns, too.

multicolored sand bands of yellow green white purple orange from space
multicolored sand bands of yellow green white purple orange from space  

Australia has particularly dramatic natural formations, like these salt lakes.

brown red patches of land in white water lake
brown red patches of land in white water lake  

Since the space station orbits Earth every 90 minutes, astronauts see 16 sunrises and sunsets per day. But not all the sights are beautiful.

sunset from space orange light on the ocean and clouds
sunset from space orange light on the ocean and clouds  

"We see the pollution of rivers, atmospheric pollution, things like that," Pesquet told French President Emmanuel Macron on November 4.

wildfire smoke covers crop rectangles
wildfire smoke covers crop rectangles  

He spoke with Macron on a video call from the ISS, as world leaders met during the UN climate conference in Scotland. Negotiators' goal in Scotland should be to speed up humanity's response to the climate crisis, Macron responded, according to The Associated Press.

"What really shocked me on this mission were extreme weather or climate phenomena," Pesquet told Macron.

hurricane over ocean viewed through circular space station window
hurricane over ocean viewed through circular space station window  

"We saw entire regions burning from the space station, in Canada, in California," he said, adding, "the fragility of Earth is a shock."

wildfire smoke trails above forests mountains in canada seen from space
wildfire smoke trails above forests mountains in canada seen from space  

"Year after year, we also know we are beating records for fires, for storms, for floods. And that is very, very visible. I very clearly saw the difference compared to my mission four or five years ago," Pesquet told Macron.

melting glacier flows into icy blue water
melting glacier flows into icy blue water  

Pesquet also saw comforting sights, like his birthplace of Normandy, France.

normandy france coast purple yellow green speckled land against deep blue ocean
normandy france coast purple yellow green speckled land against deep blue ocean  

Many of his photos feature France's landscapes.

blue gulf with islands green brown shores from space
blue gulf with islands green brown shores from space  

"We are in public service. We have a responsibility to do things for the people and inform people of what we're doing," Pesquet said during the Q&A on Monday.

green waves swirls river from space
green waves swirls river from space  

"I think there's a responsibility also to share this point of view because you see the fragility of the Earth," he said, adding, "When you see the Earth from space, it's very finite, limited resources."

bumpy clouds in earth atmosphere with black space in background
bumpy clouds in earth atmosphere with black space in background  
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