‘My Saddest Photo Yet': Does Astronaut Photo from Space Show Israel and Gaza Burning?


German astronaut Alexander Gerst sparked quite a discussion online yesterday by uploading the photograph above to Twitter. His caption read: “My saddest photo: from the #ISS , we see explosions and rockets over #Gaza and #Israel.”

Before long, the photograph was retweeted and republished far and wide, with many people and publications commenting on how horrible it is that the fighting is so intense that the rockets and fires can be captured from space… Or can they?

Amidst the outcry condemning the violence shown in the photo, some commenters began questioning the photo and caption. Is it warfare that’s seen in the image, or is it just ordinary city lights? Where are the explosions and rockets in the photo, anyway?

Redditor jb2386 decided to take the photograph and overlay it on Google Maps. Here’s what he got:


Earlier this month, we shared a project called Cities at Night that collects nighttime images of cities captured by astronauts from the ISS. Here’s what Melbourne looks like at night:


As you can see, the image doesn’t look too different from what Gerst shared. After analyzing Gerst’s photo, The Times of Israel concludes: “NASA joins hordes posting space image ostensibly showing explosions and rockets, but it’s actually Israel at night.”

It could very well be that Gerst was watching various rockets flying about and explosions lighting up the ground, but that would be very difficult to capture effectively from space — much of a conflict would simply show up as tiny lights blending into the larger expanse of lights caused by the cities. Thus, it seems likely that very little of the conflict was actually captured by this single still photograph.

  • Chang

    I had the same question. Glad to see someone fact-checked this.

  • Bossi

    I didn’t even realise anyone would think the photo would actually *capture* the explosions… I’d definitely interpreted it to mean he was watching them, and the photo was just an accompaniment to the narrative. The sheer odds of catching an isolated explosion — they’re not happening nonstop — would be exceedingly difficult without resorting to a long exposure, which is not particularly an option aboard the ISS.

  • MEEfO

    Exactly. This. Folks have lost all ability to think for themselves.

  • Jason Wright

    “I didn’t even realise anyone would think the photo would actually *capture* the explosions… I’d definitely interpreted it to mean he was watching them”
    Isn’t this what EVERYBODY thought?? I had wondered why the image was getting so much news coverage!

    Still, it can only do good to draw attention to the conflict. Also, I love any photos from the ISS.

  • ynpht

    does any of the arguments given make the situation less sad?

  • bgrnathan


    Babu G. Ranganathan

    The best way for Israel to stop terrorist attacks in its territory is by first ceasing its occupation of all Arab lands and the continual, unrestrained building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

    The problem, however, is that Israel will not pull back to its pre-1967 borders so long as most evangelical Christians in America continue to believe that present day Jews have a biblical right to all of Arab territory in Palestine and even beyond. The minority of war hawks in Israel depend upon this skewered American evangelical support. For this reason a biblical examination of the issue is necessary.

    As an evangelical and conservative Christian, of Indian origin, I wish to set the biblical issue in proper perspective.

    Although the modern state of Israel now has every right to exist as any other nation, this does not mean that Zionism (the belief that Jews have a biblical right to all of Palestine) is correct. And it is Zionism that is primarily fueling the building and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Arab land.

    From a purely biblical perspective Zionism has enormous problems.

    The fact is that almost none of the Jews in modern Israel are descendants of the original Jews of Palestine thousands of years ago. Most of the Jews in Israel today are descendants of Europeans who had converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages (known as Khazar or Ashkenazi Jews).

    The last time God had promised in the scriptures to bring the Jews back to their ancestral homeland was fulfilled centuries ago when He brought them back from their Babylonian captivity. We read in the Book of Daniel that, during the Babylonian captivity, the Jews were spread through out all the nations of the empire of Babylon. When most of these Jews returned to Israel from their Babylonian captivity that fulfilled God’s only and last promise of bringing His people back to their homeland. Thus, the Jews in present-day modern Israel are not a fulfillment of that ancient promise.

    Furthermore, God’s promises concerning the land to the Jews in the Old Testament were conditional – only so long as they continued to obey Him were those promises concerning the land binding (read Deuteronomy 28). God fulfilled his promise concerning the land to the Jews centuries ago.

    We read in the Book of Joshua 21:43, 45: “And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which He sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.” Thus, there is no promise concerning the land that still awaits any fulfillment.

    Most evangelical Christians today are looking forward to the seven-year tribulation period of Israel which would require for the Jews to be in the land. But this period had already occurred in history during AD63 to AD70. (seven years) when the Roman army besieged and destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple.

    It was this destruction that Jesus said would mark the end of the age (the Jewish Age, that is). During these seven years, there was a brief respite from the attacking Roman army and this respite gave an opportunity for believing Jews (Christians) of this time to escape the final destruction of Jerusalem and have their lives spared.

    Most evangelical Christians, who are dispensationalists, are still seeking for an Israel that the New Testament says is the spiritual body of Christ made up of both Jew and Gentile believers in Jesus Christ and who together (as one seed) inherit the same (not different) promises (Galatians 3:14-16).

    The New Testament refers to the Christian church as the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). There is good reason to believe that some of the Old Testament descriptions of God’s future dealings with Israel are already being fulfilled spiritually in and through the Christian church which is made up of both Jew and Gentile believers in Christ inheriting the same (not different) promises.

    The problem with most evangelical Christians today is that they interpret the Book of Revelation literally. But Revelation is a book of symbolism and should not to be interpreted literally. The Book itself tells us not to interpret it literally.

    In the very first verse of the very first chapter we read, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God (the Father) gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John” (Revelation 1:1, KJV). The word “signified” in the passage comes from a Greek word meaning “signs” or “symbols”. Thus, Revelation was meant by Christ to be interpreted symbolically, not literally.

    The Book of Revelation, like the rest of the New Testament, was originally written in Greek so sometimes we must go to the Greek language to have a more precise understanding of certain words.

    Many evangelical Christians believe (wrongly) that the “Great City” in the Book of Revelation, which God destroys in His wrath and which is referred to figuratively as Babylon, is Rome. They believe it is Rome because the city is described as being surrounded by seven hills.

    However, Jerusalem, also, is surrounded by seven hills. The proof that Jerusalem is the city and not Rome is found in Revelation 11:8 where we read, “And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified”.

    Was the Lord crucified in Rome or in Jerusalem? The wrath of God against Jerusalem for its apostate Judaism is what the early portions of the Book of Revelation are all about.

    The modern state of Israel, now that it has been established, has every right to exist, but it must abide by the U.N. resolutions and withdraw to its pre-1967 borders. Most Palestinians and other Arabs will recognize Israel’s right to exist if it follows the U.N. resolutions.

    It is important, however, to have some basic background knowledge of how the modern state of Israel was founded.

    As one writer points out: “Israel was created (in the beginning) not by force of arms or military invasion, but terrorist activity advocated by Jewish immigrants, in an effort to get rid of the British Administration (the lawful government of the day, as sanctioned by the predecessor to the UN). Britain abandoned its mandate and Israel was created by the UN.”

    However, as long as most evangelical Christians in America believe modern Zionism is biblical they will continue to exert one-sided pressure in Washington DC in support of Israel’s status quo in the region and prevent any pressure on Israel to pull back to its pre-1967 borders and discontinue building settlements on Arab land.

    If America insists Israel must be fair to Palestinians it will not only help achieve peace in the Middle East but also will reduce Muslim extremism, and even terrorism, against the United States.

    Visit the author’s popular Internet sites:




    Babu G. Ranganathan has his bachelor’s degree with concentrations in theology and biology and has been recognized for his writings on religion and science in the 24th edition of Marquis “Who’s Who in The East.”

  • arachnophilia

    oh, look, we attracted babu.

    hey babu, you ever gonna do anything besides copy-pasta spam?

  • Guest

    Babu … who’s study concentrated in biology and theology. I can only wonder at the mind’s ability to reconcile self-contradictory ideas.

  • Effilya De

    a bachelors’ degree in theology?…what a waste of time and effort.

  • Lambert Schlumpf

    Funny that I just looked at the replies to understand what all this novel of yours was about…

  • 1LifeSoLiveIt

    I counted over 800 light spots on this photo, which are not the explosions but instead can reflect the exact number of deaths caused by Israeli rockets targeting civilians, women and children, where UN declared that 75% of the deaths were civilians. What a shame… 21st century and a country is killing children, targeting hospitals and schools… shame

  • Chang

    While I’m not going to bother defending Babu, I will posit that biology and theology are not contradictory ideas. On the contrary, the conflict is rather more between pure materialism and biology. Alvin Plantinga has the best defense of this in his “Where the Conflict Really Lies”, Oxford University Press, 2011.

  • Chang

    The shame is that HAMAS stores weapons in schools, targets their own people and then blames the Israelis, launches their own missiles towards schools, civilians, and nuclear power plants, and then somehow gets the international press to think they are the good guys. It’s a messy situation, no doubt, but it’s simplistic and inattentive to detail to claim those civilian deaths are anything but a tragedy provoked by the tactics of HAMAS.

  • araczynski

    I’m no expert on the situation, but i don’t think Israel is too concerned about the acceptance of the various Arab states should they return to the 1967 borders. Its Hamas that seems to be their main problem, and I never hear of them saying anything to that affect, just that they want to wipe them off the face of the earth, borders be damned.

    If Hamas would have been happy with the 1967 borders, I have a feeling they’d be crying that from the top of their mountains and the whole world would be pressuring Israel to just STFU and give the land back.

    What you’re implying is that that is possibly the case (Hamas being happy with 1967 borders) and the powers that be are going out of their way to cover that up… which i’ll admit, wouldn’t be that far of a stretch either in light of what the powers that be have done/are doing around the world in their self righteousness.

  • Michael Pravin Lonelyhound

    Long Exposure 5-10 sec High Iso, wide open aperture i guess its possible, Recently i found satellites movement on my timelapse, Anything is possible if the meta data is Right!

  • OtterMatt

    This is the dumbest thing ever. Think about it, people, you can barely even see small towns from space, never mind rocket explosions that a) aren’t that bright (because fireballs are a waste of energy) and b) are only a dozen or so feet in diameter at the best of times.
    And since I haven’t heard of too many entire countrysides or cities burning to the ground in Gaza, I think I’ll call BS and be on my way.
    Good Lord, I wish people were more skeptical sometimes.

  • OtterMatt

    No he can’t. An explosion visible from space would be borderline nuclear (especially given that weaponry doesn’t waste energy on producing fireballs). This guy is either lying, being incomprehensibly poetic, or failed logic so hard that I have no idea how he got into space.

  • OtterMatt

    No, it really isn’t. We’re talking about FROM SPACE. The Great Wall of China isn’t even visible from space, what chance does a freaking rocket have?

  • OtterMatt

    Maybe the opposite, actually. The hyperbole really only serves to detract from the issues. One does not simply spread truth by lying.

  • James Jesson

    Still not close to anything as compelling as the images made with boots on the ground.

  • 1LifeSoLiveIt

    Yeah, Palestinians are killing their own children just to blame Israel. Funny story. Nothing, and I say nothing can be an excuse for child murder.

  • Guest

    That’s exactly what Hamas is doing. What part of ‘terrorist group’ do you not understand?

  • 1LifeSoLiveIt

    Do you have any proofs or references to this?

  • Mike

    Did he take his next saddest photo by aiming a bit northwards? no? why not?

  • Chang

    That is a scary photo.