Astronaut Shares Incredible Star Trail and Lightning Photo Taken From ISS

Lightning Bugs by Donal Pettit

NASA astronaut and photographer Donald Pettit recently posted some of his stunning star trail photography taken aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

As reported by DPReview, Pettit joined Reddit and shared an incredible image he called Lightning Bugs, which he shot while in space on Expedition 30, a long-duration ISS mission, in 2012.

“This is a 15-minute time exposure made by stacking 1-minute single exposures. I used a Nikon D3s, ISO 800, 24mm lens at f/5.6,” Pettit writes on Reddit.

“In the photo, stars make arcing trails in deep space, while a huge thunderstorm pounds Earth below as seen from the time history of lightning flashes,” he adds.

“The atmosphere between them glows green with what scientists call airglow, which has a different excitation mechanism than auroras.”

Airglow is the faint emission of light by a planetary atmosphere that is self-illuminating gases and causes the night sky to not be totally dark.

Airglow can affect the performance of ground-based optical telescopes, which is one reason space telescopes like the James Webb telescope can peer farther into space and picture far fainter objects.

Keen astrophotographer Pettit also posted a remarkable fisheye lens long-exposure view of the Earth from inside the Cupola, an observatory module attached to the ISS.

“City lights flow as orange streaks, and faint star trails that show the Earth’s rotation are visible in the lower left, forming an image reminiscent of a spherinder, the 4D tesseract’s lesser known spherical cousin,” writes Petti on his Instagram page.

Astrophotography can find exciting ways to combine both science and art,” he adds.

Donald Pettit floating in space with his camera gear, photo taken circa 2012

Pettit is a veteran of three spaceflights and has logged over 370 days in space that has included over 13 spacewalks.

He is a keen photographer, capturing mind-blowing photos of space. He appreciates art as well as science.

Speaking in 2012 about the challenges of shooting in space he told how reflections are a huge issue.

“You have to work hard to get rid of these reflections, particularly if you’re taking pictures at orbital nighttime. I call this my turtleneck,” he said.

Image credits: All photos courtesy of Donald Pettit/NASA.