Astronaut’s Image Refracted Through a Weightless Water Bubble in Space

Astronaut Nicole Mann's image refracted in space
Astronaut Nicole Mann’s image is refracted through a floating sphere of water flying weightless in microgravity aboard the ISS.

Space provides all kinds of photo opportunities and one astronaut took advantage of microgravity for this unique image.

On February 12, NASA astronaut and Expedition 68 Flight Engineer Nicole Mann was pictured through a sphere of water floating weightlessly, refracting her image.

The photo was taken aboard the International Space Station (ISS). It is not clear who took the photo as it is merely credited to NASA but the talented photographer lined up the shot perfectly.

Mann’s eyebrows, eyes, nose, and mouth are perfectly flipped upside down while the rest of her head is the right way up. And on closer inspection, there are microbubbles inside the main water sphere that display her image the correct way up.

Microbubbles doubly refract the light flipping Mann’s image the correct way up.

The mind-bending photo was posted to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center Flickr page.

What is Refraction?

As noted by Sci Tech Daily, refraction is the bending of light as it passes from one transparent substance to another, such as when light passes from air to water or from air to a glass lens.

When light passes from one medium into another it changes speed and direction. A prism is one of the best-known examples of refraction, splitting white light into the colors of a rainbow.

Lenses and other transparent convex or spherical objects gather light rays from a spectrum of angles and refocus them into a sharp but vertically flipped image.

Light refraction happens wherever there is light, one of the most photographically interesting examples is round transparent subjects, such as the sphere of water floating through the ISS. In this case, the convex shape of the water droplet has refocused the light rays but vertically flipped the image.

Refraction has many practical applications, including inside camera lenses and the optical coatings applied to them. Refraction also plays a vital role in the formation of optical illusions and mirages.

Astronaut Nicole Mann

Mann boarded the ISS on October 6 last year after traveling on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that left the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on October 5. She became the first Native American woman to go to space.

The American astronaut has gone on two spacewalks: on January 20 and February 2 she helped to construct the ISS’s Roll-Out Solar Arrays (iROSAs).

Image credits: NASA