Science Officer Don Pettit looks at the Canary Islands
through the window of the Destiny Laboratory.
Space Chronicles #9
Previous | Next >
ISS Science Officer Don Pettit
The more you
know about our planet, about our universe, the more you can see.
You can see every geological feature ever written in textbooks.
You can see fault zones of all kinds, moraines, basins, ranges,
impact craters, dikes, sills, braided channels, strike and dipped
layers, folding, meanders, oxbow lakes, slumps, slides, mud flows,
deltas, alluvial fans, erratic boulders, glaciers, karst topography,
cirques, tectonic plates, rifts zones, cinder cones, crater lakes,
fossil sea shores, lava flows, volcanic plumes, vents,fissures,
eruptions, exfoliated structures, dry lakes, inverted topography,
latteric soils, and more.
You see clouds
of every description and combination; nimbus, cumulus, stratus,
nimbo-cumulus, nimbo-stratus, cirrus, jet contrails forming tic-tac-toe
patterns, thunderhead, anvils, clockwise storms, counter-clockwise
storms, hurricanes, and typhoons. Lightening storms flash like gigantic
fireflies and behave as if they were synchronized across the length
scale of half a continent. You notice patterns in clouds, that clouds
over cold oceans look different than clouds over warm oceans. Clouds
show flow structures. Sometimes you see what looks like a soliton
moving across the cloud tops. There can be general overcast conditions
except for small zones completely devoid of clouds with rather sharp
boundaries forming fractal-like patterns within the cloud-cast seascape.
You see patterns
on the ocean surface, swirls and vortices of large scale, wave diffraction
patterns around capes and spits, solitary waves out in the middle
of nowhere forming long lines, rivers spilling their sediment into
ocean estuaries, and more.
You see light
scattering phenomena of all kinds. At sunrise, at sunset, across
the terminator sixteen times a day you can see crepuscular rays,
forward reddened lobes, off-axis blue lobes, polarization peaks
at 90 degrees to the sun, corona halos, and more. With binoculars
you can count six distinct layers in the atmosphere where the outer
one seemingly fades with exponential decay. Aurora Borealis and
Australis inspire such awe from sheer beauty that you stare as if
star struck. The glowing green forms slowly meander as if they are
great celestial amoebas crawling across the sky. Vertical rays stream
upwards with a faint red hue. On a dark night you notice that everywhere
the upper atmosphere glows a faint green.
You catch an
occasional meteor while looking down. You see stars and planets
and our galaxy on edge. Perchance you might spot a ragged shadow
from a total solar eclipse projected onto Earth. You have a textbook
glimpse in the finer details in umbra, penumbra, and spherical bodies.
You can see some Messier objects with your un-aided eyes and more
with binoculars. You see space junk orbiting nearby. Sometimes it
flickers due to an irregularity catching light as it rotates. An
overboard water dump produces a virtual snowstorm blizzard in the
surrounding vacuum. You observe other satellites, some in equatorial
orbits, some in polar. You notice some satellites above your orbit
only visible while looking away from Earth. Like a short-lived magnesium
flare, some satellites flash brilliantly for a few seconds and fade
space or on Earth, you are amply rewarded for efforts made to observe
the nature that surrounds us all, however, the more you think you
know, the more you realize how little you actually do.