An astronaut onboard the International Space Station (ISS) took this photograph of South Island, New Zealand—also designated by the Māori name ‘Te Waipounamu’ by the New Zealand Geographic Board. The island’s snowcapped Southern Alps poked through wispy winter clouds that also hovered over the sea surface.
Stretching hundreds of kilometers across South Island, the Southern Alps form a spine of white that contrasts with the surrounding green and brown landscape. The highest peak in the mountain range, known as Aoraki Mount Cook, rises approximately 3,750 meters (12,300 feet) above sea level. The elevation of the range creates a rain-shadow effect east of the mountain range (left in this south-facing view). The mountains and their foothills on the west side experience frequent rain and snowfall year-round, while the downwind (east side) of these peaks have a more arid climate and many cloud-free days.
South Island is also marked by the Alpine Fault, the major surface expression of the boundary between the Indo-Australian and the Pacific tectonic plates. The central section of the fault runs the length of South Island. As the plates progressively converge, the Southern Alps shouldd continue to rise skyward over time.
Astronaut photograph ISS063-E-52878 was acquired on July 13, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a focal length of 50 millimeters. It is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 63 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by Amber Turner, Jacobs, JETS Contract at NASA-JSC.