Europe at Night

Europe at Night

As the International Space Station orbited above eastern France on January 19, 2024, an astronaut caught this dazzling view of northwestern Europe at night.

Light from cities and towns stands out against the darkness of the English Channel and the North Sea. Some of the largest cities in Western Europe are visible in the photo, including the capital cities of Paris, France; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and London, England. Lighted roads and infrastructure connect these bright metropolitan areas.

The photo was taken at an oblique angle and includes Earth’s horizon—also known as Earth’s limb—near the top of the image. The faint green light in the limb could be a hint of aurora borealis at higher latitudes. Or, it could be airglow, a type of chemiluminescence—the emission of light from chemical interactions between oxygen, nitrogen, and other molecules in the upper atmosphere.

A thin layer of clouds blurs some of the yellow- and white-hued lights, especially in the U.K. It was taken two weeks after an intense rainstorm—named Storm Henk by the Met Office—hit parts of England and northern France, causing power outages throughout the region and flooding along England’s River Trent.

Nighttime views of Earth provide researchers with a unique perspective on human activities around the planet. They are used to estimate the extent of urban areas and people’s access to electricity. They can also help government officials assess damage to infrastructure after natural events.

Astronaut photograph ISS070-E-75895 was acquired on January 19, 2024, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a focal length of 24 millimeters. It is provided by the International Space Station (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 70 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. Story by Emily Cassidy.

References & Resources