top of page

If Van Gogh Was An Astronaut

NASA astronaut Don Pettit has shared this image he took when he was aboard the ISS.

Photo of Earth from space
Credit: Don Pettit | NASA

He calls the image Lightning Bugs. It came from his 2012 ISS visit (although only released last week) and is the result of a 15 minute time exposure made from stacking one-minute exposures together.

There's a lot going on in Lightning Bugs. "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," Pettit explained. "The atmosphere between them glows green with what scientists call airglow, which has a different excitation mechanism than auroras."

Surely, if Van Gogh were an astrophotographer, he would have conjured up something similar.

While NASA has a reputation for serious science, there's always been an element of artistry in the images astronauts capture in space. Pettit gives us a different way of thinking about our planet. The bright streaks highlight movement and time, and how Earth and the people on and above it are never truly holding still.



bottom of page