Photos: Astronauts Capture, Tweet Constellations from Space Station

ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers took this photo from the International Space Station on February 1, 2012. The Orion constellation, with the line of three  belt stars, can be seen rising in the center, while the V-shaped Taurus constellation is visible on the right. Credit: European Space Agency

Ever wonder about what some of the most familiar constellations look like from space?  

Above the blurring effect of Earth’s atmosphere, the stellar patterns that were first imagined by ancient Greek and Roman skywatchers come to life. Some 400 kilometers from Earth, many astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are  avid stargazers, pointing cameras out windows to capture constellations and star clusters from a cosmic perspective.

As we head towards year’s end, Orion dominates our late night skies. In the photo below, NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg caught the iconic constellation while gliding over the night side of Earth. The row of three stars that represent the mythical hunter’s belt is visible in the center, while the bright orange star Betelgeuse shines on the lower left.

One of the most familiar of star patterns is not a constellation at all but an asterism–a distinct, easily recognizable pattern of stars. The seven bright stars of the Big Dipper represents the back end of the Great Bear, or Ursa Major. In this ISS photo, the Dipper’s bowl takes center stage. The docked Soyuz capsule’s solar panel to the left, while a green aurora blankets the Earth below.

 

While moonlight baths the Atlantic Ocean in the breathtaking photo below, the Pleiades star cluster, some 400 light years from Earth, shimmers  high above. This loose grouping of young stars, also known as the Seven Sisters, is a favorite deep-sky object for backyard sky-watchers in the constellation Taurus. It’s an especially a pretty sight though binoculars and telescopes this time of the year.

 

 

While not a constellation or deep space object, Earth’s silvery moon from space just can’t be ignored. Check out this stunning cosmic portrait by NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn earlier this year.

 

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Changing Planet

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.