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.
Orion. August 15. pic.twitter.com/cj4px6Y1FA
— Karen L. Nyberg (@AstroKarenN) August 15, 2013
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.
The Big Dipper. July 20. pic.twitter.com/6QL2CBd0nw
— Karen L. Nyberg (@AstroKarenN) July 20, 2013
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.
Seven Sisters overlooking Reunion & Mauritius Islands in a moonlit Indian Ocean. August 25. pic.twitter.com/9Fz51sWD29
— Karen L. Nyberg (@AstroKarenN) August 26, 2013
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.
Got lucky yesterday and caught the moon just as it popped over the horizon pic.twitter.com/OL9TELjsIU
— Thomas H. Marshburn (@AstroMarshburn) March 23, 2013