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Sunset From Space Image

Sunset from Space.  Is this a Photograph or Model?

1) Original Story: Photograph from Space

This photo is absolutely beautiful, be sure to read the text below to have a better understanding of what you are viewing.   The image is historic too as this is the last mission for Columbia.

The photograph attached was taken by the crew on board the Columbia during its last mission, on a cloudless day.

Sunset from Space - Columbia or Model?

The picture is of Europe and Africa when the sun is setting. Half of the picture is in night. The bright dots you see are the cities lights.

The top part of Africa is the Sahara Desert.

Note that the lights are already on in Holland, Paris, and Barcelona, and that's it's still daylight in Dublin, London, Lisbon, and Madrid.

The sun is still shining on the Strait of Gibraltar. The Mediterranean Sea is already in darkness. In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean you can see the Azores Islands; below them to the right are the Madeira Islands; a bit below are the Canary Islands; and further south, close to the farthest western point of Africa, are the Cape Verde Islands.

Note that the Sahara is huge and can be seen clearly both during Daytime and night time. To the left, on top, is Greenland, totally frozen.

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The Truth: A photograph of a Model - kindly supplied by Chris Hills

There are six clues that it was not taken from Space Shuttle Columbia during its last mission:

  1. It's taken from much too high up, the shuttle never leaves low earth orbit.
  2. The night-time area should be black.
  3. The terminator is too sharp.
  4. Details of the sea floor are visible.
  5. There are no clouds.  'A cloudless day' is a local phenomenon and could not possibly cover the whole of Europe and the North Atlantic.
  6. In January/February the North Pole should not be sunlit.
  7. Conclusion: It's clearly a picture of a model.
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Chris went that extra mile and discovered the source:

Explanation: No single spacecraft or astronaut took the sunset from space picture. It is a digital composite of archived images taken by several Earth-orbiting satellites and ocean-faring ships.  Similar images can be digitally stitched together for any Earth location by John Walker's Earth and Moon Viewer website.

  • Specifically, the daytime land images were taken by the MODIS instrument on NASA's Terra satellite.
  • The night-time images were taken by the DMSP satellites.

This image is different from what an astronaut would see for reasons including a complete lack of clouds and an unrealistic exaggeration of lights and contrasts. The image has become both an internet wave in that it continues to circulate as an attachment to digital correspondence, and a modern urban legend.
Another  similar image is the 'Earth at Night'

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See more about our planet earth:

Earth Day   • View from space   • View from space at night   • Hubble images   • Pretty planet

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