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"Cities in Japan have a distinct blue-green cast."
April 8, 2008 3:55 PM   Subscribe

Cities at Night, an Orbital Tour Around the World was made when astronauts added stabilizers to the cameras on the orbital space station, allowing them to get sharp, crisp nighttime images.
posted by Dave Faris (39 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
They made the "tracking system" out of a hand drill?? I'm really impressed, and amazed that they're able to get such consistently high-quality images.
posted by nevercalm at 4:01 PM on April 8, 2008


Crazy beautiful.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 4:01 PM on April 8, 2008


An hand drill ! A friggin hand drill ! Viva le Geeks, viva !!!
posted by elpapacito at 4:09 PM on April 8, 2008


Yea, this is really awesome. I especially liked the way you could tell some parts of cities apart only based on the difference between types of light - and how they could tell they were over Japan based on the color.
posted by gemmy at 4:10 PM on April 8, 2008


I can haz for google earth, plz? kthnx!
posted by Sam.Burdick at 4:11 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


And then someone goes and uploads it to YouTube where all that work for sharp, and crisp images was for naught.
posted by splatta at 4:12 PM on April 8, 2008 [6 favorites]


okay, someone please post a link to hi-res images. I so want this as a desktop background.
posted by krautland at 4:12 PM on April 8, 2008


They made the "tracking system" out of a hand drill?

Pretty classic trick, actually: the barn door tracking mount. On the earth, you can track the sky without a motor, you just turn the screw 1/4 turn every given interval -- usually, you pick a screw thread and knob size so you make a turn every 10 or 15 seconds.

With the IIS, it was moving to fast to spin the tracking screw by hand, so they probably rigged up a gearing system, based on the speed of the hand drill, to turn the tracking screw at the right speed. Or, knowing NASA, they had proportional control of the drill speed, and they just set it to the correct speed.
posted by eriko at 4:18 PM on April 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Interesting. Thanks, Dave Faris.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:19 PM on April 8, 2008


"The brightest spot on earth. Las Vegas, Nevada. A beacon, for humanity."
posted by Flashman at 4:19 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Extraodinary. They remind me of neurons.

If I were an astronaut, I would spend all my time looking out the window of the space shuttle, weeping in astonishment and awe.
posted by rtha at 4:20 PM on April 8, 2008


And then someone goes and uploads it to YouTube where all that work for sharp, and crisp images was for naught.

Of course, that's the price we pay for free and instant access. Kinda like all the music that gets recorded so well and then gets disseminated as mp3s. Quality vs. cost and all that...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:20 PM on April 8, 2008


I have one of North Korea whenever I turn my laptop off.
posted by hal9k at 4:22 PM on April 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


And on side note: Las Vegas beacon of humanity? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
posted by elpapacito at 4:23 PM on April 8, 2008


Las Vegas... the ultimate lighthouse for aliens. It's what the Mafia secretly dreamed of.
posted by Neilopolis at 4:30 PM on April 8, 2008


Really cool. You gotta love the ingenuity and the obvious delight those guys show.

Of course, the guys over at the CIA are looking at this and having a good laugh at the amateurs. "Call us when you can read license plates from up there. Bwahahahaaaa..."
posted by Thorzdad at 4:38 PM on April 8, 2008


Commentary. In the style of. William Shatner.

Loved this.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 4:42 PM on April 8, 2008


That is awesome and very well improvised....but why can't the ISS already just take pictures of Earth?
posted by DU at 4:56 PM on April 8, 2008


It's been said, but has ANYONE found links to any hi-res versions of these images? NASA normally does a pretty good job cataloging their photos, but I haven't found any of these on the Visible Earth site... it would be a shame for all that ingenuity to go to waste on a Youtube video.
posted by danman_d at 4:57 PM on April 8, 2008


A couple of "hi-res" here, but they're really just blown up versions of the original. Tho it's neat there's one of London.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 5:01 PM on April 8, 2008


Lovely pics, and it is cool to see them jury rig a tracking mount, you can't pop down to the hardware store if you need some wingnuts.
But NASA can make anything boring, that commentary was lame, and surely somebody from New York will post soon to complain about being left off.
posted by bystander at 5:03 PM on April 8, 2008


Here's one (Los Angeles, 2mb) and another, (London, 1/8mb) from the mission website, but they're disappointingly grainy.
posted by Dave Faris at 5:05 PM on April 8, 2008


This is fantastic.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 5:17 PM on April 8, 2008


Somebody get these guys a Flickr account or something.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 5:17 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Awesome sauce
posted by fuq at 5:27 PM on April 8, 2008


Terrific post. Thanks.
posted by languagehat at 5:47 PM on April 8, 2008


I like how menacing Don sounds near the end:

"We now have a database of 4,000 images of cities at night. Systematically taken all around the world."

You just watch yourself! I have the death sentence on twelve systems!
posted by Kikkoman at 5:50 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


The photos are available from NASA.

To see the photos that the video is about, search with ISS006 for the mission and "night" in the features field. You'll pull up a lot of photos, but you can search by city in the features field too. The images are available at ~2mb per, but they are fairly grainy.
posted by ssg at 6:34 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sounds like it was narrated by Stephen Hawking.
posted by orelius at 6:35 PM on April 8, 2008


Seldom do I make it through a ten minute youtube video of anything, but this was worth it. Good on you.
posted by sy at 6:36 PM on April 8, 2008


Fucking amazing.
Madrid, looks like an octopus.
It's like a deep sea dive discovering luminous sea creatures.

Great find, Dave Faris, thanks for that.

[That voice over, fucking hell, who wrote that shit, please. Easy on the drama, just the facts, M'am.]
posted by alicesshoe at 6:39 PM on April 8, 2008


They made the "tracking system" out of a hand drill??

Even better, it looks like the same drill I have. IN SPACE!
posted by smackfu at 7:05 PM on April 8, 2008


Amazing. My only request: next time use Orbital for the orbital tour. The music was a bit cheezy.
posted by gen at 7:23 PM on April 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


[wishes there were less night-time light, so everyone could see how infinitely tiny we are in this universe, and maybe be a little more careful about what we do to our fishbowl earth.]
posted by five fresh fish at 7:41 PM on April 8, 2008


Really, really awesome and well worth watching. The best part was that they didn't just show the pics - there was a whole lot of detail interpretation pointing out things like the different colors caused by different lighting technologies, and the crazy cowpath layout of European cities vs. the cardinal-points grid of American cities. Thanks!
posted by Miko at 8:52 PM on April 8, 2008


I've always enjoyed the strange, raspy cadence of Don Pettit's delivery. He did a bunch of educational science videos while on the ISS; His descriptions of his demonstrations, while technical and precise, display an obvious enthusiasm for the poetry and beauty of physics. I think he's really an artist at heart.
posted by Scoo at 9:35 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well-lit image of the improvised barndoor tracker.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:57 PM on April 8, 2008


I thought the narator gave a certain nifty quality to the video. You could tell he was really into what he was talking about. True, he didn't have the polished narration quality we see in documentaries, but that's the point, this isn't a documentary made in Hollywood with professional actors, its a video made by the people actually involved. Its rough, no denying it, but in some cirucmstances rough is a good quality.

The pix themselves are fantastic.
posted by sotonohito at 4:39 AM on April 9, 2008


Loved that commentator. Never heard him before. He should make audio books of hard boiled crime writing.
posted by NekulturnY at 5:23 AM on April 9, 2008


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