don pettit spain

They look almost more like abstract art, geological formations or perhaps space phenomena, but these incredible images from the International Space Station by Don Petit of NASA depict some of the densest urban areas on Earth – such as Tokyo, pictured above and shot at night.

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don pettit cities from space

London burns brightly in the middle, surrounded by suburban dots that radiate out from its glowing core – clearly the hub for as far as the eye (or wide-angle space-station lens) can see.

The Las Vegas strip is said to be the brightest place on the planet as seen from space, and this image indeed does it justice – the central lights seem to almost burn through the black of the photo.

Chicago can be seen spreading out in all directions except into the black void of Lake Michigan bordering the city to the East. And speaking of sprawl, Sao Paolo in Brazil is an amazing example of unchecked organic urban growth, slowly crawling out from an ill-defined center to light up the darkness all around it.

don pettit cairo
don pettit tokyo

As both an astronaut and a photographer, Pettit has a pretty unique job, and he’s captured some of the most breathtaking images taken from space in the last two decades.

We highly recommend reading this PRI feature on his career, and looking at the additional images from his expansive portfolio. Here’s an exceprt.

don pettit self portrait ISS

“‘If you’re gone for six months, you can’t spend all your time nose-to-the-grindstone working,’ says Don Pettit, a NASA astronaut who has lived on the International Space Station (ISS) for 370 days over the course of three missions. ‘You need to have some means of relaxing, and I like to refer to it as ‘orbital scrimshaw’ — in other words, a space-based hobby.”

“This ‘orbital scrimshaw’ varies among crews, and has included pastimes like basket weaving and quilting, even gourmet cooking. Pettit himself partook in a longtime passion: photography. Since his first mission aboard the ISS as part of Expedition 6 in 2002, he’s taken hundreds of thousands of images, focusing his skilled eye through small windows on views of Earth and beyond. A collection of his photographic work — which includes gorgeous starscapes and intricate scenes of Earthly landmarks, captured in stunning detail in infrared, black and white, and color — has now been published in a new book called Spaceborne.”