• 06.06.12

Photographing Star Trails From Space, At 17,000 MPH

ISS Astronaut Don Pettit offers a rare view from beyond the heavens.

Is this really Earth we see in these photographs? It can’t be. There’s no blue ocean, golden continents, or clearly delineated socio-political boundaries. It must be some sort of cosmic record player…or maybe just a really great Photoshop…of something.


In truth, these photos offer us a glimpse of Earth from the International Space Station. As the ISS circles Earth at roughly 17,000 miles per hour, Flight Engineer Don Pettit takes 30-second exposures with a stock digital camera, then stacks those exposures into single frames that capture 10-15 minutes on the ISS. The rotation is fast enough for long exposures to blur the earth into gilded landing strip beneath a steady rain of stars–a scene I would have never imagined as beautiful before today. Heck, it’s a scene I would have never even imagined before today.

See the full set here. (Or in space.)

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.