Thursday, November 17, 2011

A world without boundaries

The video below was put together using a collection of photos taken from the International Space Station (ISS). It was assembled by an online newspaper. So forgive me for the 15 seconds advertisement at the beginning....

All the videos are courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center, and the music is Chopin's Nocturne No. 2 in E Flat Major, Op. 55, from the public domain music resource Musopen. Other videos are available for free download from this website (
Are you interested in seeing the international space station when it passes over your house? Follow this link:

What locations do you recognize on the video?

City lights appear white, yellow or orange depending on intensity and concentration, so what are those red dots that are visible in some areas?

A couple of things strike me every time I look at images of the earth from space, especially at night. Although there is no clear boundary separating earth’s atmosphere and outer space, the Kármán line which lies at an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 mi) above sea level, is commonly used to define this boundary. Our lives depend on this thin layer of gases containing the air we breathe. Amazing!

The second, even more striking thing is that political lines disappear when we look at the world from space. City lights of the same color dot the landscape in North America as well as in Africa and Asia. Rivers flow from mountains to oceans crossing international boundaries without passports. Snow is visible on top of mountains in both the northern and southern hemisphere and thunderstorm clouds move over lands and seas without following predefined flight paths over "friendly skies".

The world is one smooth continuum of wonderful places. We humans are the ones that have divided it up with boundaries that are so familiar to us on our colorful political maps. We are the ones who directly or indirectly contribute to radically different standard of living in countries far apart from each other, or in bordering cities like El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico:

View Larger Map

Or Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip:

Watching the world go by at night makes those flat maps come alive. It gives us a different prospective of cities and highways, of populated places and remote locations, of vast oceans and long rivers. If we take some time to reflect about it, it gives us a better understanding of how people and places fit together and how we are all connected. The ISS takes only about 90 minutes to travel around the earth. During that time, it flies over rich countries, city slums, people at war and people on vacation. So little time, so few miles, yet such striking differences.

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