Dazzling Star Trails Captured from Space by an Astronaut

star trails

If you happen to be 240 miles up in space traveling at 17,000 miles per hour, it would be difficult to imagine botching up an image shot from such a vantage point.  Such is the case with Don Pettit who brilliantly used stunning long exposure photography while orbiting the Earth at speeds earlier mentioned. The result is “star trails” from space that are a combination of a series of images photographed from a mounted camera on the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, taken from around 240 miles above the planet.

ISS star trails

When Pettit was not engaged doing some of his regular duties like being  out on space-walks or performing some kind of zero-gravity experiment, he would shoot some of the most astonishing space photos anyone had ever seen.

ISS Star trails photo

The images, which look otherworldly, (and they literally are) have gone viral around the web. These are composites of multiple long exposure photos that are then stacked together with imaging software. The resultant “star trail” images, as Pettit refers to them actually show the paths made by stars and earth lights.

photo ISS Star trails

Pettit, an Expedition 31 Flight Engineer and Astronaut typically took photos of terrestrial lights, star trails, airglow and auroras while onboard the International Space Station.

Pettit wrote “My star trail images are made by taking a time exposure of about 10 to 15 minutes. However, with modern digital cameras, 30 seconds is about the longest exposure possible…. To achieve the longer exposures I do what many amateur astronomers do. I take multiple 30-second exposures, then ‘stack’ them using imaging software …,” wrote the astronaut as he shared the creative process involved.

ISS Star trails astrophotography

Expedition 31 was the 31st extended-duration expedition to the International Space Station (ISS). It started on 27 April 2012 with the departure from the ISS of the Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft, which went back the Expedition 30 crew to Earth. The journey finished in July 2012, when crew members Oleg Kononenko, André Kuipers and Don Pettit left from the ISS aboard Soyuz TMA-03M, thus initiating the beginning of Expedition 32.

astrophotography ISS Star trails

See Pettit’s “star trails” here.

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Patricia Ramos

Patricia Ramos

I am a freelance photographer who is no stranger to smudged lenses, long hours in front of the computer, heavy camera bags (and the back aches that ensued) and missing lens caps. If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have as much love and passion for photography as I do.